One’s identity as an athlete can be shattered when injury prevents optimal performance. As a professional dancer and lifelong athlete, I have pushed my body to extremes time and again. I have sustained injuries in almost every part of my body and I am very familiar with the frustration, stress and anger that can ensue.
Early in my career, I realized the power of mindset to shift away from anger/frustration at myself, my body, and my environment, towards seeing obstacles as a way to grow stronger, more resilient, and adaptable. This has been transformational not only to my performance, but also to my life experience. I hope that by writing this, I can inspire others to discover this power in themselves.
Guided by the brilliant work of some of my favorite authors, Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch, I learned pivotal ideas about turning injury and setbacks into opportunities to excel, simply by shifting my mindset. Their book, Thinking Body Dancing Mind, TaoSports for Extraordinary Performance in Athletics, Business and Life, moved me deeply. The following passage inspired me to shift the way I approached injuries and to rebalance my life, towards healthier, more effective training;
“In your state of relaxation, imagine your pain. This suffering has come your way to enable you to bring about positive change in your sport and training program. This injury is a challenge, a blessing in disguise. With this new way of viewing the injury, you are ready to hear what meaning it has in your life. Do not ask, ‘Why does it hurt so much? Why did it happen to me?’ Rather ask, ‘What is this pain telling me? Why is it here at this time?’….Your injury is nature’s way of reminding you that you deserve a rest. …Focus on your life, and put your sport in perspective with everything else…Permit your body to relax and rest and follow its natural healing process. See yourself healing and whole, and carry this image with you, brining it up at least five times a day.”
By visualizing an injury as a messenger, I learned to ask what lesson it had for me. What can I learn from this? How can I use this to my advantage and begin to train more effectively? Am I overtraining? Not sleeping optimally? Not investing enough time in recovery? Can I be more strategic in my training? Smarter about what I am doing? Is my ego taking priority over intelligent training, rest, recovery, nourishment, hydration and stress response? Is this an opportunity to rest and develop other parts of my life that I have sacrificed for my sport such as relationships, play, spending time in nature, studies, travel, or rest?
Following this inner dialogue, I learned to thank this messenger, befriending it, and thereby turning around a cascade of stress hormones into a more calm, introspective, healing state. I would bid the messenger farewell, appreciate the lesson, and commit to proactive steps to growing stronger physically and mentally. I learned to shift my mindset; Injury was not happening to me, rather I was creating an imbalance and my body’s alarm signals were going off. By owning this, I held the power to turn it around, to create a more optimal life, and heal to be stronger than ever.
When facing injury, it is essential to seek the help of professionals (doctors, physical therapists, pilates teachers, health coaches, biomechanists and others) who can explain the science of healing, and who instill hope. The scientific power of hope is undeniable. Part of this includes recalling times when you have previously healed from injuries. And studying the stories of other professionals who have healed from an injury you may currently be facing. Know that it can be done, it has been done, and it will be done if you set your mind to it and invest in the correct information and strategy. Essential to the process is committing to the fundamentals of health: nourishing anti-inflammatory food, intelligent movement, quality rest and positive mindset. This allows the body to build its internal healing machinery and surge forward with power.
Every time we shift from a threat response to a positive challenge response, we create new circuits in our nervous system and a new balance of neurotransmitters. We can learn to change our own brain with constructive thought patterns. See my previous blog entry on rewiring the brain with the science of positivity for more strategies.
Some of my other favorite books on creating a champion mindset include;
Spirit of the Dancing Warrior, by Lynch and Al Huang
The Way of the Champion, by Lynch
Body Mind Mastery, by Dan Millman
Working Out, Working Within, by Lynch and Al Huang
Everyday Enlightenment, by Dan Millman
As an athlete, one’s identity can be shattered by an injury. Yet with a shift in mindset, we can use injury as an opportunity to grow stronger mentally and physically, to expand our identity, to be more resilient, adaptable, and to diversify our lives. All of which lead to ultimately enhancing peak performance. And to living more meaningful, empowering, fulfilling lives.
Create Solutions. Turn injuries into opportunities. And set your mind and body to optimal living.
Best to all,