Old habits die hard. New habits are even more difficult to start. When it comes to rehabbing from an injury, long-term success often depends on developing new positive habits that promote a healthy and active lifestyle. After completing a course of physical therapy or following the achievement of any fitness goal, it is easy to relax and resort back to old habits. These old habits could be spending too much time relaxing in front of the television or losing track of several hours while parked in front of a computer.
In order to maintain or maximize positive change from an exercise program, new habits must take the place of the old habits. Out with the old and in with the new.
Intentional behavior change can be broken down into 5 stages. Research has found that people move through these stages when modifying or changing behavior. The time a person stays in each stage is variable, but the steps required to move through the process are not. These five stages are very applicable to optimizing your outcome in physical therapy.
Stage 1: Precontemplation
The first stage is typically characterized by a resistance to change. During precontemplation you don’t consider change as an option or you do not see the benefit in changing. Many who begin their rehabilitation are unsure about how exercise and behavior change can help their condition.
Perhaps, you are confused about why the doctor has not ordered an MRI? At this point, it is imperative that your physical therapist does not attempt to coerce or force you into change. Only through open communication, trust, and a positive working relationship can you progress beyond this stage.
Stage 2: Contemplation
During the second stage, you begin to see that a change may be beneficial but you are unsure how to proceed. Here you begin weighing the pros and cons of following through with your initial home exercise program. It is common for individuals to remain stuck in this stage throughout their rehabilitation.
Chronic contemplation or procrastination often leads to unsuccessful courses of treatment or frequent relapses of symptoms. It is imperative that you move beyond this stage before completing treatment with your physical therapist.
Stage 3: Preparation
Now you are ready to take the initial steps towards change. This stage is characterized by your intention to change and taking steps towards change. Developing a plan for change with your physical therapist is very important at this point. Without purpose, goals, and a plan change will never be long-lasting.
Stage 4: Action
This stage is characterized by concrete steps that will lead to your desired change. This may involve beginning a daily walking program or strength training in the gym three days per week. This is where you will build a foundation for lifelong positive healthy habits. We like to see you progress into this stage before your final few visits to physical therapy.
Stage 5: Maintenance
Maintenance may be the most important stage because it involves your effort to maintain the changes made during the action stage. Success will require you to make modifications in your lifestyle and work to prevent relapses.
While in the maintenance stage, you are less tempted to relapse and grow increasingly more confident that you will continue your positive habits. This is where positive habits are solidified. Unfortunately, many do not remain in this stage long enough and ultimately resort to old habits leading to relapse. We see this when dieters achieve a weight loss goal only to regain it back, plus more, within 2 years.
In rehabilitation, we often see patients return for the same problem year after year because they were unable to follow through with this final stage of intentional change.
Change Your Habits Today
Some argue that it is human nature to resist change. We disagree. Some of us choose to remain comfortable with routines based on non-productive habits.
We will ultimately become what we think about most of the time. If you can’t wait to leave work and relax on the couch, then this is what you will become. If you are serious about your long-term health and life goals, you will take that 30-minute walk instead. Any human being with purpose, goals and a plan to change can accomplish great things.
One or two months of physical therapy is only the start towards behavior change. Take what you have learned from your physical therapist and consider this one small step towards building healthy habits that will benefit you for a lifetime. Long-lasting intentional change is hard but we all know waiting around for things to change never gets us closer to our goals.