One Microstep at a Time  

One Microstep at a Time

The only way I have ever made progress with my chronic pain is one microstep at a time.

I have talked about microsteps before. Microsteps are those small changes we make to our routines and daily lives that seem so insignificant at first, but over time accumulate into small and then big improvements.

For me, microsteps have looked like adding one, just one, more rep to one of my physical therapy exercises. Microsteps have looked like adding a minute to my walk when my body feels able. Tai chi for five minutes once a week. Parking a little farther away from the building than I want. Drinking more water. Sitting up five minutes longer. And so on.

I think of microsteps as a way of kindly and gently telling my body, “It’s OK. Don’t freak out! We’ll take these changes nice and slow so you can get used to them before we do something new again.”

It’s so tempting to try to leap forward on those few good days. The pain isn’t as bad, and so we move forward in a hurry to finish all those chores that got left behind. Only to regret it late.

But let me show you why I think taking things a bit slower is worth it. Let me show you why I think micro steps lead to accomplishing more in the long run than the ups and downs of leaping forward only to crash and burn. This is where microsteps have taken me over the last year and a half.

ActivityTrackingChart

To fully understand my activity tracking chart, you can read about it here and here. My activity chart is how I pace myself each week. It enables me to stop myself before I crash and push myself far enough to make progress.

In short, this chart depicts my activity levels over time, with each mark on the graph representing a week. You can clearly see the ups and downs of how much activity I have been able to tolerate each week for the past year and a half.

When I first started the chart, you can see the major ups and downs. Compared to the two years before starting the chart, these downs are mild. Those downs represent major flares, but fortunately I haven’t had a relapse since I started this pacing system.

So, why the major ups and downs at the beginning? Well, I was trying to make huge leaps forward when I was feeling good, only to crash and burn. Progress was never sustained. Any semblance of “progress” was really me just pushing myself past my limit, doing more than my body could handle, and crashing the next week.

You can see exactly where I started getting the hang of my pacing. This is when I started listening to my body and stopping. No ifs, ands or buts; I would just STOP. And I began to make slow but steady progress. No leaps. Microsteps.

Microsteps mean saying no. Micro steps mean working less hours. They mean not cooking dinner and not cleaning your kitchen. They mean not doing the things that you want to do, but knowing that it could be worth it in the long run when you reach that place of greater stability.

Making progress in this way is so frustrating because in the moment it feels like you are standing still. But I have learned that in the end microsteps are my faster mode of transportation because of all the flares, setbacks, and relapses they prevent.

What about you? Do you pace yourself, and how does that work for you?

What small steps have led to big progress for you?

Check out the first booklet in the Chronic Pain and the Christian Life series, But God Wouldn’t I Be More Useful to You If I Were Healthy, on Amazon.com. 

3 Comments

  1. What a great post stressing the importance of pacing! Yesterday I saw my new physiotherapist for the third time, even though I told him the second time that I was badly flared up from the exercises he asked me to do that my body had never done before, he still didn’t get it. Yesterday, he asked me to do three sets of exercises in a row on the same body part that I’ve never done before. Even though they are considered gentle,for me it would’ve been best to start with one set and see how things go and slowly pace up. Needless to say I was terribly flared up in the afternoon and again today. So even the so-called expert’s can set us back instead of help us gradually improve and strengthen the weak areas in our body. So I’ve learnt the hard way, in future when he asks for three sets to be done I’ll just do one and stop.

    1. I think the situation you describe with your physical therapist is so difficult. It is so hard to push back against the advice of experts because, at least for me, I worry they will then think I am not willing to try hard enough or trust their advice. Then perhaps they will label me as noncompliant. I have several times been in the situation of letting my PT push me too far, even though in the back of my head I knew I shouldn’t do what I was about to do! It is so hard to push back against that. I hope you are able to help him understand your limitations next time and that he listens to you. Praying you have courage to tell him no when you know you shouldn’t do something <3

      1. Thank you Esther for your wisdom. I must say I do find it hard to speak up at times, for the first two decades of my life I was raised in a home where you did not speak unless you were spoken to. At mealtimes, there was no talking aloud. So even though I know how to be assertive at times I struggle to implement what I’ve learnt in my late 20s through a wonderful counsellor. And like yourself I share the same concerns in your reply. Wishing you a wonderful day head!

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