China's figure skating coach used a "humiliating" performance from his own past to motivate him to provide the best training possible for future Chinese Olympic hopefuls. An American speed skater was so victimized by bullies as a youngster that he needed medication for depression; in 2004 he was nearly killed in a skating accident that ripped open a leg. He competed in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. A "loser" in the biathlon expressed his determination to overcome his loss with this simple phrase: "Next time."
I can't count the number of Olympic contenders who bounced back after seemingly death-defying injuries, disappointing losses, or crushing life tragedies. Their amazing stories kept me riveted to the Olympics coverage on NBC in 2010, and I'm sure the 2014 Olympics will bring a host of new inspirational stories as well.
Oh, and the games themselves are pretty interesting, too.
But it's the Olympians' ability to use negative events as motivators that fascinates me the most. Successful athletes cultivate a mindset that can turn even failure and tragedy into motivation. A beloved relative dies--"I'm using it as a motivator." A skater falls and drops out of medal contention--"I know what I need to work on now." A team member suffers an injury--"I'm dedicating this race to her." These successful athletes are poster children for Dr. Carol Dweck's idea that people with a growth mindset ("I can work hard and get better at this.") outlast and out-perform people with a fixed mindset ("I lack innate ability, and either you have it or you don't.")
Many successful habit-changers seem to share this Olympian mindset. I have known people who changed destructive habits because they were able to use pain, tragedy, or humiliation to inspire their change. Here are some of their stories:
• A young woman quit drinking after a humiliating experience and has stayed sober for over 20 years.
• A young man's uncle died of lung cancer. The man was able to quit smoking forever by dedicating his habit change to his lost uncle.
• A shy medical student decided to overcome her anxiety about public speaking so that she could be a more effective advocate for adolescents with mental health problems. She vowed to give at least one speech per year. She has now opened her own treatment center.
Not everyone can be an Olympian, but everyone can develop an Olympian mindset that enables them to bounce back from setbacks, learn from them, and solve life's problems more creatively. True, it's not easy. It takes deliberate practice. Still, it can be done.
I don't necessarily believe that "what doesn't kill you makes you strong." There are accidents, tragedies, and other blows in life that put even the best down for the count. But when it comes to pain that you've created yourself through destructive habits, welcome the pain!
How could you use pain and negative experiences as the spur for a positive change in your life? Or have you done this already?
I am the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). For short tidbits on habit change, motivation, and willpower, please "like" my Facebook page and/or follow me on Twitter.