When it comes to maintaining healthy habits, I have felt stuck in a rut lately. I think it comes down to burnout. I’m tired of doing the same things over and over again without improvement. It’s demoralizing to do the same things day after day and never see progress that lasts.
One of the reasons we struggle to keep up with good habits in the midst of a chronic conditions is because we often don’t see progress like you do when working towards other difficult goals. Like training for a marathon, for example. I’m sure it’s extremely hard work, but over time you move forward. Likely, you struggle to keep going, and there are ups and downs. But for the most part, you find yourself steadily progressing until that big day when you run 26.2 miles.
When you have a chronic pain condition, you often find yourself training and not going anywhere. For me, all the things that I do to try to get better typically function as a means of preventing regression.
My PT exercises, my short walks around the block, eating healthy, pacing myself – I do these things over and over again just to stand still and ensure I don’t drift backwards. It’s exhausting. It’s hard to stay motivated.
One conclusion I have come to is that to keep going, we have to turn these healthy behaviors into habits. Habits as ingrained as brushing our teeth every night. Easier said than done, right?
Here are some things I have learned about habits over the years. Some of this information comes from the book The Power of Habit. Full disclosure – I didn’t read the whole book. I read through some of the interesting examples and focused in on what science says about how to build habits that stick. But the bits of information I gleaned have been really helpful to me.
Be realistic. This one is an obvious one that doesn’t really come from the book, but I have to remind myself of it every time I reassess what habits I want to keep and focus on. I only put things in my health plan that I know I am going to follow through with. There are number of habits I know I should develop, but I also know it’s not realistic for me to follow through with them at this point. So, I don’t include them.
Use a habit tracker. My friend showed me this habit tracker app, and I have been using it for a little while now. It works great! It shows you how many days in a row you have completed a habit and how successful you have been, overall, in maintaining your habits over time.
Incorporate natural rewards. For the past three years, I have regularly completed my PT exercises in the evening around eight o’clock. For the most part, it hasn’t been difficult to keep up with this habit and after reading The Power of Habit I realized why. I had incorporated the natural reward of watching a TV program while I exercised. I subconsciously knew that taking a break from my other work to do my exercises meant I could also watch a TV program, so it was never hard to get motivated.
The app I just listed above can also function as a natural reward. It feels great to swipe towards the green, indicating that yes, indeed, I did succeed with my habit today.
What natural reward can you incorporate into that health habit you want to start?
Create behavior chains. This part is key. To remind yourself to start a habit, you need a cue. Something that will trigger in your memory what task you need to complete. Many of us already have habits formed into our days that can function as cues and allow us to create behavior chains of habits.
For example, say you want to start reading for 20 minutes every morning, but over and over you forget and can’t make yourself follow through. One possible solution is to think of something else you do every single morning without fail and attach your 20 minutes of reading to that habit. Perhaps you always do a yoga routine, eat breakfast, or sit and look at Facebook while you wake up. Using an already developed habit, consider how you can attach reading for 20 minutes into your normal routine.
Your new routine might now be to do a yoga routine and then read for 20 minutes directly after every single morning. In this way you can create behaviors chains throughout your day in which one behavior cues you to another behavior, which may then cue you to another behavior. And thus, many habits are born!
Coming up with new habit plans
Every once and awhile I sit down and reassess my health habits and self-care plan using these tips above. I try to make a few tweaks and changes to what I have already been doing, and this helps keep me motivated.
Making a plan gives me a sense of control over my life and my body. It gives me hope that the changes I plan to make could make a difference, no matter how small. Ideally, I like to sit down and journal a new health plan each month. It doesn’t always happen that way, but I highly recommend it as a way to assess what is working, what’s not working, and gain motivation for moving through the month ahead.
This month, I plan to add a few new habits to my daily schedule. I want to start an arm exercise program, complete my stretches every single day in the month of February, and start drinking 60oz of water a day. I also want to start regularly practicing some of the techniques and releases I have learned from my physical therapist that take some strain off of my spine and SI joints by massaging out my psoas muscles. I’m also going to give this new brand of SI belt a try, which I have heard from multiple people is really good.
How often do you assess your health habits and self-care plan?
What helps you stick with habits you know are important for you?
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