The other day, a good friend of mine gave a talk in which he described how he overcame his addiction to alcohol, and it basically came down to this: he decided he had a choice. To ease the pain of life by drinking, or to choose happiness. To stop looking at everything that didn’t work in his life, and deliberately look at what was working.

In other words, to shift his focus. Now, this wasn’t a magic wand he was waving. His whole life didn’t radically change from one day to the next, but what did change was how he felt about his life. As he persisted in paying more attention to what he liked about his life, about life generally speaking, he craved alcohol less, he felt better about himself and his life, and with that, his life circumstances got better.

His story reminded of a post I’d read earlier this year about Madelaine Cable, a 17 year old from Charlotte, North Carolina, who’d suffered a fractured T12 (essentially, broke her back) in a car accident, and had to wear a back brace continuously for a couple of months in order for her back to heal properly. The back brace was large and white; people would stare at it and give her weird looks. So Madelaine decided to transform her brace so as to feel proud of it, rather than ashamed and embarrassed by it.
With paint, stencils and a whirlwind of creativity, Madelaine and a friend “steam-punked” her brace into a symbol of victory, of triumph, of the “warrior-survivor” that she is, rather than the victim or “weird one” others saw her as.

What a marvelous shift in focus! What a life-giving, uplifting choice! Not just for Madelaine’s sense of worth and self-esteem, but for the upliftment others could feel from her courageous transformation of a pity-symbol into a victory-symbol.

Every moment in life is a choice point. Every second you can choose to feel good about something, or rotten about it. You can choose to focus on the downside, or do your darndest to find that silver lining. You can remember that optimists—those who focus on the upside, who are hopeful and confident about the future—thrive. As did my friend, the former alcoholic. Optimists do better at work, at school, and at sports, outperform their own talents, are happier and live longer than those who focus on the “ain’t it awful” of life.

Whenever you are tempted to focus on what isn’t working, to sink into that victim-mentality we are all prone to—remember Madelaine and “steam-punk” your way into a better choice. One for joy, happiness and success, always available just a shift in focus away.

Author's Bio: 

Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, relationship expert, popular speaker in the U.S. and abroad, and author of over a dozen best-selling books. Dr. Nelson focuses on how we can all enjoy happy, fulfilling lives while accomplishing great things in love, at home and at work, as we appreciate ourselves, our world and all others. She is the author of “Happy Healthy…Dead: Why What You Think You Know About Aging Is Wrong and How To Get It Right” (MindLab Publishing) Visit,,, @drnoellenelson