The Paraplegic Mentalities For Success

Reading time: 9.5 minutes

If you’re in rehab, or out, or a living person, you have thoughts. 

Focusing on people in rehab recovering from a spinal cord injury, this is the story of how I never had a bad day in rehab and how I never got depressed. Every day in rehab, I was happy, I had fun and I grew as a person and in my abilities. 

There are a lot of things you can do to make sure you’re successful in rehab, we’ll eventually talk about all of them, but today, we’ll be covering some ways of thinking that can help us not only succeed but prosper. 

When it comes to mentalities, sometimes it can help to have some guidance on how to think. You feel alone, I did at least. You don’t know what to think and you can only hope that you’re right, but what models do you have? In the business world, we can always use Richard Branson as a model but there isn’t any amazing mythical man to look to, not for stuff like this. This is personal and it’s different for everyone.

That being said, I’ll talk about 3 mentalities that I found to help me and others when going through rehab or a tough time.

You can take the bits that resonate and forget the rest. Because I always say that I’m honest, here’s a little personal story. When I watched the notebook for the first time, I cried. I also cried the second time I watched it. I also cry when I see an act of valor, I cry at almost every superhero movie. I cry when I read books, I mostly read biographies and most of them are about people in the past. I’m a cryer, but I never cried over my injury. Not once. Regardless of that, I’m usually quick to tears. I typically own up to any of my traits – the good and bad – but when it comes to crying, I always tried to hide it or suppress it. This was because I had no model. When it comes to human psychology, we always need some form of validation for our actions. Meaning that sometimes all it takes is to see that someone else is going through something similar and then we’ll feel good about following the path paved by our hearts. The crying validation came when I was reading the biography of Winston Churchill, he was notorious for crying, and now I don’t feel so repressive about crying.

I hope that these 3 mentalities will give you some guidance for overcoming any obstacle that comes your way.

1. The Push-Door Mentality

It begins with what I call the “push-door mentality”. It’s about acceptance. Subconsciously, I immediately accepted what happened when I got injured and moved past it, that’s how I was able to do everything I did. Some people don’t accept their injury for years, and those years get drowned in self-pity. I don’t know about you, but I never had time to feel sorry for myself, I only had time to achieve. I do actually feel sorry for myself sometimes, but not for more than 5 minutes before I catch myself.

You may think “why did this happen to me?!” I don’t have an answer, you might be religious, but whatever your beliefs are, there is a reason. It may not be the one that you’re looking for, but there is a definitive reason. You had your injury due to something happening (that’s how things happen). Nothing is completely predictable, but if your hindsight is decent, then you’ll be able to analyze the situation objectively.

For me, I know exactly why this happened, I was a risk-taker, I loved adrenaline and I wanted to always try something slightly or extremely dangerous. Usually, I take calculated risks, this one wasn’t as calculated. When I was skiing, I jumped off a ramp, going very fast, and lost control. Then, as I hit the ground, a few things happened to my vertebrae that shouldn’t, they hit my spinal cord and it got bruised. We could even go as far as talking about the physics of the force impacting my body and get really detailed about why it happened.

Whether or not a strictly analytical approach helps, what I’m saying is that unless you’re a historian, you don’t need to waste any of your precious time pondering in despair about why this happened to you. Trust that it’ll all work out, and it will.

I’ve always imagined it like this: you want to go through a door, this door is the entrance to heaven, to Atlantis, or anything majestic enough to give you a rush of endorphins. The door had a handle on it because it’s a door and that’s how most of them are. Nothing else is on the door, however. You pull on the door as hard as you can. You’re very strong and yet, the door is not giving way. You pull some more, you think about why you can’t open this door. You rationalize like anybody else that maybe it just isn’t for you, maybe the door is locked, you’re sure that the door should pull open. No doubt that the door is a pull. You curse every deity and then pout in frustration. The PULL door is not pulling open. Well, it’s actually a push door. Until you accept that the door is a push door, you won’t be able to get through. All you have to do is accept the fact that the door is a push. Once you get in, who cares about how the door opened? 

That’s the best Cosmo fable I have about acceptance (for now). The point is that there is a life full of opportunity, happiness, success and love waiting for you.

You’ll be blind to this potential life if all you think about is the past and never accept what happened. Because all humans have to rationalize everything, you can tell yourself whatever you please, you can say that it had to be you. In the movie of our lives, we’re the main character and this might be poetic justice or just something to make the story interesting, but the last thing that makes a life interesting is not accepting and subsequently doing nothing and living in despair.

