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  • Writer's pictureTom Foxley

When Injury Strikes: Training Mental Strength & Overcoming Negativity

Today, I am going to give you the tools you need to (a) not allow injury to destroy your mental health, and (b) use the setback of injury to move toward mindset mastery.

If you’re teetering on the edge of (a), with negativity and despair setting in, (b) will seem impossible. I hear you, and I get the magnitude of the task ahead of you.

Without a strong mental foundation, your rehab will be slower, be more emotionally and physically painful, and have a higher likelihood of setbacks.

Mindset is as important as physio, rest, or sleep in overcoming injuries.

I would go so far as to say, the biggest reason athletes fall off their rehab plans, or rush the recovery and therefore re-injure themselves is the mindset they hold.

Fear or frustration get the better of them and they never regain the same level of performance they once had.

Don’t be that person.

Conquer the fear injury can create, and use it to become a better version of yourself.

The alternative isn’t worth thinking about.

Today you’ll learn:

  • How to maintain positivity in the face of a long and boring rehab process

  • What to do when you are confused about what to do next

  • How to come out of injury better than you went in

  • How to prepare yourself for getting back into training

Maintaining positivity

My wife has recently got back to full health after a full ACL reconstruction. She’s an absolute warrior, but it’s fair to say the 12 months or so to return to complete health was far tougher than she could have imagined.

Honestly, I’m in awe of her for the way she handled this injury.

So I told her about this blog and asked her, “what would you include in this?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” she replied, “take photos and find absolute proof that you’re making progress.”

When you’re in the depths of injury rehab, it’s easy for your story to cloud objective reality.

Fear that you’ll never get back to normal sets in, and you start to get negative. If you can’t train at all, that makes you 10x as miserable. If you can train, but around an injury, it ruins the rest of training.

When you’re injured, you need to maintain positivity by documenting your progress with objective proof.

Take photos of your improving range of motion. Take photos of you laid up in bed after surgery. Keep a journal of exactly what it was like. Track the reps and sets, and the emotional side of rehab too - what did it feel like?

Your limiting story will try to convince you that you’re wasting your time, but when you confront it with proof, you’ll find some extra positivity.

Remember, you’re not as special as you think you are

To make physical change, you have to put in the sets and reps. It’s obvious. It’s clear. Do the rehab.

But when you are full of fear, pain, and worry, you question if this will really work for you…

…are you special? Did you get diagnosed correctly?

When I tore my ACL (yes, both my wife and I have ruptured the same ligament), I was so frustrated with the setback, I couldn’t see that I would ever get out of it.

I began thinking my physio didn’t realise what I needed, and that I must have damaged my meniscus too.

For a while, I stopped doing my rehab. I had - stupidly admittedly - slowed my recovery because I let the fear cloud my judgement.

Recovering from an injury is as much mental as it is physical.

The advice here is simple: trust the process.

That means the experts. That means the program. That means trusting patience.

Come out of injury better

Every obstacle is an opportunity in disguise.

With the right perspective, you will be a better human, and a better athlete after your injury than you were before.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. When you get injured, you’re going to miss your big comp, take a step back in fitness and skill, put on a little weight, lose your mojo, and everything else to boot.

But it doesn’t have to crush your spirit, and in fact, can bolster your mental game.

I was training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu five times a week, hitting 5 CrossFit sessions a week too, and my first big Jiu Jitsu comp was just around the corner.

I’ve never been so fit as I was back then. But I was weak mentally compared to where I am now.

I got dumped on my shoulder, and it dislocated. I would miss the big comp, I wouldn’t be able to train again for months.

I was fucking horrible to be around for weeks after. Moping, grumpy, miserable.

Something encouraged me to read The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday.

I realised that the past had been and gone. I couldn’t change the fact I was injured, but I could change my perspective.

Maybe this wasn’t a disaster, maybe it was the exact training I needed to level up. By intentionally shifting my perspective, I found the opportunities: to work on my mobility, to dial in my nutrition, and to build a big aerobic base.

Suddenly I valued the time I had. I felt positive. I grew.

I came out of that rehab process a better athlete, and a better human because I intentionally shifted my perspective.

Train your character by practising shifting your perspective.

Prepare yourself for getting back into training

There’s a thin line on the way back from injury.

On one hand, you can push too quickly, and ruin the progress you’ve made. Potentially you’ll even make the situation worse than it was.

On the other hand, you can go too slow, and unnecessarily delay your return. Or even just stagnate.

You’re not going to have a physio there 24/7, so how do you manage that balance?

You need to learn how to recognise each state.

Chances are, you won’t have the expertise needed to adjust your sets and reps, but you do have a secret advantage…

… you can listen to your emotions.

When you’re pushing too quickly, you’ll be feeling impatience, and maybe FOMO. You’ll begin to reject reality and make “logical” excuses as to why you need to speed up. There’ll be an emotional signature to this state.

Similarly, when you’re going to slow, fear will be dominant.

You need to learn the self-talk, physiology of the emotions, and behaviours that you experience in both of those states.

This will allow you to become sensitive to the shifts in mentality, and therefore know if you’re rushing or not.


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