For centuries, managers have been befuddled by team dynamics, particularly why some team members hit it off in a heartbeat while others simply don’t. Moving from anecdotes to data-based best practices took humankind all the way until 2012, when Google embarked on a two-year journey to find an answer to what drives effective teaming once and for all.
What they found laid the foundations for modern corporate team building as we know it today. The results of Project Aristotle, as Google called the study, are simple: After hundreds of interviews and two years of data-crunching, the study found that the best performing teams share five particular features in common, namely psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact.
All of this sounds self-evident today, which is partially testament to how far and wide the findings have trickled down through MBA courses and leadership self-help books over the past decade. Some of Google’s findings were markedly more counterintuitive, including why consensus-driven decision making, co-location, individual performance, and extroversion seem to have little to no impact on their effectiveness.
Even though Project Aristotle wrapped up long before anyone had heard of the metaverse or quiet quitting, the study is well worth any manager’s time today. First, given everything we know of millennials and Gen Z, it’s clear that many of the five tenets that are driving performance have become only more important over time, particularly psychological safety, meaning, and impact.
It is equally clear that our workplaces have adopted practices that are failing employees miserably by over-managing for structure and clarity to the detriment of all other drivers of teaming success.Not knowing where employees are and what they are doing presents real discomfort. In response, many managers have doubled down on clarifying roles and processes in a way that would make Frederic Taylor look like a slouch.
Daily check-ins and check-outs, software assisted monitoring, and hourly production breakdowns have become increasingly prevalent ways for managers to regain a resemblance of control over their minions who might or might not be logging in from Aruba at any given moment.
At the same time, managers across disciplines have adopted Agile ways of working in hopes of replicating the successes the process has brought to the field of IT development in particular. There is much good to be said about Agile for good reason, but when applied with the wrong intentions, it can quickly turn into micromanaging on steroids.
The first casualty of over-compartmentalization and overmanagement of work is the ability of employees to self-actualize and find meaning and impact in their work. Omnipresent monitoring and hourly timesheets also wreak havoc on dependability, making it a matter of rote compliance instead of a carefully cultivated sense of trust and accountability.
Now to the good news: Hybrid, and full-remote workforces are absolutely compatible with effective teaming. Here are two ways to help you push the pendulum back toward a more balanced approach across the five drivers in case you find yourself having gone too deep on structure and clarity.
The first step is bringing trust back to the equation.The world didn’t collapse even though everyone worked from home, and your team will be just fine even if you don’t know exactly how many minutes your staff worked on any given task or how many keystrokes they produce per minute.
In fact, they’ll be far better for it. Leaning in on the flexibility and adaptability of modern ways of working will foster psychological safety and promote engagement and ownership in ways that will have far greater dividends than monitoring and oversight ever could. People are fundamentally reciprocal, and the best way of building trust is to exhibit trust.
One particularly effective method is for managers to focus on setting goals and milestones and giving the team the autonomy to seek out the best way to accomplish them. Tolerating failures and the occasional missteps is critical for making the autonomy feel real, and it goes a long way in making employees feel safe to explore their roles.
Another equally powerful method is to transform stands-ups and check-ins from reporting to supporting events. Recasting regularly scheduled meetings as opportunities for helping team members overcome blockers instead of simply checking on progress made is by far one of the most powerful moves a manager can do to breed trust and self-actualization. Co-location is another practice that is ripe for transformation.
Biting the bullet and going fully flexible might feel risky, but there is no reason to believe that any arbitrary pre-established mix of in-office and at-home days works better than allowing teams to find the norms that work best for them. Trusting your teams to work effectively from wherever they are is the right choice in particular because of how it immediately casts dependability in terms availability and outputs instead of physical presence.
Instead of the default option, the office should be recast as an enticing alternative to which teams naturally gravitate to when they need to share physical spaces for collaboration and team building. Brown bag seminars, in-office baristas, and a few Pelotons can go much further than you think, and putting the emphasis on tangible moments of collaboration is key.
Second, you should ensure that the roles and processes set in place leave space for self-actualization and personalized ownership of one’s work. If you’re using Agile, be cognizant that a 100-meter dash doesn’t come anywhere close to the sense of meaning and impact that running a marathon brings.
Not everyone’s work will be foundational, but everyone’s contributions should feel necessary and acknowledged as contributing to goal deeper than wrapping up a two-week work package.The trick is to make sure that even when working on their own units each employee can visualize a clear pathway from their work to the grand “why” of it all.
