Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wiping Out and Getting Back on the Board

Bending over to pick up a bag, I felt a shooting pain from my upper arm into the shoulder.  Instantly I knew it was back, the shoulder strain injured almost a month ago in Hawaii.  Two days later the doctor’s diagnosis?  Muscle strain.  Treatment?  Rest and ibuprofen.  How many times have I heard that since I turned 50?  Having been an athletic type all my life the aches and pains show up regularly and unexpectedly.  This one started after stand up paddle surfing in Waikiki.  Strangely, it was not a specific incident but the strain of the hour in the water.  Two nights later I awoke in the middle of the night with a throbbing pain in my right shoulder.  Only a regular regimen of pain killers got me through the next ten days.  Then the doctor prescribed the rest and ibuprofen regimen.  “Just don’t do anything that hurts,” he admonished me.  Feeling pretty good I went to the gym and did minor stretches and lifting.  Picking up the light gym bag and the strain came back.  Although there are many advantages to aging, changes in the body usually mean adjusting, slowing down, or elimination of activities.

Sometimes while you’re building a new sport, as I did on the stand up board in Hawaii, you can wipe out on a Big Rock (Stephen Covey’s term for the barriers on one’s road to happiness).  You can’t go around the rock or blow it up.   You can simply quit and say you’re too old, or lie and say you didn’t want to do it anyway.  But the bold Boomer forges ahead with the wisdom of experience and knows the most effective and rewarding approach is to chip away at it until it is not in the way.  It may still be there but you can step around it, or over it, or on it.     Usually when doctors prescribe a treatment plan, the recovery takes about four times longer than it did twenty years ago.   You could pretend you’re still 25 or 35 and jump back in and reinjure. Or you can take a cue from meditation and practice mindfulness.  Just simmer down.  Don’t turn off the fire but take it slowly.

Patience is mandatory for physical healing and learning a sport.  Just as the body heals slower in later life, the muscle memory needed for skill development is slower.  The body, brain, and muscles need more time to learn new skills.  Taking up a new sport or even returning to an old sport requires a different approach physically and emotionally.  How can we approach a new potential passion such as stand up paddle surfing?  Self-Determination Theory can be a good template for building momentum for a new interest.  This theory of motivation posits a three pronged stool for happiness in any activity; 1) Autonomy, 2) Competence, 3) Relatedness.  Recognizing how these three elements factor into building satisfaction or happiness can provide a clue on what can be done to keep up the interest.  The injured surfer may require upping the ante on Relatedness since the activity is inherently solitary and high on the Autonomy scale, the Competency aspect is reduced since the injury requires stopping skill development for awhile.   Perhaps there could be book study until he is physically able.  Relatedness is similar to community.  Relatedness in this case may be joining a local club or reading a hobbyist magazine or going to an on line chat room.  It could be as simply putting it down as an interest on your Facebook page.  The usual approach is to just wait it out and do nothing but there is a big risk in that approach.  Once bitten, twice shy.  Waiting a few months to renew the activity or sport and you may find the ardor has dimmed and since we are novelty seeking creatures it is tempting to just move on.  This is an aging attitude that can and must be fought to live the Boomerang life of exploring new frontiers with passion.  

As we slide through the autumn of our lives into the winter, we encounter changes in all areas of life from work to sports to avocations to relationships to sex.  It is natural process.  All things must pass.  Physical and mental decline are part of the journey.  How do we cope and flourish in our later years with this unavoidable back story?  A basic principle of the Boomeranger is keeping it real and at the same time (to use a phrase of the 70s)—Go For It  by imbibing true happiness filled with service, growth, and pleasure.

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