As a coach, I sometimes need to remind myself to utilize my coaching skills and tools for my own well-being. Assisting others through their false narratives, pain, doubts, and fears comes naturally to me. Most often, it's second nature for me to employ these tools, but it isn't always easy in my personal life. During the final week of a month-long journey through Italy this spring, I had an opportunity to navigate through a difficult transition to find a few valuable gems in an unfortunate situation.
Italy was, without a doubt, a trip of a lifetime; however, during the final week, I needed to step up my coping mechanisms to make a difficult adjustment. After three glorious weeks of taking in Italy's spectacular cities and countryside with my brother, Gary, and sister-in-law, Rose, I was excited to experience Rome. The Colosseum, the Forum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, and so much more were awaiting; however, the Universe had different plans for me.
On our final night in Sorrento before traveling to Rome, I sprained my ankle and injured my knee in a nasty fall. It could have been so much worse as I fell hard from the steps onto a marble landing. Still, it hurt like hell! It's a bad sprain, made worse by the knee injury on the opposite leg.
Different personality types respond to setbacks in different ways.
What do you think your initial reaction would've been if you were in my situation? Here's how it went for me.
Immediately after the fall, my initial questions were what most people would ask themselves. How bad is it? Can I move? In how many places am I injured? And then, how will I get up from down here?
After that, I moved on to thoughts similar to what you'd experience for an empathy-driven individual in this situation.
- Oh no, how awful for Gary and Rose to have seen me fall like that.
- Now their trip is going to be ruined.
- Gary had paid for the tours, and now I can't take them; what a waste of money.
- I'm going to slow them down, and I'll be a burden.
- What if I need medical care? That will ruin everything for them!
- I don't want them to worry about me on their vacation!
These fears were a lot to process, and I became overwhelmed and anxious. The fall and all these initial thoughts happened in less than a minute, and I quickly realized the need to access my coping skills, so on went the coach hat. (This was all before I even got off the ground!)
Once I was standing, with the help of my brother, I immediately acknowledged to myself that I was projecting. “If roles were reversed and I witnessed one of them experience a bad fall, would I be thinking about the remainder of my trip being ruined,” I asked myself. The answer was no. I would be deeply concerned for the injured person and think about what I could do to help them. With this shift in perspective, my panic receded, and I could focus on what I needed.
When a setback involves others, don't project. You have no idea how they are feeling or what their thoughts are, and there will be plenty of time to work out the details later. Take care of yourself first and ask for what you need.
Of course, this coach would have more opportunities to turn her skills inward. By the next morning, the pain and swelling worsened in the ankle and the knee. I was alone at the AirBnB and began worrying that I might need medical attention. Would my insurance cover it? Where would I go, and how would I get down the awful stairs lurking just outside the door? Would anyone speak English at the medical center? What would happen if I waited for medical care until I got home a week from now? If there's a fracture, will it be too late to treat it?
As you can see, the negative voices in my head were working overtime. My body became tense all over, and I felt highly agitated. That's when the coach voice took over and told me loud and clear that I was catastrophizing. I was less than a day in; of course, the injuries will get worse before they get better. “Give it time,” I told myself.
I used deep breathing methods to ground myself and shifted states by moving to a different room to distract myself with a bit of television. In addition, I used EFT to quiet the negative voices.
The human brain quickly goes down the path of catastrophic thinking, but your body will alert you when your worrisome brain goes into overdrive. You will experience things like anxiety, tenseness, stomach upset, and headaches. When you receive these signals, stop to ask yourself, “Do any of these manufactured predictions of the future need to be addressed immediately?” And “Do I know–for an absolute fact–that any of these awful things will happen?” The answers are: probably not and no.
In the subsequent phases of adjustment to my unfortunate reality, my brain changed directions, and I began to feel sorry for myself. Here I am, on my dream vacation, stuck in a small apartment with no view and a dangerous stairway. I would miss the spectacular pieces of ancient history I've waited a lifetime to see. I felt angry, sad, and lonely.
