Episode 86 | The #1 Question to Ask Yourself in ACL Rehab

Show Notes:

The mental process during ACL rehab is difficult and there are a lot of emotions that come along with this journey. In this episode, we discuss tools and concepts you can use to help you navigate these difficult situations.

Welcome back to another episode of the ACL Athlete Podcast. It is just a beautiful day here in Atlanta, Georgia. Fall is in the air. I think it’s fall or it’s getting into fall, but the weather is great. I’ve got my coffee with me and I’m ready to rock with this episode. And I’m excited for this one, specifically. And the title is, the number one question to ask yourself in ACL rehab. This one’s focused on mindset. And it’s one of those where it can apply to anywhere really in life, whether you’re deep in ACL rehab or you’re dealing with something else going on in your own personal life.

I’m going to introduce this term called self-distancing. I first learned about this concept as I was listening to a podcast with Adam Grant. And Adam Grant has this podcast called ReThinking Podcast. And he had Alex Honnold on who is the guy who did “Free Solo,” a show on Netflix. And if you guys have not watched it, go and watch it. It made my palm sweat. And it’s all about this guy who climbed the El Capitan, which is a granite rock mountain, more than 3,000 feet high without a rope, without a harness, or without a net. This dude literally started climbing up a rock that is 3,000 feet high; no protection, no safety, whatsoever. And they get it all on film. He talks a lot about his mindset going into it and going through that whole process. And you got to think it had to be exactly perfect. Yeah, this dude may seem crazy, but he had this goal that he wanted to achieve. And it is wild the extent that he went to be able to achieve that. Go and watch that documentary and then go listen to this podcast because they talk all about his mindset, especially fear of going through that process and engaging with certain tasks. They focus on the emotions associated, with making decisions. And it’s pretty cool to listen to how he is wired and how that can apply to your own life.

And one of the concepts they discussed is the concept of self-distancing, which I was so intrigued about and didn’t realize there was a term for. It made me think a lot about this ACL rehab process and how much of a mental game it truly is. Self-distancing involves increasing the psychological distance from your own self-centered perspective when measuring or assessing events that you experience.

Let’s say, for example, having an ACL injury or having surgery, dealing with the pain in the process, a setback in the process, maybe taking much longer than you expected. Maybe some of you are listening and it’s a re-injury, you’ve dealt with this a second time, or even, unfortunately, a third time. And you’re trying to figure out, what can I do to be able to come back and still do what I love? To gain yourself back. The self-distancing allows you to detach yourself from emotional situations, which can help you cope with negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, anger, fear, or anything else that comes along with those negative emotions. This breaks down into two categories that usually people will look at and the perspective. 

The most common is the self-immersed or the internal perspective. Why did I just do that versus a self-distance which is an external perspective? Why did you just do that? Or why did Ravi just do that? You’re stepping from your own self in order to evaluate and analyze the situation. Something as simple as self-talk is commonplace where we use this. A lot of times, athletes you’ll see there was this Olympic gymnast who used this—I remember she was on the beam. And she used her own self-talk to get her through to do the performance. And I remember it and she crushed it.

Now, did that play into maybe her ability to crush it? I think so because she gave herself that confidence that she’s trained and she’s gotten to that point. She gave her this self-talk, and I think a lot of us utilize this to some degree. But let’s break this down even a little bit further. The example here is about this self-talk and saying, “You got this versus I got this.” We’re going you versus I, you is a self-distance and external, and I is self-immersed and internal. We have those two perspectives here. And what’s really cool about this specific type of talk and the self-distance versus self-immersed, is that they’ve done studies on these two particular perspectives. And shows that when people refer to themselves in the second person or use their own name, they were able to detach emotionally from the situation. 

Now, you have to take that for what it’s worth. And there are certain situations where you do need to have a little bit of emotion to act on it. But there are a lot of situations that we experience in life, in ACL rehab that we do get high emotions from. And then we need to detach ourselves in order to make a more sound decision. And you’re wondering, why does this really matter in ACL rehab? You’re talking about all these concepts and terms that are all fancy. Well, why is this beneficial, Ravi? Why do we care? Let’s talk about it. Number one, ACL rehab is hard. It’s harder mentally than anything else, much more than the physical. 

And I can say that with confidence, after going through two myself and walking through countless and countless other ACLs through this rehab and through this performance process. It’s tough and every context is so different from the 13-year-old who can’t go and compete with her friends, to the mom who can’t play with her kid, to the professional athlete who literally is sidelined after multiple injuries and has to end his career. And this is really tough. And that’s the thing that is hard to see unless you’re walking through the shoes of someone who is going through this.

