“We see with our brains, not with our eyes.” ~ Norman Doidge
As I leave a speaking event here in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, I’m not too far from the Olympic Opening ceremonies that just took place in PyeongChang. The anticipation and excitement felt by the athletes makes me smile.
From a very early age as an athlete, I used visualization skills to enhance my performance. Before I went to sleep at night, I would put myself in a trance-like state, and project myself into the ideal performance state. I didn't just 'see’ myself performing with perfection, I actually felt it with my entire body. Not just ‘seeing’ but ‘feeling’- this is the key.
While training for the Calgary Winter Olympics I used visualization techniques to enhance performance. Research shows that there are great benefits to mental rehearsal, in which nerve pathways in the brain are stimulated subconsciously and performance is enhanced. This is actually a form of neuroplasticity.
I used this technique when I was learning to walk and during my rehabilitation. I visualized myself walking normally and then later, flying an airplane. You don’t need to be an athlete to use neuroplasticity techniques. It works for everyone.
For centuries it was believed that the brain was hardwired and largely unable to recover mental abilities lost because of damage or disease. In Norman Doidge’s groundbreaking book, The Brain’s Way of Healing, he explains how the brain’s capacities are highly dynamic and constantly changing. Referred to as neuroplasticity, the brain has the ability to reorganize itself in response to learning, experiences, and following injuries.
Here are examples of “brain workouts” you can use in your daily life:
Do common tasks differently. Brush your teeth with the opposite hand, jog or walk a different route, or swim a different stroke than the usual.
Read an article or book on a completely new subject.
Get enough sleep. It restores brain connections and helps you form new memories and learn faster.
Learn a new language or how to play a musical instrument.
Travel. It doesn’t need to be far. Just exploring a different city over a weekend with unknown surroundings challenges your brain.
Practice positive thinking. At work, practice noticing the good things others do (and tell them) and don't dwell on past mistakes. At home, remind yourself of what you have instead of what you don't have.
Whenever I give a talk, someone always comes up to me afterwards and says, “I’ve always wanted to fly.” I ask, “Why don’t you?” Then comes the answer: “I’m too old, it’s too late, not enough money…” The excuses are never ending. Whatever you want to do in life, remember, you need to do more than just ‘see’ it, you need to ‘feel’ it as if it has already happened. Feeling is the secret.
As Napoleon Hill says, "Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve." I'm excited to have participated in a movie that will be released this year based on Napoleon Hill's book, Think and Grow Rich. Stay tuned!
Wishing you blue skies and tailwinds!
P.S. I'd love to hear your story about how you practice positivity in your life as part of my Raise Your Straw movement! Email me and let me know!
We often define ourselves by things that are outside of us – our jobs, our relationships, or our accomplishments. When those things are taken away it challenges everything you believe in.
The Winter Olympics are approaching and it reminds me of what "could have been" if my accident hadn't taken place. I talk about it briefly in the video below:
How would it be if that truck driver did not hit me? My memories about that day are still painful to me; however, I have now found meaning in that experience by helping others who are also going through their own struggle.
One of the books I read while recovering from my accident was Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Written in 1946, Dr. Frankl describes his experience of survival in an Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Even with the deplorable conditions and suffering within the camp, Frankl described how he was able to find purpose in his life by imagining a positive outcome of his situation.
A few years ago I was invited to speak at the Viktor Frankl Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia as part of their “Art of Meaningful Living” event. Not only is it difficult to find meaning in the face of tragedy, but sometimes it’s hard to find meaning in everyday life.
Consider these ways for finding meaning in everyday living:
Give to a cause - whether it be financial or simply by volunteering your time and talent.
Identify a small act or pastime that you love and find time to do it. It doesn’t have to be a big dream – but a small act like watering your plants, taking a dancing lesson, or buying the Starbucks coffee for the car behind you.
Find happiness in what you already have… food to eat, fun friends, family, children, an adorable pet, doctors who care for you, etc.
