How do you tackle a complicated situation or a more severe injury?
Much like the elephant described above, one step at a time. Something that comes up on a regular basis in the office is the discussion around timeframes. Timeframes for change, timeframes for recovery, timeframes until “this pain stops and I can move on with my life”.
I will be the first to admit that I, like nearly everyone else, would prefer it if things could be fixed today or even yesterday if that would be convenient.
However, it turns out that this is rarely the case.
It turns out that we can’t skip the steps from where we are to where we want to be.
There are no shortcuts, there are no cheats or hacks.
What we are applying is the concept of gradual, but sustainable change. That’s not to say that people can’t feel dramatically different in a short span of time, but for the entirety of our adult lives the body operates under the idea of steady and gradual change. As I have said in the past, I would argue that this is a good thing.
The human body is incredibly strong and robust, it can take years of stress or a high-velocity crash/trauma to really injure a person.
The body is truly remarkable. The trade off for this resilience is that it also takes a while for us to heal and produce positive change. Think about it this way, if the body could fix everything in a single day, it would have to be so flexible and changeable that it could also be injured quite easily.
I think most would agree that we’d like to be resilient and difficult to injure.
The effort that is required to change the human body can be quite intimidating.
To build muscle or lose fat is not the task of the day, but the task of the week, the month, and the year.
While every day absolutely matters, you don’t get to see the results until the body has had a chance to be exposed to diet or exercise long enough for a number of physiological changes to occur.
One of my favourite analogies is that of an ice cube in a freezer. Imagine a freezer that is set to -20 degrees Celsius and the ice cube is unsurprisingly solid. Each day, you raise the temperature in the freezer by one degree. To -19 degrees, then -18 degrees, and so on. What does the ice cube do for the first 10 days? The first 19 days? It sits there in the freezer, happily remaining frozen and box-like.
But what happens on Day 21? When we turn the thermostat from 0 degrees to positive 1?
The ice begins to melt. Slowly, because of the residual cold and because 1 degree is not that warm, but it begins to melt. All of the 21 days led to this moment, and each day leading up to it was absolutely necessary to achieve the desired outcome.
This equates to exercise, lifestyle change, and education.
When we are injured, or in pain, or frustrated, we want the change to happen now, we want the difference to be felt right now.
It is often possible that we can affect change in the moment and improve a situation with the right idea, movement, or technique. However, the long lasting change we seek can be more elusive without the commitment to stick something out for the days or weeks it can take to move the proverbial thermostat for a condition.
Sometimes this means we have to start before it feels good, before we think we’re ready. And that’s scary, but there are so many people out there who would like to help, offer advice, and guide the process alongside you.
When walking on the sidewalk, it’s not possible for someone to step on the tile 20 feet down the street, even with a running jump. But we can take the step to the next tile, and new options appear once we have taken that first step. In rehabilitation this is no different than the exercises and education that is provided.
You can learn the next step,
followed by the next step. You can teach your body one exercise, followed by another. Once you have the basics down, your options open up. There is more freedom, more opportunity, more ease of movement and possibility. But those early steps and that commitment to the process cannot be understated.
Much like a diet, we need to consider not only what we are willing to do this week, or this month, but what we think we can sustain for the long haul.
The body is adapting every day of our lives and as we age, we have to ask ourselves what it is adapting towards? Is it becoming stronger, more agile, more capable week by week? Or do we see it declining and are unsure of what to do next?
While some people may start with their freezers stuck at -50 degrees, that’s still only 50 degrees from the melting point. There is so much that can be done if we can get this perspective at the forefront and not shy away from hard conversations.
So what can we do then? We can start a process that can lead to long term, sustainable change. We can keep one eye on the final goal while putting one foot in front of the other.
One small, simple step at a time.
~ Trent Rempel, Physiotherapist