Think back to the worst emotional pain you experienced in life. Loss of a loved one, broken heart, business failure, getting fired from a job, divorce? Whatever it was that took your legs out from underneath you very likely altered your behavior. It caused you to reevaluate your life. It caused you to engage in some very deep thinking which probably led to some major changes in your life. Were they positive or negative changes?
I’ve learned so many things from studying the habits of self-made millionaires and those struggling with poverty. One of the lessons I learned is that these millionaires had developed a “positive reaction habit” to negative events. Painful events became catalysts for growth. Every mistake, every failure, every heartbreak was fuel for growth. For these millionaires, negative events resulted in positive change. They evolved and became successful.
Conversely, those struggling with poverty developed a “negative reaction habit” to negative events. Painful events became catalysts for isolation, depression and retreat. They devolved and struggled in life.
Emotional pain can be the best thing that can ever happen to you. It can spur you on to improve your life. I inadvertently stumbled onto the “positive reaction habit” when I was nineteen. A girl broke my heart. I moped for weeks, isolated myself from my friends and family and retreated. Then one day one of my friends, Doug Savino, got fed up with my depression. He looked me straight in the eyes and said “man up Tom. Stop crying about it. Show her what a mistake she made in dumping you.” What happened next changed my life forever. I threw myself into weight lifting, school and work. I gained fifteen pounds of muscle in less than a year, took my college grade point average from 3.1 to 4.0 within two years, got on the Dean’s List, worked more hours, which increased my income that I then used to pay for college, thus reducing the amount of student loans I needed. In short, I transformed myself from ordinary to extraordinary. All because someone unknowingly taught me the right way to react to emotional pain – use the pain as a catalyst for growth.
Over the past five years, post-study, I’ve thought a lot about this story of mine. That heartbreak mobilized me because my reaction to it, thanks to Doug, was to grow in a positive way. Most, unfortunately, have never developed the “positive reaction habit”. As a result, they allow themselves to collapse under the weight of their mistakes, failure and heartbreak. They fall into depression. They put up barriers. They devolve. That’s bad.
You will make mistakes, you will fail and you will experience heartbreak. But how you react to those emotional events is what will separate you from everyone else in life. Will you react negatively and devolve? Or will you react positively and evolve? Only you can choose how you react to emotional pain. You must make a habit of reacting positively to emotional pain in order to grow and evolve.