How to Overcome Problems and Make Progress Instead

I believe there comes a time in every person’s life when they feel they’ve hit rock bottom.

Some bottoms are deeper, a number are more critical than others, several happen earlier in life, and others later.

But I feel everyone faces that significant moment at some point throughout their existence.

My rock bottom came when I was just 19 years old, when I became a quadriplegic after breaking my neck diving into shallow water.

I was told that I would never walk again.

Doctors told me that I would be lucky if I were ever able to feed myself again.

They said that I would never again live an independent life.

I had some significant problems to overcome and here is what I learned.

Overcome Problems by Finding Your Motivation

After I survived my near-death experience, I had two choices.

First, I could listen to what the doctors were telling me, and live out my life in a wheelchair.

I could remain dependent on those around me.

Or, I could use everything they were telling me as motivation, as fuel, as a chip on my shoulder and do everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – in my power to prove them wrong.

The latter of the choices sounded a lot more to my liking.

The best thing those doctors ever did for me, aside from saving my life, was to tell me that I will never walk again.

How can anything be more motivating than when somebody tells you that you can’t do something?

Turn Your Problems Into Goals

During my first day at in-patient physical therapy, I realized the difficulties I faced on my road to recovery.

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During my evaluation, my physical therapist sat me on the side of a table and told me that when she let go of me, I need to stay sitting.

I thought, “okay, no big deal.”

That sounds easy, right?

Just sit there.

She let go of me and I went down quicker than a ton of bricks.

I fell flat on my back and remembered just staring up at the ceiling thinking “Wow, I have a long road ahead of me.”

That was my rock bottom moment.

How could it have been any worse?

I couldn’t scratch my nose, I couldn’t feed myself, I couldn’t even brush my own teeth – never mind dressing myself, driving, or even walking.

I had a major problem with my hands.

But first, I had to set myself straight, mentally, and turn my “problems” into “goals.”

Some of the biggest problems I faced were some of life’s easiest accomplishments before breaking my neck.

I started using these problems as milestones I needed to reach.

At first, I couldn’t lift a fork to my mouth – after a lot of physical training and repetition, I accomplished my goal of being able to feed myself again.

Then it was getting dressed – a HUGE problem I faced.

Once again, with training and repetition, over time I could do this independently.

The dozens of other milestones I hit were all leading to the biggest achievement of my life: walking.

This was the crux of my disability and the thing I wanted to prove most to everyone out there – that paralysis does NOT mean confinement and dependence for the rest of one’s life.

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This achievement came to fruition over a span of seven years as I was hitting all these other milestones.

Finally, I was able to walk again.

With the help of a walker for stabilization, I’m able to get around.

I eventually learned to drive again, too!

That doesn’t mean my journey is over, though.

My next goal is to ditch the walker and walk under my own power like I did back when I was a teenager.

There is always another goal to be accomplished.

Achieve Your Goals from Within

I accomplished my goals through hard work and perseverance – initially taking the doctors’ doubt as my motivation, but knowing I was the only one to keep pushing myself further.

Once we overcome one problem, there’s always another waiting.

The biggest question is how do you overcome problems in front of you?

It’s simple: you must believe in yourself, work extremely hard, and never give up.

Or as I like to call it – carry the three major tools in life: Desire, Dedication, and Determination – the 3 Ds.

As long as you carry those three tools, anything can be accomplished.

And as you make progress, you’ll look back on your triumphs and be inspired to keep achieving more.

I truly believe that!

Dan Cummings, Founder and President of Journey Forward, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to bettering the lives of those who have suffered a Spinal Cord Injury through an intense exercise program. He started this non-profit in 2008 after years of recovering from his own spinal cord injury. On June 24, 2000, while hanging out with friends at a nearby lake, he decided to dive off the boat – a decision that almost cost him his life. Dan opened his eyes underwater but he was unable to move. Two of his friends pulled him ashore and he was airlifted to Boston Medical Center, where he was diagnosed a C6 quadriplegic and spent the next four weeks in the ICU fighting for his life. As he started to recover, Dan made a promise to himself that he would walk again. He proceeded on a long journey, which landed him in facility in Southern California that worked specifically with spinal cord injuries for up to three hours per day. When he was ready to move back to Boston, he walked out the doors of the facility under his own power with a new mission of making the intense program available to those who need it. As Founder of Journey Forward in Canton, Massachusetts, Dan works to help others, with the dream of opening Journey Forward facilities across the country so no one has to move away from their families to find the best possible care. Dan lives in Hyde Park, Massachusetts.
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