Injured Athlete's Toolbox

The Road Back

The Road Back
They sank me into the ocean
Wishing me to remain in the depths.
I became a deep sea diver
And came up covered with
Scintillating pearls.
Nguyen Chi Thien

Every tool you need for your mental recovery you already learned from your athletic endeavors. Recovery boils down to refocusing your focus.

As an athlete you are willing to: go beyond; follow strict training regimes and specific coaching; be compliant; be a perfectionist; work hard with diligence, motivation and persistence. The focus it takes to train is the focus you need for your recovery journey.

Almost immediately I appreciated threads among athletes who captured the opportunity accompanying injury. Instead of permitting injury to make them feel like they had just done battle with a group of Vikings, these folks were open to the rebuilding and learning process. Here are the most common
recipes for success.


Fire the shoulds and coulds
None of us should like Should: “I should be able to…” Phrases like this devalue your actual capabilities and any improvements you’ve made. Should dishonors what you can do. Should demoralizes and denigrates. When you “get the shoulds” your mind is flushed down a negativity toilet.

Make a promise to banish these words from your vocabulary. These words lead to self-flagellation and drain your energy because all of a sudden your focus and attention move to the litany of things you cannot do. Understand that when you resume your sport, you will be slower, you will have less endurance, and your edge will be dull. Try not to beat yourself up over it. The edge will come back, sharper than ever.


Fear inventory
You may value your body as your strongest weapon, but your mind is more powerful.

During uncertain times your mind latches on to fear. You are filled with anxiety about the future. If you are lucky, you have the innate tools to look beyond the fear, maintain your focus, and make consistent forward progress on your recovery and everything else important to you. If you are not so lucky, you have to work at it. You have to find tools that keep you out of the downward spiral toward depression. Talk to old friends. Form a bond with someone in a similar situation. Look for inspiration and write it down when you find it. Hug your dog, or hug your friend’s dog. Take pride in the efforts you make to heal your body and your mind. Remember that recovery is not something you do, it’s something you become.

Sometimes you have to fall all the way down to the floor before you can get up and walk again. Fear is well-equipped to knock you on your ass and leave you curled up in a corner screaming for your Mom. You want to avoid it, so you make bad decisions, doing things to sabotage your recovery. When you feel the pain from training you don’t have to face your real fear.

Address your fear and honor what you can do. Your fear will get you nowhere. Your freedom is how you interpret your fear.


Have at least one person who tells you the truth (and listen to them)
This person needs to be someone who doesn’t have a dog in the fight (so not your doctor or PT or therapist).

When you are in a bottle you can’t read the outside label. Your one person tells what you need to hear. If you find yourself discounting your one person’s advice…red flag!! STOP. Ask yourself what you are afraid of. Why are you so invested in your sport or a certain race? This person loves you enough to tell you the truth. Listen.



Energy and using it wisely–Your mind is your sharpest weapon
You pride yourself on physical ability and mental fortitude. Your mind helped you power through pain to reach top form.

The more your brain and body fight, the more precious energy you waste. Decide how you choose to spend your energy: thrashing and fighting or healing and recovering.

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 down you crash. Forward isn’t bound by time and doesn’t establish failure traps. Your body will follow your mind.

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.

Celebrating progress
Celebrate small successes and baby steps forward. The trap of injury leaves you feeling you aren’t doing enough, haven’t made enough progress or aren’t busy enough. You are enough and you are doing enough right now. You have made enough progress and you will heal. Remember, the biggest part of your journey is healing your mind, silencing your negative internal voices and controlling your daily attitude choice.

Would you judge an injured friend for taking care of him or herself? Would you belittle them for not progressing fast enough? Probably not. So stop doing it to yourself. Always treat yourself every bit as kindly as you would treat a friend.

Fake it until you make it
It’s easy to revert back to what’s comfortable. Sometimes it’s easier to choose bitter, angry and pissed off. Negative thoughts suck your energy. Ask yourself if what you’re thinking is 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 the future. Choose a different mindset. Choose gratitude and peace. 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, faking your new mindset until it becomes your permanent mindset. Show up and keep showing up.


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