Whether an injury is keeping us off the playing field, or out of work, there is no question that they are a drain on our physical and emotional health. However, the way we look at injury and rehab tends to be one-dimensional. Too often we neglect how big a role our minds play into the process of recovery, since how we think and feel affects the way we perform. Whether that performance is cutting your 5k time, or recovering from injury, the process is the same. So in addition to working on your body to come back stronger, here are a few tips on how you can train your mind in the meantime.
Regardless of whether or not the injury was your fault, as it stands being injured is outside of your control. The more we accept our present state, whether we like it or not, the quicker we are able to focus on the things that are in our control, such as putting in the time and effort for rehab, and seeking help. This can be trained through a mindfulness practise, a present moment, non-judgemental awareness where we are more acceptant of whatever state we are in. So instead of draining our cognitive energy into being angry about all the time we are losing over this injury, we instead bring our attention to the task at hand: recovery.
Unfortunately injury rehab takes time. If we get too caught up in focusing on the outcome (which is not 100% in our control), we are only adding frustration and delaying progress when things don’t work out the way we want them too. Instead, we should trust and focus on the process. These are the how-to goals, the ones that are within your control, such as tracking small improvements in strength or flexibility day by day. Think of it this way; What is more stressful, cleaning the entire house, or just cleaning the dishes? You might have an outcome goal of cleaning the whole house, but that in itself can be overwhelming. So by breaking the goal down into smaller, more manageable pieces, such as cleaning the dishes, sweeping, then doing laundry (process goals) our brain is less stressed and instead gets a nice hit of dopamine by accomplishing the smaller, more achievable goals.
“Instead, we should trust and focus on the process. These are the how-to goals, the ones that are within your control, such as tracking small improvements in strength or flexibility day by day.”
We all talk to ourselves throughout the day. The problem is, too often we are simply not aware of how critical we are to ourselves in moments of stress (such as an injury), and this can have a detrimental effect on the rehab process. So is what you’re telling yourself helping, or hindering your recovery? As cliche as it sounds, research does show that the more compassionate you are to yourself, the better you tend to perform (crazy, right?). So instead of telling yourself that you will never perform at the same level as before, understand that you have complete control over your inner dialogue. So by saying “Hey, I’ve got this. Just focus one day at a time and you will be stronger than ever!” puts your mind in much better position than the former. After all, how we think and feel, affect the way we perform!
Marek is a sport and performance psychology consultant at the Pivotal High Performance Center. If you would like to improve your mental performance, feel free to contact him: [email protected]