I felt excruciating pain in my knee. Like someone had just taken a full force swing at it with a baseball bat. Next thing I know I'm lying on my back in an emergency sled behind a snowmobile. A cold plastic brace around my neck, green pine trees flashing by against the grey overcast sky as I was trying to stay still and not move my knee. All I could think of was "I'm glad it's nothing worse."
Just hours earlier I had arrived to the Kirkwood Ski Resort California USA. My sponsor Rome had arranged our yearly photoshoot there and as I had recently been promoted to the international team, it was my chance to show them that they'd made the right choice.
The Kirkwood park crew had built a massive 15 meters long and 'bout 4 meters tall kicker for us. I ended up not having enough speed when I hit the kicker the first time and landed on the flat knuckle of the landing.
Later I found out that I had torn the ACL of my left knee and had to fly back to Finland for a surgery and rehab. I had no idea if I was able to snowboard again. I thought my career was over.
Fear in psychology is often referred as the “Fight or flight (or freeze)” response. Fear developed as an internal protection mechanism against potential danger over thousands of years when we were still hunter gatherers on the savannah trying to survive in the wild. That’s when you needed to immediately recognize food (a deer for example) from potential danger (a lion or bear e.g.) and decide whether to fight, freeze and play dead or flight as in run away.
Fear is your internal alert system. Its job is to keep you safe. Fear is there to get you focused on what’s important and to make sure you “Check yourself so you don’t wreck yourself.”
The first serious injury can be a hard thing to swallow. For some it's the end of their passion. If you've never had a serious injury you've been doing your sport without the full perspective on the risks and sacrifices your sport requires.
When you're pushing yourself and improving your bound to make mistakes and some of them lead to injuries.
As a professional athlete I had to learn the hard part of sports which is the rehab and coming back from injuries stronger physically and mentally. It's part of the deal and you need to accept it.
Injuries can lead to a lot of mental blocks that can require mental techniques to unblock.
Nervousness, Second Guessing, Overthinking & Mental Paralysis: Injuries don’t just cause physical trauma. They also cause mental scarring that can make you hesitate, overthink and freeze when you are getting back to your sport. Because of the injury your mind has become sensitive that it can happen again.
Plateaus & Destroyed Confidence: Mental scars left by an injury can corrupt your confidence and lock you up on a plateau. Fear of re-injury keeps many athletes from ever regaining back their confidence.
Anger: You might feel angry at yourself for getting injured and making a bad call that lead to getting hurt. Or you might be angry at the doctors and the people who bring you the bad news. Anger is often directed towards others to try to relieve the mental pain and anxiety caused your injury and being denied from your freedom.
Depression: Feeling depressed like nothing matters is all too common after suffering an injury. Athletes sometimes give up on their rehab if they see no hope of recovering back to normal. Doctor’s ‘opinions’ can sometimes destroy an athlete’s hope. Lost Identity: Not being able to do what you identify the most with in life can leave you feeling lost and alone. Especially if you’ve been told that “you won’t be able to do your sport at the level you previously could” like I and many others have been told.
Social Isolation: When bed bound and all your friends, community and social network are focused around your sport, it can be a tough blow. Not seeing your friends, not being able to be part of the fun they’re having, and getting left behind can make one isolate themselves even more.
Injury doesn’t have to always be a negative downward spiral of an experience. There is another way. You don’t have to feel depressed and angry after an injury. In fact you can leverage this misfortune to have an even more fulfilling life than you could’ve had without that injury. I know that may sound crazy and far fetched, especially if you are injured right now, so let me explain myself.
My knee injury made me realise that if I was ever to snowboard again or even imagine becoming a pro, I needed to take my physical health very seriously. After all, your body is the tool you use and if you don’t take care of it, it’ll break on you and slow you down from reaching your goals.
I started exercising 4 hours per day 4 days per week. I revamped my eating habits, prior to which were mainly consisting of sugary snacks, fast food and food that was ready made from processed ingredients.
How can you improve your health from recovery (sleep, meditation and stretching) to nutrition and exercise for example?
#2 Master Your Headspace & Mental Game:
I discovered mental training and realised just as much as I need to practice new tricks on my snowboard and hit the gym, even more so, I needed to master my own mind.
Learning “mental tricks” meant that I could overcome the mental blocks holding back my progress like:
+Fear of re-injury and the “what if…” thoughts
+Getting rid of second guessing, overthinking, choking up and paralysing
+Get over nervousness and what others think of me when training in front of people or when competing under pressure
+Shortcut plateaus and getting stuck on one level
This injury also lead me to write my first book “Pro Mental Game” over a decade later so I could share the unspoken mental tricks for accelerated improvement.
#3 Gamifying Recovery – setting goals and mastering motivation:
I had an 8 month deadline to get back into the shape before the next winter season and I decided I wasn’t going to waste that time. I got extremely clear on my goals and set out an action plan, what I needed to DO to reach those goals.
I invested into a coach to keep me accountable so I wouldn’t slack and dick around. I read every book about mental game (of which there were hardly any that worked or made any sense). I even devised a system how I could keep myself motivated and do things even when I didn’t feel like it.
What goals can you set for yourself to get a clear direction where you are headed with your rehab, sport or life? What can you reward yourself with when make progress to keep the stoke going?
#4 New Habits and Progression Systems:
I worked hard to rid myself of the bad habits that took me further from my goals and weren’t bringing the fulfilment I wanted in my life. I stopped watching TV, got rid of or dramatically cut down my consumption of fast food, video games, getting drunk etc.I replaced those bad habits with positive habits like gym, studying and working on my other passion, which was graphic design at the time.
What good habits do you need to gain and what bad ones do you need to lose? Results, goals are reached by consistently doing the things that produce such results. Build a system and focus on doing instead of thinking about your goals too much.
#5 Personal Development:
I was going to use this extra time I’d been gifted as an opportunity to develop myself. I did a full on overhaul on my life and changed my identity. I believe you can do anything you set your mind to. Learning how to set your mind and guarantee that you stick to your plan is the key.
What are your strengths? What are the things you can improve upon? Who could be your mentor whether it's a friend, coach, an online community, a virtual mentor like an author or athlete who vlogs for example?
What I’d like you to do first is to write a list of 30 things at a minimum:“WHY was this injury a good thing? It may not be an easy question to answer. But I can guarantee you that by answering this question you will speed up your recovery and dramatically improve your overall mood.
If you know someone else who's injured please share what you've learned. This way you'll learn mental techniques faster and you'll help others recover without as much mental pain.