The right attitude and one arm will beat the wrong attitude and two arms. Every time.
—Pete Davis, climber (made the first all-disabled ascent of El Capitan in June 2012)
One day you enjoy wind and warm sunshine. The next day you are stuck to the sofa, hungover in a sea of denial. “It’s not so bad—I’ll be back in a couple of days,” you tell yourself. Without notice, you become an injured athlete.
Maybe you’re an avid walker or a professional triathlete or someone in the middle. It doesn’t really matter. Movement makes you feel connected – to yourself, your friends, and even your dog. No movement leads to disconnection, and that’s exactly where things come unglued.
Is your next planned race a possibility or a far-fetched dream? Nobody knows. As time passes, you feel trapped in your body and isolated. You hardly see your training buddies anymore, and that’s just the beginning of your frustration list.
You used to cope with stress by shutting out the world and going for a long run. Now your coping mechanism is gone. You have no reliable (or perhaps legal) means of managing stress. Your short fuse is getting shorter with no relief in sight.
Your goals are on hold. You don’t care to know your PR from the bed to the sofa. Your usual life is not one of injury, so when injury strikes you are ill-equipped.
So what can you do when you’re injured?
Fortunately, as an athlete you are willing to work diligently, go the extra mile, and follow training regimes and specific coaching. The focus you apply to your training is the same focus you need for your recovery journey.
Injury can leave you feeling like you just lost an emotional fight with Sasquatch. Here are your top three actions for a successful injury journey, living well and healing stronger.
Action 1: Ask for help
Nearly everyone strives to be independent, but if your best friend asked for help, what would you do? And if he or she didn’t ask when they needed help, wouldn’t you feel distant? Don’t try to do everything yourself. When your friends are in need, you find joy helping them. When you don’t allow them to help you, you deny them joy.
- Make a list of everything you find difficult (grocery shopping, cooking, laundry).
- The next time someone calls and offers to help, say yes and refer to your list.
- After they’ve helped you, thank them with a hand-written note—stamp, snail mail and all.
Action 2: Use your energy wisely
The more your brain and body fight, the more energy you waste. Decide how you spend your energy—thrashing and fighting or healing and exploring.
Helping your spirit helps your body. Suffering (the inability to accept what is) and fear waste energy. Both lead you to bad choices leaving you susceptible to further injury.
Don’t look back! Forward: Life is a lot like riding a mountain bike. If you keep your head up and look forward, your body follows. The second you look sideways, you crash. Forward isn’t bound by time and doesn’t establish failure traps. Your body will follow your mind.
The fact is, negative thoughts suck your energy. When you have negative thoughts, ask yourself if they’re really true, or just in your head. Chances are, your negative thoughts relate to a prediction of the future that will probably not occur. Fear is often just borrowing trouble from an unknown future. Choose a different mindset. Choose gratitude and peace. Choose positive thoughts, even if you have to fake it. What you focus on grows.
Changing your mindset is like training for a race. You have to exercise your new mindset. Sometimes, like on long training days, you will struggle. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, reminding yourself of everything that’s good in your life. Show up and keep showing up.
- Every night sleep at least 8 hours. Your positive mindset requires you to be at your sharpest.
- Track your accomplishments, however small. Write them down. Right next to your to-do list, make a “did” list. Read it every time you read your to-do list.
- Every day is a school day—keep a journal of what you see, learn and assimilate.
- Build a journal of inspirational quotes.
- Cultivate a list of things that you are grateful for. A simple note app on your phone is more than sufficient to document happy vignettes.
Action 3: Be creative, and I don’t just mean crafty
Creativity is like an eject button for pain. In fact, through my research I discovered creativity is the number 1 ingredient in the recipe for success. Invoking alternate parts of your brain will free you from the mental burden of physical limitation.
- Write down a list of things you can do, no matter how small. Really push yourself here. Maybe you can’t run, but you can walk. Maybe you can’t walk, but you can do yoga. Maybe you can’t get up at all, but you can find a few exercises to do lying down.
- Ask yourself: Other than my sport, what brings me joy? Write those things down and make time for them.
- Photograph 10 things that make you happy. Post the photos around your house and work.
Nobody welcomes injury when it comes knocking. Practicing the aforementioned exercises lifts your spirit and catalyzes your physical recovery. You already embody discipline and focus.
Applying both to promote emotional progress provides you with practical tools in your toolbox of life. You probably think I’m crazy for saying this, but maybe one day you’ll thank your injury.