It’s Not What Happens to Us, But What We Do About It

outlook and attitude

A few years ago, my wife, Heather, broke her ankle slipping on the ice in our driveway. No one heard her cries for help as she lay in pain. The snowbanks prevented any neighbors or people driving past noticing her. She dragged herself back up the frozen driveway to the side door. She yelled for me or our kids, but we couldn’t hear her with all the doors and windows closed. She threw snowballs and chunks of ice at the door to get someone’s attention.

When no one responded, Heather dragged herself up the porch stairs and managed to open the door. With more yelling, she finally got our attention. Our son, Chris, and I tried to help her stand up, but her pain was too intense. We called 911. After being rushed to the hospital by ambulance, she had emergency surgery to repair her shattered ankle. She was off her feet for weeks and took months to fully recuperate.

With her leg in a cast, she retold her story many times to family members and friends during the Christmas Holidays. She’d end by reflecting on how lucky she was. “I could have easily hit my head on the rock in the garden beside the driveway and seriously hurt or killed myself,” Heather said. “Or I could have smashed my wrist or broken my arm. I was lucky it happened before everyone went to school or work, or the house would have been empty.”

On the Other Hand Leg…

Rick broke his leg, falling off a ladder when he leaned over too far, putting Christmas lights on his house. He lay in agonizing pain among the low shrubs near his front porch. He alternately swore and yelled for help. No one heard him. He threw twigs and snow at the front window but couldn’t get a response. When he tried to move, the extreme pain caused him to faint. He awoke and proceeded to yell and curse himself hoarse. He finally lay back in the snow, growing ever colder. Eventually, his wife came looking for him. Rick had just enough voice left to scream at her for not getting her butt out there sooner.

At the hospital, Rick complained bitterly about the time he had to wait for his diagnosis on the surgery needed. During his recovery, Rick was angry about the food, nurses who didn’t respond immediately to his every whim, the other “jerks” in his ward, and the weeks of work he’d miss. He bitterly pronounced that this was “some kind of Christmas present.” He reserved his fiercest fury for his wife and kids for not hearing him calling them after his fall. “It figures! You never listen to me.”

During his recovery, friends or family visiting during Christmas holidays repeatedly heard Rick decry the unfairness of his situation. “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,” he complained. “And, of course, it’s my right foot. So, I can’t even drive the car. But what else would you expect?” He’d provide the litany of activities he was missing out on during the holidays and at work. “And it will take months for me to recover.” The only thing that cheered him up was his plan to sue the ladder manufacturer.

“I” check: Now Choose Your Frames

We decide which glasses we will put on to view our situation. When challenges hit us — often unexpectedly — we choose the frame to put around it. That frame makes our situation appear larger or smaller or brighter or darker. These choices create our reality. Bit by bit, these choices accumulate to create our life. They determine our personal health and happiness as well as our team and organization success.

A central theme in my decades of attempting to understand, apply, synthesize, and teach leadership skills is that leadership is an action, not a position. Leadership is determined by what we do, not the role we play. Whether or not we’re truly a leader is determined by what we consistently think and do.

Don’t P Yourself

Positive psychology builds on and extends the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach pioneered by Aaron Beck to treat depression to help non-depressed people increase their happiness and flourish. A key component of CBT is our automatic explanatory style. This is defined by the “three Ps” of permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization.

Our explanatory style establishes the glasses or frames through which we create reality. If we build the skills or habits of using an optimistic or leading style, the three Ps are a stairway to ever higher effectiveness in our personal and professional lives. If we’ve habitually chosen a negative or wallowing style, we slide ever deeper into the swamp of unhappiness, despair, and lowered leadership effectiveness.

Head Games: Masters of Our Universe

W Mitchell is an outstanding example of someone who refuses to be a victim, despite being victimized — not by just one horrible accident, but two. The first left him burned over 65% of his body, including his face, arms, and hands. A plane crash four years later left him paralyzed from the waist down, putting him permanently in a wheelchair.

In his inspiring book, It’s Not What Happens to You, It’s What You Do About It, Mitchell writes, “Your life is entirely what you decide it is…The universe starts in your head and spreads out into the world. Change what happens in your head, and the universe changes.”

The post It’s Not What Happens to Us, But What We Do About It appeared first on The Clemmer Group.

For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations. Check out for upcoming webinars and workshops.


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