The Promises We Make to Ourselves

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of conducting a phone interview with the man featured in the video below. His name is Bill Hansen (although he’s known as “Big Sarge”) and he’s a member of the Wounded Warriors organization. After returning from Iraq with multiple head injuries, Big Sarge has gone on to compete in seven Tough Mudder races, as well as a handful of other athletic competitions. Now he devotes much of his time to training other Wounded Warriors who are preparing for these types of events. 

I’ve long been interested in the concept of physical exercise as a form of healing from TBI and PTSD and I thought I’d make that idea the topic of my next Brainline.org article. However, during the interview I began to find myself more fascinated by Big Sarge’s attitude than by any of his physical accomplishments. I asked him how it’s possible for a person who struggled with serious weight gain and depression following his final deployment, to suddenly wake up one day, decide to get off the couch, and go compete in something as formidable as a Tough Mudder. His response? I just did it. Acknowledging and accepting the potential challenges and embarrassment, he chose not to tell anyone when he signed up for his first race. He just got up one day and started training. 

After we hung up, this thought lingered in my head. Why do some people seem so easily able to grab control of their own lives and steer it in a different direction, while others consciously travel down unhappy paths for eons of time? Are some people just built with more resilience and less fear? Can we attribute this kind of grit to an innate character trait? Obviously social psychologists have been on this one for years, but I haven’t found myself satisfied by any one explanation.

In yoga, there is a lot of discussion about “the mind stuff.”  When I think back to the first dark and miserable year of TC’s recovery, it’s probably fair to describe my mind stuff as a big old mess. However, it was also a period of great enlightenment, best characterized by the light switch moment in which I was suddenly struck by this epiphany: I am free. All of the structure surrounding my existence had been blown up, allowing me to finally recognize the infinite number of choices at my everyday disposal. I didn’t have to be a teacher. I didn’t have to be a writer. I wasn’t relegated to any of the roles I had once defined myself by, nor was I limited to only the moderate successes I had unconsciously envisioned for myself (narrowed down and selected by my mental frenemies, Realism and Practicality). True reality confirmed that I could do really big things if I wanted to, simply because I, like all people, have been blessed with the option to try.

In our conversation, Big Sarge also spoke of these self-imposed mental limitations. They’re the barbed wire lining our mental cages, informing us whether we can or cannot dream/think/behave/act in one way or another. They inform nearly every aspect of our decision making and self-view, and yet, they’re a total illusion.

When I got back from Greece, I told myself, “It’s going to be nearly impossible to hold on to this renewed energy and commitment to meditation, daily practice, etc.” I told myself this over and over in my head for weeks. And guess what? It was. I let the challenge defeat me before I even got to the starting line and what I’ve learned along the way is that there are few worse feelings than breaking the promises you’ve made to yourself.

Tomorrow’s a really big day in our house. TC goes back to work after 26 months of rebuilding his body and his brain. It’s an accomplishment that holds deep significance for everyone who has watched him journey deliberately and painstakingly down this path. It’s also a bit of a wake-up call. I’ve been letting those mental barriers gain strength over the past few months and it’s about time to get up off the couch and knock them down once more. Big, amazing things are possible if you can silence the inner haters.

The promises we make to ourselves are important. The goals we set carry meaning (whether we choose to share them or not). And when we want something for ourselves, for our lives, we have a responsibility to at least try going after it. 

This morning I woke up and promised myself I’d write on my blog. It feels good to have kept that promise. Now what will you do?

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