This is where the importance of setting goals mentioned earlier becomes particularly clear. The best thing a manager can do when running multiple sprints is to maintain a cohesive narrative of how the work contributes to the larger organizational goal. Often this means distilling vision statements, contractual milestones and even change requests into meaningful arguments about why the work we do today matters.
This may not always be simple to pull off, but who said being a good manager was supposed to be easy? Ultimately, what particular steps you end up taking matter far less than the sincerity of your commitment to making effective teaming a priority for your organization. As for now, it’s more than likely to be pushing back on the overemphasis on structure and clarity.
By Alexander Puutio
Alexander Puutio is an adjunct professor at NYU Stern where he explores the interplay between business leadership and our society at large.
Human beings. What are we going to do with ourselves? We are born fixers. And I mean literally, born, as in since the dawn of time. When there were cracks in those cave walls, you can be sure we were there with our primitive spackling tools to patch them right up.
Well, OK, home improvement was not quite the priority on the honey-do list, what with the more immediate issues—predatory birds, lions, poisonous snakes, the occasional out of hand neighbor. The kinds of things we had to fix back in the day were life and death. And thus it was in that milieu of danger at every turn that our inner alarm system—our fight-or-flight responsiveness to threat—developed.
So while we have the amygdala, the C.O.O. of the brain’s alarm system, to thank for bringing us to this day there’s a bit more she wrote. Sensitivity (reading the fine print of a situation) is not the amygdala’s strong suit. So when we find ourselves feeling threatened not by a large bird with claws, but none other than our adult daughter standing before us upset about a non-large bird issue like, maybe, just for the sake of argument…having a stressful situation at work, it’s the amygdala showing up first that instantly makes us feel like our child’s distress is a fire to put out.
In those moments that call for empathy, compassion and soothing, the amygdala shouting fire! is more of the problem than the solution. I know this well. As an anxiety therapist, I speak to patients all day about ways to override and reset the amygdala when the proverbial snake turns out to be a harmless stick.
And though I try to live by what I teach, there are those moments where my blindspots are pointed out to me. Like by my daughter and the aforementioned situation at her job, right away I picked up my spackler and got to work. I jumped in with all the different ways my daughter might look at the situation, all the different things she could do to make it better.
In fact, I had so much to say about her situation, I’m not sure she could get a word in edgewise. What she wanted, in her words, was empathy, period, and I handed her a to do list. Gotcha. Whether we are talking to our children, our coworkers, our partners, even ourselves, I think my daughter hit the nail on the head. When we are upset we want empathy, period.
Not the laundry list of things we need, could, or should do. Not yet, and maybe not ever. At the very least we need to pause and listen, the longer the better, before we ask if those spackling tools that our primitive instincts are tapping behind our backs are actually being requested.
How do we do this? How do we tell our amygdalas to send the fire trucks back to the station? How do we turn off our revving engines running circles around an unsuspecting troubled person who has come to us for comfort, but is getting more upset by our (even with a Ph.D. in psychology) bungled response? What’s really the fire?
We need to take charge of our own discomfort with someone else’s discomfort and realize our desire to solve things or to make invisible the things we can’t solve is…. drumroll please… our own problem—not the other person’s. The person who is in need of soothing was not in emergency mode until they were inundated with our to-do list for them. Not exactly what we were going for.
If we as helpers can punch in the security code of our own amygdalas, do an override, take a breath, and remind ourselves that what is needed from us is not the brave slaying of dragons and such, but sometimes the braver offering of compassionate words or simply saying “yes—that sounds hard,” or “I’m sorry that’s happening,” or EVEN: “Tell me more about it” (because our to do list essentially conveys: tell me less) we will be a different kind of hero.
We are protecting ourselves and each other from our desire to fix and in so doing, will find a place where understanding ripples out and smooths the way for all of us. And when each of us forgets about this idea, which we inevitably will given our jumpy amygdalas, let’s just agree to turn to each other and say, “Empathy, period, please!” Or… if you prefer… “Hold the spackler, please.” Namaste.
Strategic thinking is a critical skill in life. Interestingly, a lot of us hear about it for the first time in our lives through our managers “You are great at execution, but you need to start thinking strategically.” Previously considered a blatant corporate mumbo jumbo term, strategic thinking wasn’t a popular concept in the early years of my career. I kind of assumed that strategic thinking was reserved for corporates and people higher up in the company who needed to make crucial decisions around the future of an organization. It never occurred to me that thinking strategically isn’t a skill you acquire when you reach a certain position, it’s a skill you build to get to a certain position.
