On a Saturday in early August, I was golfing with my brother, Scott, when he received an upsetting phone call. As we rode in the cart to the first green, I asked him about the call. He said it was Shawn, his oldest son. With tears in his eyes, he quietly told me that Shawn, a redshirt sophomore quarterback at Vanderbilt University, had torn his ACL in his “good” knee, his right one.
My heart sank; this was Shawn’s third ACL tear in four years.
Scott mentioned Shawn was crying, distraught, and questioning everything.
- Should he quit the game?
- What is wrong with his body?
- Is he somehow flawed?
- What is he doing wrong?
- Why is this happening three weeks before the first game?
- Is he destined to do something else with his life?
I thought to myself: of course, Shawn is distraught; feelings like his are normal and expected.
Two days later, Scott excitedly shared another conversation with his son. Shawn told him he is not quitting football. He plans on coming back bigger, stronger, and in better shape, just as he did after his last two surgeries. He added that since this is his third surgery, he knows the rehab process and is actually looking forward to surgery so he can begin his comeback. To my brother’s amazement, Shawn also told him how grateful he was to be at Vanderbilt because he loves the school, trusts the medical staff, and knows regardless of what happens on the field he is receiving a fantastic education.
Two days later my nephew was no longer questioning everything, yet his circumstances had not changed. He was still scheduled for surgery in a couple of days, his dreams of playing SEC football in 2016 were over, he faced another six months of intense rehab, and he knew many would look at him as physically flawed—yet he was excited for the future.
His thinking and subsequent state of mind.
If circumstances had the power to control his internal well-being, then Shawn would have been distraught and depressed until his knee healed and he could get back on the football field.
Life events do not have such power.
As Shawn’s mind-set and level of consciousness expanded, his reaction to or interpretation of events changed.
When your head is filled with excess thinking, your mind-set is low and you are in a temporary mental prison where doubts and insecurities abound.
When your head naturally clears of excess thought (if you let it), your mind-set rises, the prison bars fall away, and you are suddenly in the penthouse appreciating your life.
What did Shawn do to reframe his injury so he could alter his state of mind?
Nothing. His mind-set naturally elevated.
Shawn didn’t take a time-out and mediate.
He didn’t do a breathing exercise.
He didn’t visualize having healthy knees.
My brother did not give him a pep talk.
Scott did not tell Shawn he would be okay or that everything happens for a reason.
(By the way, I am not against mediating, breathing exercises, or visualization. They just don’t cause a change in mind-set).
By not employing the culturally popular tips to willfully change his mind-set, Shawn gave his innate psychological immune system room to operate. And so, his head cleared back to its default setting: clarity.
I am often asked, “What should I do when I am mentally suffering and struggling?” The short answer is nothing. The long answer is:
- Look within.
- Understand your current thinking is causing your feeling state.
- Remember circumstances do not shape your mind-set or perspective.
- Stay in the game. Proceed. Wake up and go to class. Make the call. Do whatever you were planning on doing before the mental clutter.
Have faith your psychological immune system will do the job it was created to do—bring you back to clarity.
I wish that this understanding instantly alleviated mental distress. In my experience, it doesn’t. What does it do? It eliminates prolonging distress by adding thought (tips, techniques, strategies), and it gives your head room to clear by allowing your psychological immune system to restore you back to clarity.
What you will notice is that when you look within and stay in the game your head naturally clears 100 percent of the time.
Thank you, Shawn, for intuitively and effortlessly being an example of the innate power of our mental health.
May your body be restored to health as quickly as your mind.
Blessings to you,