Just one week after he graduated from Yale Law School, while he was training for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Seun Adebiyi was diagnosed with lymphoma and leukemia. This forced him to put his Olympic dreams on the back burner as he rethought his life plans.
Adebiyi knows all about mental toughness and resilience. After experiencing firsthand the difficulty of finding stem cell donors (the odds of finding a genetically compatible donor is less than 17 percent for those of African descent, compared to 70 percent for Caucasians), Seun took it upon himself to found Nigeria's first national bone marrow registry--the second ever in Africa.
And Adebiyi did eventually participate in the Olympics, carrying the torch for Nigeria in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Today, Adebiyi is cancer-free, and he has become an entrepreneur. He's currently a self-employed, freelance attorney with InCloudCounsel, a legal technology company that automates and enhances high-volume legal processes.
Here, according to Seun Adebiyi, are five ways to develop unbeatable mental toughness.
1. Never confuse who you are with what you do.
The most common mistake people make is to confuse their self-worth with their accomplishments. Says Adebiyi, "I remember when I first missed the Olympics--fracturing my spine from overtraining just months before the 2000 Games. It was my first major setback as an athlete, and I completely crumbled mentally--all because I had made the mistake of tying my self-worth to my sense of accomplishment." In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
2. Master your inner dialogue.
What you say to yourself matters more than what the entire world together says about you. When he was fighting leukemia with intensive chemo and full body radiation, Adebiyi
refused to wear a hospital gown. Instead, he wore workout sweats and did walking lunges up and down the linoleum hospital floors, pushing his surgically attached IV pole next to him. Says Adebiyi, "Doctors and nurses looked at me like I was crazy, but I never accepted their perspective that I was a 'cancer patient.' In my mind, I was an Olympic hopeful who just happened to be overcoming cancer."
3. Learn to live in the moment.
Let's face it, sometimes life just kicks you in the teeth. Trying to avoid suffering is like trying to cross the Atlantic in a rowboat without getting wet. When the storms of life start tossing you around like a toy, you need an anchor--something you can cling to when all seems hopeless. According to Adebiyi, "That anchor was my breath. I just focused on surviving from breath to breath, and repeated the following words over and over like a mantra: 'This too shall pass.'"
4. Fortify your village, then build a moat.
In many African countries, there's a popular saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." This is true in life as well. Learn to pick your associates carefully. Find the handful of people who will support you no matter what, invest your time and energy in strengthening those relationships. As Adebiyi explains, you may also need to distance yourself from the toxic people in your life who tear down your self-confidence. "This might involve some painful conversations, spending less time on social media, and ending a few relationships," says Adebiyi. "But trust me, it's virtually impossible to master your inner dialogue and develop inner resilience with someone whispering doubts in your ear."
5. Be prepared, be prepared, be prepared.
As someone once said, never let a good crisis go to waste. Often, the biggest opportunities for personal and professional growth are found in times of upheaval and uncertainty. The time to "hurricane proof" your life isn't when the shingles start to fly off the roof, but when the sky is still blue and sunny. Suggests Adebiyi, "Work on your self-image, inner dialogue, present-moment awareness, and key relationships now. It doesn't take much: You can practice visualization/meditation every day, affirm your key relationships, and minimize negative influences with just a few minutes each day."
And when life comes knocking, you'll be ready to rock.