Hello potential brain changers!
Building a habit is never easy, I know I have struggled to include a new exercise routine or part of my daily ritual without some teething pains. Even just brushing my teeth is hard sometimes :O (see how I managed to tie in teething pains and teeth again, wow such wit, omg!) The human brain can be a tricky device to operate, with all the different distractions, motivations and just general bleh that can go in your day. After a life altering brain event, motivation and energy can be even harder to muster up, but to recover as fast as and effectively as possible, you need to know the very basics of how to build a new habit. This is especially important in doing your rehab exercises every day as early as possible to build up the habit and the pathways
Following our previous post on neuroplasticity this is more of a nuts and bolts or short run down on the very basics, plus a few extra tips near the end.
So you want to basically follow the holy trinity of behavioral modification which is cue, behaviour, and reward. 1. Cue
The cue is the thing that will remind you its time to do whatever new behaviour you want to build as a habit. Pick the cue that works for you, try and find something that is recognisable, and has a sensory component attached to it, like sight, touch, sound or smell. Essentially you can mix and match two different cues together to create stronger mental pathways. This is something you can have some fun with, so pick whatever cue works for you and you feel comfortable with.
For example putting on an essential oil you like and smelling it before doing your exercises will link the two together. Rosemary has been shown to increase memory retention by up to 40% after learning! Pick your own favourite smell, the olfactory bulbs have strong deep connections to the areas of the brain that deal with memory. If you put on your rehab hero T shirt as a uniform, your brain will associate it with exercise time, making it easier to remember and cue up for next time. The more you associate the cue with the behaviour, the easier it will be to build those new neural pathways and connections
You can have the same music playing each time, you can do your exercises facing the same view. Playing your favourite song has positive psychological effects and can add a nice background theme to the behaviour you want to learn 2. Behaviour Behaviour is the thing you want to encourage, whether that is grip strength, words, recognising shapes, rehab exercise, even something basic like just trying to remember that you have to do your exercises. Play the long slow gentle behaviour modification game, and be patient with yourself.
A new habit can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months to really solidify, it really does come down to repetition and also setting the new behaviour as a goal. It's better to even just do 1 of your exercises over a bit of time, rather than planning to do all and then doing none. Our brain has areas that are evolutionarily designed to be goal oriented, so try and make a clear goal in your mind. You can try writing it down if that helps, or think about why this behaviour will lead you to being a healthier, happier you. You can also visualise what the behavior is to help as well. 3. REWARD!!! (the best bit let's be real) This is where the world is your oyster in terms of reward. It can be a little piece of dark chocolate (or a whole block in my case lel) or a favourite tv show, 10 minutes of social media, calling a friend, petting a pet, reading a book. Whatever you find is going to give you a reward! This is super important, you must reward yourself after the sequence, not before. And also give yourself a mental pat on the back, you did it! Its important to give yourself encouragement and self motivation as part of the reward as well. If you can get someone else to congratulate you as well it will help, humans are social creatures and we get hormones and feel good endorphins when people compliment or recognise our effort.
OTHER TIPS FOR BUILDING A HABIT TO REMEMBER TO START
Same time every day If you can somehow manage to do it the same time every day, your brain will start to automatically remind you from your subconscious.
Set an alarm every day at the same time to encourage the behaviour. Also label the alarm as well so you know what its for. Ask for a reminder from a friend or loved one
Ask your carer, a friend or a loved one to gently remind you each day that you want to do the habit. Having accountability to others (as long as they are nice about it!) is a good way to start a new habit or practice. CONCLUSION
Remember ALL THE STEPS are important and that behaviour change takes time, patience, consistency and self care. Pick a strong cue sensory item that has personalised meaning to you so you positively associate the two together. Try to do the behaviour after the cue as much as possible to start linking them.
Always reward, and pick something you really enjoy, not something that you think you should enjoy, please have some fun with this and be nice to yourself, you earned it.
Don't try to do all the new things you want to do at once, it's 10x better to do 1 exercise a little bit over time if its easier, than to try and do all your exercises at once and then do none.
References 1. Atomic habits by James Clear (https://jamesclear.com/atomic-habits) 2. Odour-based context reinstatement effects with indirect measures of memory: The curious case of rosemary (https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1348/000712609X479663) 3.