I had ligament reconstruction surgery on my ankle over a year ago. This was the first major surgery I had as an adult and it literally knocked me off my feet!
I was in more pain than I’d ever experienced, was dependent on others to help me and was forced to stop moving almost all together for about a month–not to mention the several months prior to the surgery when I had limited mobility because of the injury that led to the surgery.
This was not an easy thing for me as I’ve been quite active as an adult have identified as being an athlete for the last 20 years.
As an athlete, I learned to push through pain and low energy when I trained for endurance events. My “just do it” athlete mindset had me believe that I’m supposed to be tough and resilient and even advance quicker than most — so that was my expectation after the surgery.
The recovery has been longer and slower that I had anticipated and included some unexpected setbacks. I had hoped to return to most of my normal activities after about three months but I knew I was far from ready for that when the time came.
I was frustrated and longing for the endorphin release from a good workout. I also was sad to notice my loss of strength and stamina that I had built up over years of dedicated training.
When people would ask how the recovery was going, I’d let out a big sigh and say “not too well- I’m still in a lot of pain and can’t do what I want yet”.
I allowed myself to be stuck in this story that I was “broken” because in my mind, unless I was at full capacity, I wasn’t living up to the ideal of being an athlete.
I was fixated on not being where I thought I should be. I also felt that deep fear of getting so far out of shape that the road back would be too long and I would just give up and settle for a more sedentary life. And I heard the naysayers in my head reminding me that getting my fitness back at age 53 is much harder than it was 10 years ago!
But then I realized I had to change my story and harness the true power of what I learned about being an athlete.
So much of it was about my way of thinking and less about my physical abilities. In my Awaken Your Purpose in Midlife and Beyond GuideBook, I write about how we as midlife women cannot buy into the notion that midlife is the beginning of the end – despite all of the messages around us that tell us differently!
We need to be diligent and compassionate about our self talk so that we aren’t constantly focused on aging and instead focus on doing the things that keep us connected to our creativity. You can download your free copy of the guidebook here.
The athlete mindset ideas presented below have not only been helpful for me as I rebuild my strength and fitness, but can be applied for many of life’s challenges, especially as a midlife woman.
1. Positive Realism- Make the best of a bad situation or challenge.I needed to take a realistic assessment of where I was and come up with a plan of action based on my current circumstances instead of lamenting what I couldn’t yet do but wanted to.
I saw how my shift of focus from fear of losing all of my fitness to being more present to the gifts that this challenge was bringing to me opened me to a deeper sense of gratitude and acceptance. I was enjoying more quiet time and the simple act like a slow walk with the dog.
I joined a small local gym that I can walk to easily and use an elliptical trainer to get my heart pumping instead of waiting until I’m able to run again.
2. Committed Goals– Know where you’re going and commit to it.
Instead of stating a vague goal that I want my fitness back, I set a shorter-term goal of weight and aerobic training 4 times a week for six weeks to prepare for a snowboarding trip. By setting a clearer goal, it has brought out the discipline for me to stay on track and feels more attainable.
3. Persistence- Make small, incremental and gradual improvements.
One of my favorite quotes that I often share when teaching yoga and that resonates so much with me is this one by Jim Watkins:
I may not see the benefits of one or two workouts but over time, I will.
I am learning to trust the process and celebrate the small victories. I see how each drop of water contributes to the power it generates and that before I know it, the rock will break free and a new path will emerge.
4.Contentment-Live with no regrets.
Do everything you are willing to do to achieve your goal right now and let go of the rest.
For me, this means letting go of my “all or nothing” mentality that has sometimes kept me from even getting started. Also, remembering to bring joy and gratitude into the exertion!
It stops me from coming up with excuses or worrying so much about where I think I should be in the process and reminds me be bold and go for what I want.
I’m more and more aware of the grace and power that I now bring to this process of reclaiming my inner athlete. I can see how my midlife wisdom is allowing me to navigate this challenge with more ease and compassion and am grateful for it.
Beth Nelson is an inspiration and leader for women who are ready to awaken into the fullest version of themselves at midlife and leave a meaningful impact on the world. As a Women’s Midlife Mentor, confused and disengaged women in their 50s and 60s hire her to build the necessary confidence to reinvent themselves and create a life full of passion, purpose and authenticity.