by Elayna Alexandra
Like a lot new amputees, I focused on what I suddenly couldn’t do in the immediate aftermath of limb loss. My life began to feel unmanageable, and my depression about my situation grew. My negative mindset impeded my healing process and limited my possibilities.
It was a classic illustration of a familiar concept: What we focus on grows. Our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs can shape our reality. When we devote a lot of attention and energy to something, it becomes larger and more prominent in our lives.
As a certified coach, I knew that focusing on the negative aspect of any experience can make it seem more overwhelming than it actually is, making it difficult to find solutions. It creates a cycle of negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, and stress, pulling you into a downward spiral that can be hard to break out of. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can make it difficult to see a path forward. When one is fixated on what opportunities they’ve lost, one may struggle to see the possibilities that still exist—and that can prevent an individual from making progress in their recovery. Instead of concentrating on rehabilitation to regain your physical abilities, you may become preoccupied with the abilities you can’t regain, making it difficult to see the potential for improvement.
When I found myself dwelling on “I can’t”s, limitations, intense pain, grief, and darkness after my amputation, I knew I needed help. The first step I took was to hire a coach and therapist to support me. With their guidance, I began carefully monitoring my thoughts and changing their orientation. While focusing on the negative makes it grow, the converse is also true: Focusing on the positive can help you cultivate a more upbeat mindset and outlook on life. So I made a conscious effort to train my attention on the things that I could do as an amputee, the successful adaptations and accommodations I had made, and the wins (small and large) that I achieved over time. Once I began looking for positive ideas, it became easier and easier to find them, and my life began to bloom.
I started out by focusing on the incredible fact that I was still alive, I could still feel, my nerves were healing, and my medical team was supporting me every step of the way. I celebrated each adaptation that helped me regain part of my independence, and I gave myself credit for each skill I learned to do in a new way—each “I can’t” that I turned into an “I can.” When I discovered a robotic vacuum that allowed me to keep my home tidy without having to pick up a vacuum, I gave that improvement the recognition it deserved. I did the same thing when I acquired an iWalk, bought a wheelchair, set up grocery delivery, and took many other steps forward. The more I focused on each solution, the more my self-confidence grew and the larger my belief that I could figure things out became.
Positivity can expand if we give it the attention it needs to grow; it can lift us up just as surely as negativity can spiral us down. When we focus away from our pain or challenges and turn toward the things we can do, we can find the possibility of gratitude in our circumstance—and even create space for joy and hope.
Of course, it’s never a straight road. It hasn’t been a straight road for me. Sometimes I fall back into negative habits, and when I get caught in a particularly sticky spiral I have to rely on my “Life Boat” to get me out of it. But Post-it notes on my mirror, my refrigerator, and my desk remind me to be mindful of what I focus on. Once I became aware of my negative thoughts, I knew I had a choice: I could continue to be fixed in an unhealthy mindset, or I could nurture positive thoughts and open myself to other alternatives. Just as dirt collects if we don’t dust regularly, negative thoughts can clog up our mind and diminish our happiness unless we sweep them away.
I invite you to pause for a few minutes today and take inventory of where you are directing your mind. Be gentle and offer yourself grace if you are not happy with your current patterns. Change takes time. Begin regularly monitoring the quality of your thoughts and slowly offer yourself substitutions if needed. Set specific, measurable, and realistic goals that support you in finding your progress. Celebrate everything!