Is your head on straight?

Yes, I tend to talk a lot about posture, but this time around I don’t mean that question in the postural sense. I am asking about your attitude toward challenges in life. Thomas Jefferson once said:

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.

In dealing with pain or suffering (whether it’s from your body’s parts being misaligned, your boss being an inhuman crankcase, or your brand new car falling to pieces), it’s important to remember that your attitude matters.

Now, anybody who really knows me knows that I have long had a bit of a pessimistic, skeptical streak in me, so don’t think I’m a gung-ho super optimistic nut-job.  FAR from it.  But let me share two quick scenarios with you before I tell you that optimism is a necessary part of dealing with chronic pain.

I once encountered a guy in a chronic pain workshop I was co-leading who had knee pain. It had been diagnosed as knee osteoarthritis. The doctors he’d talked with, the books he’d read, and the stories he’d heard all said knee osteoarthritis was hopeless. He asked me what I recommended for it. I told him that getting his hip joints to start moving in a functional way would take some stress off the knees which, it wouldn’t be far fetched to say, would help his knees feel a little less pain.

On a basic level, I was only asking that he believe that having his legs swing forward and backward while walking rather than landing with the knee pointing out to the sides would be beneficial. Walking with your knees pointing out to the side causes an obviously imbalanced impact on the knee joint and a shear at the medial aspect of the knee.  Dysfunctional hips could make his knees bend awkwardly in sitting so that even sitting could be painful…

But on a more important level, I was asking him to believe that a difference could be made to his diagnosed condition.

He responded with incredulity. “There’s nothing you can do about osteoarthritis. That’s what every expert in the world says. I’ve had consults with some of the best doctors.” And there was nothing I could say in that context to change his mind (though I did try and it did make for some awkward tension).

He didn’t believe he could get better, didn’t believe anything could be done, and probably figured I was full of some especially malodorous cow excrement.

I don’t know how he’s doing, but I’m guessing his situation’s not improved all that much.

I’ve also had many people come to my office and say, “I want to get better.  I know this is coming from my compensations around [injury or situation x], but the doctors and physical therapists say there’s nothing wrong with my body even though I can feel the pain.  I know something can be done, I’m just not sure what it is.”

These are the people who get better.  These are the people who figure out what the roots of the problem are and get on the path to solving it.  These are often the people who get better quicker.

So what I’m finding, and you can agree or disagree in the comment section below, is that Thomas Jefferson was right. Facing challenges, whether it be pain or something else is all about attitude.  Whether you believe your problems will end you or make you stronger, you’re going to be right. All you have to do is choose how you want to be right!


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.