How to Cultivate a “What If Up” Culture

A few years ago, I signed up to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I wasn’t exactly sure that I could do it.  I am far from old, but I remember my daughter patting me on my hand and saying, “It’s so sweet that you think you can do something like that.” The challenge was on.  I wasn’t going to let her tell me I couldn’t do it.  But the odds were against me. Not only is Mt Kilimanjaro the tallest free standing mountain in the world, standing at 19,341 feet, but I wasn’t even the most worried about the altitude sickness and the endurance necessary to make it to the top.  I had another worry.  

I have an 11-inch spinal fusion, 3 artificial discs and 4 steel cages in my spine from severe scoliosis as a child. Several of  my back muscles atrophied and often don’t work. My doctor was radically against the 7-day physical climb because of the muscle fatigue that I would experience AND I’m a senior executive that sits at a desk most of the time. He said, “You can’t work out 4-8 hours a day. You’ll feel your limbs go numb and you’ll experience extensive pain. You’ll have hours and hours of climbing, with no way to easily tap out.” He wasn’t wrong. 

I did experience all those things. I did feel my limbs going numb.  I did experience extensive pain. I did hit several moments where I wanted to quit.  What surprised me the most is I made it to the top. I believed I could. I willed myself there. It wasn’t the first mountain I’d had to climb in life.  

When Life Spirals Downward

Early in life, I married my high school sweetheart and moved to San Diego. With a job in healthcare, I had my dream life. I had a child, but when my daughter was 2, my husband deserted me.  I was a single mom at a very young age.  Year later he died in a motorcycle accident. 

I was a single parent, trying to make it in a competitive market place. I did climb the corporate ladder, first at Sharp Healthcare, and then at IDX Systems Corporation.  I became the International Product Strategy Director at IDX and eventually General Electric.  Wow, I was ‘rockin in’ in my corporate life but I was working all the time.  I was losing out on life and perspective.   I woke up one day, and I realized that I wasn’t happy with many  elements in my life (weight, spiritual, mental, work, family life). 

In our minds, we focus on the negative and we spiral out of control.  We dig a deeper and deeper hole. That’s because our mind just keeps repeating, “This is not going well” and “That’s not going well either.” We color our world with our thinking, and our perception becomes  our reality. I didn’t believe that until I altered my own perception and changed my perspective. So, what did I do? 

How You Can Maintain a Positive Outlook

For starters, I shifted my focus. Instead of looking out the rearview mirror of my life,  I turned my head to the front and focused on gratitude and what was going right. I re-directed my focus. 

Next, I took a positive approach and started writing my feelings down. I asked myself, “What would it take to focus on the amazing things in my life?” Within 4 days, I started seeing results. I call it, “What if uping.” Ask yourself,  “What if everything goes amazingly well?” instead of “What if I lose my job?”

This success story is a testament that a positive outlook changes the end result. That’s the metric of the human will. That human positivity can overcome profound barriers in work and life itself. 

Ways A Positive Outlook Affect Change

Questions people always ask me include, “How did you stay positive? How do you overcome challenges and change your mindset?” I had a blog with about 100k subscribers. I’d tell them, “The mountain is in your head.”  I’d share that, “Our minds are more powerful than the limitations we put on them.” 

Think about it. If you believe in your own Kool-Aid, you start planning for your own success. You start marching in that direction and exposing yourself to other people who can encourage you. And, there are a lot of good examples: 

      • John R. Wooden, said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” Referred to as the Wizard of Westwood, he was a basketball player and coach who won 10 NCAA champions in 12 years. 
      • Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, said, “Our only limitations are the ones we set up in our own minds.”
      • With President Kennedy, how do you think we walked on the moon? They said it was crazy. He said we could do it. 
      • Roger Bannister changed the running world with a 4-minute mile.

Importance of Daily Gratitude and Mindfulness

Wayne Dyer wrote, The Power of Intent. It’s willingness to change. With your outlook, if you believe one barrier will hold you back, it will. It’s easier to do a good habit and stop doing it than to kick out of neutral and change that mindset. Why? It takes 30 days to develop a new thought process. But, you might wonder, how does that positive mindset help? How can thinking about something make it happen in a better way?

When we focus on ourselves, our worlds close in. We tend to be more negative. But, when we make a concerted effort and focus on others in our life path, it almost effortlessly helps us shift our focus toward positivity. There’s something equally intertwined in giving our time, resources and attention to others in the community that helps us stay positive.

In moments when I’m feeling it flip, I go under the bridges in Dallas. I hand out food, resources and McDonald’s gift cards. I come back a totally different person. I’m more grateful for the lunch I had and the job I have. Focusing on others changes us and we’re in a giant whitespace of limitless possibilities. 

Cultivating a “What If Up” Culture

With positive thinking and focusing on others, we can change our world for our patients. Our communities can even help parents and kids struggling with at-home assignments. Let’s start a EHR positivity movement on “What if up.” Here are a few to start with. What if all of this goes away and our visits and revenues come back full force? What if we learn some amazing benefits of how to value our time and live differently? Ultimately, it will happen. I believe it. 

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