As I write this newsletter, I want to thank you for reading it and everyone enquiring about it over the last weeks. I haven’t been able to write as much as I would like recently.
A pretty rough landing in skydiving. Nothing critical, but an injury severe enough to have me slow down or stop many things, including this regular exchange with you. I’m recovering and on the way to getting things back to (a new) normal.
This experience, as scary and frustrating as it was, “offered” me some time to read and reflect. I landed (pun intended) on an interesting academic paper published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology by Professor Diane Wiese-Bjornstal and her colleagues in 1998.
They laid out the foundations for a psychological response model to injury and rehabilitation, which has since been reused and developed by many researchers and sports psychologists, especially in the area of “athlete performance”.
They discuss topics like how does a top athlete, competing at a high level, react to an injury? What goes through their minds, and how can it impede or fast-track their recovery?
And the more I read about it, the more I thought that many parts of this model would not only apply to Olympians but any high performer confronted with an “injury”.
I found similitudes with coaching clients with strong expectations for themselves that went through redundancy or major business setbacks.
According to Wiese-Bjornstal, there are three kinds of responses to an injury: cognitive appraisal, emotional and behavioural – each interconnected and influencing the recovery process.
- Cognitive appraisal is related to what we think about the injury. The reasons it happened, its impact on our life, including what we believe we have lost and how long it will take for us to recover.
- The emotional response is obviously what we feel as a result of our injury. Common emotions after an injury are anger, frustration, and boredom. Less often, we can also experience relief (no more pressure to perform), grief, fear of the unknown or depression.
- Lastly, the behavioural response is what we do after the injury. Among the different elements included under this category, we find expectations and goals’ adjustments goals, sharing and seeking support from our social network, and working on rehabilitation.
As I look back at my accident, I can easily picture myself going through these different responses, from the initial state of denial (or minimisation) to realising and acknowledging the extent of my injury, leading to some heavy negative self-talk, rumination, and disappointment with myself.
After all, I ought to know better. I should have done better. Now, so many things need to be delayed or cancelled. And a part of me was scared, doubting that I would fully recover.
If you got injured, these reactions probably sound familiar. But if you faced professional challenges, that might also ring a bell.
Made redundant out of the blue?
The news can hit hard, throwing us in a lot of doubt.
What’s wrong with us? How come we didn’t see it coming? We can be angry and frustrated at the situation. Or, if we were burning at both ends, we could be relieved.
And then, we think…
What is going to happen financially?
Can we bounce back quickly?
Who can we talk to?
What should we do right now?
In many ways, issues in our professional life can be seen as “mental injuries”. And like any injury, they are techniques to work toward recovery.
Tired by the pain and lack of sleep, I was quickly overwhelmed with negative thoughts, focusing too much on what was “wrong”. As a pattern interrupt and a form of cognitive reappraisal, I watched the news channel (which I usually never do) for 15 minutes. The constant flow of terrible incidents worldwide – far worse than mine – helped me detach from my current situation, shift my focus, and be grateful for what was going “right”.
Another approach I used was leveraging what I call “colour thinking”.
I could not go back in time to prevent my injury. It happened and it has obvious consequences. Ranging from the multitude of medical examinations and the numbing of medication to the loss of business and revenues.
But what could be the unforeseen results of this injury?
What could I make of it? Could it be that in the midst of setbacks, there were opportunities waiting for me?
That’s one of the core tenets of colour thinking.
The world is not black and white.
It’s not even grey.
It is colourful!
There is not just one solution to a problem, but many.
I cannot work. I cannot think. I cannot walk outside. I can “only” recover. At first, counting the time I felt wasting doing nothing drove me crazy. I had to be patient. Patient with myself, with the rehabilitation process and not overdo it, because it would be counterproductive.
That is one of my silver linings.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been impatient, wanting things to happen immediately (or done for yesterday). The injury offered me the opportunity to work on this part of myself.
I initially struggled with it, thinking I was simply procrastinating until I remembered a Taoism concept I wrote about in my book, called Wu-Wei, which we could roughly translate as actionless action or doing without doing.
Patience differs from procrastination, not from the outcome, which is the same – inaction – but from the decision process that led to the outcome.
Patience is the confident and deliberate choice not to act. It is driven by self-discipline. It is a controlled ability to wait as long as the situation requires, no less, no more.
Exercising too much would have slowed down my recovery. Most of the time, the best thing I could do was do nothing. And as I gradually felt better, I reduced my inaction, making a conscious decision about when to act and when to rest.
Often I faced coaching clients that went through a “mental Injury” at work and, pushed by their urge to perform, could not make the decision not to do. They could not be patient. They had to bounce back immediately and could only see their situation through a black-and-white filter in the heat of the moment.
With my accident and poor landing decision, I now gain a good story to share and help them colour their thinking.
That’s one of my other silver linings.
I hope this newsletter helped you too to think differently.
To your success,
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