Warrior's Guide

Chapter 1


December 2000

May 2009

Many people thought having a child at the age of 15 was a poor decision. Despite setbacks, I completed my Ph.D. at the age of 30.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was overcome with fear and dread of not being able to pursue my higher education goals. My family and I migrated from Nigeria, where we were part of the working class, to living in public housing in the United States. My daughter's father made it abundantly clear that he was not going to be a reliable source of help in raising our child. It was going to be up to my family and me to raise my daughter. I am not going to lie to you when I say that keeping a positive mindset was not easy, is not easy, and is something that I constantly have to work at daily. However, the negative people in my life, as well as the fact that I had become a single parent at 15 years old, were not enough to dissuade me from pursuing my goals. I promised myself that I would keep going even when things got hard and that I would show gratitude to the mentors who pointed me in the right direction. I kept both of these promises. Despite the setbacks and obstacles that life presented to me along the way, I managed to earn my doctorate by the time I was 30 years old. Today, I am the founder of Zukossafitness.com, where I work as an educator and coach for first-generation and immigrant students and families who want to go to college in the United States and live a well-balanced life.

What was the last goal you achieved without believing you could achieve it?

Think hard. I doubt your memory can give you anything genuine.

In most cases, your success and satisfaction depend on how you see things. It comes down to how you decide to view or define the situations you find yourself in. It is certainly based on what you believe this priceless life is all about.

Can you imagine that simply thinking positively can lengthen your lifespan by up to 15% and increase your likelihood of living beyond 85 years? Well, that’s what research shows citing factors like increased proactivity about health, lower stress, and a lower chance of developing chronic disorders and diseases. Many things in life do not go as planned, but positive thinking may significantly improve the likelihood. So, even if disappointments occur, you may still live a happy and comfortable life.

And that’s just a negligible fraction of how much you can gain from thinking positively, some of which I’m certain you are aware of.

But what good is having a positive attitude if you don't see any (positive) results?

In my practice, this has got to be the most common question I get from men, women, and children alike! It may sound ridiculous because, well, we all know that we should be keeping a positive mindset—that is common knowledge, isn’t it?

While it is generally easy to respond directly, I frequently struggle to construct the "right" response. This is mostly because the words convey a sense of hopelessness. It's difficult to understand how the person asking the question feels, but I always know how important it is to get it handled as quickly as possible. Most of the time, we are not as hopeless as we think we are. Because of the question, I gave some thought to how drastically different it is to simply think and say positive things, as opposed to facing the reality that failure is unavoidable. It's hard to get around.

So, if you feel bad about asking yourself the same question, don't. However, I would advise you to reconsider your position. Now, you may be wondering... how do I do this?

You must first come to terms with your (perceived) failure. You must accept the reality that you are human and may face delays in success from time to time. If you ask me, what distinguishes us is how we see and respond to failure; it's a basic fact that makes all the difference in our lives.

Everyone will fall, but we will all get up in different ways, and some will not get up at all. As a result, it only makes sense to shift your viewpoint and train yourself to perceive the good results of failure.

Is it ever a good thing to fail?

Failure has to be one of the most derogatory terms in the English language. It's so negative that it's difficult for some of us to accept it as positive. However, keep in mind that resilience cannot be taught in the absence of failure. One cannot be described as powerful if there is no vulnerability. Many of our top athletes and thinkers can't operate without it; they all believe in its ability to improve lives and inspire others. One of basketball's greatest athletes, Michael Jordan, once said, "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. " Many of the world's greatest talents admit to being refined by failure. Our ability to rebound from failures is critical to our success. As a result, success cannot be complete in the absence of failure.

250 lbs. doesn't happen overnight. As I worked on my PhD, I got Zumba certified and began to develop a Zukossa lifestyle based on my African heritage.

I used to be entirely overwhelmed by life. One of the driving forces behind my daughter and me launching Zukossa Fitness, an African and Caribbean dance fitness program, was the desire to learn how to deal with stress and the weight gain that was wreaking havoc on my body while I was finishing my Ph.D. studies at the University of Maryland. At my heaviest, I weighed 250 pounds! I had to do something. After receiving my Zumba certification from the man who created the dance, Beto Perez, and subsequently launching Zukossa Fitness, I embarked on a mission to control my weight by maintaining a nutritious diet and engaging in regular physical activity.

