Whether you’re trying to shed a few pounds, get rid of an ache or pain, or be more successful, changing the way you currently do things can be tough. Why? Well it has to do with your brain. We have areas of our brain we use for every-day programs such as driving a car, grabbing a bite to eat, or how we feel about ourselves. These habitual programs are largely unconscious and therefore difficult to change.
Habits often involve a trigger, or cue, and a response to that cue. Most bad habits are actually responses to cues. For instance many people who have back or neck pain, feel it more when they drive. One of the reasons this happens is because driving (the cue) can be subtly stressful creating patterns of tension (the response) which then irritates the back or neck. Therefore driving becomes a trigger for pain-producing tension. You can sense this in yourself if, at a stop light, you pay attention to your low back and notice it’s tense and held in a little bit of an arch.
Because the way we drive (and our response to it) is largely unconscious, we must somehow become more aware of our stress response and change that to relax our body more. But how do we do that if driving is an unconscious act and we’ve got so many other things on our mind? Well you’ll need to set up reminders. A good reminder will help you become aware of your cues and create alternative, and hopefully healthier, responses to them. The best reminders are the one’s you’ll pay attention to.
For instance with my patients who have pain while driving I ask them to put a sticker, any old sticker, on the dashboard of their car. Every time they notice that sticker, they should take 4 deep breaths and think of something they’re deeply grateful for. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (which can also be thought of as our rest-and-digest system) which reduces tension. If a sticker is out of the question then I ask them to do this at every stop light instead. So now the stop light becomes a cue for an alternative good habit.
This goes for any habit. First identify the habit that is giving you trouble. Then identify any cues which trigger that habit. Develop a system where you begin recognizing the cues and then replace the bad habit with a good one. Reminders can be in any form; an alarm on your smart phone, wearing a special ring or bracelet, putting your watch on the opposite wrist–basically anything that you’ll pay attention to. I recommend taking on only one habit at a time. Make it an easy one in the beginning to build your confidence. Good luck and remember now is the best time to make changes and improve your life!