No matter how much his body wanted to give in, no matter how intense the pain was, he wanted to live.
For years now I have had a strong focus on understanding psychological resilience and the multiple factors that compose resiliency. But if there’s one entity that I’d have to argue being the most important and impactful, it is mindset.
Our mindset is an all defining factor that moderates the effect that the external world has on us. Our mindset determines how we approach a problem and the way we interpret challenges. Our mindset will either make us or break us because it is composed of our most vulnerable beliefs and values. Let me explain.
If we believe that the world is against us. That everyone only wants the worst for us and that things never go our way, we’ll always be a victim to life. Financial hardships, chronic illnesses, natural disasters, everything and anything will be the ultimate driver to our disappointment and discontentedness. Because instead of taking the responsibility to better our life and look for solutions, we’ll be too focused on blaming others and expecting them to solve our problems for us. Because even the most powerful man is mortal and limited in his power.
If we believe that the world is dangerous. That it’s twists and turns are simply too uncertain for us to take on, we’ll be driven by a mindset of fear that limits our ability to fully live. We’ll avoid new experiences and new opportunities to grow. We’ll live our life within a circle of comfort and the “known.” But this fragile way of living will only tumble when external forces hit the delicate lifestyle being played. Because once safety and control are taken away, we’ll see that comfort and the “known” is only an illusion.
Now, I can’t tell you what the best mindset to have is. But research by Dr.Carol Dwek has shown that having a “growth mindset” is an ultimate buffer against all external and uncontrollable variables. This is because with a growth mindset, individuals may see and accept their deficiencies but are also aware that they have the ability to do something about them. Instead of blaming others, instead of holding onto illusionary control, or believing that they’re stuck with the cards they’ve been given, they search for all the impossible solutions to make them possible. They learn that in searching and asking, they will receive. That there is abundance and affluence in our being. The more we try to better ourselves in addition to bettering the world around us, we begin to understand the power of “yet” and see that hope is not lost, no matter how low we steep.
My interest in resilience and mindset began with my father. As a child, I was always impressed by his courage and mesmerized by his “si quieres, puedes” (if there’s a will, there’s a way) kind of thinking. And even though I had a low self-esteem and lacked self-confidence, they were seeds that I kept as a secret weapon for when I understood what he meant. Even though I have lived with multiple mental disorders that debilitated my ability to really push myself as a child, I held onto the internal belief that I could become so much more. With time, this became the driver to my search for answers. To look for ways to become better, smarter, and stronger. I began to excel in areas that no one believed I would because just like water, I began to find new paths to flow towards. Even if that meant taking a slight detour every time.
The issue is that my mindset wasn’t yet completely focused on growth. I still had roots of feeling like a victim and powerless against the world. Parts of me still felt fixed and predetermined. And whenever my father’s health took a major decline, whenever we lost our health insurance and had to look for a way for my dad to get treated, whenever my mother or I lost hours at work or a way to support ourselves, or just whichever stressor that came, I’d find myself in an emotional turmoil rooted in victimization.
This has continued for almost two years now. However, as I began to question why my current life circumstance took such a toll to my mental health, I began to see the deficits in my mindset. I was too focused on what I lacked, on what wasn’t in my control, on the sensation of feeling “stuck.” And with that realization I learned that our life circumstances are not the determiner of the quality of our life. On focusing on what new perspectives, new skills, new experiences that we can bring in, we lean towards growth to become the master of our resiliency. I began my journey of pulling myself away from the victim, fear-based, fixed mindset by turning back to my father.
And just recently he was being treated for pneumonia. We had to take him to the emergency room multiple times due to his inability to move or breathe from the pain. But despite his on-going agony, he’d still get up every morning and give it his best effort to walk around the house. To independently walk to the kitchen table or the restroom. The smallest of deeds that allowed him to believe that he still had the strength to overcome the physical battle. What we didn’t know about his condition until just a few days ago was that the tumors inside my father’s chest and lungs had doubled in size, the biggest being a little over 8 cm (this is slightly smaller than the size of your average grapefruit). Now in retrospect, I perceive my father’s ability to walk, talk, and eat as small miracles. The fact that he’s alive after such a severe condition in addition to the cancer is still breathing-taking to me. And if there’s something I learned while being by his side in all of this, it’s that he never gave up. No matter how much his body wanted to give in, no matter how intense the pain was, he wanted to live. He didn’t blame the world. He didn’t blame us. He simply accepted it and fought on in the hopes of getting better, of becoming stronger. He held onto the mindset that his current condition wouldn’t be “forever” and that maybe he couldn’t do things now, but he could once he recovered. In all honesty, I don’t know if there’s a better way to live than the example he’s set.