One Reason Why Some Patients Get Better faster Than Others

What a person focuses on, so do they create

Have you ever wondered why some patients get better faster than others? I certainly thought about this when I compared the success of some patients to the poor outcomes of others. Visualisation could be one reason why some patients get better faster than others.

Is it a lack of motivation or perhaps a lack of this simple mental tool?

I read this quote in an old book I’m currently re-reading and it made a lot of sense in relation to answering this question.

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Napoleon Hill

Whilst thinking about this quote I considered the athletes I’ve worked with over the years. Many often recovered far quicker than expected. Yes, some did have more immediate resources but they had a choice on how they would use those resources. A larger proportion of these people had the same resources available to anyone recovering from injury.

Observations Of Successful Athletes

I noticed that both athletes and non athletes that recovered well from sometimes career ending injuries had a clear mental picture of how they saw their future self.

Some had experience in visualisation from their sports training but many did not. Perhaps for those who had no formal training in visualisation, it was a technique they had unconsciously learnt watching others successfully recover from injury.

What this visualisation of their future or recovered self did, was to provide an unconscious basis on which to make decisions on a day to day basis.

It’s very easy when you’re injured and in the rehabilitation phase to:

  • Become lazy
  • Lose the discipline of regular training
  • Enjoy the comfort of others doing things for you
  • Start to believe that someone else will get you better
  • Lose hope

A Personal Story

I experienced and fought with all of the above because I’ve been in the situation of recovering from serious injury many times. Probably the most challenging was at the peak of my sporting life and career when I had to recover from the removal of an Osteoid Osteoma in the Neck of Femur.

The surgery was very invasive and required a donor bone graft. My recovery and rehabilitation was long, hard and painful. If I hadn’t had a clear picture of getting back to my sport, I could have easily succumb to depression and given up.

When you can see yourself getting back to whatever it is that you want to do, you have the motivation to do the work. Motivation doesn’t happen just because a therapist gives you exercises to do or advice on how to manage your injury.

Believing you can achieve the recovery you want and get back to sport or work gives you the motivation to do the exercises and follow any advice given. 

Visualisation creates your reality.

The Adverse Effects Of No Mental Picture

On the flip side of this are those patients who have no mental picture of their future, recovered self. In fact if you ask them how they see their future they may tell you that they have no picture in their mind. Worse still, they may say that they see themselves as they are now.

What a person focuses on, so do they create.

This lack of a mental picture or an unproductive belief influences the mind. that they will not get over the injury creates an unconscious basis on which to make decisions not to do the exercises given or follow advice. It can often be the cause of ambivalence.

If your patient believes they won’t get better why would they choose to do something that is in contrast to this belief. Why do exercises? Why follow advice? Why take action to help themselves?

4 Steps To Help Your Patients Create A Positive Vision Of Their Future Self

What can you do about those patients who don’t have any vision of their future recovered self? Or those who have a vision that doesn’t create the motivation to do the work needed to get better?

Visualisation is a tool which can be taught. Often it is easier than the physical exercises you are teaching your patients. It is something they can get started on when they are physically unable to do much at all.

Step 1:

First of all, you need to know how your patient sees themselves in the future. The most obvious thing to do is to ask them. You may find that your patient has not even thought about their future. During your subjective assessment they may give you an idea of how they are processing their situation.

Step 2:

In the treatment phase of the assessment, explain to them how visualisation works. Let them know that it has been proven to be effective in training. Especially when the body is unable to perform physical tasks.

Here are some links that might help your patients:

Olympians Use Imagery As Mental Training

How To Use Visualisation To Overcome Injury And Achieve Success

Step 3:

Ask them to think about how they want to be in 6, 12 or perhaps even 24 months into the future. They will need to visualise themselves as if they have achieved the outcome they want.

Guide them to see it clearly, hear it as if it is happening now and feel what it’s like to be doing what they want to do. Using all three senses is an important component of the visualisation tool.

Step 4:

Once they have a mental picture of what they want for their future, instruct them to rehearse the ‘mind movie’ for a few minutes every day. With repetition, their mind will begin to believe that they can achieve what they want for the future.


As they continue to play this movie in their head, they will begin to see opportunities to help them achieve their goal. They are more likely to choose to do the exercises you gave them and following your advice. Not to do so would be contradictory to what is happening in their mind.

I know from both a personal experience and an NLP perspective that working with mind movies really works. When I’ve had major challenges in my life, the first thing I do now is to think about how I want the future to be. I then create a mind movie starting from when I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night. Lastly, I replay this movie for a few minutes every day.

It’s amazing how many more opportunities I’ve become aware of just because of playing a short movie in my head. 

What Happens With No Clear Mental Picture?

Unfortunately I’ve also see the opposite where those who believe they will never get better, rarely do the work required to get better. They miss opportunities to take action or make excuses as to why they haven’t taken any action. Excuses justifies the position they find themselves in.

What happens if they can’t change what’s going on in their head? Finding the motivation to do the required work will be extremely difficult for them.

Visualisation could be one reason some patients get better faster than others

If you don’t believe what I’m saying, ask some of your patients how they see their future self and then monitor their progress. You might be surprised with what you find out.

To learn more about motivational tools through effective communication download my eBook

“Improving Patient Motivation In Physiotherapy”

I wrote this eBook in response to the most common question I get asked and that is “How do I motivate my patients?”

If you would like to fine-tune your communication skills when working with resistant patients, you might consider working with a coach or mentor.

Or perhaps your staff would benefit from training in this area.

Contact us, and find out more about what we can offer you

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