Being of service to others and humanity is what gives our lives meaning. It enriches our lives, makes life more complete…and that is worth much more than any Olympic medal. Without my accident, I may have never learned to fly - and that is something that has given new meaning to me.
Please remember, it is not what happens to you in life that is important, but how you choose to respond. That is what gives life meaning.
Wishing you blue skies and tailwinds!
P.S. I'd love to hear your story about how you found meaning in your life as part of my Raise Your Straw movement! Email me and let me know!
P.P.S. Take a look at Olympic aerial skier Danielle Scott who is pursuing her Olympic dream in PyeongChang! I was honored that her team reached out to me recently and asked me to send her a video of encouragement. Good luck Dani!
One of the most important lessons I learned during my six-month stay in the spinal ward is how interconnected we all are. In the brief video below, I share the story of how straws helped me stay connected with others who were, like me, hospitalized and forced to lie flat on their backs for months.
Because all of us in the spinal ward had to lie flat on our backs, we couldn’t see each other’s faces. One day our nurse, Jonathan, put a pile of drinking straws on top of each of us and instructed us to start threading them together. When we finished Jonathan silently joined all of our strands of straws, thus connecting us all together. I've never forgotten the power of that metaphor about how interconnected we all are.
We shared the same hopes and dreams for our life after spinal cord injury, and we pulled together and supported each other in this shared journey.
Not a week goes by without me hearing from someone about how my story encouraged them. I love these stories so much that I feel they should be shared.
Here’s one that I have permission to share:
"I live in Zimbabwe and a year ago lost my sight very suddenly - over the course of a week I became 100% blind. I have a rare, severe autoimmune disease - 10 diagnosed cases in the world. On one of my low days, I needed some inspiration and found your TED talk. Wow, wow, wow is all I can say. Thank you for sharing your story.
I hope to be able to re-direct my life one day, and use my loss of sight as a stepping stone to finding a solid direction in my life. You have absolutely shown that an obstacle is not an ending, but a beginning. Whilst I'm almost back to normal, I understand what an obstacle is, and truly believe that there was a reason for it. Thank you so much again for sharing your story!"
Accidents don’t discriminate. Tough times don’t discriminate. No matter where you are in life, whatever struggles you may be facing, remember that others have traveled the path before you and have survived...and you can too.
During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, remember it’s no longer a world of “me” but of “we.” We are all connected by an invisible sea of straws - just like this group at Amazon discovered recently as they raised their straws during my program!
Happy Holidays and Raise Your Straws!
On my recent trip to Australia I met the paramedic, Gary Hyland, who saved my life 30 years ago. As I lay on the side of the road fatally injured and barely clinging to life, he was determined that I wasn’t going to die on his watch. As you can see in the TV segment below, it was an emotional day for both of us – and one neither of us will ever forget.
Yahoo7 - Sunrise - Australia
From our meeting I’m reminded to never underestimate the strength of your influence on others. At the moment when I was not strong enough to fight for myself, Gary fought for me. He was able to transfer his own will to live directly to me in my moment of dire need.
While it doesn’t have to be a life or death experience, you have the ability to strengthen those around you who are going through challenges. Watch for opportunities to help others who are feeling overwhelmed by:
Providing your expertise and help to a coworker on a tough work project.
Sharing your department’s resources with members of other work teams.
Remaining consistently positive and upbeat in your actions and conversations.
Listening and being truly interested in what others are trying to achieve.
Volunteering your time to help a friend or coworker. It could as simple as helping them clean out a closet, move over a weekend or driving them somewhere when their car is in the shop.
By helping others you’ll build up your own strength and resilience.
Helping others is at the core of a new movie project that I'm involved with called Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy. This full length docudrama is based on Napoleon Hill's book Think and Grow Rich and involves other influential people such as Bob Proctor, Rob Dyrdek, Barbara Corcoran, Tim Storey, Lewis Howes, and Grant Cardone. I'm excited to share more about this in the future!
Wishing you blue skies and tailwinds always,
P.S. I just updated my website and would love your feedback!