When spring rolls around each year, we're reminded of the value of habits. Either our New Years resolutions have become new habits in our lives, or we’ve completely given up trying to make them happen. No matter where you and your resolutions ended up, spring marks a time for new beginnings and fresh starts—a perfect time to take on new habits.
"Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
Our brains are incredible at turning repeated actions into habits, reducing how much we have to think about over the course of the day. How much brainpower do you use keeping your car in the lane, brushing your teeth, or tying your shoes? Almost none, which leaves your mind free to ponder more important decisions. Researchers estimate that approximately 40% of each day is spent doing things by habit - nearly half of our waking hours!
The important thing about habits is they don't require us to use much in the way conscious thought or willpower. Some studies suggest that our willpower is a finite resource; we deplete it throughout the day with the difficult decisions we have to make. That may be why some of our poorest choices occur late in the day. By automating our actions with habits, we don't have to expend precious willpower forcing ourselves to comply.
In times of stress, we rend fall back on our habits - whether they are good or bad. So if we're used to turning on the TV or having a glass of wine to relax at the end of a long day, we seek out that same comfort in stressful times.
In physical therapy we spend a lot of time discussing habits -- habits to build and habits to break. This can include things like drinking more water, drinking less coffee and soda, exercising, stretching, and even breathing. When we receive physical therapy (or chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy) treatments passively we might feel improvements in our symptoms initially but eventually our symptoms tend to come back. When we actively engage in changing our lifestyles, we are able to feel better in the long run because we eliminated the underlying behaviors that created the symptoms in the first place.
At the beginning it can seem tedious and irritating to have to consciously remind ourselves over and over again to make changes in the way we breathe, drink, eat, and move. If we don't commit to making these changes they will always be difficult. But if we take the plunge and practice these behaviors they end up becoming easy because they have become...habits! These little actions no longer feel exhausting, mentally draining, or even difficult.
If you are in the middle of trying to make or break a habit, keep at it! If it sounds like too much work, just remember -- the end goal is to expend as little energy and brainpowe
r as possible. Essentially we are aiming to be lazy! Working hard now guarantees changes that will help you for a lifetime.
Looking for some new habits to build? Check out the Five Pelvic Health Habits for 2018!
Dr. Nicole Cozean is the founder of PelvicSanity physical therapy, Orange County's premier pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. One of only 270 PTs to be board-certified in the pelvic floor, and the first PT to serve on the ICA Board of Directors, Nicole is the author of the acclaimed and best-selling book The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (2016). She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Chapman University. The PelvicSanity blog focuses on presenting practical, positive information to help patients beyond the walls of Nicole's clinic.
Dr. Sharon Thompson is a physical therapist at PelvicSanity physical therapy, Orange County's premier pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. Sharon combines a strong orthopedic background with her skill as a pelvic floor physical therapist. She is vocal advocate for those who suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction or pain, and is especially passionate about spreading hope and awareness about these conditions.