Some years back, a co-worker of mine (a sponsored Ironman triathlete) suffered a serious and debilitating injury as she was preparing for a race. Within an instant, her months of training, the excitement and anticipation, and her sense of identity were gone.
I’ll never forget seeing her the day after she was injured and the raw state of pain and emotion she was in. For weeks, she couldn’t even talk about her ordeal without tearing up. She was, in a word, devastated.
For many, especially those who are serious about fitness or sports, our bodies are like our best friends. When things are going well, we love to talk about them and even show them off.
But what about when your body lets you down or even stabs you in the back? Whether you are young or old, athlete or weekend warrior, here are the three essential strategies for when your body betrays you.
Injury = opportunity.
Everything does NOT happen for a reason. There isn’t necessarily a reason you blew out your knee or tore your Achilles tendon. As the famous saying goes, sh*t happens. That said, every injury or setback presents a silver lining in the ability to see your misfortune as an opportunity. Our job is to pay attention to the signals and learn what our body has to teach us.
In the midst of an injury, the critical question is, What are the things I can do? There is always something, even if you’re bedridden and your only opportunity is developing mental acuity and resilience. Making a list of what you can do might just be the first step in finding your next passion.
Face your fear head-on.
Injury merely marks the beginning of a new cycle, not the end of your physical journey. Each cycle in life training or sport is represented by stages of introduction, growth, maturity and decline. This cycle applies to any material organism or fitness program.
It can be difficult to see the positive through the haze of pain, stress and agony, so the first step in outlining your recovery action plan needs to be addressing fear. Still, moving on is easier said than done. As noted, you’ll need a plan that starts with outlining what you can do. But first, you must face your fear, and that means naming it. If we know what we are most afraid of, we can slay the dragon and move forward.
Forgive (but don’t forget).
Instead of responding with anger, depression and despair when betrayed by your body, respond as you would to a friend — with self-forgiveness, open-mindedness and care. When you’re physically injured, the thing you need the most is peace of mind. While performance psychology is a widely accepted practice in the realms of elite and professional sports, a similar approach is also needed for injury and setback.
Anger, fear and frustration can impede the growth mindset of positive psychology. Therefore, the essential first step in healing is handling fear through forgiveness of self and putting your trauma in the past where it belongs. Meditation, prayer and support groups are good resources for channeling and releasing negative energy.
While your obvious first step with injury is likely a doctor, physical therapist or healing practitioner, a good next step may be to visit with someone well-versed in performance psych or even spiritual direction. As it is with successful execution and competition, your mental approach may be the key that unlocks an expedient healing.
The bottom line.
When my grandfather passed away at age 83, he wasn’t as strong as he was as a young man. But he still played tennis a few times a week and he still could do pull-ups or “chins” as he called them. In the end, my grandfather didn’t define himself by how good he was at tennis at 83 compared with his 43-year-old self. Instead, he was defined by the qualities of strength, endurance and resilience throughout the entirety of his journey. He defined himself by what he could do, not what he couldn’t. If we approach our injuries and setbacks with such grace, regardless of what circumstance befalls us, we can remain strong, fit and successful.
Betrayal is something we all face in life. When our bodies betray us, the pain is literal and figurative. But such betrayal is also an opportunity to begin again and define yourself by qualities, not quantities.