With my coach hat on again, I asked myself, “If you must stay in this room for several days, is this how you want to feel?” The answer was absolutely not. I could do nothing to change the situation, so how could I improve it?
I'll admit that even after I put some work into my mindset, some of the sadness remained, but the anger and grief were no longer amplified by it. It's natural to feel a bit sorry for yourself in such situations; I believe anyone would. But I would not let my feelings bring me down to the point of constant misery. So, I created goals and a plan. What entrepreneur doesn't feel better with goals and action steps in place?
First, practice gratitude.
I fell from the steps down onto the solid stone. I could have broken something or many somethings! I could have hit my head or fallen flat on my face. It could have been a truly catastrophic event. I am grateful that my injuries are relatively minor and will heal. I have two caring people with me who would look after me. I created a long list of “I'm really lucky” statements. Gratitude makes everything feel better!
Second, practice acceptance.
- I was in a disappointing situation and could not change it, but I could make the best of it, so I looked for the good.
- Gary and Rose would have some time alone in Rome. I'm sure that feels good to them.
- I brought my iPad, books, and iPhone. I could always find things to do, like writing this post while the facts and feelings were still fresh on my mind. (Although I didn't post it until I returned home.)
- I hadn't watched a movie in quite some time. Who gets to lay around in Rome and watch television? It's a new experience.
Third, expedite my healing.
I studied information online about healing a bad ankle sprain. Unfortunately, the apartment had no freezer, so there was no ice. Yet, ice is crucial to healing. I asked Gary and Rose to get those ice packs you snap to release a cold gel. Not ideal, but better than nothing.
I'd kept the ankle wrapped and elevated and put some magic Italian gel on it. I massaged it, and the knee, several times a day. On the third day, I began basic stretching and other exercises.
Last on the list: Set goals.
I know myself well. No matter what it took, I needed to leave the apartment after a full day inside. Once I got out for an hour or two, I could face another day inside if I continued to work at it. So, on the second morning, I met those challenging stairs with Gary's assistance. He and Rose then escorted me to a cafe where I began this article and sipped a delicious cappuccino while they painstakingly searched Rome for a cane. Later in the day, we took a short walk to a lovely historic restaurant and had a fun evening. I felt much better. On the third morning, I stayed at the Airbnb to rest my ankle, and that evening we attended our after-hours tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. It was a lot of walking and a ton of stairs, but I had a cane and a lot of determination, so I did it, and it was spectacular. A stoic guard even took mercy on me and invited us to ride in a secret elevator!
I continued to motivate myself by adjusting any negative thoughts to a positive mindset and spent my final two days in Italy seeing the sites. I walked miles a day on a badly sprained ankle and crooked cobblestone. It was slow but sure, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Having tools, creating processes, and fine-tuning your mindset can help you through a challenging setback. You don't have to be a professional coach to shape your negative thoughts into a positive vision and a plan to fit any situation. Use the following list as a guide to turn those sour lemons into delicious lemonade. (Oh, Italy has the best lemons, especially in Sorrento!)
- Be kind to yourself and avoid condemning your actions and choices.
- Acknowledge your feelings instead of pushing them down.
- Ask yourself questions like the ones I mentioned in this article.
- Pay attention when you're projecting or catastrophizing. Bring your thoughts back to reality.
- Figure out a plan to make the best of what you've got and to give yourself something to look forward to.
- Use this article as a template you can customize to your needs!
Two weeks after returning home, I don't reflect on a trip ruined by a sprained ankle. I look back at a dream come true and the beauty and richness of Italy. I remember being on the Mediterranean and dining in family-owned restaurants with a plate of homemade pasta and freshly caught shellfish. I think of the memories we created and spending precious time with two people I love. The ankle incident proved my strength and my family member's patience and kindness.
Do I wish the fall had never happened? Of course, I do; the darn ankle still stings, but I also feel proud of the coping mechanisms I put to work. The beautiful memories will far outlast the discomfort and inconvenience of what could have been a far worse incident. And, as my brother says, now I have a story to tell!