7 remarkable lessons I learned from physical therapy

A result of my recent annual physical was getting a referral from my doctor for 4 weeks of physical therapy to help deal with a long-standing issue I have with shoulder and neck pain that links to severe headaches. I just finished up this course of therapy and am likely going to be getting some more, since it is helping a lot.

During this time, I have been thinking about how this process is an analog to being an entrepreneur and small business owner. I came up with seven lessons that apply:

  • Living with pain is no life. The associated pain I described to my doctor I have been living with in one form or another for the better part of 20 years…..and I just put up with it. I tried various pain killers, behavior changes (better posture or different eating habits….anything that might help…) and little tweaks here and there, but there was no real change.
What does this look like for a small business? There’s something in the overall business structure or process you’ve got that just isn’t working. It could be the pain of your financials, your marketing plan (or lack thereof…), the quality of your hiring, your lack of repeat business or referrals, or any combination of these. It is a real sore point, but you keep putting up with it. You try some things you read about online, hear from colleagues at networking groups or the chamber of commerce, but they don’t get any real traction and, besides, you weren’t sure they’d work anyway…
You know that your business could really take off if you could identify the core problem and fix it, but you keep plowing on, because that’s what you know, and you have to keep it moving forward, somehow…don’t you?
  • Get expert help.  Almost all of the little tweaks I’ve tried for my pain were gleaned from other people, articles or books I’ve read, or the sides of the boxes of pain killers I take. Once I got the referral from my doctor for the physical therapist and got into their office for assessment and the beginning of the actual therapy, I was working with a trained expert. Wow. What a difference. After the first four weeks of therapy I have a lot more flexibility, my headaches have gone from 5-6 days a week to maybe once a week and I now have a set of exercises I can use to head-off pain when I feel it coming on.
How how does this translate into a business? Get a mentor. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. I was very fortunate to connect with a massively experienced and helpful gentleman over a year ago via SCORE who has helped me more than I can say. I met with him frequently starting out and still touch base once or twice a month (many times at events we both attend…). You really cannot discount the engagement with a qualified mentor. She or he can help you see past the silo in which we tend to live as entrepreneurs with the wisdom gleaned from their years of business.
  • When with the expert, be compliant and cooperative; follow their instructions when you’re not with them. When I sit or lie down on the therapy table, I follow the guidance of the therapist exactly (especially the instructions to try to relax!). I also try to remain observant during the therapy for a few reasons: to notice what each manipulation feels like, notice what works and what doesn’t and notice if things are “better” than they were the last time I had a session. Once I got the instructions for the ‘exercises’ to do before the next session, I made sure I did them regularly (I didn’t always succeed, but I have gotten better at it over time…especially when they started to work!).
When with your business mentor, spend the time actively listening and asking questions….consider preparing for the mentoring sessions by preparing questions and even ask for homework. Mentoring is easily the single best method for learning, so you are in the prime mode for walking away with wisdom you could not have gotten any other way. Put what they give you into motion, and then be ready for action. Keep at it, and adjust as needed for fine-tuning.
  • Little bitty progress is really OK. After four weeks of therapy, there has been definite improvement. However, when the therapist measured my flexibility, it had improved by just a few degrees. There is still much to do and he is recommending that I have another round of four weeks of therapy, for which I hope the doctor gives me a referral. I have always seen gradual improvement as organic and lasting as opposed to a “Big Hit” massive improvement. That’s not so say I wouldn’t like the a huge single improvement, but my experience has been that gradual change is more lasting.
The plans which I work with the help of my mentor require a steady execution and most of the time I don’t see the improvements in recognizable or easily measurable ways. However, I know the plan is sound, the action items right, and the goals are realistic and just ambitious enough for me at this time. Measuring over days doesn’t work at this point in my business as much as looking at quarter over quarter and “year to date”. My mentor helps me to recognize the signs of improvement, so it’s easier to keep at it. That set of “outside eyes” is invaluable!
  • It kinda hurts. When on the therapy table, I’m quick to point out to the therapist if something starts to hurt and he is quick to change the manipulation and identify what is going on. When I do the exercises between sessions, I am encouraged to “be gentle” and never push hard. I have, however, learned the difference between the soreness that comes from a positive set of exercises and the pain that results from anything else, and how to avoid the latter.
You meet with your mentor and discuss what’s going on with the implementation of the plans you’ve worked out together. You bring up what’s working and what doesn’t seem to be working. She or he helps identify the pain that SHOULD be taking place (if any…) and what to stop doing and change, if that’s what is needed. The work is more than you would be doing otherwise and may not be something you’re comfortable with, but you keep working on it because the improvement you’re starting to see and the goals you have rely on you working through it.
  • If you don’t do it, it doesn’t get better. I have been living with this pain for a very long time. I could just as easily kept doing what I was doing: self-medicating with too many pain killers and complaining. I wasn’t going to get better on its own, for sure. As I have finished up my first period of therapy, I know that if I let my exercises slide a day or two, the pain starts to come back and no progress is made to the goal….getting as pain-free as I can be.
Backing off of the implementation plan you’ve worked out with your mentor, either out of busyness or laziness, will result in either stasis (you just stop and nothing else happens to move you forward…) or back-sliding (you lose the ground you’ve gained…). Neither is a good thing. You must keep at it steadily and keep making the kinds of adjustments that result in positive ends.
  • If you need more help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. At the end of the four weeks of therapy, I went through an assessment and discussion with the therapist over what to do next and what I felt physically. I am happy with the progress I’ve made and really want to see how much closer to pain-free I can get, and he agreed. He has recommended that I have another four weeks of therapy. I have high hopes for even less pain, and am looking forward to it.
Say you’ve worked through the particular challenge that brought you to your mentor. You’ve made some headway, you’re seeing some results, and you’re pretty satisfied…..that’s not likely the only problem you could use help with, is it? Think about your business, your challenges and how she or he may be able to help you.
You can’t afford to walk away from the chance to make your business healthier and stronger, now can you?!

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