Episode 116 | One Key Factor That Sets Good vs. Great ACLers Apart

Show Notes:

In this episode, we discuss  the one factor that we dial in on with all our ACLers because we see it make a huge difference in their ACL Rehab journey.

What is up team? We are back with another episode 116: One Key Factor That Sets Good versus Great ACLers Apart. What is it? You could have the best surgeon, you could have the best physical therapist, you could have the best coach, the best program, and the best support system. And you’re probably thinking, yeah, that’s pretty solid. I’d definitely take those things. Yeah, I would too. These are awesome resources. But, if you’re not utilizing these resources, if you have the best ACL program that potentially exists on the planet, side note: there’s not one. But if there is one that exists and you’re not doing it, then it’s really not the best program. And a lot of this comes back to the ACLer and the work that they are doing and putting in, which is truly going to move the needle and is going to help set the good versus the great. And while not everyone is going to fit perfectly into this. 

And we’ll talk about factors here in a second. But there are a lot of things that we can’t just reduce down to one specific thing why that is because each person’s context is so different. But I do want to say that after us working with hundreds of ACLers, with seeing the people who absolutely crush it versus those who maybe just get by or they’re just like, this is good and enough, or they don’t really get to that end goal of clearance and getting back to 100% themselves. Outside of the external factors that could play into this, one thing that can play this is having a very specific goal and an end destination versus just being vague with what your goals are. And there’s nothing wrong with just wanting to get back to normal and to be 100% if you will, and just be active. There’s nothing wrong with that. And we’ve got plenty of ACLers who want to do that.

But what we do is we try to dive specifically into their goals and the things that drive them and that give them their why. And then that way we can make sure that we connect those pieces to why it is that we’re going through this process. Because as you guys all know, it’s so freaking long and you’re going to burn out at some point. There’s not a single ACLer that works through this process that doesn’t have some ebb and flow of burnout. And it’s just because of how long it is. When you’re looking at 9 to 12-plus months, it’s just going to be a lot. As a coach and physical therapists, we have to be aware of when these situations can happen and also talk with athletes, to understand why is that it can occur. Sometimes we’ll see there’s a honeymoon phase of the post-op where people will be like, all right, I’m going to do this, and then maybe it’s not as smooth. Or maybe they’re just having to just continue to keep working on things. It really is like a part-time job to some degree, to just constantly be focused on working on this ACL rehab.

I’ve done two of them. Trust me–I totally understand where this goes and how it feels. And there are many times when I felt this. But a lot of times we’ll sometimes see where people are in that three-month mark where they’re just like dreading, like continuing to work. And it can really ebb and flow and this is where I want to really get specific on what that key factor is, and it’s the specific goals. And that’s what really helps us to see these ACLers who really do keep pushing forward. And sure they might even get burned out in the process sometimes as it comes to them. But we got to stay ahead of these things and we gotta continue to anchor to their goals and their why. 

Of course, this is not an absolute or perfect reason as everyone’s got their own different factors that play into this, such as even their own personalities, like sometimes type-A people tend to be much better because they’re on top of things, they communicate well. They don’t like to leave any details out. But sometimes it can also make them hyper-focused on things. There’s always different personalities that cater to this. Maybe people who are more chill, who are maybe a little bit lazier in personality, don’t want to do things as much. Personality plays a lot into this. And then you have life circumstances, you might have kids, or you might just have a busy schedule with work.

Context is so important within this. And then there’s the history and complexity of the injury itself, the surgery, so many different layers to this, etc. That I can’t just say with certainty that this is the only reason why. But if we look at the history of the people we’ve worked with, the people who show up, who do the things, who end up getting to that end process, I think having a very specific target, a specific end destination helps them so much. And we see them get to those goals a bit more versus the people who are like, yeah, I just want to be active. It’s a little less focused and there’s maybe not as much drive towards those goals. And that’s the thing that I want to focus on here today because when we look at our history of ACLers we’ve worked with and talked with, from the youth athletes to the older athletes, the people who do the best are those who are focused on getting back specifically to something. Their goals are more concrete. Works even better when there is a healthy pressure of a timeline. 

