Getting injured was a good thing?
How can getting thrown out of my routine and getting derailed from what had provided so much progress be good for me?
Here's a brief story of how one unwise decision has led to some personal growth; and showed me again how dangerous self-cynicism can be; and how one injury provided an important reminder about Unintended Positive thinking and behavior as a daily tool for learning and serenity.
Part I: The Injury.
I have a ton of books.
This also means I have several bookcases.
I'm in the process of reorganizing a couple rooms in my house. Moving some things around. Getting rid of some furniture. Making room for some more. And that means moving bookcases. The one bookshelf at the far right in my home office needed to slide one inch. One inch. One. Because it was about an inch from the side wall.
I could remove all the books from the shelves, slide each of the the bookcases over one measly inch, and then go through the hours-long process of putting all the books back on the shelves again.....OR.....
OR, I could just leave all of the books in the bookcase and just kind of rock it back and forth into position. I mean, we're only talking about an inch, right?! But being in the corner, I couldn't quite position myself for maximum leverage. So I needed to have my shoulder under one shelf, and then use my right hand to lift up from the bottom. All in one tiny motion. One little hop of an inch. One little scooch of an inch.
I sent the message from my brain to my right hand to lift up from the bottom of the bookcase.
You know the sound that comes when you step on some leaves and twigs?
Or when you were a kid, did you ever try Pop Rocks candy? That crackling and bubbling feeling that came within your own mouth. But it was such a weird sensation that it seemed like an out-of-body experience?
Now combine that dried-twigs sound and that other-wordly Pop Rocks sensation, and imagine it all coming from your own forearm.
Yep. That was me.
I've played a bunch of sports. And I've had a gajillion injuries. But feeling and hearing my own forearm crackle and pop like someone poured milk over cereal is one of the weirdest sensations I have ever felt. Was it broken? Ripped to shreds? Just my imagination? When you're hurt like that, the first thing you do is take inventory. You start giving yourself small versions of the President's Physical Fitness Test. Can I flex my forearm? Yes, sorta. Can I make a fist? Rotate my hand? Then, you move on to higher level tests...you know, like trying to do a bicep curl using Norton's Anthology of British Literature.
Once I self-diagnosed that my arm wasn't broken, I decided to live with the fact that bookshelves aren't perfectly lined up. And I could move on to bigger things, like berating myself.
Part II: Insult to Injury.
At about the time the feeling came back into my arm and hand, the feeling seemed to leave my heart. That is to say, after seemlingly coming close to breaking my arm, I was now seeming to grab an invisible club to beat myself over top of my head.
I won't tell you all of the things I said to myself. But let it suffice to say that the things I said to myself about this injury I would never say to another human being. The shame. The embarrassment. The anxiety. The disbelief in hurting myself because I was too lazy to remove the books off a small bookcase in order to move it one inch.
And the timing?!
If you've read some of my pieces you know that I have made a great deal of progress in the last four months; recommitting to my own physical health, rediscovering my joy in challenging myself physically, relearning some things about nutrition. It is a wonderful journey...and now you just screwed it all up, Matthew!...is what I was telling myself. And that's the PG-version.
You don't have to be Deepak Chopra or Eckart Tolle to know that this isn't the healthiest approach in the world. In fact, I contend that this self-cynicism is inherently dangerous. The type of cynicism that is a half-step away from saying, "Oh I give up, I'll never be/do/have (fill in the blank)."
Part III: Intention to Injury
How can a guy who has such a commitment to reducing cynicism in this world have such destructive self-talk? Because I'm one of those...whaddya-call-its...human beings. Yeah, that's it. I'm one of those.
What else am I? I'm now a trained Unintended Positive Thinker; I'm a trained Explorer of Unintended Positives in the face of something upsetting. How do I know that? Because I survived the Pandemic with 12,000 of my closest friends from around the world who are also those...wait, whaddya-call-it-again...human beings.
So I paused.
And I said, "What are some of the possible Unintended Positives that can come out of an arm injury? An injury that might preclude me from continuing the routine that I have worked so hard to establish these past few months, and that has provided significant results? Is there any beauty in this?" Of course, there must be. There has to be.
Okay so, Mr. There's-nothing-more-practical-than-Positivity. Where are the Unintended Positives in something like this? I intentionally started looking.
Within seconds I had my answers.
The mere fact that I proved to myself that I could stop beating myself up long enough to reroute my awareness level; that alone is a huge and unintended positive
I get to see how serious I am about my commitment to living in this Infinite Game of Health & Wellness; am I committed to long-term health? or am I simply about some ego-driven weight loss goals?
I get to learn about my body in ways I didn't know before
I get to ask for help
I get to develop my sense of compassion, not only for others, but for myself, too.
And then a funny thing happened. Because I was more open, instead of closed off and beating myself up, some ideas started to flow.
Shift my focus to less weight training and more cardio
Take this opportunity to fully develop a meditation practice
Explore the power of visualization
etc, etc, etc
The list grew and grew.
The ideas kept coming. And still are. These again, in and of themselves are Unintended Positives -- positive things that would never have happened if it weren't for something painful and scary.
One of the questions I have received almost from the start of Unintended Positives was/is: "Do Unintended Positives extend beyond the Pandemic?"
My response: Yeah, But you have to look for them.
They're there. They are deeper and longer-lasting than most Silver Linings. And they are often counter-intuitive. (How can racial strife have an unintended positive within it? Perhaps by shining an even brighter light on systemic racism; perhaps by stimulating further and deeper discussion; perhaps by taking incremental, actionable steps towards progress.) In order to see the counter-intuitive, we have stop, pause, breathe.
Many of you have heard me refer to myself as a Recovering Cynic. I have tendencies toward Cynicism, yes, and that's okay. I'm human. But I am now more convinced than ever that I want to fight cynicism in this world. And I am reminded it often starts with addressing my own cynical self-talk. In recognizing the injury itself is difficult enough, but not something to be judged; but when the negative storyline runs riot then I am simply adding Insult to Injury.
So I then ask an ever better question: If I can work on controlling my own self-talk, can we work on improving our collective self-talk? Imagine the possibilities if we talked to and about ourselves and each other in a non-destructive way. How would things be different if The Collective had healthier self-talk?
When I look for Unintended Positives -- not in spite of a painful situation, but because of it -- there is beauty on the other side. There is something magical that happens when, instead of adding Insult to Injury, I add Intention to Injury.
Suddenly, there is purpose to pain.