Does changing the way we look at things help us overcome adversity and hardship?
That’s the theme of this week’s Quote Quandary, with a quote by none other than the 17th century English poet John Milton in his epic poem Paradise Lost:
“The mind is its own place and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
Now personally, I can’t think of a better way to embody the essence of the quote than with a story, one that takes me back to my (dreaded) track and field days.
I say dreaded not because of the people on my team, or the events, or the very idea of the sport. I say it because I ran distance. And I hate running. I know, you’re probably thinking, “Well Jake, if you hate running so much, then why’d you sign up for distance?” Great question, one I still haven’t found an answer for. But I digress.
I actually didn’t mind the meets (events where teams compete against each other) and all the different events- they were actually pretty fun. Lots of people, joking around and having fun, and a lot of food to look forward to after your event. It was the practices I loathed. And they were intense. And that’s an understatement.
One aspect of our daily practices was figure-8s. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it basically consists of a lap around our track, a lap around our school, then a lap around the elementary school down the road (which, thinking back on it now, doesn’t even resemble the shape of an “8”). Then again, and again, and again.
I hated figure-8s the most out of everything we did during our practices not just because I was always exhausted every time, but because they took FOREVER. They usually took up the entire two hours of practice and then once you were done, you still had another two “cool down” laps around the track to do before you could go home. I never thought of them as cool down laps; more as “You thought you were done? Nope. You’re looking kinda tired, so here’s two more” laps.
Now during these figure-8s, I lot of thoughts crossed my mind. Most were about how much I hated figure-8s. But I noticed something. Each time I started to think about how horrible they are or how tired I was, I instantly felt incredibly tired and slowed down a little more. That wasn’t good, ’cause the slower I went, the longer I’d have to run for.
So during one of my 8s, I tried a different thought process. I started telling myself things like “This really isn’t so bad” and “C’mon, you’re not really tired, you can do more than that”. And- you guessed it- I instantly felt better. I’m not sure how exactly it all works, but all I know is that once I started these positive affirmations, I felt I had an endless amount of energy, and I picked up my pace.
So what I’m trying to get at is this: the way we perceive the world around us, the attitudes we bring into every situation and challenge, will have a huge effect on how well we deal with problems, and I think this is what Milton’s getting at as well. You’ve heard this before, but while we can’t be in control of everything that happens in our lives, we’re in complete control of how we respond to events, of how we adapt to changing circumstances. And our attitudes play a huge role in this adaptation. What Milton’s saying is that whatever situation we’re in, it can be a total nightmare or nothing more than a mere obstacle in our way, and it’s all up to how we choose to perceive it.
What do you think? Drop a comment and let me know if you agree with my analysis, or if you think there’s a totally different meaning to the quote. And if there’s one you’d like to see discussed in a future Quote Quandary, feel free to leave a request by commenting the quote and speaker (if you know who’s quote it is) down below!