Life can be busy, crazy, and filled with unexpected changes. Despite this, we’re all aiming for one that is meaningful, healthy, and happy. Sometimes in our lives, whether through injury, illness, pain, addiction, avoidance, or other unexpected occurrences (such as a diagnosis with a chronic health condition or cancer diagnosis) we need to re-evaluate our circumstances or approach. In order to get back on track to achieving our goals, we’re forced to address certain health behaviours.
Whether that involves addressing nutrition and diet, sleep patterns, relationships with addictive substances (such as alcohol, nicotine, or drugs), or maybe levels of physical fitness or activity, we all have the capacity to incorporate better health behaviours into our life. I am sure that you could list at least one or two that you may have been trying to tackle.
A classic example is that a person presents to a physiotherapy practice because they have a sore knee. They want their knee pain to go away, and they want to walk and function without pain. The person pays for the opportunity and leaves their appointment with the knowledge of what is going on, education about how to best manage their knee, and exercises that will aid rehabilitation. They arrive home, get back into their day and promptly spend the remainder of the time before their next appointment knowing that they need to do the exercises but not managing to quite get to them. When back at the practice for their next review, even before greeting, the person will most likely offer an apology for not getting to the exercises.
This is a good example of a system breakdown. Although the physio’s life has not been altered in any way and therefore the apology was redundant, the person with the sore knee is still in pain and they still cannot do all the things that they need to do. Obviously, in this example, there are changes that can be made by both the therapist and the patient. However, hopefully, this blog will offer a number of simple strategies that can empower you to incorporate any healthy change into your life to achieve your goals and help them to stick around.
For nearly 30 years as a physiotherapist, I have had the absolute pleasure of guiding the rehabilitation of people from broad and varied backgrounds. From tradies to nuns, children to grandparents, government executives to the Australian Hockeyroos, and even other physiotherapists. Despite the diversity of people and presentations, one major thing that I have learnt is that, despite your profession, age, knowledge, or experiences, EVERYONE has the same difficulties when incorporating changes in our health behaviours. In general, we’re good at setting goals but terrible at maintaining new habits.
We can all acknowledge that health and lifestyle changes or habits are often difficult to change and, even if you know what to do to make adjustments or improvements, it is sometimes difficult to know how to do it consistently and to get them to stick. So, let’s break this down into a number of basic steps:
First Phase: Importance
Making the decision to incorporate or change a behaviour
Identify the change that you wish to make and understand why it is important to you and your life. Make a list, write it down. Think of both the short-term and the long-term gains.
You may wish to establish better sleep patterns, lose weight, reduce your alcohol intake or be more physically active. There may be a few different behaviours that you wish to address, so prioritise. Always aim to conquer one at a time, so start with the most important one first.
STEP 1: Gather the knowledge that you need to help make, and eventually undertake your decision.
- Consult a health professional, read up, talk to your friends and family, research online.
STEP 2: Consider your motivation. Work out realistic goals but also think of the things that may act as your barriers.
- Your Goals: Need to be realistic, specific, and achievable. It is best to break down your goals into small, measurable, and achievable chunks to achieve success. In doing so, work out the benefits of each of your actions to achieve your goals.
- Your Barriers may include:
- Physical barriers: Things happening in your body; things you hear, see, smell, taste, and touch, i.e. The relationship between social situations and smoking or drinking triggers.
- Belief systems and habitual thinking patterns: things that you think and believe e.g. ‘I will make my pain worse if I exercise’ or ‘I can’t exercise in the rain’
- Normal emotional responses: fuelled by your own thoughts and emotions, or those of the people around you. eg Fear of failure, or harm, or a family history of repeated poor behaviour choices.
- Inadequate planning. E.g. Over scheduling or a failure to plan activity into suitable times.
STEP 3: Make a decision to commit to changing your behaviour, be ready to take action, and identify a support person or establish a support network.
PHASE TWO: CONFIDENCE
Taking action: building the confidence to incorporate and maintain an action or positive health behaviour
STEP 1: Planning and problem solving involves taking all of the information gathered in Phase 1 and establishing a realistic, timely, and achievable plan to incorporate your action. This includes the overall plan but should address weekly goals and daily undertakings.
STEP 2: Your plan should state your daily Actions that you need to do to achieve your daily and weekly goals. If you wanted to return to running, a sample weekly program may look a little like this:
STEP 3: Keep checking in with yourself and your goals. The ability to self-monitor and provide honest feedback to yourself is key. The process to incorporate change will always involve taking small achievable steps and is also a process of trial and error. Sometimes it will be one step forward and two steps back but at other times it will be two steps forward and one step back.
Either way, you need to stay in charge of the process by keeping working slowly and incrementally towards your goals, knowing that, although it will be a challenge, you have established and acknowledged the benefits of your actions. The reward will be in living the life you dream of.
This blog was written by Julie Allen B Phty (Hons), Director and Principal Physiotherapist of The Pentimento Project, a cancer rehabilitation service operating independently within the clinic of Physiotec Physiotherapy since 2010 and additionally within the suites of ICON Cancer Care South Brisbane since 2015. The Pentimento Project is a physiotherapy- based rehabilitation service supporting people with cancer to reach their goals, improve their quality of life, and move beyond their cancer experience.
|If you or someone that you know has been affected by a cancer diagnosis, please feel free to schedule a consultation with:
Phone: 3342 4284
Email: [email protected]
- Bills, C. (2021) HealthChange(R) Methodology and Health Coaching (healthchange.com).
- Cohn, S. (2014) Special Issue: From Health Behaviours to Health Practices: Critical Perspectives. Sociology of Health and Illness Vol 36, Issue 2 157-162.
- Butler D.S and Moseley L.G (2017) Explain Pain Supercharged: The Clinicians Manual.