Counting up small victories can keep you on track

As the month of August wraps up, I’ve been taking stock of how my clients are doing and noting their progress. It’s been quite a rewarding experience as people have been telling me about their successes. One of my clients has never (ever) seen his blood pressure reading lower than 140/ 90 … until last week when his doctor recorded it as 127/70! A woman I have been working with just told me she has delayed her quarterly cortisone injection for shoulder pain because she just doesn’t feel like she needs it. You might also remember the guitarist that I mentioned several columns ago. He sent me a text to let me know that he is now practicing for the first time in years without being in agony following the session. You can imagine how gratifying it is to get this kind of feedback.

On the other hand, I’ve also been noticing clients who are feeling frustrated by what they feel is a lack of improvement to their pain or dysfunction levels. When someone decides to start building their strength and endurance to help manage a medical condition, it isn’t something that is undertaken lightly. Some of the people I see have been dealing with their problems for years and have, finally, built up the courage to try to make things better. When improvement isn’t immediate, or consistent, it can be very frustrating.

I’ve been in an interesting position in 2016 to be able to really empathize with the clients I work with. In April, I had shoulder surgery to address multiple rotator cuff tears, bursitis and arthritis. That meant I have been going through a rehabilitation process of my own at the same time as I’ve been guiding my clients through their workouts. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that while progress does happen it is very rarely, if ever, linear. Things get better for a while … and then they don’t! I can think of specific times when I felt like I was actually in MORE pain than before surgery. During these times, I was able to stay motivated and focused on my recovery plan by taking stock of some of the accomplishments that I’d experienced in the weeks since my operation.

In the book “The Dip,” author Seth Godin characterizes “dips” in enthusiasm, momentum or success as temporary setbacks that can be overcome. The dips I experienced in physiotherapy were always followed by a week of noticeable improvement. The same goes for the clients I outlined above. Like everyone, they started their fitness journey with enthusiasm and energy. After initial success, the first dip appeared as lack of progress, pain or undue fatigue. Recognizing that these are all normal and to be expected over the long term, we made adjustments and reassessed their plan until they started to move in a positive direction.

The real challenge then is to be able to recognize if you are in a dip and should persevere, or if you are facing a dead end where quitting is the best option.

I’ve found that the best way to understand if you should keep going through a dip is to take stock to see how far you’ve come. Knowing that you’re moving in a positive direction goes a long way in keeping you on task.

When I first meet with a client, I ask them “What would you like to be able to do, that you can’t do now?” If you can answer this, in very specific terms, you’ll be able to come up with milestones along the way to let you know you are “getting there.” For me, the answer was “I want to be able to throw a baseball again.”

Here are five milestones that I noted when I was frustrated by pain and what I thought was lack of progress;

• I slept through the night

• I was able to sleep on my shoulder.

• I was able to shave with my right hand.

• I could play a game of darts.

• I rode my mountain bike 50k.

Although I haven’t thrown a ball yet, looking at my list of accomplishments makes it clear that I am moving in the right direction.

If you are trying to manage a painful or limiting medical condition, ask yourself these two questions;

“What would I like to be able to do that I can’t do now?” and “How will I know that my plan is working and I am getting closer to my goal?” Be as specific as you can and you’ll have a powerful tool for getting through the inevitable “dips” you’ll face as you work on your health and fitness.

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