Week 16: The Dog That Didn’t Bark

Sherlock Holmes aside, perhaps I should be saying “the cat who didn’t meow”?

I’m referring, of course, to how we tend to focus on the presence of things, rather than their absence. When was the last time you appreciated the absence of gunshots in your neighborhood? Or the fact your car didn’t run out of gas on the evening commute, leaving you stranded on the freeway? Translating this to the sportz world, do we ever think about being able to run without pain, or deciding to not put in some extra miles? It’s the exception, not the rule. And it makes sense–we pay attention to problems, and celebrate when things happen. A broken foot! A personal record! Longest swim ever! (Though usually not simultaneously.)

But I’m learning (slowly, begrudgingly) that these concepts are intertwined. By trying to maximize our accomplishments, we sometimes create something else to occupy our attention: an injury. Think about it. We’ve all been there. And once we’ve been there, it’s really tempting to bounce back too quickly. Once the acute pain disappears, it’s easy to refocus on the shiny object/barking dog/purring cat – sportz! But then it turns into a vicious cycle: sportz!–>injury–>no sportz–>no pain–>sportz! This is all self-inflicted. We are over-confident in our abilities, love the hit of endorphins on the run, bask in the A+++ weather while on the bike, revel in the kudos our workouts receive on Strava, and begrudgingly admit our addiction to hitting weekly mileage goals and creating pretty Garmin graphs.

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Who wouldn’t want to maximize this?

Can we break this cycle by also celebrating the things not done? The times when we responsibly stayed within our limits and kept our eyes on the long-term prize? Those days when we chose physical therapy exercises over a hammerfest, walked up a hill to keep our heart rates in zone 1, or refrained from tacking on bonus mileage just to hit an arbitrary goal number? It’s not shiny. It’s not all that exciting. It’s also not all that uncommon–we all should be making good decisions, right? But since it’s the part of our sportz lives we don’t quantify (and record, and share…), it feels like it doesn’t count.

Thankfully, my coach and physical therapists understand this. And since my professional focus is behavioral design, we’re working on ways to substitute the bad habit (all the miles!) for a better one (only the assigned miles!). Now, we celebrate good decisions, not just big outcomes. Logging exactly the assigned hour run (even though I wanted to keep going) = text message full of celebratory emojis! Photos of foam rollers have replaced ones taken on epic bike rides. Don’t get me wrong–I’m still putting in plenty of volume–but it’s limited to what my coach and PT feel is appropriate for now.

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At least I have a workout partner when foam rolling.

How do you manage this? Do you also need support to make the right (unglamorous) choice? Or do I just need to woman up?

 

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