I’m pretty sure the first time I heard the term “cognitive dissonance” was back in graduate school when I was getting my Master’s in counseling psychology. It isn’t something I think about or use often, but I was recently reminded of this term while in a professional development training. Since then, I’ve been thinking about how the past 10 months have caused me great cognitive dissonance as a chronically injured runner.
A “Chronically Injured” Runner
I’m not trying to be dramatic about the “chronic injury” but it’s the best way to describe it in one sentence. Over the course of the past 10 years, I’ve been injured more than I’ve been healthy. When I think back on my running during that time, it’s mostly the good stuff that stands out: The PRs, successful long runs, etc. However, there have been several long-term injuries that I may or may not have been able to train through.
It started with my hip surgery. Everyone I have spoken to about this really doesn’t think it was running that caused it, but I may not have noticed the pain if I wasn’t running. (We can keep blaming it on my years of dancing + genetics.) Other injuries didn’t get cured with rest, but with the right treatment. How frustrating is it to take 3 months off of running and not get better? I’ll tell you, it’s extremely frustrating. Then to see a chiropractor and get ART and feel better within weeks, it really makes you question why you took that time off in the first place.
For those who may not be familiar with cognitive dissonance, it’s defined as “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.” For example, someone who smokes may experience cognitive dissonance by knowing that it causes lung cancer. Sometimes we cope with these types of feelings by changing our attitudes, beliefs or behaviors (for example, quitting smoking.) Other times we try to outweigh the thought that is causing us stress with a different belief. Sometimes we try to tell ourselves that the belief that is causing the stress isn’t important/true/etc.
So how does this relate to me and my running? First off, I define part of myself as a runner. It still comes up in conversation, it’s still something I write about, think about, and enjoy. However, it’s confusing to feel like I am presenting myself as a distance runner who runs marathons, when I barely run at all anymore. It’s one thing to take a month or two off, and get back to it. But when it’s ongoing it leaves your feeling all sorts of confused. I know we always tell ourselves and each other that these things will pass and get better, but what if they don’t?
Being a Runner
Let me be clear, I don’t define all of myself as a just a runner. That is a huge help as I’m going through this. There are plenty of other things I enjoy. I have a full-time job to keep me busy and distracted. If I were an elite runner, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like. I’m sure that what Tina is going through right now is a million times more intense.
There’s also this whole concept of recovery. I feel like I “should” do certain things because it’s what I would tell someone else to do in my situation. But I can’t help but question it all. Honestly, I don’t think I have ever gotten over an injury by resting, as crazy as that may sound. So here I am trying to believe that I need to rest when it’s never helped me in the past.
Don’t get me wrong, I am really grateful that this isn’t something more serious. It’s just been SO long since I have been able to run and train the way I want. I’d like to get back to that. I feel like I am tip-toeing on ice, hanging on enough not to fall in, but having to go so slowly and gently that I’m not getting anywhere. Does that even make sense?
I try to be a good runner, following all the “rules” and such. I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something to all of this. When you can’t do the things that make you feel like yourself, it definitely creates cognitive dissonance. Something will have to change to resolve it, whether that’s my beliefs, attitude, or behavior. I’m not sure that I will get to choose, but I think we all know what the goal is.
Posts like this can be really therapeutic. Thanks for
Have you ever experienced cognitive dissonance in an area of your life?
When you have been injured, does rest usually help or do you rely more on treatment?
Do you struggle with defining yourself outside of being a runner?
I’m linking up with Amanda for Thinking Out Loud!