This is something that happened, that reality can’t be refuted, you can always think about what you wish you did different, but regret doesn’t mend a broken jar. You have control over how you react. Every hero has obstacles, in the first Iron Man, Tony Stark didn’t just accept that he was captured in a cave. He did accept that he has a cool energy circle in his chest and he used that injury to his advantage to become Iron Man. This is your life, you can sulk about what happened and question it, or you can accept it, and once you do, you become bigger than it and you can move on to greater things. 

A man is about as big as the things that make him angry

Winston Churchill

A quote by Churchill that I live by is “A man is about as big as the things that make him angry” 

If you let little things bother you, you shrink down to that size. Sometimes I let little things bother me, but then I see this quote and remember that I’m only worthy of big problems. Once you accept your injury, you become bigger than it and once you do that, you can focus on your motion picture life, make it a story about success and overcoming obstacles, win a Grammy. 

2. The Generous-Luck Mentality

Following the push-door mentality, we get to the greedy-guilt dilemma. Has anyone ever told you that you’re lucky it wasn’t worse? And they kind of make you feel bad for thinking you’d be lucky if it were just a little bit better. Do you want more and feel bad about it because some people are worse and wish they were like you? or that you should be happy with what you have and it’s bad to want more?

All this is utter bullshit. Sorry, that’s actually unfair to bull’s shit. Just writing that upset me. Never think like that.

People who tell you that you’re lucky to not be worse, and we’ve all been that person in some way, don’t know what else to say. They’re just trying to be helpful, but don’t believe it. No shit, it totally could’ve been worse, but if we’re playing the “you’re lucky, it could’ve been worse” game, then we may as well talk about how much luckier we could’ve been and look to people who ended up better than us. Comparison is the thief of joy. Don’t ever feel bad for wanting more. If no one ever wanted more, we’d all be satisfied with fire being the newest invention and stop there, long before the wheel and the written word. You need to want more. And don’t feel bad about it. Tell the world, run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. The only problem with wanting more is that you can get lost in those thoughts. Thinking too much about the “more” that you want, and don’t have, can put you in a slump. 

Here’s the story. When I was in rehab I was always doing something crazy. One day, they brought in a mountain bike for me to try out and see if it peaked my interest. Naturally, I took it up some stairs. It is a mountain bike after all. There was a guy in rehab, really cool guy, he was also quadriplegic. While I was going up the stairs and had pretty much everyone stopping to watch, I was the first one to do this and my therapist was probably having heart palpitations, possibly because my hair looked great. My friend wasn’t able to turn around to watch me, but he really wanted to. We talked for a little bit on my last day as I was saying goodbye to everyone and he was telling me how much I inspired him to push harder each day and that he would never give up. I was happy to hear that, he also told me that he really can’t wait to gain more control so that he can be more independent. Of course, I encourage this, I want to inspire people so that they are motivated to strive for more, however, I wanted to make sure that while he was going down the road to recovery, he stopped for gas and took the time to observe the beautiful scenery called life. I told him that even if he doesn’t get much control back, he could still go into politics, all they do is talk, really.

(Second picture)

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Today’s post is so long that I’ll have to post part of it in a comment, be on the lookout for that. So, I started today doing some great things and the day only got better as it went on. I started with OT, and she noticed I had done some walking within the parallel bars with leg braces on. We went back in there and this time I practiced facing one bar and going side to side. After a couple minutes of that I got back in the wheelchair. I didn’t wax on and off for nothing, the next place we went was to the kitchen! I locked up the braces and pulled myself up and moved around the kitchen along the counter. After that I wheeled in to the laundry room and stood up to put my laundry from the washer to the dryer. So, the bad thing about that is now I have clothes to put away. Then I had an hour with PT and we went out and rolled our way in to town. The first stop we made was to the post office to get some envelopes (stamps included) for some love letters of course. Afterwards we passed by a Smartwool store. I was prepared to talk myself into an impulse purchase as long as I could find a reason which is the level of coolness. I asked the worker there what her favorite thing in the store is and her words are as followed: I like that sweater over there next to your mom. She was referring to my PT who is not much older than myself! She didn’t hear the worker say that, so when I looked at her, it just seemed like she was going with it. Then when I asked her about it outside (We left and didn’t buy anything) she had no idea and was so upset. We went to Starbucks next and got some coffee and I kept calling her mom in front of people.  I had a 2-hour lunch break, but luckily for me, an OT had a patient cancel. So, she got to thinking, who is always game? Cosmo is always game. We did core stability exercises, which I'm getting much better at. Afterwards, I worked with my main PT and did some more walking. Not just yesterdays-paper parallel bar walking. I'm talking about UP (the movie) style walking. I did that for about 45mins. It’s fun and useful for maybe going short distances around the house or something like that. I had a half hour break until my last therapy with my main

A post shared by Cosmo Socrates (@cosmocantdie) on

Picture and video of me going up stairs in a mountain bike at rehab.