Strategic thinking is a critical skill in life.
Interestingly, a lot of us hear about it for the first time in our lives through our managers “You are great at execution, but you need to start thinking strategically.” Previously considered a blatant corporate mumbo jumbo term,strategic thinking wasn’t a popular concept in the early years of my career. I kind of assumed that strategic thinking was reserved for corporates and people higher up in the company who needed to make crucial decisions around the future of an organization.It never occurred to me that thinking strategically isn’t a skill you acquire when you reach a certain position, it’s a skill you build to get to a certain position.
I also believed that when I was ready to climb the corporate ladder, my manager would give me the training to help me build my strategic thinking skills and the opportunities to practice those skills. Call me naive, but that was the corporate world I lived in back then. Much has changed since, but one thing has remained constant: Strategic thinking is as important now (and may be even more) as it was many years ago.While universally, everyone is expected to have strategic thinking skills at some point in their career, no one is taught to think strategically at work, in college, or at school. Much of our education system is structured around a curriculum and how to fit our minds within a box.At school, we are praised for sticking to conventional wisdom and not asking too many questions. The trend continues in college.
In the early years of our career, we are rewarded so much for our speed of execution that we fail to realize that our journey ahead is less about doing things and more about deciding the right thing to do.When a large part of our life is spent executing someone else’s idea, it isn’t easy to break out of that mold and rewire our brain to think above and beyond. But strategic thinking is not a skill you can develop without practice.
Strategic thinking is a muscle that we all need to build because using it right at work can be a strategic advantage in your career growth as an individual. Much like a rubber band, you need to stretch and exercise your thinking. It requires crossing the boundary of the comfort zone to think about an idea to its extreme without mental guardrails to put it down. It requires uncovering new insights that moderate thinking would never surface.
Getting started on the strategic thinking mindset
Before we jump to the strategies to embrace a strategic thinking mindset, here are a few questions to kick-off your thinking. You need to ask yourself these questions from time to time. Write them down if you want them to be more effective:
Where do you stand right now?
Where do you want to be next year and the year after that?
What skills do you need to get there?
How can you practice those skills?
How can you increase your chances of success?
How can you use your time effectively and maximize it for impact?
Who can help you validate your ideas and give you feedback to expand your thinking?
Once you are able to spend some time thinking deep and hard about these questions, you are ready to embrace a strategic thinking mindset. Follow these 4 key strategies:
Challenge and Question Assumptions
Many parents and even teachers are annoyed with kids who ask too many questions: “Why do I have to go to school?” “Why do I have to sleep early when you can be awake till late?” “Why can’t I play video games?” “Why do I have to finish my homework?” You may have not gotten all these answers as a kid. None of us did. But not getting these answers as a child shouldn’t stop you from asking questions as an adult. Curiosity and the ability to express that curiosity constructively is a great skill to have at work.
One of the biggest problems I see in organizations is how people do certain things because they have always been done that way. Emailing a report every morning to hundreds of employees that no one cares to open. Spending hours and hours of meeting time in planning discussions when no one cares about those plans a few months down the line. Far too many inefficiencies creep into the corporate system over a long period of time.
One big component of building a strategic thinking mindset is to challenge how certain things are done in your organization – not with the intent to put someone down or establish your superiority, but to identify ways to do them better. Ask targeted questions on specific problems within your organization or your line of work. Learn from how others respond or think about these problems. Different points of view on these problems will not only expand your own thinking, they will give you a direction on the areas that are worth investing your time in.
Observe, Interact and Draw Connections
The hustle and bustle of getting things done, moving faster, quicker and making things happen can prevent you from noticing and investing in activities, ideas and projects that are more important in the long-term, but need your attention right now. We have all fallen for the lure of attending to the urgent while pushing the important stuff to the side. The instant gratification from solving the problem in the short-term is always more alluring than the prudent decision. We may optimize for a small gain in the moment without analyzing the potential impacts of our decision in the future. Building a strategic thinking mindset requires delaying that gratification. It requires living with a small, unimportant problem and putting all your energy and focus on other important ideas and activities that require long-term planning and execution.
Create mental space for new ideas to kick-in. Without the quiet time to sit with your thoughts, facing the uncomfortable silence, and letting your mind wander away, you cannot draw useful connections. It will not happen the first time around and probably not even the second time. But if you are persistent in your efforts, without digital and other distractions of daily life, you will start to notice new patterns of thinking. New ideas that you never thought about before will start to surface.Another great strategy is to not restrict yourself to knowledge within your current scope of work.
