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Why Most Goals Fail and How it Relates to Your Pain


"Knowledge is, by far, the most powerful tool to treat and cure pain. More powerful than any pill." - Dr. David Butler, author of "Explain Pain".

In some coming blogs, we will be discussing the 7 pillars of health. Before we do that, we need to discuss a foundational principles: the beliefs, identity, and systems that leading to the best results and fulfillment within those principles. Many people set goals like New Year's Resolutions, but research says around 92% of people who set these resolutions never actually achieve them. Read that again: 92% fail!!!!! But why? Most commonly we never actually change our beliefs. We define a specific goal, and we implement a system/habit, it works for a while, but then we fall off eventually. Motivation starts to crash and before we know it, we have fallen short of the goal we set out for and back into habits we were trying to change. Maybe we even accomplish a set goal, but then fall back into suboptimal habits afterward. So, we get in this perpetual loop as shown in the photo below. We never really changed the most important part: the beliefs or identity about ourselves toward that desired outcome. 

Our Traditional/Taught Thought Process


Common Mentally Limiting Statements about Pain and Injuries 

How does this relate to your pain or performance? Some common stories we hear:

"I've been told I have degeneration in (insert joint area here) so I know I'll probably always be in pain."

"I'm just getting older, and I know aches and pains come with that." 

"I've been in pain for years and get relief every now and then, but no long-term relief. I know at this point I just have to manage it for the rest of my life." 

"I have terrible posture causing my pain." 

"I'm a terrible sleeper." 

"Doc told me I have a disc bulge (bone on bone, scoliosis, rotator cuff tear, tendonitis, bursitis, etc.) and that I will probably be in pain for a while, need some meds, and maybe eventually injection or surgery." 

"There's probably not much you can do since my line of work is causing my pain, but I thought I would give it a shot." 

"I'll probably never be able to run or lift weight like I used to." 

 Restructuring Your Thought Process(es) About Your Pain and Activities 

See the irony here? We all want to feel our best, but beliefs about ourselves and the statements from society or someone else that we've internalized, hold us back. When you internalize stories like this over and over again, it's so easy to slide into a self-image and mental groove accepting these stories as facts. When, in reality 95% of the time it is not fact. In the next blog, we'll explain why and how pain is multifactorial. The majority of the time degeneration is normal; A LOT of people are walking around with disc bulges and rotator cuff tears but have no pain or loss of function; pain does not have to come with age. The self-limiting statements become part of our identity without us even realizing it. We get in the cycle and never get the long term results we deserve because our identity and beliefs about ourselves never change. The goal, for example, should never be relief of pain, it should be to BECOME a better functioning human, resolved of pain. Just like the goal should not be to read a book, but to BECOME a reader.

It does need to be stated that we never want to give people false hope. This is why, in the clinic, we spend a lot of time explaining principles of pain and rehab, tracking results visit to visit, and testing and retesting in multiple ways. This way we know when real red flags are a possibility and can refer to the right place to still get the care right for you.  

So how should goals go? First, decide the person you want to be (constantly remind yourself of the true beliefs). Second, prove it to yourself with small wins. Examples of the first:

You are not (insert name here) who is getting older and will have aches and pains for the next 40-60 years. You are (insert name here) who will be mobile, strong, and active while feeling great until your last day on Earth. 

You are not (insert name here) who must avoid deadlifting or other activity due to pain. You are (insert name here) who will learn the principles of your pain, injury, and rehab and then build back to be pain free and more resilient than ever in your activity. 

You are not (insert name here) who is terrible at sleeping. You are (insert name here) who will learn and change behaviors, routines, and protocols to become a great sleeper. 

For the second, stack small wins. Nothing worth achieving is accomplished in one single task. It's hundreds to thousands of small wins that stack up to the ultimate outcome. Every action and habit becomes another "vote" toward that ideal person. Like 99% of things successfully accomplished, the trajectory upward was never completely linear. There are losses, setbacks, and with pain: flareups. All that is completely normal and if we let our beliefs, principles, and identity drive the loop then the "votes" and evidence stack up toward becoming the person we outlined to be, not just one particular outcome for a short period of time. Another way to think of it is asking yourself, "What would a person who is (insert ideal outcome here) do?" Guarantee you will find things that begin to start the process toward stacking the small wins. 


At the end of the day, it is about becoming the person you want to become, not the one goal or result. The exciting thing is our beliefs can always be expanded and upgraded. The small wins can stack up to extraordinary moments and lives that we originally never thought we were capable of. 

References: Clear, James. Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results : An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2018. Print.

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