Reframing traumatic experiences

When professional surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark in South Africa on live television in 2016, getting back in the water was the last thing on his mind.

“I’m happy to not even compete ever again. Seriously, to walk away from that, I’m just so stoked,” he said.

Fanning said it was a miracle that he’d escaped from the shark. But soon, the euphoria of survival gave way to reality, and the mental and emotional stress set in. In a 60 Minutes interview, the three-time world champion opened up about the nightmares that ensued after the attack and his internal battle to control his inner “demons.”

“I guess when something like this happens, you’re in your own mind, and your mind can play tricks on you,” he told 60 Minutes. “Your mind can…you know, turn shadows into demons or stuff like that. And then and then you sort of have like different self-doubts, and, like, why did I get away with that?”

Yet just six days after the terrifying incident, Fanning mustered the courage to return to the water in his native Australia. And nearly a month later, Fanning made his return to the competitive circuit at the Tahiti Pro event.

So how was Fanning able to rebound so quickly? How was he able to harness the strength and determination to overcome his deepest fears?

“It’s one of those things where you have to get back on the horse,” Fanning continued in the interview. “Things happen all the time and it’s the way you react to them that sort of defines them and what they mean.”

These words couldn’t be more true.

Regardless of what has happened in our lives, we all have one power that can change everything: the power of choice. We cannot choose the events that occur or the circumstances we may find ourselves in, but we can choose what we focus on, what we give meaning to, and what path we will walk down in the future. And it is these three choices, not our conditions, which determine the quality of our lives.

Even when you experience a traumatic event, you are given a choice. How will you allow it to impact your life? How are you going to mold it? How are you going to turn your life around? We can allow the stress and uncertainty caused by these events to overwhelm us, or we can transform our lives by making different decisions.

Many of us become wrapped up in the idea that we can just positively “think” our way out of something. That we can go into the garden and chant: “There are no weeds. There are no weeds. There are no weeds.” And everything will be better. But the reality is, for people to become true leaders, they must first see things as they are, not worse. Then they must see it better than it is, and then make it the way they see it.

The bottom line is that you have a force within yourself that is so powerful, there is nothing that can keep them from doing, being, sharing, creating and giving whatever they envision in life. If you are psychologically strong enough, you can not only survive, you can thrive when tough situations occur, as opposed to letting the environment control you and take over. It’s really about mastering strength within yourself so that you can conquer the outer world around you.

Ultimately, the ability to create an extraordinary life is within your control. Whether that means creating a business or starting a nonprofit, or making a certain amount of money, writing a book, a poem, creating a garden, or creating a family. The most important thing for you to do is to throw away the script of the past, and to define how you want to live your life — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Set the standard for yourself so that your brain, body and soul know what you are committed to creating.

For Mick Fanning, living life on his terms means refusing to allow the fear from the past dictate his future. So he made the choice to return to the water. And even though he was eliminated in the third round of his first competition back, he had achieved something far greater by allowing his passion and determination to prevail. Fanning had made the choice to not give meaning to the attack. He made the decision to focus on his love for the sport. He made the decision to continue down a path of strength and courage. And by doing so, his future will look a lot different than if he had allowed the experiences of his past to win.

Image © peapop/shutterstock

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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