Spend time learning about your business and industry. Meet with other functions within your organization to understand how they operate, what their challenges are and how they make decisions. All of this knowledge will enable you to apply different mental models to connect ideas from different domains thereby expanding your circle of competence and building your strategic thinking skills.Remember, building strategic thinking skills involves looking beyond the obvious and now to prodding and shaping the uncertain future. You can’t do that without the willingness to face a little discomfort in the present to build the skills you need in the future.
Put it Into Action
Now, to the most important part. I have discussed this before. In any organization, both big picture thinking and nitty-gritty details are important. Strategic thinking requires the right balance of thinking ahead while actioning in the now. It’s the perfect amalgamation of what the future holds to what must be done now in the present to make that future possible. Strategic thinking not only involves the long-term view into the future, it also involves the choices you need to make to make that future possible. It requires determining which path to take and which to abandon. It requires evaluating the cost and making the trade-offs. Doing something will always come at the cost of not doing something else.While a good strategy is important to get started, a strategy by itself won’t get you anywhere.
You need both strategy “the intent” and tactics “putting that intent to action.” Break down your strategy into the specific things you need to do.Plan what day of the week, and what specific time of the day you are actually going to give life to your strategy. To make sure you don’t let things slip by, or fail to grab the right opportunities, plan these activities on your calendar. Don’t let lack of time or other excuses be the reason for inaction. Plan your time to make things happen.
Craft and Communicate
Finally, to embrace a strategic thinking mindset, don’t work in silos. Find people around you that you can trust, respect or admire. Exchange your ideas with them, request them to challenge your thinking, enable them to ask you tough and uncomfortable questions.By answering these questions, you will not only expand your thinking, you will open your mind to consider new possibilities. Instead of sticking with your original conclusions, you will be willing to challenge your assumptions.
Strategic Thinking is an Ongoing Process
You can’t build a strategic thinking muscle unless you audit your outcomes, inquire about other opinions and adapt to the changes around you. The world is changing very fast and you need to adapt your thinking to the demands of the tomorrow and not the expectations from the past.
To adapt your thinking, follow these 3 practices:
Make it a habit to review how you are doing against your goals. Typically a brief review every month and a quarterly deep dive should be sufficient to get a handle on your state of affairs. Examine your strategy from time to time and audit it to ensure you are still leaning against the right wall.When things are going well, put your strategic thinking hat to determine how you can do better:
Does an area seem more promising than you originally envisioned?
Does it make sense to invest more resources in that area?
What kind of changes can you foresee based on market shifts or other industry trends?
How can you make sure you aren’t biased in your thinking by relying only on confirming pieces of evidence while rejecting data that contradicts it.
When things aren’t working out as expected, ask yourself these questions:
Is it a specific tactic that’s causing your strategy to not work. Should you reconsider another tactic?
If the tactic is not a problem, do you need to reconsider the strategy itself?
Is it possible that external circumstances beyond your control are causing your strategy to not work?
Has something changed since you implemented this strategy that you have not considered yet? Is it possible that change is making your strategy ineffective?
Is your ego getting in the way and making you invest in a failed cause? Can you look past the sunk costs into other better opportunities?
It’s easy to get muddled up in our own thinking and assume we are making the right decision even when we are not. Others can clearly see what we are sometimes not able to see ourselves.Seeking an outside opinion and encouraging different perspectives that challenge our viewpoint is a great way to uncover our blind spots. Strategy for your personal life? Seek feedback from close family and friends. Strategy for an organization? Seek inputs from colleagues and other coworkers.Don’t stay with your opinion unless you have solid data and people to back up your thinking. Ask others these questions:
What’s the one thing wrong with my strategy?
What’s the one thing I can do better with my strategy?
What would you do if you were in my place?
What would you not do if you were in my place?
What circumstances or events would cause you to evaluate other options?
Finally, use the inputs from your audit and inquiry to adjust your strategy. Adapt your future strategy based on the learning from your past. What worked? What didn’t work? What mistakes did you make? Strategic thinking is as much about the future as it’s about learning from your past. Visualize your future. Look at your past. Adjust the gap with the changes you need to make to build that future for yourself and others. You don’t need a breakthrough idea, just the simple choices that will move you forward one step at a time in the direction of your goals.
