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Piece of Mind Cards: Mind Training Prompts to Keep Stroke Survivors Motivated

Lovely people, I’m working on a thing. And I need Beta readers to take a look and give me some feedback. I’d love your comments and emails with advice on what works and what doesn’t. I am hoping to create a deck of motivational cards for stroke survivors. I have drawn ideas from pain science, mind body movement approaches, motivational speakers and sports psychologists. The fifty two cards have four themes: nudging comfort zones, getting moving, boosting self esteem and tuning in. My Uncle Clyde Alder is a designer and he is working on cool fonts and the visual side of the project.

This version may be liberally sprinkled with typos - enjoy them they will be gone by the time they reach hard copy. Thanks so much.

Piece of Mind Cards

If you feel that you were dealt a bad hand or that the decks were stacked against you, well here is a new set of cards. They are motivation cards designed to help with rehabilitation, focus and self esteem. I encourage you to pick a card from the deck at the beginning of your day. Let its message guide your rehab exercises, your activities of daily life and your mindset for the day.


My mind listens to my words and responds - even if I’m not correct.

If I hurt myself, a danger message is relayed to my brain. Negative thoughts also send danger messages to the brain. My thoughts are physical and my words matter.

The words I use to describe myself and my movement are only positive. I use words like fluid, easy, strong, graceful. I use best case scenario words, I want to feel smooth and so I focus on that quality. I don’t pretend. I reframe. I cannot change the situation but I can change my perspective.


Moving lubricates the joint surfaces, flushes old fluid out of the muscles, makes blood thinner, nourishes and awakens brain cells and pushes oxygen deep into the lungs. These are all good for healing. I will try to move every part of my body today. I will curl forward, stretch back, side bend and twist. I will stretch and mobilise each of my joints, this includes each finger and toe. I can use strong rubber bands as resistance for each digit.


My brain expends more energy on and creates stronger neural pathways for novel experiences and images. I can exploit this and make my rehab exercises or my activities of daily life easier by using metaphors to guide my movements. I can use the image of a strong and rooted tree as I come up to stand and balance evenly on both feet. I will push my roots strongly down into the ground. When I bend to squat or sit down I can imagine that my hip creases are soft like a rag doll’s or well oiled like pistons. I can let balloons tied to my wrist lift my arm above my head, or a bowling ball in my hand straighten my elbow. These images need to be vivid, I can add smell and sound and feeling to them to reinforce the metaphor to really help improve my movement.


My body schema (brain’s picture of my body) may be a little unbalanced. Parts of my brain that used to register one side of my body might not work as well now. To reinforce my body schema I need to touch it daily especially in the areas that are not clear to my brain. I will let the sensory organs in and around my muscles send messages to the brain telling them that my arm and leg are still here. When I tap, squeeze, stroke and shake my body my brain has a clear picture of where I am in space. When I have an elbow that bends, or a foot that drops I can help my brain navigate my body better by waking up the proprioceptors in that area.


If I imagine someone has offered me a small yellow sour sweet that smells of citric acid, my mouth waters. My body responds to my thoughts. Mentally practicing the movement that I want to do with correct technique is mental rehearsal. The same area of the brain is activated even though it doesn’t look like I am doing anything. I can use this when refining my technique, when learning a new skill, when I am tired and to improve my focus.


I move efficiently.

I know that working harder is not necessarily working smarter. I focus on my breath and my form. I release tension where it isn’t needed. My focus shifts from achievement to moving well. This will mean that I will protect myself from injury and I will continue to move well into the years ahead. Long distance runners who can keep their form throughout the entire race are the ones that win. My recovery is a marathon not a sprint.


Today I will choose an animal to be my role model. I will use its energy for guidance, to teach me lessons, for protection, for power and wisdom. I choose an animal that has qualities and attributes that I admire and would like to focus on more in myself. I might choose a group oriented or lone creature; an active or sedentary animal. It doesn’t matter which one I choose today, it might change as my needs do.


Today I will do something that I enjoy. To keep motivated I will choose goals that interest me and will work towards something that I genuinely want to achieve. I will also find things that interest me within goals that don’t. I will find something within that task that motivates me. For example: ‘squats are boring but they strengthen my legs and will help me improve my gait, which I want more than anything.’


Today I will celebrate every tiny achievement I make. I can start small and work my way up gaining confidence the whole way. The best progress is made through small steps not through massive leaps and bounds. I am on a long journey and I need to celebrate every milestone. I will give myself a reward each time I complete a task. I might take time to breathe the fresh air, I might call a friend, or just give myself a pat on the back I will track my progress with a diary or videos to show myself that I am making progress and coming closer to achieving the goals I’ve set myself.


