Blog post 37 is a compilation of my own experience and that of clients struggling to move forward this week. Some of us are injured; others are angry with themselves or feeling discouraged. A few are sharing that they are not moving forward as quickly as they would like. Sound familiar? You are NOT alone. I thought once I got my cast off, I would be home free, but that was the START of a long, uphill climb. The way to make progress may lie in focusing carefully, using positive self-talk, and resetting our expectations.

This trillium is imperfect - but still beautiful. Can you learn to treat yourself like you would a best friend and point out the beautiful positives?
This trillium is imperfect but still beautiful. Can you learn to treat yourself like you would a best friend and focus on the beautiful positives?

Focus Carefully

For anyone who is constantly fixated on that little number on a scale, remind yourself of one very simple truth. Ready? YOU ARE NOT YOUR MASS. Print it in triplicate in 72-point font and hang it up everywhere you need a reminder. Scales don’t know your BMI, cannot ascertain how much muscle you have, and know zero about all of your outstanding personal qualities. The scale only tells you ONE tiny bit of information, and yet so many of us obsess over that number. If you rely on the scale reading every single morning, ask yourself why.

Whenever you have a medical appointment and your doctor insists on weighing you, explain that you are trying to have a healthier relationship with your body and want to break the scale habit. Face the opposite direction and ask the doctor not to tell you the number. And if your doctor cannot respect that, find one who will. Media tries to get us to obsess about our exterior looks, but what about the rest of you? If you have great bloodwork, healthy blood pressure, and a consistent movement routine, then celebrate that. Eff the scale!

Nature is imperfect but beautiful all the same. So are you. You are NOT your mass. You are so much more.
Nature is imperfect but beautiful all the same. So are you. You are NOT your mass. You are so much more.

Use Positive Self-talk

Focus on the positives rather than “shoulding all over yourself” or saying “I wish I could.” Such messages hurt us and shut us down, rather than inspire and help. Find a few affirmations to repeat daily such as “Every day in every way I am getting stronger and healthier,” or, “I love my body and my problems and wouldn’t trade with anyone,” or, “My current experience is teaching me about life.” The words we use are very powerful.

Early in the process of recovering from my broken wrist, I babied my arm because I wanted to be certain I didn’t need surgery. When my doctor agreed I was stable enough that I wouldn’t need surgery, but I was “way behind,” I bought into his message and started aggressively doing whatever I could to regain full range of motion.

Enjoying the solitude of the wilderness. I don't know who has more fun, me or my dog.
Enjoying the solitude of the wilderness. I don’t know who has more fun, me or my dog.

Unfortunately, the cast was improperly set, resulting in thumb problems. When I was misdiagnosed with trigger thumb, I got stuck in a rut repeating negative messages, practically convincing myself I was going to need surgery after all. As soon as I started to use “I got this,” “I am strong,” “I am healthy,” and just this week, “I am a hiker,” things turned around. I got my confidence back.

Whether you think you can or cannot, you are absolutely right

YOU can turn yourself around. Every healthy bite, every step forward, every affirmation, every repetition helps you build your positivity track record. The next time you catch yourself thinking “I can’t” or “I wish I could change X about myself,” grab a piece of paper and write down ten — yes, TEN — things that are going well or that you like about yourself or your life. If it helps, share how you feel afterward in the comments.

Even though I have been 100% gluten-free for eight years (Thanks, Ajax!), I can still enjoy delicious pizza. This cauliflower crust was magnificent and I had it three nights in a row while in Moab.
Even though I have been 100% gluten-free for eight years (Thanks, Ajax!), I can still enjoy delicious pizza. This cauliflower crust was magnificent and I had it three nights in a row while in Moab.

Reset Expectations

Can we do a multi-day backpack a month after recovering from foot issues? Is it realistic to climb a mountain several months after surgery? How long does it take for a wrist to heal enough to tolerate pullups? And if none of those goals come true, what then?

We often set exceedingly high expectations for ourselves without knowing whether it is actually possible. Humans have the unique ability to hope. However, sometimes we have to amend or adjust our expectations. And that is hard.

Delicate Maidenhair ferns grow where there is a lot of moisture. Can you think of the hard times as fertilizer for a hardier, better you? Reframe the negative experiences into positive learning lessons and watch yourself take off.
Delicate Maidenhair ferns grow where there is a lot of moisture. Can you think of the hard times as fertilizer for a hardier, better you? Reframe the negative experiences into positive learning lessons and watch yourself take off.

Baby Steps Count

I mistakenly thought I would be in the clear once I got my cast off. I never expected complications (you never do — fortunately I have a pretty decent track record as far as bones go.) When I realized I had underestimated how long it would take to return to full performance, it felt like a smack in the face.

Several wise mentors reminded me of the positive steps I WAS taking, each and every day. We can’t compare to our previous personal bests (or that of others), but only to our recent selves. I may not be what I call “Rainier Ready” right now but that’s okay. How far can I move my thumb? Can I hold a tight fist for thirty seconds rather than ten? Will icing twice make the swelling go down even more? Today I fastened a hoodie zipper that had eluded me for nine weeks. Baby steps, but progress nonetheless.

An example of positive self-talk: Thoughts are like waves. We can't stop them from coming but we can choose which ones to surf.
An example of positive self-talk: Thoughts are like waves. We can’t stop them from coming but we can choose which ones to surf.

