I thought as it is now 2022 and New Year’s resolutions are a thing for people, it would be fun to chat through my favorite habit forming tips. I just did a google search on 2021’s top new years resolution and it was…drumroll please…exercising more!6
As a physical therapist I deal with this goal of a new year’s resolution a lot. Full disclosure, I’m honestly not a big fan of new year resolutions and don’t even do one for myself. But I am a big fan of habit forming at any time of the year. And I am all about creating habits that are reasonable for people. I recognize it’s been a crazy two years (what it’s 2022 already?), so one question I push people to ask me in the clinic when I’m working with them is, “is this new habit or mode of exercise really possible?” This takes vulnerability and honesty with ourselves.
As physical therapists one of our main jobs is figuring out what motivates someone and what goals are possible. And we really focus on what motivates someone enough to form a new habit! This may require us to dig deep. For instance, if we want to exercise more to be healthier, why do we want to be healthier? Is it to connect with loved ones and ourselves? Then that’s our motivator. So write that on our fridge – “I exercise for myself and loved ones”, not “to be healthier”, because honestly, this doesn’t always provide motivation for everyone. I know I have to do this and I’m a physical therapist that knows all the amazing benefits of exercise!
So when I work with someone, I like to pick a few small things each visit for someone to start working on. Then we get a few wins right away where you can inch closer and closer to your goals. Slow and steady. One thing right away that we talk about are “what are your goals? And what are habits that are no longer serving you?” I always say that If we can do things 80% of the time, that’s consistency and that’s a new habit.
Once we’ve figured out a few things to work on, then let’s talk about ways in research1 (and what I’ve seen clinically) that really work. Here are my favorites –
- Consciousness Raising1 – Help yourself increase the awareness about healthy behaviors. Focus on the positive of what you are doing, not what you aren’t doing. For instance, let’s say you did your exercises for one set and your pain felt better, but you’re focused on the fact you didn’t get your second set in, not that you completed one and you feel way better! Let’s focus on how good you felt after you tried some new exercises! And tell your brain that!
- Self-Reevaluation1 – We have to realize that if we want to exercise, then we have to view ourselves as “exercisers”. If we want to “be healthier”, we have to start to identify as “being healthy”. Sometimes we have to start here with someone’s self-talk around this topic and I will always push someone to reflect on this with me – and of course talk to a trusted mental health therapist if we are reaching a block. Further, why do we want to be healthy? Like I said above, how do we get to the greater motivator – is it connection with ourselves and others? Then let’s focus on that!
- Let’s realize how our unhealthy behavior affects others. This goes back to motivation. We want to be healthier for ourselves and our community of loved ones. Maybe we want to be more present and exercise will help us do that.
- Find helping relationships1 – Finding supportive relationships that encourage our new habit is extremely helpful. This includes a supportive community, probably a physical therapist if there’s pain involved with movement (but you don’t have to have pain to see a PT – more on this later) and any group of people who are doing the habits you want more of. This then brings in social connection, which is huge for us as humans. We are social beings and we truly become and are shaped by who we spend our time with. “One study that tracked 12 thousand people for 32 years found that the chances of someone becoming obese increased by 57% if they had a friend who become obese5.” Of course there are a lot of factors here, but an interesting stat.
- In PT we also talk a lot about substituting healthy behaviors and thoughts for unhealthy behaviors and thoughts1. One thing I hear a lot in my clinic is, “I failed PT this week because I didn’t exercise for 20 min three days this week” vs. “I showed up to the gym for 10 min on a really hard day after work most days to de-stress”. It matters so much more on what we do consistently, even on hard days. So challenge that thought process when you start small and get out for a 10 min walk even when you don’t want to and feel tired. Anyone can exercise when they feel great – how do we focus again on what we are doing, not what we aren’t doing, especially on those tough days.
- Reinforce the habit with a reward1 – Make yourself that yummy smoothie or salad after a workout! Meet a friend for coffee after a workout!
- Recreate your environment to have reminders and cues that support and encourage healthy behavior and remove those that encourage unhealthy behavior1. Some ideas-
- Pairing – every time you eat a meal, you foam roll
- Sequencing – before you are allowed to drink your coffee you have to write in your journal or meditate
- Put book on pillow in the morning if you want to read more at night
- Pack your lunch the night before if you want to eat out less
- Pack gym bag the night before and put by your backdoor so you don’t have a barrier to get to the gym
- Put foam roller or yoga mat by your desk so you see if while you’re in a work meeting
- Set a timer on your computer to get up, walk, foam roll, etc. every 30-60 min to remind you to move!
- If you don’t want to eat junk food, don’t have it in your house
- Does social media make you feel bad? Unfollow people that aren’t serving you or get off of it entirely! Don’t even give yourself the option to scroll
- Can you bike to work? Walk to the grocery store? Incorporate some exercise into your routine
This speaks to how we coach in physical therapy because we are trying to meet someone where they are at to live the life they want. In a realistic way. There’s so much out there that can overcomplicate things, but daily habits are small behavioral changes that make a big difference. Even if we do them 80% of the time. We are human. We don’t become fit overnight by going to the gym for 1 week. We also don’t have a magic pill that dissipates pain in 2 min. We feel better through consistent behavior and small habit changes. And the end goal is a journey. There’s no instant gratification. It’s delayed, but it’s so good! So, how do we set up your environment and behavior to help with this? Come see us if you want some support! We are here for you.
- 1“Behavioral Change Models.” The Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change), https://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/mph-modules/sb/behavioralchangetheories/behavioralchangetheories6.html.
- 2“Body, Brain & Pain: Community Healing with Two Physical Therapists on Apple Podcasts.” Apple Podcasts, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/body-brain-pain-community-healing-with-two-physical/id1525778200.
- 3Røe, Cecilie, et al. “Psychometric Properties of the Pain Stages of Change Questionnaire as Evaluated by Rasch Analysis in Patients with Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain.” BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, vol. 15, no. 1, 2014, https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2474-15-95.
- 4“Stages of Change (Continuous Measure).” Cancer Prevention Research Center, https://web.uri.edu/cprc/measures/exercise/stages-of-change-continuous-measure/.
- 5“The Thinner Book: Atomic Habits by James Clear.” Chris Behan, https://www.chrisbehan.ca/posts/atomic-habits.
- 6Varrella, Simona. “United States: New Year’s Resolution for 2021.” Statista, 5 May 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/378105/new-years-resolution/.