Breathing, Writing, and Giving Thanks (Healing Practice: Part 2)

In Part 1, I talked about using a mantra (I am relaxed) to reinforce a positive mindset and state of relaxation. Repeating this positive message to myself over and over throughout the day has helped me see beyond my injured state, and focus on something more productive.

This mantra has been effective, but is admittedly abstract and intermittent. I can repeat it when I remember to, but there are often long stretches where it’s difficult to relax (and to remember the mantra). Knowing this, I decided to create triggers throughout the day; events that would remind me to relax, and help me achieve two additional healing goals:

  • Reinforce a positive mindset, and
  • Live life in the present

I went back to the basics to help me achieve these goals: Breathing and Writing.

Using Positive Affirmation

 “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

– Henry Ford

Faith, belief, self-fulfilling prophecy; whatever you call it, it’s easy to understand the benefits of positive thinking. The concept of mentally reinforcing the outcomes we want isn’t new, and is often used by athletes, public speakers, and religious leaders. Despite the idea’s simplicity, it can be hard to implement during times of stress, depression, or trauma – situations when positivity is often most needed. When you’re suffering, it’s easy to dwell on current circumstances, and get caught in a spiral of negative thinking. I know how easy this is because it happened to me.

I was having a tough time getting beyond my current situation. My healing was progressing slowly, and I didn’t necessarily know when I would get better. It could be a few weeks, a few months, or (worst case scenario) a few years. I was constantly drowning in a sea of negative thoughts.

So I decided to write down what I wanted to happen. Rather than rely on fleeting thoughts of “knowing I’d get better one day,” I hoped the physical act of writing positive phrases would rewire my brain to translate the positivity into actual healing. I had tried almost every physical remedy so far, but this would be my first purely mental exercise. It couldn’t hurt to try.

I bought a nice moleskine notebook, and placed it next to my bed. Every night before going to sleep, I wrote the following phrase:

My knee is healing and getting better

My knee is healing and getting better

My knee is healing and getting better

It was the outcome I wanted, repeated three times. After a few nights it became an easy habit. I even began reading the phrase out loud to myself, repeating it three times in succession. I wanted this to be the last thought my brain registered before falling asleep. I am making progress, things are getting better.

This was a powerful way to reinforce a positive mindset, and I still repeat the practice every night. Rather than falling asleep with a racing mind worrying about life’s stressors, reinforcing this positive phrase has helped me relax and ease into my sleep.

Whether it was the improved sleep or the reinforced positivity (probably a combination), my knee’s healing rate began to improve.

Using Breathing to Check Myself

Another tool I added to my daily practice was a long, deep breath. Whenever I felt any type of stress building up, I would inhale deeply and exhale slowly, thinking the words Breathe… Relax… during the inhale and exhale phases respectively. This put my body in a parasympathetic state, brought my mind back to the present moment, and helped me deal with the stress in a calm manner.

I used this long, deep breath whenever I felt any type of stress or anxiety building. It could be when I worried about my knee healing too slowly, remembered I was running low on groceries, or received an email from a coworker. It might seem crazy, but this simple tactic worked fairly quickly. My stress didn’t build up as much over time, since I was able to recognize and extinguish it right away. My chest started to feel lighter, and I remained more level-headed throughout the day.

Letting Thankfulness Ground Me

Earlier I explained how I developed the habit of writing down a positive phrase every night before bed. This practice actually started with another goal in mind, one I hoped would ground me in the present, and prevent me from time traveling with my thoughts. Similar to the positive affirmation phrase about my knee healing and getting better, I wanted to positively reinforce something that made me happy to be alive, and thankful for what I do have (despite the things I didn’t have, at least temporarily).

I kept things simple and easy. Every night before bed I grabbed my moleskine notebook, wrote down the date, and created a numbered list from 1-5. Next to each number, I wrote the name of someone I’m thankful to have in my life. Acknowledging five people I’m thankful for. Not a bad way to end each day.

At first I didn’t know the affect this would have, but it soon became a fun ritual. The names weren’t always the same, and were usually influenced by who I interacted with that day. Still, I found myself giving thanks to the people who supported me most during my recovery, the friends and family I was most grateful for. Even if I didn’t always tell them in person, this became a small way for me to personally thank my support network for keeping me strong and sane through the toughest times.

Willing A Feeling

These practices ultimately taught me it’s possible to will a feeling into existence, and create the reality you want in your life. Positive thinking is great, but tying that thinking to actions and behaviors is even better. I was able to map the outcomes I wanted to achieve with actions I could practice to make them a reality.

It’s no coincidence these practices coincided with a turning point in my recovery.

The Practices

  • Reinforce a positive mindset => I used positive affirmation by writing the phrase My knee is healing and getting better every night before bed
  • Live life in the present => I took a long, deep breath when I started to feel stressed, and wrote down the names of five people I’m thanking for every day


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