So the mental process is difficult. We need all of our tools at our disposal, especially anything from a mindset and from a mental standpoint, to help equip us as best as possible to navigate each and every situation. That was basically number two. It can help you cope with certain parts of the process. Being able to step away, self-distance can help you during the second month or the fifth month, or maybe it’s three years out. And being able to detach from that and be able to cope with any negative type of feelings that you are having.

Number three: Decreasing the duration of those negative emotions and those feelings. I always tell my athletes to feel it. If they have a setback or if something’s going on, I tell them to feel it and it’s okay to welcome that. Then get out of it fast, get out of it as quickly as possible. So feel sorry for yourself. Be frustrated, be pissed, but then get out of it fast. Whether that’s the anger, anxiety, fear, stress, sadness, or any of those things that you might feel during this process. Just move out of it fast. And this can help to decrease that duration. 

Number four: Allows for self-reflection. When you distance yourself from it, it allows you to reflect more thoroughly on it as opposed to just sitting in that.

Number five: Handle it in a positive manner. Giving yourself advice or wisdom as if it were someone else, essentially. 

And tying into this is number six, which is to make decisions that have less bias and give direct action. And so think about this. Think about if a friend comes to you or someone needs help, our immediate reaction is to listen and to give them sound advice. Sure, we’re going to maybe like get frustrated with them, or empathize with them. But then is to help give advice to direct them, to be able to put aside those emotions essentially. And to be able to make a very good decision based on their specific situation. 

Let’s get around to what is the number one question you can ask yourself in your ACL rehab. Let’s say you’re going through something I mentioned earlier. You just had an ACL injury. You’re about to have surgery, dealing with pain during the early part of the process. Maybe it’s dealing with pain later in the process. Maybe you had a significant setback in this ACL journey. Taking much longer than you expected for all of this to go. Or maybe some of you’re listening and it’s that re-injury, you’re feeling all kinds of negative emotions and it’s fair. Maybe that’s anger, maybe that’s anxiety, maybe it’s fear, stress, sadness, whatever that might be. 

Now, this number one question is, if this was your best friend who came up to you, who is sitting right next to you and they told you these things, what advice would you give them? For example, your friend just had their third setback in the ACL rehab process. They’re pissed. They’re tired of dealing with it. It’s been 14 months and they’re nowhere near where they thought they would be. What advice would you give them? I’m going to give you a hot second to think about this scenario. If this person was right next to you, what would you say?

Now, is this the same exact advice you’re telling yourself? If you are in this position or in something very similar. Is this the exact same advice you would give yourself? Not necessarily, because we would be kind of caught up in the emotions of what I had just described. And I know all this might seem a bit cheesy and I get that. But the people who really do make it out in this process, Who see the sport again, who are able to do the things that they want to do. Those are the people who equip themselves with these tools to be able to handle these setbacks or negative emotions. 

And the beauty of this is, is that this translates over to just normal life. It equips you to be able to handle things that are harder, to have tools in your back pocket. And these are the things that I use all the time myself. And this is something where I try to make sure that I try to self-distance myself. If I’m feeling any type of emotions, whether it’s business or personal, health, whatever it is, I’m trying to distance myself in order to make the best-sound decision.

 When I’m dealing with that difficult decision, or maybe it’s fear about a certain situation. Instead of asking myself, why am I worried about this? Or why am I scared? I ask myself, why are you worried about this? Or why are you scared? And I don’t do this perfectly all the time. And this is a great reminder. But it is something that helps me a lot and it helps me to distance myself from me and make a more rational decision rather than letting the emotion of it navigate the decision or my reaction. 

In review, self-distancing is pretty cool, use it, and replace the first person with the second or third person. Meaning I versus you or your own name. And then the number one question: what advice would you give your best friend if they were going through exactly what you’re going through? Step away from whatever situation you’re in and try to give advice as if it was for someone else. And see if that is different than what you are telling yourself. You guys know I am very big on mindset in this process. It doesn’t get talked about enough. And that is what is going to, at the end of the day, drive your actions, if you’re feeling down and if you’re feeling like not doing anything. Well, guess what? You’re not going to do anything. But if you can use these tools and other tools that are out there to be able to make sure that your head is in the best place, then that is going to help drive the actions that you take. And some ways you could do this is literally write it down. Do a voice memo in the notes section of your phone, anything you can do. Maybe it’s even calling a friend and talking through it and pretending that they literally are the ones going through the process. Distance yourself, see how it works, and see if that changes how you react or the decisions that you make. Capish. Sounds good.

All right, team. Before I sign off, I just wanted to say thank you and appreciate every single one of you from the messages to the reviews, to the feedback, and the support. It really means a lot and it is very much appreciated. And not a single one goes unnoticed. Appreciate you. Until next time, this is your host, Ravi Patel, signing off.

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