You may notice this blog lacks the snuggly warmth of your favorite fleece PJs. Welcome to the tough love blog; this blog is about making hard choices. Mentally overcoming injury isn’t for sissies.
Do you have an injury? Is it healing slower than you thought? Did you decide to run again and now you’re back to square one? Have you done this more than once? Are you beyond frustrated? Are you pervasively impatient?
Welcome to the mental rut of injury. It’s reminiscent of the monkey house at the zoo. You fall into a perpetual cycle of negativity and frustration; at first it stinks. You want out. Strangely, the longer you stay in your rut, the less unsightly it becomes. The stink fades and becomes familiar.
Thoughts of frustration, anger, sadness and jealousy seem so easy and automatic they certainly cannot be a choice. They feel more like a natural default. Your friends who’ve been in the same rut even reinforce your attitude (mostly because they can associate).
Don’t be fooled. If you want you’re A-game back, you need to take control of your delinquent mind. You mental game needs an overhaul, but you haven’t a clue where to start.
Your first step is to make different choices. If you’re aware enough to offer yourself a choice, you can choose to look at your injury from a different perspective.
So how do you make different choices?
1) You have to feel like there’s a problem—a heavy problem.
2) You must be willing to try something new.
3) You must believe you can change and move forward.
I refer to these steps as activation energy.
See the steep hill our guy must defy to get to point B? That hill represents inertia, excuses, and lack of belief that making different choices pays dividends. Point B represents choosing to look at your injury from different angles.
To be frank: Injury gives you lots of time to think, and if you don’t make a conscious decision about how to think, you’re going to stay in your pissed and miserable rut.
So how do you overcome activation energy?
First, take the focus you normally place on training and refocus it on believing that trying something new will lift you out of the rut. In previous blogs (here and here), I include recommendations for creative activities you can begin right now. You might review them and think, “I wouldn’t try that, even as a last resort.” You aren’t alone. I’ve had the same thoughts. Pick one that evokes something you’ve always wanted to do. Try it. Then keep trying. No excuses allowed. The time you took to physically train for your sport is now mental training time. Approach your creative activities with the same dedication as your physical training regime.Second, show up and keep showing up. Think back to when you first picked up your sport. Proficiency didn’t come overnight. It took practice and persistence. You fell and you skinned your knees. You were awkward: wearing-underwear-under-your-cycling-shorts-awkward. Likewise, practicing your creative activities—exercising your creative muscles—takes time, patience and practice. It’s hard. Some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to. That’s completely normal. Just keep showing up.
What happens when you commit to making different choices and follow through? The cacophony of negative background noise gets turned down to where it’s almost inaudible. Instead of your injury being a constant source of irritation, it becomes your most unforgiving and rewarding teacher.
You may feel somewhat hopeless right now. You do have hope; hope is a conscious choice. Perhaps it’s squirreled away in some dark corner of your soul covered in cobwebs and dust. Dust it off and breathe new life into it by practicing new things and showing up (especially when you don’t want to).
If you don’t try something new, you’re likely to remain stuck in the rut. A serious problem plus willingness to try something new helps move you forward. Most importantly, by trying something new you’ll learn coping skills you’ll use for the rest of your life.
It’s completely up to you. What will you choose today?
To answer your questions in the 2nd paragraph – Yes. Yes. Yes yes. Yes. Yes. Injuries are intricately frustrating, yet the frustration is up to us to combat. This is either really great news, or really annoying news, depending on the person, day, etc. Sometimes I want someone/thing to blame. Sometimes I am way too harsh with the self-blame. And sometimes, I get it juuust right – I take responsibility without judgment. Now for the “showing up” part…
Thanks so much Heidi!
Yes! Your insights are spot on. Another tricky part of being injured is that one can go from blaming someone or something to blaming oneself to getting it just right in a matter of minutes. Our pain level and the extent of our limitations determine how we feel minute to minute. I know I’ve wavered among all three of these within one hour. Talk about a mental roller coaster. At the end of the day, the fastest route to getting it just right is to use our brain in a way were not accustomed to–write with a pencil, draw, take photos, color, sculpt, send letters to people, float in water, etc. Only when we get out of our heads can we find the balance you referred to–taking responsibility without judgement. Thank you very much for your wise and honest comment, Lara.