I enter a flow state when I become completely immersed in an activity, I lose any self consciousness and become one with what I am doing. I enter flow state when the level of challenge is high and the skills that I have to meet that challenge are also high. If I give myself a low challenge and have low skills then I become apathetic. If the task is challenging and I have low skills this will generate anxiety. For my rehab I can move into flow by developing more skills or by making the task more challenging.


Today I will find challenges that will stretch me just a touch further than I have been stretched before. I will find the right amount of stress as I don’t want to be overloaded but I don’t want to be under stimulated either. I want to keep the fire lit and the embers smouldering without burning down the house. I can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Discomfort accompanies everything worth birthing.


Though I focus on outcome goals (achieving a physical goal) I approach difficult movements with smaller movement targets. I can break anything (including activities of daily life) into manageable chunks. I aim to perform these parts well and slowly until they all come together and the difficult achievement has become easy. I also have process

goals which help me on the journey. They might be to take a daily walk; to do some form of rehabilitation homework every day or to work a new activity of daily life into my routine each week. I take ownership over these goals and review them monthly.

Sharing my goals makes me accountable. By telling someone what I want to achieve and what I will do today to make progress towards this goal I have made a promise to keep my word.


When I listen to the music that I love my brain releases dopamine which is a chemical that regulates my motivation and goal oriented behaviour. I can create many playlists to help me when I need a little push of energy or motivation. I can make a ‘feel good’ playlist with music with a strong beat and lyrics that are joyful. I can make a ‘determined’ or ‘fighter’ playlist with songs that have lots of drums and bass guitar and angry lyrics I can make a playlist for any mood that I need. Right now I can find or just think of my favourite song. I let the lyrics and the melody move me and lift my mood.


I inhale strength, determination and confidence and exhale any unhelpful thoughts. My breath will guide my movement today. I will inhale to prepare and exhale on the effort. As I inhale I will fill my lungs with oxygen and let my belly expand. As I exhale I will engage my core.


like the preprogrammed settings on a computer I have behavioural and emotional defaults. Unless I know that these behaviours and feelings are automatically operating I won’t react differently.

I scan my body I notice, observe and label my internal experience. I create distance from myself so that I can give myself the time and space to listen to all of the thoughts and feelings that race through my mind and notice and listen without jumping in.

Through viewing my discomfort and fears with compassion and curiosity I can stay away from my habitual self defeating behaviours. I will no longer feel the need to hide, pretend, retreat, react or melt down. Instead, I let the feelings or thoughts pass like clouds scudding across the sky.


Today I choose to treat myself and speak to myself as I would a friend. I will be kind to myself. I deserve it. I let go of the negative feelings about myself, and accept all that is good. I focus on what I have and what feels good instead of what I don’t have and what hurts. I tell myself that I am enough. I am unique and have something to valid to share.

I have a sense of common humanity. I believe that everybody goes through trials and difficulties.


I am safe, I am happy, I am relaxed.

The brain tells us when it is in danger and then decides when to produce pain. If I have a headache and I’m in bright noise filled room I feel more pain than if I’m cuddled up with a loved one while watching a funny movie. When I feel safe, happy and relaxed my pain experience lessens.


I move gently and with ease. I give myself the right level of challenge today. I will not overload my body and mind but I will not spend the day in bed either.

Children’s growth spurts usually coincide with holidays. During term time their bodies and brains are busy learning. When we are under stress things get put on hold, this includes our healing. I will prioritise my mental wellbeing and know my limits to protect myself from too much stress today.


Before I move and as I go through my practice I pay attention to my body. I notice where I am holding unnecessary tension. Where my breathes in my body. Where the weight is over my feet. How much energy I have today. No outside person has my physical experience this means that change needs to come from me. To be able to trust my body I need to be attuned and listening.


Tuning in and focusing on specific parts of my anatomy can improve my movement and my healing. Today I will pay attention to my brain. I will take a take a journey over the ridges and valleys of its topography. I will move to the area behind my forehead and visualise the frontal lobe - my thinking brain, I will travel back a little to the parietal lobe - the moving brain, right at the back is the occipital lobe - the seeing brain,

I can go deeper towards the middle and visit my temporal lobe the emotional brain

and right at the base of my skull is my cerebellum the lizard brain.

I will visualise my lesion as a bruise, and with every breath I take I will visualise it shrinking and healing.


An elevated mood increases the activity of neural pathways in my brain. It makes my learning easier. To help to get myself into a good mood I remember a moment that made me very happy. I draw in the colours, the smells the temperature of this moment to recreate this emotion vividly in my mind. I imbue my movement with this happiness. I can also think of my favourite food and the emotions eating this delicious meal creates or I can just repeat the word “joyful” to myself. I can try all three today to see which works the best.


