Don’t you hate it when people say to you, “It’s all in your mind, you know.” Whether I have been trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or not worry about something, I have inadvertently heard these great words of wisdom through the years. Once I came to understand the truth behind the cliché, I really began to notice the application to my life. Trying to quell habits has never really helped anyway; the battle really is in the mind.
All who know me agree I am one of the most positive people they have known. Those who knew me some thirty years ago would say the opposite. I was depressed, hated the world and was even suicidal. However, in the years following, I learned by the grace of God to turn my life around physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Through thirty years of teaching, speaking and traveling all over the world, I have come to truly believe that almost everything begins with one’s thought life. I, like others who have been a prisoner to our own way of thinking, can learn to be both positive and productive. There’s no question that in general I am a positive person. Contrary to the belief of some, I am not a Pollyanna; I do not wear rose-colored glasses and I do not wear blinders. Having been negative and cynical for the first 25 years of my life, I am fully able to be empathetic with those who still are. Yet knowing reality and choosing to react in a different mindset is what makes all the difference.
Having been one of the co-founders of a St. Louis alternative school, I loved the challenge of motivating the unmotivated. I faced teens who were so much like I had been in high school that I seemed to instinctively know how to deal with them. Also as an adjunct professor in the Master’s Program at Webster University for ten years, I found I often empathized with my professional adult learners in the same way. My lesson titled “On Fire or Burned Out” was extremely beneficial to both ends of the spectrum. Believe me, as a thirty five year educator, I know teachers are overworked and underpaid. However, the choice to enjoy the journey day by day, or to just survive until retirement depends on the mindset of the individual teacher – or for students, professionals, parents, spouses, virtually anyone!
One of my favorite community activities through the years has been prison ministry. Even here in the prison population, there is an opportunity to change one’s mind – if not the circumstances. When given the simple gift of hope, it often becomes a first time opportunity to realize they do have a choice – a new “boot camp experience” so to speak. Inmates learn they can take advantage of the available schooling, classes, religious and legal studies. Many for the first time are making plans for when they get out. Even those with a life sentence behind bars have a choice as to what kind of life they will have; what they make of it is truly up to them. For others, I see them return year after year, still as negative, still caught up in the same mindset that they can never stop the endless cycle. No one ever said it would be easy, but I have known millionaires who seemed to “have it all”, who are trapped in their own self-imposed prisons of the their minds. Hence, they live incapacitated, though not incarcerated.
Have you ever heard a negative person say that they aren’t negative, they’re just being ‘realistic’? That’s so untrue and only perpetuates a state of negativity. A person’s thoughts, whether positive or negative, have an effect on every aspect of their life. Because if one sees things in a negative – even hopeless light –it becomes a downward spiral. I have come to believe the saying that, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are probably right.” With a positive mental attitude, one seeks out positive choices and expects positive results. My husband and I have been in over sixty foreign countries, many of them third world countries where the people have virtually nothing. Yet when there is hope, purpose and a positive mindset, we have seen people in the most adverse circumstances move past fear and discouragement and even enjoy life. We have observed folks succeeding at things others may believe “can’t be done.”
There is an old adage that says "Perception is reality.” Think about it. A person’s thinking helps determine their reality. Negative thinking is realistic for the negative thinker, but only because their thoughts make it true. Ironically, the positive thinker also sees reality, just in a different light. Two people can experience the same adversity; yet one grows because of it while the other gives up.
An example is two brothers I had as students who grew up in what they called “The Projects” here in St. Louis. They both were raised by an elderly grandmother since their father was in prison and their mother was an alcoholic. One ended up homeless, doing and selling drugs, with no hope for his future. The other worked hard in school, went on to college and became a wealthy, successful businessman. When asked what the difference was, the first son replied, “With an alcoholic father in prison and no mother, I had no choice.” The second successful son replied, “With an alcoholic father in prison and no mother, I had no choice.” Of course both had an equal choice; one chose to use his circumstances as a negative excuse to fail; the other chose to work hard and use his circumstances to learn, grow and overcome. And so it is for you and me. Our “gutters” in life can become ruts we can no longer get out of, or we can use them to find the stepping stones out of those ruts. We all have a choice.
Dr. Debra Peppers, a professional speaker for 25 years, is one of only five inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame upon her retirement from Lindbergh High School. A member of the National Speakers Association, she has traveled to all 50 states and 60 countries teaching others that if she can go from being a 250-pound high school dropout, to Teacher of the Year there is hope for every child and adult. Her web site is http://www.pepperseed.org.