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The Power Behind a Positive Mindset


Tips From a Katrina Survivor, an NFL Player and a Navy SEAL

CarolynDr. Carolyn Mazur, founder of Fusion Physical Therapy & Sports Performance, discusses why having the right mindset and resiliency is important to performance and recovering from an injury. Fusion’s cutting-edge training and physical therapy techniques, combined with its supportive and team-focused approach, has helped build its reputation as the “go-to” sports performance and physical therapy place in New York City.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve seen clients who maintain a positive attitude often heal more quickly and reach their performance goals. There’s a growing body of scientific research to support the belief that fostering a positive mindset has its benefits, including enhancing performance and helping us through tough times. Science, of course, adds credibility to the power behind a positive mindset and some people such as elite athletes have learned to develop tools to help sustain that attitude. These techniques are powerful, and I believe they can be learned and incorporated into everyone’s daily life.

Part of learning is to be open to stories that inspire and show our resiliency as human beings. From pro-athletes to people who have a desire to overcome their physical limitations, the Fusion Team establishes a roadmap to get people back to the field again. So when I started to think of stories to illustrate the power behind a positive mindset, I also wanted show you our philosophy in action. These true stories include ones about a Hurricane Katrina survivor, an NFL player and a former Navy SEAL.

From Poverty and Hurricane Katrina to the NFL
Takeaways: Gratitude and Resiliency
Rescue during Hurricane Katrina, 2005, USA Today

Rescue during Hurricane Katrina, 2005, USA Today

This first story is about a young man from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. I met John (I changed his name to protect his privacy) at an NFL training camp, where he was fighting for a coveted position on a pro team. Prior to his career as a pro-football player and standout college athlete, John had all the odds against him: drugs and alcohol decimated his family, leaving little in the way of support and encouragement. At just 13, this young man, who was illiterate and obese, had resigned himself to a life of crime in the “Big Easy.”

Then Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and John and his family lost everything. After surviving the inhumane conditions in New Orleans’ Superdome, John ended up in Houston, where he was placed into an apartment with other Katrina survivors he barely knew. At that age, I know how important my family and friends were to me; so I asked him how he survived in such a desolate situation. He said that it was the kindness and support of the Houston people that gave him hope and made him change his negative attitude on life. He was surrounded by people who had a “warm smile, a strong handshake and who encouraged him to strive for excellence.” He had never experienced any of this before.

Winning the Lotto: Getting drafted by the NFL, NCAA.org

Winning the Lotto: Getting drafted by the NFL, NCAA.org

Surrounded by a supportive community, John found a new strength and desire to excel in a positive direction. This eventually took him to the NFL. Getting drafted to play on an NFL team is like winning the lotto: the odds are generally against these talented athletes, and as USA Today explains, the odds are so competitive that only 1.6% of NCAA football athletes will make it to the big time.

“Everyday I wake up and I realize I am living the dream,” he said.

He said how grateful he was for Katrina, because it plucked him out of poverty, introduced him to a new way of life and gave him the opportunity to not only discover his potential as an athlete but to discover his basic goodness as a human being. Besides discovering his athletic potential, John also discovered he was smarter than he believed. He graduated from a Texas university with a 3.2 GPA.

John’s story impressed on me that a strong mindset can help us benefit from gratitude and resiliency. In a recent New Yorker article, “How People Learn to Become Resilient“, the author explains that perception is key to resilience. Based on his research, Norman Garmezy, a developmental psychologist and clinician at the University of Minnesota, identified resilience as key to “succeeding, even excelling, despite incredibly difficult circumstances.” When I was reading this article, I kept thinking of John and how he learned to tap into his resiliency through the help of a community and individuals that “saw” him as a young man with potential.

Fusion Philosophy: It’s easier to be resilient when we have support. We surround and support the person going through their healing process. Many who come to Fusion wonder if they will ever play pro again, regain their full mobility or have the potential to reach their athletic dreams. We provide a roadmap and offer a supportive team environment that encourages a resilient attitude to the most challenging obstacles. By creating a safe community, we allow a renewed optimistic attitude to flourish.

When SEALs Take It One Step at a Time
Takeaways: Connect to Your Mission, Visualize Your Goals, Never Give Up

I have a client who is a former Navy SEAL, and we often talk about getting overwhelmed by the training process. When I asked Michael how mortal human beings get through it he says that the “secret” is simple: instead of focusing on what is ahead in the process, focus on one step at a time to get through the demanding obstacles and training. This “secret” sounds simple, but many times we tend to focus on the enormity of the task at hand instead of concentrating our efforts on just taking that “one more step.” This lack of focus can quickly deter us from reaching our goal.

Navy SEALs training

Navy SEALs training

Let me provide a snapshot of what Michael had to go through to become a SEAL, including “Hell Week”, where over five days the trainees will go through unimaginable physical and emotional tests of their mindset and strengths. Hell Week is part of the SEAL BUD/S training, or Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.