Now, I know I talked to you guys about timelines, trying to get back to something in three months or six months. It just depends on if it’s feasible for your case. Obviously, if you’re talking about more high-impact, more dynamic, more demanding things for the ACL, like cutting and pivoting, then you’re looking at nine-plus months. That’s just the reality of what the research is, and that helps to frame the expectations. But knowing that maybe there are 9 to 12 months plus where you’re going to be working, but maybe at that nine-month mark, you’re like, I’m going to set something here and try to achieve it. Maybe it’s a competition, maybe it’s a season, maybe it’s a run of some sort. We have a lot of people that we talk to where we’re just like, hey, let’s see if we can dial in something that is going to be more tangible than like, I just wanna get back to this eventually. Because then it’s just an arbitrary time point.

What we end up falling to actually is this concept of Parkinson’s law. And Parkinson’s law is essentially you just fill out the time you have available to do the said task or thing. And this is very common, whether it’s in school or whether it’s in work. It’s something where like, let’s say, for example, you have a project and it takes three days to do it versus three months. Well, if it’s in three days, you’re probably going to get it done. And then if it’s in three months, you’ll probably fill up that time of three months to really work on it, or maybe procrastinate, prep for it, do some research, and then eventually get it done. But it lingers as a project for three months, instead of getting it done in three days, which is actually the real timeframe that it probably would’ve taken to get it done.

I am guilty of Parkinson’s law with work. It is so tough, especially when you’re trying to build your own schedule and trying to time block and things like that. Things just flow over. And you have to have deadlines and you need to be targeted. And it’s the same thing here. If you have time available, then you might not just be in a rush to get back to the thing. But it can be a double-edged sword. You have to find the sweet spot, not too early and not too late. And that’s where the smart goals or something that’s realistic, that’s very tangible, that is measurable with a time base, all those things that we usually use as that framework is something that’s important to anchor yourself to. So you have something to motivate you towards to create some drive and to help dig into your why of why you’re showing up and why you’re doing all these things in your ACL rehab. 

And one of the things that I think can be interesting to highlight here, is especially if your normal everyday life is not impacted as much. You can sometimes see almost that importance or that priority factor decrease a little bit. And what I mean here is that people care a lot post-op because their life is very much impacted. You are fresh, you’re in pain, you’re limited in the range of motion, and you’re on crutches. Your daily life is extremely impacted because you can’t shower normally, you can’t walk normally, you can’t take stairs, you can’t drive. There are a lot of things that are impacting your life. Then we have almost this desire to work harder to make sure that we get back to our normal daily life. These are our activities of daily living. And then sometimes what we could see is almost like this fade of importance. If people do not have tangible goals at the end, because their daily lives aren’t as an impact, as they’re like, oh, like you know, if I skip this workout here, I’m okay. I’ll just make it up later. 

And that ends up accumulating and that’s the thing that can almost like hinder you from making the progress that you want. And while this isn’t always the case, this is something that we see with people who might not have specific goals or something to aim towards. And that’s why we’re stressing the importance of why that can be so helpful. A specific goal and a healthy timeline to get there is important. We want that pressure. I think putting time into it is healthy to have certain expectations. I think where we run into trouble is whenever there’s a mismatch between the timeline and potentially what your true goals are. And I think this is where protocols miss the mark of specific individual differences, as well as what are the true qualities in this ACL rehab process that we need to build up. And we just rush it in general anyway.

If you’ve got six to nine months to be able to prep yourself really well, then there’s no reason to rush some of these pieces. And I think sometimes we just don’t focus on the right pieces to begin with and so that’s what can kind of make it tough a little bit. But having a healthy timeline I think is important too, in order to make sure we are staying on track. There’s a plan and we have a destination that we’re working towards. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have a competition set or you need to be able to be ready by this specific date. But I do think having something specific can help to just set your sights on something. I think it is something important to consider and the people who come to mind are the people who are like, all right, I have this BJJ tournament that I want to be able to compete in by X timeframe. And they give themselves a healthy timeframe. We talk about the expectations of where they are and what we perceive in this process, and we just kind of like lay out some things, some long-term goals, short-term goals. And then even let’s say, for example, ski seasons approaching, a specific soccer game, or a particular race or hike you want to hit. But it just needs to be targeted enough for you to have something that it means, something to dig into your why. 

We even have some people who are like, well, I just want to run around with my kids. It’s like, okay, well what does that bring you? And they’re just like, I just want to be able to pick them up and chase them around. And that’s awesome. And then we’ll talk about anything that’s coming up with their kids, whether it’s a sport or a practice, playing soccer with them or kicking with them. We start to tie these things towards some tangible goals versus it just being a bit more arbitrary. Then it allows you to feel like you’re setting your site on a true destination like a GPS system. Imagine you get in your car and you’re trying to go somewhere and you don’t really necessarily have point B. You’re at point A and you’re just trying to figure out what point B is. But it’s somewhere in Georgia. I don’t know where but we’re just going to have to keep driving for it, or is it going from folks in my hometown to Atlanta? Can we get even more specific about that? Yeah, I want to go from the Okefenokee Swamp in Folkston to Fox Brothers in Atlanta which by the way, amazing barbecue place in Atlanta, if you ever come here. 

