Prove it: The science behind the power of purpose

Last week we discussed some ways that athletes can make the most of injury. We talked about how a sidelined athlete can take opportunities to learn new skills, interact with fans, improve mental strength, and build closer bonds with coaches and teammates while going through the rehab process.

While not explicitly mentioned, all those tasks point to maintaining one thing: PURPOSE.

During injury and rehabilitation, an athlete can experience depression and anxiety as a result of loss of identity. Maintaining a purpose throughout that confusion is essential to a having a successful emotional, physical, and mental recovery.


The purpose of positivity

FACT: Maintaining a sense of purpose makes you healthier.

James Clear, writer and ex-All-American athlete, shared his thoughts on the connection between a longer, healthier life and purpose. He explains that Japanese women maintain an average 86 year lifespan, the “longest disability-free life expectancy in the world.”

That’s right. The world. And note the “disability-free” qualifier. Not just a longer life, but a longer, healthier life.

How do they accomplish this impressive feat? With ikigai. It’s the Japanese word meaning “reason for waking up in the morning”, and the Japanese take it very seriously.

Purpose and value

A sense of purpose contributes to one’s sense of self-worth, or value. When something is valuable to you, you instinctively work to protect it, and that involves adopting habits to preserve that valuable thing.

When that thing is you, magic happens and you become a happier, healthier you.

Consider things you identify as valuable - your athletic gear, your car, your family. These things hold value, so you do your best to take care of them and protect them from harm.

But, beware: The purpose pendulum swings both ways. When your purpose is lost, your self-worth suffers, causing your health to suffer as well.

Okay, so maybe it’s a regional thing. Maybe Japanese women just live longer because of some other sociological factor other than ikigai. Their extended lifespan could be due to other factors such as diet, meditation practices (religion), or something else.

Well, a group of convent nuns would say otherwise.

Nunning to joke about

Convent nuns are ideal subjects for scientific study because their lives are so similar. From religious beliefs, to the foods they eat, to the housing they live in, there are few variables to tamper with the scientific outcomes.

Except for personal outlook.

Scientists found that nuns who maintained a positive outlook on their lives lived up to 10 years longer than those who had a neutral or negative outlook.

Psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity: Top Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life (and who Positive Performance cite's quite a bit in their Mastering Your Self-Talk Training), calls this correlation the “undo effect”. In an article for Entrepreneur magazine, she states “positive emotions help you live longer by shutting down the health-damaging side effects of negative ones.”

Losses loom larger than gains. Our mind is drawn into this mental time travel, and we're obsessing about something negative that happened in the past or we're worrying about what will happen in the future." – Barbara Frederickson, Author of Positivity

Shutting down a negative mindset greatly influences the rate at which you bounce back from physical injury.

Bouncing back: Building a positivity bank

FACT: Positive self-talk not only improves your game, but also improves your ability to handle setbacks. 

Positive thinking shouldn’t begin when trouble does. How well you rebound from injury may greatly depend on how well you’ve built up positivity within you.

Frederickson claims that positivity can build like a resource and that you can tap into this “bank” whenever adversity and setbacks rear their ugly heads. She claims that accessing this bank of positivity has helped troubled business owners overcome setbacks and start anew.

The same rule applies to athletes experiencing a major setback (e.g. an injury): Making positive thoughts a habit will assist you in overcoming adversity in the future.

[Tweet "Express gratitude to live longer, recover faster, and enjoy a healthier life."]


The force of gratitude

The easiest way to make deposits into your positivity bank, Frederickson says, is to practice gratitude. For athletes, that means finding purpose beyond the scoreboard.

Lindsey Wilson wrote about this concept of “beyond the scoreboard” last year in 3 ways gratitude helps you perform. This article maintains its applicability even if you replace the word “perform” with “recover” or “heal”.

You can still have gratitude for the big picture, gratitude for opportunity, and gratitude for the process, even while facing a difficult challenge like injury.

Having trouble understanding how gratitude influences injury? Let me clarify:

Gratitude for the Big Picture

Your time being sidelined and injured comprises only a small moment within the span of your athletic career. Don’t fixate on it and dwell on your trial. Step back, see the big picture, and understand that, while injury definitely stinks, it’s a very small part of the larger sum.

Gratitude for Opportunity

Recall last week’s article about how you can take opportunities during injury to connect with fans, better understand your coach, and build stronger relationships with teammates. Be grateful for these opportunities because, once you’re back in the game, they’ll be gone.

Gratitude for the Process

Injury is inevitable. Period. It stinks, but let’s get real: We all know athletics isn’t all gold medals and trophies. It’s mostly blood, sweat and tears. Being an athlete is really hard work, and sometimes our bodies break under the pressure. Injury is part of the process of becoming a great athlete. Be grateful for the opportunity to grow, even through the struggles.

I encourage you to start building up your positivity bank now! You never know when you'll be in need of that positive influence to keep you going through times of trial!


 What are some small (or big) ways you build up your personal positivity bank?

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