Brain Injury Rehabilitation Specialists
Page Menu

On With Life News

Cognitive Corner: Top 10 Habits of Highly Effective Survivors (Part One) - January 10, 2014

Cognitive Corner: Top 10 Habits of Highly Effective Survivors

By: Dave Anders, Therapy Manager

One of the many challenges faced by survivors of brain injury is the fact that no two patterns of recovery are the same. While one survivor may make tremendous gains after their injury, another survivor whose injury is similar may make significantly fewer gains.  Researchers across the world are trying to understand the underlying reasons why some survivors flourish, while others do not.  There are some well-understood factors including the type and severity of brain injury, the survivor’s age at the time of injury, as well as the survivor’s pre-injury health.

Obviously, survivors have little control over many of the “biological” factors listed above.  However, there are a number of habits and characteristics that enable survivors to make the most of their recovery.  Based on what I’ve learned from the hundreds of survivors and families I’ve been privileged to work with over the last 17 years, here are the first 5 habits that help “highly effective” survivors make the most of their recoveries.  Habits 6 through 10 will be covered in the next newsletter.

1. Highly effective survivors dwell on the road ahead…and let go of what is behind. Many survivors get stuck in a pattern of blame associated with the initial injury (blaming the person who injured them, blaming themselves for their injury, etc.).  In addition, many dwell on the past (wish for their pre-injury life, focus on the things they’ve lost). Centering on these things acts like an anchor that holds you still in the water. Survivors and family members who loosen their grip on these things are better able to move their lives forward.

2. Highly effective survivors stay in contact with their medical team. Regular communication with medical professionals like physiatrists (rehab doctors), neurologists, and family practice physicians is a must after brain injury. These professionals are able to identify needs, answer ongoing questions, and make referrals for the needed services and supports (i.e. physical, occupational, and speech therapy) as survivors change over time.

3. Highly effective survivors avoid unnecessary chemicals. I’m talking primarily about alcohol here. It’s natural to wonder whether one is allowed to drink alcohol after brain injury. You may get different recommendations depending on who you ask (some physicians are more conservative…others are not). According to the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink after a brain injury. There are a host of reasons why this recommendation is made. Feel free to email me at if you have questions about this.

4. Highly effective survivors learn how to manage their stress. When survivors don’t understand how they react to stress, they often unknowingly make themselves and those around them feel worse Stress is an everyday fact of life.  It can be both negative and/or positive. Effective survivors try to understand how stress affects what they think, how they think, and why they think the way they do. They also use effective strategies for feeling better when they feel low.

5. Highly effective survivors understand that improvement takes time. Many survivors and families jump from health professional to health professional looking for that “magic fix” for their injury. A tremendous amount of time and money is spent on interventions that have little to no proof of effectiveness (look at the internet…there are hundreds, if not thousands of people pedaling pills, activities, computer programs, techniques that claim to make your brain function better. Effective survivors / families understand the difference between “calculated risk” and  “foolish risk” when it comes to their recovery. They understand that, in order to make gains, interventions require both time and effort, and are tailored to their specific, real-life needs.

Well…that’s it for this month’s Cognitive Corner. Next issue, I’ll delve into habits 6 through 10, which are:

6. Highly effective survivors make new connections.
7. Highly effective survivors do not give up.
8. Highly effective survivors look for answers.
9. Highly effective survivors accept help.
10. Highly effective survivors set and keep track of their goals.

Hope your new year is off to a great start! Talk to you soon!