Like every other person, thoughts of failure and uncertainty flowed through my mind at the time I was starting Zukossa Fitness. What if my fitness program doesn't work? How am I going to pay my expenses, finish school, and develop this program as a single parent? I would often wonder. What if no one recognizes the value I provide? Even though I knew that worrying wasn’t going to help, sometimes I couldn’t control it.

Sitting in classrooms in the Benjamin Building; sitting in the McKeldin Library; sitting at Cole Field House; sitting! sitting! sitting! I felt as though I was suffocating. The stress of starting a fitness program, coupled with being a full-time student and single parent, had just become too much for me to handle. I knew what I had to do. The "hardest" exercise I was doing was walking from the car to the Benjamin Building and then, in the afternoon, walking from the Benjamin Building to the Stamp Student Union building to consume delicious processed foods like pizzas, hamburgers, and "salads" topped with loads of dressing; food that was quick, fast, and easily accessible so that I could get back to work. I knew that I had to change.

I began to teach more Zumba classes and walk more often. My knees hurt, my feet hurt, and my back hurt, but I kept going. After a while, it became easier. I had established bad eating habits that I also had to address. Eating tasty, but unhealthy foods had taken me away from my traditional African heritage diet, of pepper soup and eba, ogbono soup and amala, ewa and dodo, mangoes, coconuts, papaya, etc. I went back to eating like my Mommy and Granny taught me.

I learned that exercise is important for the body and mind; it releases endorphins that make you feel better about yourself and life in general. I also had to make a whole new commitment to eating healthy foods. I made sure that my new diet included plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean proteins; I also started eating more fish. As I worked hard to get my degree, raise my daughter the best I could, and try to make a difference by creating a fitness program to take care of myself and other people in my life, prayer was an important part of the process. Prayer was a continual part of my path, and it helped me significantly. Dancing helped as well!

Today, as I continue my work as a wellness coach and scholar-activist, I am aware of the need to regularly exercise my body! During my journey to better health, I came up with the Zukossa Fitness Lifestyle, which has helped me, my daughter, and our Warriors get healthier and live better lives. It's simple and repetitive, but it works! The Zukossa Fitness Lifestyle, includes: daily prayer and meditation; eight glasses of water each day; a daily Warrior Walk for a minimum of 30 minutes; eating an African heritage diet; Zukossa Stretch twice a day; and dancing, baby, dancing! You must dance, whether standing up with Zukossa or in Zukossa's chair! Yes, o!

So how can you achieve a positive mindset?

A simple routine of prayer and meditation is how to get started. It’s the best way to slow down, relax, manage your thoughts, and welcome peace and tranquility into your mind. A troubled mind and a turbulent spirit cannot be focused on at any time in life.

It’s the best way to break free from what you cannot control and focus on what you can and what matters, such as your health and family.

I meditate and pray daily. When I contemplate via prayer, I get a quick release of stress. I have a sense of serenity and optimism. The more I do it, the more I am inspired to urge others to do the same. This simple, consistent practice gave me all the energy I needed to grow Zukossa Fitness with confidence, so I could change the lives of many people in a whole way, both physically and mentally.

When we pray, our resolve gets stronger, we work smarter, and we appreciate every learning experience, which is often called a failure. While praying, we have the chance to be introspective, to ponder in a quiet state, and things often become evident, like a cloud clearing to show the brightness of the sun on a beautiful summer afternoon.

In the book of Philippians, we are called by God to think only about what is true, pure, and just.

Speaking from experience, keeping a positive mindset all day every day is not easy; as a matter of fact, it’s downright difficult sometimes, particularly when we’re trying to be "realistic" during difficult situations. I, however, believe that God’s desire for your mind and mine is that we develop the habit of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones—to be able to fill our minds and hearts with Their love, truth, and peace.

So, to improve your mindset, set aside an hour or so each day, or a few days each week, for prayer and meditation by yourself, with members of your family, or with members of your community.

Dr. J’s Warrior Tips

Follow these steps:

  • Turn off your phones, electronic devices, and other distractions.

  • Read a simple, familiar, encouraging scripture.

  • Reflect, meditate and ponder the words of Elohim God (Psalms 1-2).

  • Respond with your prayer, saying what you wish back to Elohim God.

  • Take a moment to rest, listen, and reflect on your prayers.

  • Repeat the following day.

I hope you do well on your journey and in your efforts to change your mindset!