For instance, candidates have to demonstrate that they can perform more than 100 pushups in two minutes and swim 500 yards in less than nine minutes. Then they must team-carry a heavy log through extreme conditions. This stressful physical training is further compounded by sleep deprivation. But as Michael assured us, the training and the amazing results, really do happen one step at a time.

While the majority of us will never have to go through such demanding training, we can use some of their techniques. In The Way of the SEAL: Think Like An Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed, ex-Navy Commander Mark Divine explains eight powerful principles that everyone can draw from to reach their goals. Here are some of the principles:

• Live an examined life: What drives you and deeply motivates you?

• Master your body, mind and emotions: Can you commit to a life of daily improvement and training?

• Take your eyes off yourself: Are you living a life of service?

• Visualize winning: Do you visualize your desired results?

• Keep it simple, stupid: Do you have a simple plan you can execute?

• Small steps, massive actions: Are you willing to fail and move on?

• Don’t stop: Do you have the willingness to never quit?

Fusion Philosophy: These are great techniques and we really focus on visualization as a tool to achieve goals with our athletes. (We consider everyone that walks into Fusion an athlete because it’s about reaching personal potential.) The first step is putting together an action plan: We determine the steps required to get our clients back into play. It can be a grueling process, and we’re there to help athletes take small steps and keep focused on the end goal. It is just as important to take time to celebrate their achievements and give them that sometimes-needed push and enthusiasm to take that “one more step.”

Motivation at Your Fingertips: Want a glimpse of SEALs’ training; check out this training app with over 220 exercises, more than 90 movies and hundreds of pages of reference material about exercise theory, nutrition and overall wellness. There are also apps to help with positive thinking. Here are a few suggestions from The New York Times.

NFL High-Stakes Comeback
Takeaways: Creating a Supportive Community, the Power of Believing

I work with many pro athletes, and when they get injured the stakes of making a comeback are high, especially after a complicated injury or repeated injuries that weaken a compromised part of the body. There’s a lot of fear around their injury, and they want to know how soon they can get back to their pre-injury performance.

The first step in the process is putting the athlete at ease. After assessing their injuries and developing a road map for recovery, we reassure them that they will get back their ability and return to playing at their elite level, if not better. We let them know that we’re going to do this together. I can’t emphasize this enough because it’s important to create a supportive community around recovery.

NFL players - positive and resilient

NFL players – positive and resilient

I had one pro player with a recurring ACL tear, which is one of the major ligaments in the knee. If it’s the first time you have an ACL tear, you’re looking at a difficult recovery, but by the second or third time, the chances are fairly slim of returning to the “Bigs”. By creating a supportive environment and establishing a positive mindset of achievable goals, we not only got the NFL player back into pro-ball shape, but also returned him to the field for the start of the next season.

Much of his recovery was due to a positive mindset. Studies from universities, such as Stanford and Harvard, talk about how the right mindset affects our performance. In an article in Scientific American, “Your Thoughts Can Release Abilities Beyond Normal Limits,” the author explains how psychologists and researchers believe that “People have significant psychological resources to improve their well-being and performance, but these resources often go unused and could be better harnessed.” The Fusion Team worked hard to tap into the unused resources of this NFL player by finding creative and unique ways to motivate and push him. By constantly keeping the athlete mentally and physically engaged and accessing how much the body’s adaption principle was positively stimulated, we were able to accelerate his recovery and allow the athlete to find a new and sustainable confidence.

In Dr. Carol S. Dweck’s TED talk, The Power of Believing That You Can Improve, she tells the story about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate. If they didn’t pass the course, they got the grade “Not Yet.” She said, “And I thought that was fantastic, because if you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet” you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.”

Fusion Philosophy: We like the “Not Yet” philosophy because it doesn’t put a limit on a human being’s potential. This philosophy of opening the doors of possibilities has produced some amazing performance results and help people fully recover from some terrible injuries. We believe by bringing passion and dedication to performance and recovery, our clients can ascend to levels never imaged. Challenge yourself by finding your “Not Yet’s” and put a plan together to check those off the bucket list!

At Fusion, we’re fortunate to see the power of a positive mindset play out everyday. I believe we’re just at the tip of understanding the power of our minds. These stories about a displaced youth from New Orleans, a Navy SEAL and an NFL comeback provide further evidence that a positive mindset has enormous power to change lives and help us reach our potential. We instill in our clients the thought that this tool is available for everyone and that through practice and some of the techniques mentioned above, they can reach their wildest dreams. Some of our clients know their dreams, while others aren’t quite sure of their potential. So we like to think of Fusion as a place to help them discover their hidden dreams and potential.

We look forward to hearing about how the power of a positive mindset helped you. So send us your stories and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. Our email is: info@fusion-pt.com.

Related links:

How People Learn to Become Resilient, New Yorker

Eight Weeks to a Better Brain, Harvard

How Meditation Changes the Brain and Body, NYT

The Power of Believing That You Can Improve, TED

Why Inspiration Matters

Positive Thinking, With a Little Help From Your Phone

Are We Hardwired to Be Positive or Negative?

Positive Thinking, Mayo Clinic:

How the Power of Positive Thinking Won Scientific Credibility:


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