With Positive Self-talk, Embrace Your Progress

We don’t get any do-overs in life. We each face unique obstacles. How are you going to handle them? You are the hero or heroine of your own story. Can you step outside yourself and picture your favorite character handling your problems? Maybe that will give you new insights to try.

So, as long as you are taking positive steps forward each day, even if it is a five-minute action, celebrate. If you are doing more than you have in your workouts and feeling the results, pat yourself on the back. My wish for you is that you find a way to enjoy the process and embrace your progress, not just live for the end goal. This is a delicate topic but one we are all experiencing. Share your wisdom in the comments section so we can all learn from each other. And remember, you are not alone!

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

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8 Comments

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  1. As I continue to navigate the treacherous waters of a compromised “2022 grand plan”, this blog is well timed and very helpful. For reasons I have not spent enought time understanding… my default reflex is to dwell on the negatives, and I appear to be very good at unearthing every single one of them. Switching to “positive messaging” initially feels akin to convincing myself that I am a giraffe: a lot of the “evidence” (for example short neck) seems to disagree. The larger environment, where fabricated tales and “deep fakes” are pervasive, has only heightened my suspicions of anything that appears “too convenient”, even (or especially) when it comes from “inside”. How can a positive message successfully defeat all these defense mechanisms? Your post does provide several good ways to do that. “Focus Carefully” – Yes! I believe that “dwelling”, “grieving”, “regretting”, etc. have their place in the process but they cannot BE the process of overcoming setbacks. I feel a lot better once I proceed to “The courage to change the things I can” (focusing in the right places). “What can I improve” instead of “what did I loose”? Right now, this means I spend time and energy optimizing recovery and identifying what I STILL can achieve. “Use Positive Self-Talk” – Yes and, contrary to what my inner grumpy-old-man thinks, it does NOT mean “fool yourself into thinking things are better than they really are”. As you very rightly state: “ The words we use are very powerful.” And that, of course, cuts both way; “negative words” with steer us away from THE POSSIBLE, while positive words are necessary to get us there. For me, this time around, success lies in formulating what I CAN do to make things better. I can seek advice regarding my injuries and how to optimize recovery, I can follow this advice, I redefine my 2022 “grand plan”, I can learn from what happened to improve my chances of success in 2023, whatever the “grand plan” will be next year, etc. I CAN, I have the power, I have the will, I have the knowledge, I have the experience, I have the support (my wife, my coach, other “adventurers”… I am not alone). Our self-talk is very much “the stuff” of self-fulfilling prophecies (“Whether you think you can or cannot, you are absolutely right”). “Reset Expectations” – Yes, this does feel like the hardest one for me (I suspect that, there too, I am not alone). What? Giving up my dream? Impossible! However, my favorite outdoors activity itself (“backcountry hiking” to use the term coined by Andrew Skurka) has progressively prepared me better for acceptance. It is impossible to plan everything about a multi-weeks journey in the wilderness and not have to revise this plan as I go. As a result, constant resetting of expectations is very much an integral part of these long trips… and what I love about them. At the core of this resilience is again “accepting what I can’t change” (can’t pursue my initial grand plan AS-IS in my current physical state) and “changing those I can” (switch to focus on recovery and change the original plan; not give up the plan but redefine it). “Baby steps count” – Yes, and for one whose injury affects a foot… these baby steps are both figurative and literal. It reminds me of the discussion about “Fast and Slow Thinking” – there is a time and situations for each. The same appears to be true for physical fitness… and healing/recovery more often than not would fall into the “slow” progress columns. Finally, I really liked one of your closing statement: “enjoy the process and embrace your progress, not just live for the end goal.” This particular point has become very dear to me. I came to fully embrace it and deeply believe in it after I spend a good amount of “quality time” understanding what is IMPORTANT to me about my “goals”. I initially thought that what I wanted the most was to “overcome” adversity/challenges: I will prevail and never back down no matter what is “thrown at me”. While “getting to the finish line” still very much matters, I came to realize that what I truly value ABOVE ALL is in MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICES (as often as I can) in the face of difficulty. I other words, not banking everything on BRAWN but striving for a better and better balance between it and the other “B”. This make the overall journey (from the “birth” of the goal, to the planning, the training, and finally “getting out there and doing it”) much more fulfilling.

    1. Yes, yes, and more yes! I think this post struck some chord with nearly every reader who has commented. We ALL struggle at some point (some of us more often than others) but the coping strategies are the same. And as you said, positive thinking is not “pie in the sky” but FOCUS ON MORE OF WHAT WE WANT rather than what we don’t want. Thanks for the lovely post and for sharing your own experiences with other readers. Upcoming will be “it takes a village” — we cannot go through this life without others, and if we isolate too much it becomes a toxic and depressive-potential situation. We are social beings and we do not need to recreate the wheel. Go forth, find your tribe, focus on what you can do, and keep on going!

  2. Thanks, Court for a lovely perspective. Loved “enjoy the process and embrace your progress”!

  3. The journey has always been more important than getting my goal. I always take more small steps towards challenging situations. So true about the scale, there is so much factors we need to consider. Great article.👍

  4. Thanks for the great reminder to talk nicely to ourselves! The positivity is inspirational.