But with that said, we have a solid point A and a solid point B. And with that, we can also calculate the traffic, we can understand what the roadmap’s going to look like. And you know what, if there is going to be traffic or maybe there’s a roadblock or something that comes along the way, a barrier of some sort, we can take a detour and get a re-estimation of time. But if we’re just like, we’re going to go to North Georgia, it’s a bit vague and it’s going to be harder for us to lock in an estimation of time and also the roadmap to get there. And so this is the thing that can be helpful is having a specific goal or something surrounding a goal, sport, or activity of some sort. And then of course, having a realistic set of expectations where you estimate, let’s say, you’re starting post-op and you’re aiming for 9 to 12 months out, depending on the goal. Well, that can really be helpful. And if you have these components with it, then you tend to be someone who has better outcomes. And that’s what we see with our ACLers. It’s good to have a specific target and healthy pressure. You realize each day is important and you can’t just procrastinate, especially when each step builds on top of the next.

And the other thing that we see with these ACLers who have these specific goals that they target is that they tend also to be better communicators overall. If they’re aiming for something and they want to get there, then they communicate really well. They provide feedback, they’re in tune and on the same page versus some people who may be a little bit more vague, they don’t have a time base, and the outcome is get there when I get there. And you might be an ACLer who’s dealing with a lot of setbacks or complex knee injuries. You still might have something set up and more specific. And sometimes I know when you have multiple setbacks, it’s a little harder to get in tune with this because you don’t want to keep setting yourself up for disappointment. But that’s where working with someone who’s a really good guide, a really good coach and a good physical therapist is going to be helpful because they can help anchor some realistic expectations, and set up some short-term goals to help build towards the long-term goals. But it’s still going to be very important regardless of your situation.

And I understand that you just want to lower the blow by not necessarily having any specific goals. But I still think it’s very healthy to have them and to have time set on them so then that way you can work towards them. Even if you don’t hit them, it’ll still put pressure on you to work hard. And then that way you can even move the goalpost or that target a little further than what you expected. But your goal is to still get there. If you find yourself stuck, dig into why that is. See if you have a particular goal. If you do, then that’s awesome. If you don’t, then create one. Find something that you can anchor yourself to that feels like a very solid point B and one that’s going to excite you to show up and do the work. One that creates a healthy amount of pressure on time and one that forces you to communicate because in each conversation each day, all the details are going to be important to hit that goal. And this is something that time and time and again, I wanted to share because we see this with our ACLers, who are the great ones and who make it through, even if it takes them much longer.

We’ve got people who are a year out, two years out, who have had such a heck of a problem, and they might not have come to us initially. But that doesn’t mean they’re still not working really hard towards these goals. I have one person in particular in mind. She’s two years out. She had a complex, complex knee issue, and has been a hard, rough journey. And for her, she has been setting her sights on one particular goal. And even though she hasn’t been able to hit that in the understood timeline of a 9 to 12-month timeline. She’s still aiming for it. And it’s something that’s keeping her going and is helping her to continue to make progress even though it’s been a hard, rough two years. She’s getting there and she’s slowly seeing that through and through. This is something that I wanted to help, share, and communicate with you guys because I think it could be a very helpful thing that we don’t think about. And we just don’t want to get by in this process, we want to get back to better than you were before. That’s our goal with our ACLers. That’s the goal that I teach all of you, to make sure you strive for. Don’t be just good enough. Don’t settle for that. We’re here on Earth for a very short period of time. Work really hard. Strive towards something that you care about that gets you outta bed every day. I know all this stuff is cheesy. But at the end of the day, that’s what this is for and that’s what’s important.

Go and get after it with this. Find a very specific reason why and make sure if you’re the person who’s standing in the good versus great column, put yourself in the great column and be proud of that. And make sure that you’re aiming towards a reason why you’re trying to do that versus just settling for good enough. We’re not here for that, not an ACL athlete, but none of this podcast. Keep working hard. 

If you need anything, you know where to find us. This is your host, Ravi Patel, signing off.

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