“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken”
– Samuel Johnson
Today we are going to talk about two sides of the same coin: change. More specifically, how insidious seemingly small actions or symptoms can build over time to the point where we wonder what and where things went wrong. Yet on the flip-side how we expect everything to revert back to its previous state in the matter of days or weeks.
As you read through this article there is one concept I want to really sink in and that is that the habits and changes that happen slowly and consistently over a long period of time are the ones that stick. These are the changes that we don’t see coming until one day we can no longer deny them.
This is a truly important and empowering concept because it means we have a whole lot more control over our own health than we may think. And the sooner we can understand this, the sooner we can come face-to-face with our own habits, then the sooner we can recognize how they may be influencing our life and make long-lasting, positive change.
Insidious Change Over Time
I am a pelvic health physiotherapist so I will speak often about issues women face when it comes to the pelvic health, but the concepts I’m speaking about today can be true for other aspects of behavioural change.
I’m so fortunate to work with and be able to help incredible, strong, powerful women who come to me for help with a variety of health issues ranging from minor to quite debilitating. In my years of working with these amazing clients one reoccurring story keeps coming up that sounds something like this:
“I don’t remember when it started. There was no one event or one memory I have of leaking/pain/discomfort. But somehow along the way it has become my normal. It has become something I now deal with everyday.”
“If I think back I can remember small incidents of leaking/pain years ago. But I just brushed it off. And then yesterday I completely emptied my bladder unexpectedly while I was at work and I could not stop it. It was so embarrassing and it was the last straw. I’ve waited long enough for help, enough is enough.”
“I skipped going to the gym when I was slammed with work while on deadline for a big project and somehow never got back in to my old habit again. That was seven years ago.”
These statements (or similar versions) may sound familiar to you. The truth is we’ve all likely said something to ourselves along these lines. I think it is almost some sort of invincible fallacy – we simply don’t appreciate how much things will effect us. If we experience something negative (leaking when coughing, pain during sex, or a tweak in your knee) or make a choice to skip something positive (going to the gym, going to sleep at a reasonable hour) we try to logically justify why it happened or why it wouldn’t matter for us, because we’re different! We say things like:
“Oh, my bladder must have been REALLY full just then, and wow, that was one STRONG cough. Anyone would have leaked a bit with that one!”
“I know I shouldn’t really strain hard to lift up this box or really push to have this bowel movement, but I’m in a hurry and it won’t make a difference if I do it just this one time, right?”
“I’m beat. I’m going to skip the gym just this one time. Don’t they say that sleep is more important, anyway?”
It’s logical. It makes sense to us. And it really will be just this one time (or so we tell ourselves). But then after we brush off that one time (that first episode of leaking, that first episode of pain, the first time we go against what we know we should do) then the second time seems easier to justify too. Then the third.
See where I’m going with this?
We either do it entirely unintentionally (whether it be because we don’t notice or we don’t think it matters), or we do it intentionally but ignorantly – not realizing just how much of an effect over time these choices can have on our health and wellness habits.
This is the curse of small, slow change over time because we simply don’t recognize how important each individual decision, or each individual warning sign our body is telling us, is. And when we finally realize, when we finally take an objective look at what we are experiencing, what our body is telling us, or how we are feeling, when we finally are ready to do something about it, to improve our health, our habits, that is when we need to take a hard look at the flip-side of the coin.
Positive, Long-Term Change Takes Time Too
Have you ever dropped a behaviour after only a few weeks (or days) because it just wasn’t leading to the results you wanted as quickly as you expected?
I think the truth is we all have. But remember, you didn’t lose your shoulder mobility in a week so it is going to take longer than a week to get it back. You took 9 months to grow your beautiful baby girl so it is going to take longer than 6 weeks to look like your pre-pregnancy self.
The magic pill doesn’t exist. That vibrating chair you sit on for 30 minutes that claims to make your muscles contract to the equivalent of “11,000 Kegels” isn’t going to cure your incontinence. That crazy restrictive diet you’re going on isn’t going to be sustainable. Going so hard at the gym you injure yourself and can’t continue is only going to set you back.
The truth is the magic pill to success really isn’t all that sexy. It’s doing things that are good for your body day in and day out. Making positive choices and working with a coach (like a pelvic health physiotherapist, an orthopaedic physiotherapist, or a fitness and nutrition coach depending on your goals) who can guide you, progress you, and support you as you consistently work towards your goals.
I’m not saying this is easy. It most certainly is not. You may go through periods where you think it isn’t working, where you think that nothing is changing and that all of your hard work has been in vain. But then, one day (just like we talked about earlier), you will realize just how far you’ve come and wonder when exactly it all happened. But this time you won’t be sad and frustrated, but proud and empowered.
Remember the power of small change over time. How negative habits can creep in without us realizing, or how the positive ones can overcome. “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”