“Don’t focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do. Then get busy doing it”
~ David Knapp-Fisher
Here’s a strategy from my TEDx talk; and I say “a” strategy because if I tell you them all there‘ll be no reason for you to watch it – and we can’t have that now, can we?
In an earlier post we discussed how some people focus on the negative by saying anti-productive things like “I don’t want to be broke” or “I don’t want to work at this lousy job” etc. or some other crap that tends to keep folks paralyzed with fear and inaction.
The strategy to counter this problem was to ask better questions, which prompts our brains to automatically provide better answers, usually ones that included action steps to solve problems. This makes sense, right?
But what about those situations where life hands us a big, fat, steaming, non-negotiable, take-no-prisoners-shit-laden challenge, and on a silver platter to boot? You know, something so huge, so unfair, so frickin’ unreasonable that it completely gets in the way of living life the way we always planned to? Not sure what I mean?
Imagine this: A couple of days after a routine doctors appointment you are told that your five-year old has a disease that, within five years confine him wheelchair and leave his body without an ounce of strength? What do you do then? Let me tell you!
Obviously it’s completely normal to be shocked, scared and even fearful; I’ve been there. Oh, and tears will flow, as in “Open the floodgates!” kind of flowing. In fact they are expected to flow. A lot.
But once our initial emotions calm down, it’s critical to pull ourselves together and focus not on all we’ve been told we can’t do, but rather on the myriad of things we can do. Once we know what they are, it’s absolutely critical to get busy doing them. Here’s why:
Focusing on the negative in a situation – big or small – is a “glass half-empty” approach. It keeps people feeling like they are stuck in a rut or worse; they begin to feel sorry for themselves, overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Take it from me when I say that this approach serves nobody; especially those who need love, help and support during such brutally trying times.
In case it isn’t obvious, the boy is my son Tristan; and in 2000 he was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, an insidious and incurable disease that wastes away his muscles.
As outlined in the TEDx talk, the moment we got the news of Tristan’s illness my mind began racing. I couldn’t imagine my little boy growing up without playing sports, running and jumping in the parks with his friends or going swimming with me each summer in the lakes and swimming pools we loved so much.
I knew I wanted Tristan to enjoy his life to the fullest while he still could, so instead of overthinking his porcelain doll fragility, I immediately put my focus on what had to happen for us to be able to keep on doing the things he loved, and more.
I also wondered how I’d ever fulfill my dream of travelling the world with my son.
Not surprisingly, the medical community didn’t share my outlook one bit, one even calling my approach towards everyday adventure “reckless”. Apparently we were meant to listen very carefully to their advice because after all, they were the experts.
They spewed out a laundry list that focused entirely on what Tristan shouldn’t do, rather on what he could do to – you know – actually enjoy his life. “Advice” like:
“It’s important he takes these medicines at the same time each day”
“Don’t let him walk too much because he’ll get tired”
“Make sure he rests each afternoon to save his strength”
On and on they went, regurgitating a bunch of perfunctory suggestions that (a) didn’t prevent the inevitable, and worse; (b) didn’t bring a stich of happiness to Tristan.
But the way I saw it Muscular Dystrophy had given us a deadline of five years for Tristan to be a kid, and do all the things that kids are supposed to do. Things like walking and running and climbing trees and swinging in swings and racing down waterslides and jumping into swimming pools and all that fun stuff kids want to do!
And as his father, I saw it as my job my responsibility to see these things all got done.
So while these doctors kept focusing on what we couldn’t do and what we shouldn’t do, Tristan and I focused on what we could do to bring the most fun, joy and happiness to our life together. And then, we got very, very busy doing it!
From that moment on, we had an adventure – big or small – everyday. We visited museums and parks; swimming pools and playgrounds. We flew in a hot air balloon, and went tobogganing down a snowy mountain. We went to Mexico where we parasailed, jet-skied and snorkelled; heck, one time we even swam with dolphins.
Best of all, with the help and support of my wife Paula we were able to save up enough to fulfill my dream of taking Tristan travelling in Europe for a full month of cultural experiences. And it was truly the trip of a lifetime. But then…
Just two weeks after we go home Tristan fell one last time and was unable to get up. He has used a wheelchair ever since that day.
Looking back on this difficult period now, I’m thankful we chose to direct our focus on making Tristan’s life experiences as epic as possible rather than adhering to doctors orders for him to take it easy, and not do things that that would tired him out.
As a result, today Tristan has memories of New York City and Paris and Rome and London and a dozen other cities. He’s sailed the skies in a hot air balloon, and been snorkelling in the warm waters of the Mexican Pacific Ocean. He’s felt the exhilarating thrill one gets riding a triple loop rollercoaster and met the gargoyles of Notre Dam Cathedral. He’s done these things and much, much more. And it’s awesome.
And this is why that – despite having muscular dystrophy – Tristan has lived more and seen more and experienced more in twenty years, than most able-bodied people will in their entire lives. And for this, I am eternally grateful.
Whenever we focus on what we can do and then get busy doing it, it creates movement; and with movement comes achievement. And anyway you slice it, taking this route will always be a thousand times more productive and satisfying than sitting around wishing things were better, and life were life was more fair.
And if you still want more proof, just ask that globe-trotting-paragliding-dolphin-swimming-boogie-boarding-college-graduate kid of mine; he’ll set you straight.
PLAN OF ACTION
• Regardless of size, whenever life throws a challenge, focus on what you can do to improve the situation and make the very best of it
• Make a plan on how to best implement your ideas; then get busy doing it!
• Watch my TEDx Talk on YouTube to get the full story of how we applied this rule