Be Preemptively Positive

Life works out best for those who make the best out of the way life works out.

It was World War II, and it was Bernard Brunsting’s job to fly a B-17. It was winter, the skies were overcast, and the on and off fog and rain made flying extremely difficult.

To make things worse, Bernard was low on fuel as he was heading home to England after a mission. He was stressed out from ten hours of flying in combat conditions, and he was annoyed by his crew chief who was his usual cheerful self.

Bernard couldn’t take it any longer, so he asked his crew chief for an explanation. How could he be so cheerful? His answer was magical. He said, “Captain, when the facts won’t budge, you have to change your attitude.”

How true! You may have no power to change the “facts” in the world. But you always have the power to change your response to those “facts,” and that power can be enormous.

Even medical science backs that up. Dr. Thomas Hackett, a Harvard psychiatrist, found that sick people who minimize the seriousness of their condition by emphasizing their optimism, hope, trust, and humor have higher survival rates than chronic worriers. He says, “Sometimes the best medicine is in your head…A positive attitude has a life-saving effect.”

I don’t know if you have more physical or emotional challenges in your life, but I do know the two are connected. It’s no longer adequate to explain physical disease in purely physical terms.

Leo Goldberger, professor of psychiatry at New York University says, “We used to think of mind and body as two separate realms when, in effect, they are part and parcel of the same whole.” And Grace Murphy of the International Center for the Disabled in New York City writes, “In order to have a healthy body, you must have a healthy mind.”

One of the first people to popularize the mind-body connection was Norman Cousins. As a respected journalist and professor, he wrote and spoke on the topic many times. One study was particularly interesting, a study done on 40 patients who recovered from “irreversible” illnesses.

He noted that all their illnesses were preceded by emotional crises that triggered severe depression or prolonged apprehension. When the diagnoses of their illnesses were made, they were told they didn’t have much of a chance. And immediately things got worse. The 40 patients went into panic.

What made the difference was the decision they made. At some point they decided to reject the notion of imminent and inevitable death. They decided to live. They would take advantage of the best that medical science had to offer, but they would also get actively involved in their own recovery. They would do whatever it took to regain their health. According to Norman Cousins, it was that decision, that attitude that made the difference.

Attitudes have a definite biochemical effect on the body. An attitude of defeat or panic constricts the blood vessels and has a debilitating effect on the entire endocrine system. By contrast, an attitude of confidence and determination activates benevolent, therapeutic secretions in the brain.

Apparently a positive attitude can help in the prevention of disease, and a positive attitude can help in the recovery from disease. Dr. James Strain, the director of Behavioral Medicine and Consultation Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City reported that in another story. He compared pessimistic and optimistic men who had heart attacks. In the first group of 25, 21 of the 25 pessimistic men died within 8 years of their heart attack. But only 6 of the 25 optimistic men died during that time.

Of course, I’m not a physician. I’m not that kind of doctor. But I have the privilege of working with some of the finest doctors in the world when I do programs for the Mayo Clinic. My programs focus more on the mind, and they focus more on the body, but we see the definite connection between the two.

If your mind isn’t as healthy as it needs to be, if your attitudes aren’t as positive as they need to be, take some action. Attitudes can be built, and you can be your own general contractor.

I could outline several techniques for you, but space does not permit. For starters, however, ACT POSITIVE. It doesn’t matter how you feel or how bleak your circumstances, just act positively. Practice, practice, practice! Your behavior will change your attitude, and your attitude will change you, and you will change your life.

One lady in one of my audiences did that. I met Betty at a school district where I was speaking. She told me how bleak, how depressed she felt when she was diagnosed with cancer for the third time.

But then, like the patients in Norman Cousins’ study, she decided to live. She decided to ACT POSITIVELY. She told me that she decided to sing, to really sing. She sang upbeat songs for an hour each day before she went to school, even though she didn’t want to. She said somehow or other, she began to feel better. She kept it up. And with sparkling eyes and an infectious smile, she said, “I sang the cancer away.”

Well I don’t know about that. Again, I’m not a physician. But I do know that her development of a positive attitude couldn’t hurt and probably helped a great, great deal. It’s like I said in the beginning, “Life works out best for those who make the best out of the way life works out.”

Action:  Life is difficult, and it always will be. So practice preventive medicine–work on your attitude before you need to. Decide on one thing you can do to act positively, and practice that behavior each and every day for a minimum of five minutes. You’ll develop a great attitude you can use everyday, but you’ll also have some reserve when the big challenges come your way.