My knee hurts. I don’t know what I did in dance class last night, what awkward move I made to stress the darn thing, but bottom line is – it hurts.

As I tape it up before going to sleep, I grumble about it, which, of course, does no good whatsoever. I wake up in a foul mood, trudge down the stairs with a slight limp, still grousing.

But when I sit with my morning cup of tea, seeing the brightness of a new day, hearing the birds sing, I shake myself. What am I doing? I know better than to be complaining, moaning, and groaning.

I know, from umpteen studies and scientific research, that what we think has almost immediate impact on how we feel, how our bodies function. And the worst possible thing I can do, relative to my knee, is feed my body pessimistic thoughts.

How You View Your Injury Impacts How Fast You Heal

A recent study done specifically on 60-and-older individuals found that how people think about their aches and pains shows up in how quickly and well they heal – or don’t.

Those who think pessimistically tend to experience decreased mobility and greater likelihood of more disabilities. Those who think optimistically experience better mobility and a decreased likelihood of further disabilities. What you think, matters.

Ann McGowan is a stellar example of one who thinks optimistically about her aches and pains. A National Senior Games champion, who at 93 won a silver medal for the long jump and a bronze medal for shot put and discus, Ann persevered despite her back surgery and a recent mastectomy.

She sees no reason to stop doing what she has enjoyed for over 40 years. Had Ann thought that back surgery or a mastectomy were permanent obstacles or that they spelled the end of the sports road for her, she would never have gone on to win these – and many other- – medals.

But most importantly, she would have needlessly deprived herself of her passion.

How can we think optimistically about our aches and pains?

Here are two easy ways:

#1: Temporary or Permanent Injury?

Let’s take my knee as an example. Is it a temporary or permanent injury? I can look at it either way.

I can say to myself, “Well, it’s not the first time I’ve done something unfortunate in class, or stumbled, or tripped, or in some other way hurt my knee. I’ve always recovered. It may take more or less time, but when I do the things I know to do – physical therapy, tape my knees, use ointments, take it easy, stretch more – my knee heals.”

Or, I can say to myself, “Well, so much for dance class. That’s over. I can’t dance with a bum knee, that’s for sure. It’s my own darn fault, trying to do things older people shouldn’t even consider.”

With that, I don’t do any of the healing things I would have if I had looked at my knee as a temporary hurt. I accept the permanence of the hurt, and with that, my body gets this message: “Don’t bother trying to heal. We’re done.”

Thinking optimistically about aches and pains is to think of them as temporary, not permanent. Just like a child who falls down and skins her knee doesn’t think of the injury as permanent. She simply gets up and keeps on going. Kids know – we know – the body heals.

#2: Bump in the Road, or the Whole Road?

I can look at my knee and think, “Well now, that was interesting. Fortunately, I have another knee, plus the rest of my body that’s doing pretty OK. Maybe I can work with my dance instructor, so we don’t stress my knee while it’s healing, put some emphasis on the other things I need to learn.”

And with that thought, I’ve categorized my knee injury as simply a bump in my dance road, not the definitive end to that particular journey.

Or, I can think, “Oh, no! I’m over 60, it’s all downhill from here. My knee is the first to go, next it’ll be a hip – or two,” and that’s it. I don’t expend any thought, effort, or energy in actually helping my knee heal, I abandon it – literally.

My body, obedient servant to my mind, responds with, “As you wish,” and sure enough, I would lose more mobility and be prone to further disabilities as the above study showed.

Don’t let your aches and pains turn into permanent misery or put a stop to whatever it is that you love doing. Think of them as temporary, a mere bump in the road, and you’ll be back on your happy way soon enough.

What kind of injuries have you experienced that took a long time to heal? What motivation techniques worked for you to get back on your feet after an injury? Have you had to readjust your life after an injury? How did that affect you? Let’s discuss the things we do to adjust when healing from an injury.

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