The point being that although we do need to focus on the future and always strive for more, if you only plan for what your life will be like in 10 years, you’ll miss each day. That man had control over his most important asset, his mind. He could still hear, see, talk and think (and smell). He could become a writer, or even a programmer with today’s technology. Don’t overlook today’s possibilities in lieu of the future.

It is okay to want more, but don’t become so focused on it that you forget about today and never feel bad for wanting more. Always want more and never feel bad about it, but you won’t get anywhere unless you work with today, master the day and then let it build the foundations for the future you want. It’s becoming trite at this point, but I want to emphasize that you should NOT feel guilty for wanting more. You don’t have to believe you were lucky it wasn’t worse, because it also could’ve been better. Be greedy with your ambitions, just don’t get so caught up in them that you miss the moment

3. The Steamroller Mentality

Once you accept and stop feeling bad about wanting more, there is another mentality that we can address. It’s called the “steamroller mentality” it’s about accepting a challenge and taking the next step or sometimes skipping steps. 

When you’re in rehab, every day is a chance to improve and get closer to independence. The mentality I had was to make extreme progress like never before. In the rehab world, I was told about a term that I would have my sights locked in on for the next 4 weeks. Mod-i. Modified independence, which is fancy talk for being able to live on your own. On my second day in rehab, I had my first physical therapy session. One of the first things I said was that I was going to reach mod-i in three days. “I’m a steamroller baby” – Elvis.

I was absolutely determined, I knew what I was after and I didn’t waste any time. I requested for more hours of therapy each day and I woke up ready to have a great day. Not only was I getting stronger, I was gaining my independence, overcoming new challenges and I was surrounded by amazing people who all supported me and helped me achieve more. I would banter with everyone, post about my day on instagram and get even more support from there. Also, everyone was attractive and who doesn’t enjoy being around beautiful minds and faces all day? 

I digress, sometimes often, back to the story. When I had my first therapy session, the first thing that I had to learn was transferring. The therapist had this really long cutting board, which they call a transfer board but I’m not convinced, this cutting board was supposed to be used as a little mediary for getting me from the bed to my chair. I asked “what would come after this?” “is this the end of the line or is there something else that I would do after I get good at using this cutting board?” The answer was that I would eventually move to transferring without a cutting board. I told the therapist that I didn’t want to use the cutting board. And that was the last time I saw it. 

Here’s the logic (or whatever you deem it): I don’t want to waste time getting good at something redundant. I’d rather spend that time learning the crescendo, the advanced material.

This logic doesn’t apply to everything, but for everything I did, I questioned it, not in a condescending manner, but because I wanted to understand if it laid a necessary foundation for something else or if I could skip it. Even if I couldn’t skip it, I wanted to know what was next. I would always ask something like “assuming I master this today, what would we do tomorrow?”

This is one of those mentalities that keeps you from just taking things as they come. Taking control over what you’re doing, learning what it leads to and challenging yourself. There were times that I asked to try the coda, tried, failed, and had to revert to a lesser practice, but at least I tried and knew that I needed to build up to it. I’d rather be sure that I can’t do something the hard way.

And that’s it. Those three mentalities. The push-door, the greedy-guilt, and the steamroller mentality. They’ve helped me and they pave the road for an even more fortitudinous mind.

Here’s a cool picture:

Cosmo with a spark scooter with the MTU Husky statue in the back

Immediate action items: Write down how you could implement these mentalities into your life and begin to act with these mentalities as soon as you identified where they fit into your beautiful life.

Summary: The three mentalities that helped me overcome and prosper: acceptance, not feeling guilty for wanting more and always asking for more challenges.

Overdeliver: Another thing that helped me a lot was support from friends and family. My mom was with me the whole time and I had a visitor (friend/family) every weekend. I also listened to music all the time. If you find that you have too much time to think and you begin to get existential, try listening to podcasts, calling friends or taking up some art (poetry, drawing, painting, writing, reading).

The List Every Paraplegic Must Have

Reading time: 3.5 minutes

Let’s make this quick. I should be studying right now but I became so enticed with the idea of sharing this that I couldn’t resist. 
I also used a very grainy picture and I’m not ashamed.

The list is simple. You have 2 sections. One for what you will do in a wheelchair and one for what you will do when you are out of a wheelchair. 