Many people make the mistake and assume they aren’t thinking strategically if they don’t come up with an innovative idea. Strategic thinking is less about innovation and more about the ability to make the right connections.
Strategic thinking: The ability to visualize the long-term while planning the short-term to align with the long-term is a critical skill in life.
Much like other things in life, strategic thinking is a muscle that gets better with repetition and practice.
To get started on your strategic thinking journey, start with challenging and questioning assumptions. Identify new ways to do small things at work.
Make time and space to allow your brain to form new connections. Learn about your industry, business and other functions in the organization to expand your thinking beyond your current scope of work.
Give life to your strategy by putting it into action. Break down your strategy into tactics, the specific things you need to do to implement your strategy.
Don’t be rigid in your thinking. Open your brain to new possibilities by seeking others’ opinions and encouraging them to challenge your assumptions.
Finally, strategic thinking is an on-going process. You need to audit, inquire and adjust your strategy based on your learning from the past and the demands of tomorrow.
The spring weather may have prompted you to start running outside or you may be considering returning to the gym, when the coronavirus seems less of a risk. I’m looking forward to hiking in the mountains of New York once mud season has passed.
You might expect to feel out of shape, and you probably gird yourself for the sore muscles you’ll have after that first real workout. What is that soreness all about? Is it an indicator of damage or of growth? And how should you deal with muscle soreness — should you rest or keep moving?
The muscle soreness that emerges the day after a workout is called delayed-onset muscle soreness — or DOMS — by exercise scientists. “DOMS is a normal process of muscle adaptation to some unfamiliar movement,” says Heather Vincent, a sports medicine specialist and the director of the University of Florida’s Health Sports Performance Center.
The movement may be unfamiliar because you haven’t done that workout in months or because you’ve upped your intensity.
Pain and tenderness in the overworked muscles generally peak between 24 and 72 hours after the activity. It’s a drawn-out series of physiological events in and around the muscle.
DOMS occurs with a particular type of movement — one that loads your muscles while they are long or lengthening. These are called eccentric movements, Vincent says, “such as lowering a weight from a biceps curl or lowering into a squat.” In my case, it’s my quads as I climb down a mountain. In contrast, DOMS generally doesn’t occur with isometric (when the muscle doesn’t change length) or concentric (when the muscle shortens) movement.
When your muscles are not accustomed to the movement — or the weight or endurance of the movement — your muscle fibers undergo mechanical stress and small breaks occur in their membranes.
Keith Baar, professor of physiology and membrane biology at the University of California at Davis, explains that muscles are made up of muscle fibers connected to each other by proteins called dystrophyns, which function like rivets. When the muscle is accustomed to work, the rivets help the individual muscle fibers work as a well-choreographed team to move the body.
Without training however, Baar says, “these connections are weak. So when you do exercise, they slide and shear.” The rivets pull at the membranes, making tiny tears. This causes a number of chemical events in the muscle, including dysregulated fiber contractions, an influx of immune cells, and swelling and pressure buildup.
This may sound bad, but Vincent reminds me, “This is normal.” The repair process not only fixes the tears but also helps the muscle to strengthen, to be better prepared for similar movement in the future.
“The inflammation is necessary to help you regenerate the injured muscle,” Baar says. “When you’re starting a new exercise program, you may have more painful days.”
In addition, older people’s muscles tend to undergo more damage than younger people. So as you age, Baar says, “You’re more likely to get sore with exercise and the resulting DOMS is more extended.”
Work up slowly
To prevent soreness, people should work up slowly to the activity they want to do. In the gym, you might start with body weight only, before you start adding external weights. I might do sets of squats or lunges before heading out for my first all-day hike of the summer. These incremental steps help your muscles adapt more slowly and with less resulting pain.
Once you’ve triggered DOMS, however, Baar encourages you to rest while the process plays out. “Take the time to recover,” he says. This is not a time for the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra.
What about relief, as with ice or over-the-counter pain relievers? Either treatment may lessen your discomfort, but they’re not advised. That’s because of the dual nature of delayed-onset muscle soreness — it’s both a process of repair and of building strength. “If you block DOMS, the muscle doesn’t grow as much,” Baar says.
An exception can be made for athletes who are scheduled to compete on a day they’re experiencing muscle soreness. That’s because in addition to causing discomfort and pain, DOMS interferes with athletic performance. The athlete may give preference to the day’s performance rather than to her long-term gain in strength.
