Perhaps one of the most inspiring experiences of my life was simply walking down the hallway of my hotel in Atlanta, GA in 2012. That’s when I saw Kyle Maynard come out of the room just a few doors down from mine.
I had seen Kyle before on television. He’s been featured on ESPN, Oprah, Larry King, and interviewed by dozens of others.
He’s quite recognizable too. He is a congenital quadruple amputee, meaning he was born with no arms beyond the elbow, and no legs beyond the knee, and a smile that won’t leave his face.
You might guess that without arms and legs he doesn’t do a whole lot. You’d be wrong. He is the first person ever to crawl, without hands or feet, to the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world. He is a blue-belt martial artist, an MMA fighter, and has been inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, having won 36 matches against state-ranked wrestlers.
I like to think about people like Kyle, who, in spite of his challenges, chose to focus on what he has and what he can do rather than on his “limitations” and what people thought he could or couldn’t do.
I asked Kyle that afternoon what was the one thing that made it possible for him to overcome such huge barriers to being such an accomplished athlete.
He said, “It’s all about what you focus on. Focus on what you don’t have, like fingers and toes, and you’ll get depressed. Focus on what you do have and what you can do, and you get to do great things.”
None of us knows what this year will bring, except we know there will be set backs and things that don’t go our way. In those times it’s important to remember that where we choose to put our focus will make all the difference, no matter what the setbacks might be.
It echoes the words of one my heroes, William James, who said “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.”
In every situation, we can choose to focus on how someone hurt us, on what we don’t have, on what we can’t change, and what’s not in our control.
Or, in those same painful situations, we can focus on what we do have, what we can change, and what is in our control.
Whatever we condition ourselves to focus on, in any situation, will make all the difference. It’s not about “thinking positive,” it’s choosing a more productive, more self-empowering psychology. And it can lead to great things.