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Focus on What You Can Do – Not What You Can’t

We had just moved into our unfinished new home. A vertebra in my lower back had begun to deteriorate sending my left leg into painful spasms. With all the work left to do, it was very depressing and frustrating to be limited in what I could do.

As I sat with an ice bag on my back, I wondered how I could make this time productive. What could I do? One of my future projects was to go through a large collection of food magazines and remove the recipes I wanted to keep. This was the perfect time to do this.

I enjoy cooking and looking through the colorful articles diverted my attention from my pain and limited ability. Before I entered the hospital for surgery, I had gone through all the magazines, removing and organizing the recipes into easy to use notebooks. I turned a potentially unproductive time into a pleasant and productive time period. I still use those recipes today.

There are always meaningful things we can do if we change our focus from what we can’t do to what we can.

Arnold Beisser wrote in his book, “Flying without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing”: “Even though I could not move, I could actively engage with whatever was around me through the play of senses.”

Arnold was an athlete and tennis champion who contracted polio after completing medical school to become a surgeon. He lived in an iron lung for 3 years before emerging as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. Life was just unfolding when this tragedy occurred.

But he began to reframe his experience while still in the iron lung. “I could be more than a helpless victim, and I could have a part in determining my life and what shape it took.”

He began to use his imagination to creatively look at things in a new way. He defines the baby steps involved in changing how he looked at his new reality. “I had moments of great pleasure and satisfaction when I became absorbed in observing minor details and becoming an active observer, rather than a passive one… Eventually, I could pass a very interesting time looking at the ceiling, noticing small details and changes.”

He did not allow his tragedy to disable him. He went on to become a psychiatrist, an administrator, an author, and fell in love and married a woman he met while still in the hospital.

No matter what the setback or situation, there are many things we can do to reframe our circumstances turning it into something positive.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

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