After finishing a difficult exercise, I ask myself what worked well in my movement and what about the experience was positive? The movement might not have been perfect but what is working now in this moment that moves me forwards?


I am at peace with all that has happened, is happening, and will happen.

Comparison is not my friend, unless my comparison is with myself and even then I will be kind and accept that there will be times when improvement is speedy, times when it slows down and sometimes it has to go backward to go forwards, but in the bigger picture, I am moving forwards!


When the skies flood the earth we seek higher ground. When emotion overtakes me it feels like a flood with all circuits firing and I am unable to access higher reasoning. When I flood I will get some distance, I will move away from the situation, I will take a moment to breathe and get some perspective I will revisit the issue when I am more calm and collected.


Today, I will pay attention to my energy levels. What time of the day have I got the most energy? When do I have the least energy? By knowing how my energy cycles I can plan my busy periods around my high energy points. In my low points I can boost myself with a nutritious snack, have a drink of water, spend some time in nature, or even have a short nap.


If I do not express my tears my body may weep instead. My emotions are information and are a guide to what I need. Suppressed emotions can show up as digestive discomfort, shoulder pain, neck pain or headaches. They can explode as a rush of stress hormones and anger. Today I will notice my emotions and express what I am feeling when I am feeling it.


What can I do today to improve my movement? What can I do today that my future self will thank me for? How far can I nudge my comfort zone? Out of ten how much effort will I give to each task in my day? How many repetitions of my exercises will I do today? Can I add an extra set?


I am tough and can push my limits. I will rethink a threatening situation (a busy crowd) into an opportunity (to work on my balance). Anxiety and nerves keep me alive and help me realise that something important is about to happen. They are wonderful cortisol running through my veins. Once I deal with the situation, I rest afterwards.

Fear is a projection into the future, where I have created a narrative of something going wrong rather than something going right. Today I change my mindset from fear to adventure.


What will I achieve today? I visualise myself waking up in 5 or 10 years from now, I

visualise as many details and sensory experiences as I can - what do I see around me? how do I feel upon awakening? how does my day unfold? Have I have grown and transformed in ways that feel good to me?


In times of stress to prevent ‘choking’ athletes will often use mental cues. These are words or short sentences that pull them back into their bodies to help them focus. Our brain doesn’t like thinking of two things at once and the cues pull the brain away from the stress or distraction. Today if I get flustered I will use cues that give me power: I am unstoppable. I am strong. I am powerful.


I am motivated and open to learning new things,

With a positive mindset I will achieve what I want to. With a negative mindset I am defeated before I even start. I use mantras to support my learning: I am interested, I am curious, I am strong, I’ve got this.

I can shift feelings of anxiety or nervousness to excitement, “my butterflies are dancing with anticipation.”


I will spread my wings and fly because a baby bird that doesn’t leave the nest is vulnerable to predators. So too must I re-join society and life. I will test the waters, nudge boundaries and have graded exposure to the world out there.


I accept my doubts and fears and go forward anyway. Most people tend to doubt that they can do something until they’ve done it. Doubt doesn’t mean that I can’t do it. I remember learning something as a child that I thought I’d never be able to do, until one day when I actually did it. my doubt didn’t stop me trying then. It won’t stop me now. Imagine if you don’t even attempt to achieve a desired goal. Step into the future and try on what it will feel like if you don’t at least try.


I will take stock and take a moment to be aware of where I am now, and to be thankful for small positives - they are there if I look for them. Only by knowing where I am can I begin to make a plan to move forwards. I give myself the opportunity to explore and experiment with many options at a time. ambition makes me willing to experience fear and anxiety and tolerate them. The process of learning, experimenting, exploring and improving makes the journey worth it and keeps me interested. I will not wait for a perfect moment. Each moment is what I make of it.


I am committed to my rehab even though I would rather not do it. I have a stubborn willingness to stick to my exercises as they are beneficial to my health and recuperation. Commitment is difficult when conditions are challenging but this is when it is most important. I need not sacrifice the pleasures of life but I will ask myself what I am willing to give up and what health behaviours I will adopt so as to achieve what I desire. Today I will establish a strict schedule to help me stay committed to achieving more in life.


Today I will stay focused only on the things that can be changed. I can’t change what happened yesterday but I can change what happened today and what will happen tomorrow. I will focus on the day ahead my past is behind me and life moves in only one direction – forward. I will decide what the next positive step is, now matter how difficult or small is it is and I will take it.

If there are things that I can’t change, then I will change the way I think about them. I will turn my resentment into appreciation. I will surround myself with people who boost me up, support me and give me energy.