Studies have examined whether manipulating worked muscles after a training session affects their resulting soreness. A small 2015 study reported some promise for foam rolling — using one’s body weight to massage the muscle with rolling pressure. Eight men spent 20 minutes using a foam roller immediately after a workout, and then again 24 and 48 hours later. The practice reduced the amount of soreness at 24 and 48 hours; the performance deficits that accompanied DOMS were also reduced.
Of foam rolling, Vincent says, “It sounds gimmicky, but it does work for some people.” She speculates that massaging the muscles may improve blood flow and help move excess fluid out. “And there don’t appear to be downsides, unlike ibuprofen.”
The main thing to know, Vincent says, is that muscle soreness is not in itself a bad thing. “Everyone, even elite athletes can experience DOMS,” she says.
Roughly 80 percent of Americans have back pain at some point in their lives. Historically, many of those people were told that, barring a specific, treatable injury, there’s one prescription for back pain: rest. But research today tells us that the answer is actually just the opposite.
“The advice to rest and not stress your back runs counter to what we now understand to be the best course of action,” says Eric Robertson, a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association and an associate professor of clinical physical therapy at University of Utah and University of Southern California. One of the main issues that physical therapists and physicians alike have run into is that we don’t actually know what causes the pain.
Pain in any muscle can come from being too tight or stiff, but it could also be from a weakness or if it’s not moving in the right way, explains Robertson. Like a car, he says, if there’s one weak spot other parts of the vehicle are going to wear down more quickly—and that’s where you can get pain.
Strengthening your core and back muscles, then, can be incredibly helpful in treating and preventing back pain. And the good news is that you don’t need to do serious weight training to see benefits. The more you move generally, the less likely you are to have pain.
“Standing frequently throughout the day, walking or pacing whenever feasible, and stretching the hips, hamstrings, and hip flexors regularly are a good way to be proactive in preventing these issues,” says Lauren Shroyer, Senior Director of Product Development and a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) at the American Council on Exercise. Robertson agrees.
He says walking is one of the best exercises for back pain, since it’s non-load bearing and easy to do—but even just moving more overall is going to be helpful (and research backs him up). Back pain can often be the predictable result of a sedentary lifestyle that more and more Americans have, so it may not take much movement to increase strength in the core and back enough to relieve pain.
If you’re having pain right now, you should consult a physical therapist who can design a program specific to your body and your pain. But if you want a general exercise regimen to help prevent back issues, Shroyer has some recommendations.
You may also want to incorporate stretching in with your strength training. Shroyer recommends a basic program for staving off back issues. “In general, when you are not experiencing acute pain and want to be proactive in preventing it, a regular program of stretching the hips and strengthening the legs, abdominals and spine is best.” If you want specifics, check out Williams flexion exercises, the figure-4 piriformis stretch, the cat-cow stretch, and the spinal twist.
You can also determine from your lumbar (or lower) spine position which types of other exercises may be the most helpful, Shroyer says. If you look at yourself from the side in a full-length mirror, check out how much your lower back curves. If it’s fairly straight, hamstring stretches are going to give you the best benefit. If you have a deep curve, hip flexor stretches may be best.
If you’re experiencing minor pain or are simply trying to prevent back problems in the future, the recommendations so far may be all you need. But many people who have chronic back pain find that even doing basic stretches or exercises are overwhelming.
“All pain experiences are a combination of physical and emotional responses,” Robertson says. That might seem tangential to solving your back pain, but the truth is that a large part of overcoming that discomfort is about overcoming the fear of being in pain.
If you’re in pain every time you move, he explains, it’s normal to become afraid of moving—and it’s a physical therapist’s job to enable you to start moving enough that you can move past the fear. Lots of people are told that they simply have a bad back. But the truth is that about 90 percent of back pain isn’t serious, Robertson says, and that means most people can get on track to being pain-free with the right training.
Some folks will get flare-ups, but recurrences don’t mean that you have to live with a bad back for your whole life. (If you have changes in bowel or bladder like trouble peeing, tingling or numbness especially in the groin, or neurologic symptoms like weakness or numbness that may be a sign that you are in the 10 percent of people with a more serious issue—and you should go see a doctor!).
Robertson says that he’s personally experienced back pain intermittently throughout his life, and that it’s still a struggle for him. “Every time, I have this feeling that it’s going to be forever. It’s an okay thing to acknowledge—it’s scary and overwhelming,” he says. We all need to talk about back pain in a more positive light, he says, as something that might be awful now but can be overcome.