No One Cares. Work Harder.
My friend JK recently gave me a gift. It was a mug that said, “No One Cares. Work Harder.” on its face. The gift was meant to be funny, and it is. But each time I look at it, it reminds me of the journey I have been on for the past twenty years as a Physical Therapist. When the journey started, I didn’t know enough to know that it started. I did what I was taught in school and what all of my colleagues did.
Years passed of doing the same thing every day. It just didn’t feel right. I felt like a fraud. Was I really helping people? Sure, many people “got better,” but was it because of what I did, or did the amazing human body do what it does when we let it and heal itself? Then I started to think, how can this be different? How can I impact people’s lives in a way that transcends what I learned in school? What was I missing??
We Are The Story We Tell Ourselves
We are the stories we tell ourselves we are. I am not sure who said this first, so I don’t know who to give credit to. Whoever you are, consider yourself credited. The first time I heard this, it was on a podcast. The host said it in passing, but it got stuck in my brain. It rattled around in there for a while, and then I heard it again on another podcast. Then I read it in a book. It was everywhere!
The universe was clearly trying to tell me something, so I began to apply it to my own life. What stories have I told myself that I then became? Here are some but not all:
- I am the kind of person that is out of shape and overweight.
- I am the kind of person that doesn’t try new foods.
- I am the kind of person that hates to socialize.
- I am the kind of person that can’t DIY anything. that
- I am the kind of person that is sarcastic and negative.
- I am the kind of person that has no time and is too tired for my kids.
- I am the kind of person that has his money life in order even though I really don’t.
That list could go on for a long time. It is a list that I still think about and struggle with today. The power of those statements lies in the first seven words, “I am the kind of person that…” I have learned that the statement that comes after those seven words can be whatever I want it to be. I/We have the power to change the narrative in our heads. We tell ourselves our own story.
The Victim Mentality
By recognizing my stories, I was able to start changing my narrative. I started to think about other applications for this method. Work was an obvious place to start. What stories were my patients telling themselves and me? Was this narrative helping them heal or holding them back? So I started to pay more attention. Instead of commiserating with my colleagues about our “whiney patients,” I began to look for patterns. It did not take long to find one!
My patients were victims. Not all of them, but a lot. They were being told by their doctors, commercials, social media, and the internet how to define themselves and had started to become their injuries and/or illness. The stories they were telling themselves were not their own. Their narrative was coming from external sources, but it was easier to believe it than create their own.
In many ways, being a victim is empowering. This mindset places the blame and responsibility on someone or something else. When it is not your fault, you aren’t accountable to fix it. Someone else should fix it for you, and when they don’t, you are now a victim of that too. It is a vicious cycle that can go on forever and permeate all aspects of your life.
Unfortunately, this mindset and approach are rarely successful. The patients I saw that had this mindset rarely got better. Their story had already been told and was written in concrete, not to be changed. I used to feel bad and blame myself when these patients did not make progress. It harmed how I viewed my job and my purpose. I struggled with this for a long time. By discovering the victim mentality and attacking it head-on, I have improved my patients’ outcomes and job satisfaction.
Mindset & Impermanence
The shift in my approach started by being open and honest with my patients. When I have patients stuck in this mindset, I tell them that. I try and be nice about it, but they need to hear it, and most are very open to the message. The conversation focuses on two areas: mindset and impermanence. I don’t usually use those terms exactly, but the messaging is just that. In essence, I am telling them that no one cares. Work harder.
The mind-body connection is more powerful than I ever imagined when I started this career. So it makes sense to start with mindset when trying to help someone that is injured or in pain. Without the right mindset, it is almost impossible to heal the body. This is where being honest can be hard. It is not easy to tell someone that their mindset is the problem. It can sound kind of quacky to tell someone that their mindset keeps them from getting better, but it has to be done.
I tell my colleagues that my basic approach is to tell my patients that they are better or that they will be better. It is rare for me to ask them to think negative thoughts. We focus on the things they can do, not the things they can’t. Don’t tell my teachers, but I never ask my patients about their pain! If I focus on the negative, so will they. I reinforce the positive and remind them that everything can and will be better. You are not stuck here. That is where impermanence comes in to play.
Impermanence is the belief that nothing lasts forever. Good or bad, nothing lasts forever. If you look back at the worst moments of your life, they too passed. Each day that goes by, that moment in time becomes a smaller percentage of your life. This message is one that resonates with just about all of my patients. Reframing their current state in this light helps them dampen the stress and urgency around whatever ails them. This too shall pass, I promise.
No One Cares. Work Harder.
The purpose behind the messages of mindset and impermanence is to give the power back to the patients. I do not make you better. You make yourself better, and it starts with the belief that you will be better. Do I tell them that no one cares, work harder? Sometimes! There are times they need to hear that. I pick my spots on that one. It is the messaging that is consistent. We are all in control of our mindset. It can work for us or against us. We get to choose, so choose wisely!
No One Cares. Work Harder. Thanks JK.