I was listening to a very popular life coach and founder of the “High Performance Academy”, Brendon Burchard. It struck me how some of his advice would really help chronic back/neck patients.
He reminds us that in life, there is a constant stream of information coming in about the world, other people, and about yourself. On the other hand, you have formed an identity which is a set of values and beliefs and standards about who you are and what role you play. Your identity encompasses your feelings about what you are capable of achieving, what others should think about you, how confident you should be, and what legacy you will leave.
There is a feedback loop, the information/identity loop, where some of the outside information is assimilated into your identity, and in turn your identity shapes what people think of you.
I see this feedback loop go awry in chronic pain sufferers. For whatever reason, at some point they experience an episode of back or neck pain. This may start to scare them as they interpret the pain as a sign that they are getting old. They feel that they need to curtail their activity. It may get worse when they are shown their MRI report showing some abnormality, and they take this diagnosis as a sign of inevitable decline. By allowing these thoughts to become part of their identity, they become less active, complain about their back or neck, and start being increasingly pessimistic about their future activity level. In turn, their friends and family start to notice this identity and in turn reinforce this disabled mindset.
High performers don’t let negative information or what other people think adversely affect their identity. The best way to deal with episodes of pain or negative thoughts about a seemingly bad diagnosis such as disc degeneration or disc herniation is to learn how to interpret the facts regarding your condition in the way the highest performers would. When it comes to these diagnoses, you would learn that we have an incredible ability to heal and compensate for these conditions. With appropriate core strength, flexibility, good posture, and good psychological coping skills, rarely if ever do people need surgery. Many people with seemingly scary MRI diagnoses enjoy fruitful, active, and painless lives. Your interpretation of information shapes your psychology and in turn affects the impact of these conditions on your life.
Many people may have negative thoughts like, “I can never overcome this many years of bad habits,” or “I have too much pain with exercise and my pain is too severe.” Start with small attainable goals, but challenge yourself with lofty aspirations like, “Back pain will not limit my life.”
How exciting, large, and empowering are your intentions each day? Are you just trying to survive? Think the world is so stressful and your pain insurmountable? Then your identity is small. Instead, what would happen if you activated the best parts of yourself and others and were fully alive? That would clearly lead to a better quality of life.
Your current identity is likely based on your past. If you have had a lot of pain and anguish, then your identity will likely at least partially be tied up in this pain and disability. Instead, set intentions that are not constrained by your past. I am here to tell you that I have seen it happen hundreds of times – patients have avoided what was thought to be inevitable surgery by pursuing appropriate rehabilitation. It starts with a positive mindset that will allow you to have the energy to strengthen, stretch, increase activity, and improve your function and enjoyment of life…..Challenge yourself to think beyond your current capabilities.