Joan Lunden is a familiar face to millions of Americans, thanks in large part to her 20-year career co-hosting Good Morning America. Every morning we woke up to her inspiring words and positive personality.
Joan was one of the first journalists to address women’s health issues and since her departure from ABC in 1997, she has remained an active advocate for women using her celebrity to bring a voice to those that are voiceless.
In 2014 Joan again used her voice to make another, more personal announcement: She had been diagnosed with breast cancer. At a time when it would’ve been far easier to remain silent, she chose to share her experience in an effort to help the millions of women who are either breast cancer survivors (I prefer to use the term cancer thrivers) or who are in the midst of their own personal challenge.
I applaud Joan’s candor when detailing the fear and anguish she and her family experienced post-diagnosis. She didn’t sugarcoat, she simply shared. She reminded others they were not alone, that she shared their same feelings, fears and hopes for better days ahead.
In this month’s Prevention magazine http://www.prevention.com, Joan’s cover story, Face Any Challenge and Thrive, is a terrific personal story and I encourage you to spend some time with it. It provides insights about the treatment she underwent, which included aggressive chemotherapy, and her journey to becoming cancer-free while healing both her physical and emotional wounds.
One question Joan answered was, “Was there a time when you asked, ‘Why me?'” Joan’s answer: “Never. It didn’t occur to me.” This answer wasn’t about being stoic, it was about having a forward-thinking attitude and not wasting time dwelling on answerless questions. Joan refused to feel victimized by her disease.
There is a wonderful lesson here for all of us: the questions we ask often become the context for the answers we receive. For instance, if you ask, “Why didn’t I pass the test? You’ll probably land on an answer along the lines of, “Because I didn’t work hard enough,” or “I’m not smart enough.” Answers that reflect how you feel about yourself when you’re in a very vulnerable place. If instead you asked yourself, “What should I do to improve next time?”, you’ll start to see a very different type of framework start to take shape. This framework is grounded in positivity and forward thinking! In essence: Your quality of life can be greatly influenced by the quality of your questions.
Another lesson learned from Joan is about the importance of keeping a positive attitude, which admittedly at times can sound a little woo-woo. It’s not! We all know we don’t have control over everything that happens to us, but we have a lot of control about the meaning we ascribe to the experience. There are significant benefits reaped from maintaining a positive outlook. For instance, studies referenced by Dr. Bruce Lipton in his wonderful book, The Biology of Belief, clearly show that positive thinking influences body chemistry, which in turn can enhance a person’s immune system.
Another practice you can adopt that will positively influence your day-to-day living is the practice of mindfulness. Simply paying attention to the moment you’re in, right now, and being aware of how your body and mind is reacting to it. For instance, I drive in an out of New York City a LOT and frequently find myself in gridlock traffic. My muscles tense, my stomach clenches, my neck tightens. If I pay close attention to this physical reaction and let go of the illusion that I can control the other drivers, I start to turn my thoughts to unclenching, unwinding, relaxing. I also replay the three-word mantra my family constantly repeats to me: take the train!
Joan is also a fan of journaling, which I’ve been a proponent of for nearly 20 years. I have found it to be a wonderful release and a helpful way to identify and reframe my feelings as I navigate the ebbs and flows of life. Let’s be honest, regardless of how close you are to family and friends, there are times when you are not comfortable sharing your innermost feelings and thoughts.
To me, journaling is more a letter to myself, no filters, no judgment. It’s just me, my pen and a piece of paper working through my thoughts in an effort to find a path to repair and relief. I always feel better afterwards and I came to rely on journaling even more heavily after becoming a caregiver 14 years ago on February 2, 2002. It’s a role I continue to play today.
In my opinion, being confortable with yourself is one of the greatest gifts life can provide. I have always been curious about this and my experience speaking with thousands of people throughout my career demonstrates that the great majority of people seldom reach this state. Being able to accept your fears, joys, anxieties, likes, dislikes and what causes them is not a frailty but a strength. Journaling helps facilitate this process, especially at your most vulnerable times.
We all have our struggles, that’s just part of being human. But how we handle what we’re dealt is strictly up to us. I have always said that the great equalizer is between our ears…our choices, thoughts and responses. In many ways, we are our answer!
Like Joan, choose the life you want to live and thrive each day!
Help yourself. Help others.