I know that my healing will take time. This is a task that I am equipped to deal with. I have incredible coping mechanisms. I will keep telling myself this as I recognise my daily progress, my monthly progress and my yearly progress. This healing will need a whole lot of perspective and big picture thinking.


If I won’t do my rehab or speak up for my rights for myself, I can do it for someone else. People around me depend on me. I owe it to them to work hard. I owe it to people that come after me. Think of the impact I could create with my message. Think of how many more people I could help if I lived my life with determination. I can inspire others. I can make this world a better place. I have a unique gift to deliver that is right within me. I have the confidence to express myself and be heard.


My future holds things beyond my imagination. Therefore I will not set limits to who I can become.

The hardest part is not changing my life but changing my mind to create this new life. I will be the person who talks, walks, thinks, reacts, and acts like a champion and soon enough I will realise that I have become one.


Today I remember my why. I remember why I am doing my rehab and why I am here on earth. My values are my internal compass and I use them to guide my choices and know my priorities in advance. My values are my touchstone when I feel adrift. My values are the answers to the questions: What is important to me? What do I stand for? What do I want my life to be about?


Heroes save and improve lives, they give us an emotional connection to other people, they model positive changes that we would like to make and they call us to step up and be heroes too. I dedicate my day to someone I love or admire. I will channel their energy and my admiration for them throughout my activities today.


Today I will think of three people in my life that I am grateful for. I will imbue my movement with this gratitude. Gratitude helps me let go of comparison, boosts my mood, makes me more relaxed, generates happy memories and keeps me healthier.


Though generated by me, my recovery is a team effort. I work hard on my rehab but I also listen to my recovery team. I respect their opinions and their experience. I audio record or video my meetings with them so as to remember everything that was said. I listen to their advice and if it doesn’t make sense to me, I come back to them with questions. I let my care professionals know that they need to frame everything in positive terms. My brain is creating neurotags for this experience and the more positive it is the faster I will heal.


Today I will listen to my body and nourish it with real food when I am hungry. I will eat unprocessed food to nourish my body and my brain. I will fill myself with nutrient dense goodness. I will ask myself: “would my grandmother have eaten this?”


When I understand my injury and the healing process the threat is taken away and the stress decreases. I will be an expert in my injury, I will read books, journal articles and pamphlets. I will understand what medication I take and why. I will also understand what part of my body my rehab exercises strengthen and why I have been given each movement to do.


I am not someone else. I have a unique skillset and a unique mind. I am my own unique self and my own best teacher. I don’t need to be better than anyone else. I only need to be better than who I was yesterday. I appreciate that I am alive and breathing. Now I focus on experiencing life and enjoying the process. I am unique, and my life has meaning. I have something to offer other than how many goals I reach. I honour myself, my dreams, and who I am. I am a miracle and it is time to start acting like it. Time passes quickly, I only have this one life to live; nothing is worth wasting that.


I have many parts that make up who I am. I am not my diagnosis. My label describes my experience as a “survivor” I have survived and overcome a battle. I am a fighter, and one who will not go gently. This label is not a new definition of me either. Though it may feel as if my entire life is wrapped up in my recovery my experience is much more complex than a diagnostic label. I am much more interesting and unique than that. I deserve better. Today I will do something that I enjoyed before I had a stroke and reconnect with myself as just me.


My goals, needs and dreams have changed. What was right before, is not necessarily right for me now. Letting go is not as hard as coming to peace with the idea that things have changed. I will move forward with my goals and I will not try to fix the past. I will keep learning and growing. Not everything or everyone from my past belongs in my present. I move on from a place and time that no longer exists. New opportunities are out there waiting for me.


Doing what I love gives me purpose and sharing it with others gives my life meaning.

I have a wonderful gift to give. I can share it without an agenda or even knowing the outcome. I can share it purely for the joy of touching others and giving what was mine to give. My gift may be making a meal for someone, it may be giving advice to a friend. It can be small. It will still touch someone’s life.


Today I make a commitment to good sleep hygiene. I will do things like: turn off electronic devices an hour before bed, create a bed time routine, decide to only drink coffee in the morning, do light exercise every day, step into natural light every day, and keep my bedroom cool.


I am thankful for the opportunity to improve and try again. I am thankful for my past as it has taught me many lessons. If something is not working, I make a different choice. I am also open to learning about myself, and listening out for fear. I want to find out the fear that is holding me back. Once I understand it. I can let it go.


I will enjoy the time I spend during the process of working toward my goals. The process is important and shouldn’t be rushed. I trust that I have chosen the road that best suits me and will find happiness as I stop along the way. It is important to pay attention to all the good things in my life and enjoy them today. This will bring me more happiness than waiting for it to arrive after I have achieved my goal. I appreciate that I’m alive, I imagine that today is all I have, and I know that the process is what really matters.


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