We’ve all heard the expression about viewing life with a “glass half full” versus “glass half empty” attitude, but what does that actually mean? It’s not realistic to be optimistic and positive all the time when facing tough situations, but how we choose to interpret adversity can make all the difference in how we allow that adversity to impact us.

For example, years ago in a small town in rural Mississippi a young, obese, black girl lived in extreme poverty.  She was the youngest of 10 children, and sadly lost many of her siblings due to various drug or disease related complications passed on to the children through birth. At age 13 after suffering many years of abuse by various male family members, the young girl ran away from home. At age 14 she birthed a child who died in infancy. When she returned home she was sent to live with her uncle in Tennessee who forced her to work instead of to go to school. Not exactly the ideal upbringing! However, SOMEHOW, this young woman went on to become one of the wealthiest, most successful public icons in the world.

Who is this woman you ask? It’s none other than Oprah Winfrey. Years later after the tumultuous story of her childhood was released, Oprah was asked how she survived such hardship. After much reflection, she credited her “gratitude journal” for her ability to turn all the difficult situations she faced into an opportunity for growth and learning. Rather than resenting or regretting the events in her life, Oprah was able to use each experience as motivation to want and achieve more for herself.

Feeling spite, anger, and frustration are typically hindrances because they interfere with our ability to think rationally and clearly. If we can reframe how we approach adversity in sport, business, education, family relationships, or life in general,  opportunities that would have otherwise gone unrecognized are likely to be much more achievable. The key to reframing is first to recognize the situation you’re presented with, and then to recognize the specific thoughts and emotions you have surrounding that situation which are dictating your behavior. Only then can you have the ability to control and change your response.

Once you’ve experienced challenging situations in your life, it becomes easier to prepare for potential obstacles you may face down the road while pursuing various life goals. Developing solutions for how you’ll handle adversity helps keep you focused and on track if and when challenging situations arise.

As yet another year comes to a close, it’s so easy for us to get caught up in the details, large or small, of our lives and allow adversity to control us.  So whether you like her or not, choose to learn from Oprah’s story. Recognize, prepare for, and take control of the adversity you face. And be THANKFUL for it. After all, if there’s one thing the holidays are good for it’s reminding us of what we can be thankful for. Choose to finish 2013 as a more mentally tough, positive person!

About the Authors

Sarah Frey earned her masters degree in Kinesiology & Sports Psychology from the University of North Texas and is a Certified Mental Trainer®. Dr. Bob Neff is the founder of Mental Training, Inc. and has provided mental training services for athletes, performers, and business executives since 1990. His athlete clients include world champions, and Olympic Gold Medalists. Dr. Bob is on the United States Olympic Committee sport psychology registry. Both Dr. Bob and Sarah are among 25 MTI Mental Trainers® who provide 1 on 1 mental training in the Dallas area and worldwide through video conferencing.