PS, if you’re not in a wheelchair, this applies to any dichotomy in your life. Maybe you have a broke leg or something that has a before (right now) and after (in the future). It can also apply to being in quarantine.

Why do you need to make this list?

There are many psychological reasons to do this type of thinking. We’ll talk about the benefits of this list along with some explanation of what this list really is.

This list is ever-growing. I call it the Dual Dreams. But don’t let the word “dream” confuse you, these are actual goals that we will actually achieve. Convince yourself of that right now. Before you even know what this list really is, it’s important that you let the benefits of psychology take over and truly believe that this list is not some cozening list full of pretentious, drivel hopes that we retreat to in tough times so that we can take our minds to a mythy world. This is about real life, not mystical fiction.

You can also call it the “twain aims” list if you’re feeling fancy and the rhythm is within you.

Here are the two main benefits that I get from having this list, and there are probably a lot more.

I would even recommend printing this list and posting it up on your wall next to your bed or somewhere in sight. 

The first benefit is that it will give you hope. When things seem down, maybe you’ll never walk again, take a good look at this list, visualize yourself doing these things and remind yourself that it is your goal and your mission to walk once more. Don’t allow this list to dispirit you, instead, have it imbue you with excitement for the future and remind you that you CAN and WILL do these things. Even if everyone is against you, you will prove them wrong! 

The second benefit is that it makes you seriously consider and challenge what you can do NOW. Never get caught up in the pernicious feeling that life is over and you can’t do anything anymore. Maybe you won’t be able to achieve the “Things I’ll Do When I Walk” list right away, but that’s why we have the other section. You are forcing yourself to challenge what you can do while in a wheelchair.

This list excites me beyond exposition. It reminds us that we can still achieve a lot while we’re in a wheelchair and that life is pliable, we shape it with our actions and mind. If you perceive your life as over, everything will soon reflect your philosophy. 

How do you actually construct this list? What does it look like?

I recommend making the list of things you’ll do when you walk, or gain some degree of ideal mobility back, first. Make this list ample. Be creative and think big. What else will you do? Think small?

After you make this list reflecting your wildest dreams, explicate and challenge each item, give serious thought to whether or not this is something that can only be done after you’ve recovered. 

Sometimes, I’ll think of something new that I really want to do and write it down in the “recovered” section but then realize that I can totally do it this week if there weren’t issues with money or some learning curve. So, I take the ambition and move it to the other side.

[Aside] This list actually started off as just a list for what I’ll do after I walk until I realized how powerful it will be if I add the “while injured” section. 

This is a real list, some of the things on this list will be humdrum, but they are nonetheless important to us. You may not think that playing volleyball is all that grandiose, but for me, it’s something I really enjoy.
I’ve never shared or told anyone about this list and now I’m going to reveal it to the world.
Remember that this is MY list, based on what I like and how I want to live my life, we will have big and small things, so long as they are important to us, and we intend to complete them as if it’s life’s dictum. 

Here’s what MY list looks like. There are some things that we could belabor on whether or not they should be on the “Walk” side of the list, but we won’t.

Remember that the things on the list are for you! (I’m saying it a lot because it’s important)

For me, I know I could ski while still in a wheelchair, and I might.
But when I say ski, I envision the type that isn’t in a wheelchair/adaptive skis, and that’s the type of skiing that I want to do. 
I also want to live in an RV and drive around. That one was in the “recover” section until I realized that what I envisioned could easily be done in a wheelchair and it wouldn’t impact the reason I’m doing it (explore, travel, learn and have fun).
I could technically travel to Greece in a wheelchair, but I wouldn’t be able to do the things I want to do (lots of stairs in Greece).
I think you get the point.

The Twain Aims List, AKA Dual Dreams

By the way, this list is in an iPhone-only app called “Bear”


Immediate action item: Make this list right now!

Summary: Create a list with two sections: Recovered and Injured, then write what you’ll do for each part of your life. This is a must have list for anyone in a wheelchair. If you’re not, then I still recommend making the list based on whatever dichotomy is present in your life. It’s helped me a lot!

Overdeliver: Even though I’ve kept this list private, until now, I have gotten involved in the communities for most of these topics and then I inform people of my ambitions (naturally, in conversation) and they are always wanting to help. Take flying for example. I went to EAA Oshkosh and now I know many pilots or retired pilots who want to help me and see me succeed. I’m very grateful for all of them and the only thing really holding me back is the money and the ability to prioritize the apposite time commitment to flying. Remember that everything you’re doing and not doing (within your physical limitations, but even that’s debatable) is a representation of how you prioritize.

PS: PS can be Post-Scriptum or Pre-Scriptum, language is malleable