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Building Healthy Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits by James Clear gives practical tips and tricks on building good habits into your everyday life. Whilst reading this book, I tried to translate this information into Physiotherapy practice. After all, how many times have you been told to do a simple daily exercise or to break up your sitting time at work and you just can’t seem to get it done?

Forming healthy habits is key to improving your health and reducing injuries or risk of disease. So, in this blog we will break down the key parts of the book and give you some practical tips to help keep your body moving.

Picking the “right” habit

A common mistake in building a new habit is picking a habit that is unachievable. For example, for someone who has barely done any physical exercise to walk for 2 hours a day is unachievable. Outside of work hours, the person may have a family to look after or food to cook and this behaviour is therefore unattainable. Instead, start small and focus on consistency first, and then progress the behaviour.


Habit Stacking

Writing down all of your existing daily habits is a good way to become aware about your current behaviours. It can allow you to see what you do already, and figure out when an appropriate time would be to fit in your new habit. The process of habit stacking involves linking your new habit to an existing habit.

For example, if you want to improve your calf strength: after I have my morning coffee, I will do 15 calf raises. Or if you want to practice your balance: after I brush my teeth, I will stand on one foot for 30 seconds.


Set up your environment for success

Adding small but noticeable cues into your environment can help to initiate a good habit. Conversely, you can also remove the cues of bad habits from your environment to stop bad habits.

For example, if your Physio wants you to do banded squats, you may want to put your band on your pillow after you wake up in the morning so that you can do the squats before bed. Or if you want to do bridges, set your mat out on the living room floor.


Make your new habit attractive

Adding some incentive can go a long way in triggering dopamine pathways, meaning that you will be more motivated to act on the good habit. Knowing an exercise is good for you is often not enough of an incentive for patients, as there is often no immediate or visible effect. Instead, we need to pair an action that you want to do with an action that you need to do, or immediately reward yourself once you complete a habit (just make sure that the reward does not conflict with your desired outcome).

For example, if you need to be more active but you want to check your phone: after I go for a 10 minute walk, I can check my phone.


Join a culture that supports your habit

The people that surround you make a big difference when forming healthy habits. The group culture is most effective as you already have something in common with the group and your desired behaviour is already the normal behaviour of the group

For example, join your local fitness class or find other friends who are going through injury rehabilitation. We often find that people that our group Clinical Pilates clients are the most consistent.


Reduce friction – make it easy!

Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habit to reduce resistance. You can also make your habit easier by investing in one-time purchases to help you lock in your future behaviour.

For example, lay your exercise gear out the night before so that you are prepared to go on your early morning gym session. Or ask work for a sit-to-stand desk so that you are more likely to change positions throughout the day.


Track your habits

Using a habit tracker is a great way to see your progress. This can be as simple as putting a paperclip into a jar every time you do your rehabilitation exercises or ticking it off on your calendar.

Never miss twice

If you miss doing your habit once, it is not the end of the world – life happens, and things can get in the way of completing your habit. However, make the conscious effort to get back to the habit as soon as possible. Missing your exercises one time will not make a big difference to your progress, so make sure to do your best to continue as soon as you can.


A common belief is that it takes around 60 days to form a new habit, however, research shows that it is not time-dependent, and instead it is about the number of repetitions which turn an effortful behaviour into an automatic process. So, get started and give these tips a try when you next need to build a healthy habit – we are excited to hear about your progress and are here to support your healthy lifestyle journey.

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