Switching from a rehabilitation mindset to a training mindset

A subtle yet vital shift in your brain injury recovery mindset can make a real difference

When recovering from a neurological injury, life can feel like it’s all rehab all the time. The exercises you’re doing take up a significant chunk of your day, and it might seem like everyone else is unencumbered, but you have to carry a bunch of extra weight in your pack.

This is not a mindset that supports you. To shift it, ask yourself this set of questions.

If I didn’t have this injury, would I be exercising? What would my mindset be about exercising? Would it be something I was just doing to keep entropy at bay? A boring but necessary chore, a joyless obligation?

If I saw exercise as training, how might that shift things for me, mentally and emotionally?

The word training implies that you’re training for something. Maybe that something is living life to the fullest or responding as best you can to the questions life is asking of you right now. Maybe you’re training for your family. Or for some future goal, say, hiking through Spain with a friend.

Now return to the beginning question. If I didn’t have this injury, would I be exercising? If the answer is yes, and if you see the potential benefits of approaching exercise as training rather than as mere exercise, then…

Re-approach the exercises you’re doing to rehabilitate yourself as being the first steps in your training.

By making this subtle yet vital shift in mindset, you can stop framing your exercises as something you want to be done with as soon as you “get back to normal” and start viewing them as early challenges that you’ll move past as you continue your training.

Think of it this way. At some point, the exercises you’re doing now—which are rehabilitative in nature—will be supplanted by exercises that strengthen or enhance the same things. Today you might be rehabilitating your sense of balance and vestibular system. In the future, the same amount of time might be taken up by yoga or Pilates movements that continue to train your vestibular system and keep it functioning at a high level.

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Going forward, you’ll steadily elevate your levels of training as you move further along the spectrum—the rudimentary stuff you’re doing now is the early part of that spectrum.

For me, this shift in mindset helps me engage my dopamine system, which is necessary for neuroplastic change.

Now, some of you may be saying: I love training, the problem is, I can’t exercise at all thanks to my brain injury and post-concussive syndrome. The truth is, you can’t exercise the way you’re used to. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. Do what you can do every day, then slowly escalate what you can do using the 5% rule.

The person who first introduced me to this concept training instead of exercising was a physical therapist and personal trainer named Jeff Cavaliere, who has a very popular YouTube channel. Although he presented the idea to non-injured people, I believe it might be even more useful for people rehabilitating themselves from injury, and I presume he would agree.

Brainwave is an informational resource for people whose symptoms haven’t resolved after a concussion or mTBI. I endeavor to present this information in a clear and concise way, spelling out what’s backed by science and what remains unknown. Nothing here is meant as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. I am not a physician or a healthcare practitioner of any kind; I’ve simply had a lot of sports-related concussions and had to learn this stuff the hard way. If you found this information helpful or know someone who might benefit from it, please share and subscribe to Brainwave.