Creatures Of Habit -Alison Brown Ferguson PT, ADP(OMT) Dip MT

Habits and routines play a powerful role when it comes to our health, wellness and fitness.

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters.”-Colin Powell

When confronting an injury or dealing with a chronic pain issue we often look for the “fix” or the “cure”. Unfortunately, in many cases, there is isn’t a “specific” solution that lasts.


What is something that took some time for you to learn? Think of a new skill at work, perhaps trying out a new recipe or even learning to tie your shoelaces.


At first the task required much concentration, but with time and practice, it became easy, automatic and habitual.

Neuroscientists have discovered that automatic behaviors are controlled in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. Decisions and motivational thoughts are formed in another part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. Once a new behavior becomes automatic, let’s say making a new dinner recipe- the pre-frontal cortex gets to take a time out because the new behavior is now referenced in the basal ganglia therefore it’s easy to focus your attention elsewhere while doing something habitual – like help the kids with their homework while you make dinner.

In his best selling book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes a three-part habit loop.

First, there is a cue which tells your brain to go into automatic mode (hungry kids). Second comes the routine or the behavior (make dinner). The third part is your brain’s reward (family enjoying dinner). This third part helps store the habit loop in the basal ganglia for future reference.

So how can we use this information when it comes to healing and recovery from injury or a chronic problem? In most all cases rehabilitation requires some behavioral change.


“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”         -Jim Ryun

Your doctor or physical therapist may have prescribed exercise routines, dietary changes, postural or ergonomic recommendations, better hydration, meditation and so on. For many who struggle to disrupt bad routines and adopt healthier habits, it should be known that some habits are much more important than others.

Duhigg labels these “keystone habits” which correlate with other good habits. Keystone habits do not have a cause-and-effect relationship but can spark chain reactions that help other good habits take root. For example, regular exercise often goes hand-in-hand with a better dietary habits.The point here is to tackle one small change at a time. Figure out your cue, the routine (new behavior) and the reward. This is true for erasing bad habits and developing good habits.

When the goal seems overwhelming, do not underestimate the value of making very small improvements daily. Compounded over time this will add up to massive results.

Ask your physical therapist if you need to review any posture suggestions, body mechanics, or home exercises before your trip.  If you are not currently in physical therapy and are experiencing pain that you are afraid may be exacerbated by upcoming travel plans, call ARC today to schedule a free consultation.

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