Movement as behaviour
Written by Andy Cook – Foot Nerd and owner/clinician at Twin Cities Movement
Movement as Behavior
Do you ever wonder why you go the same way through the grocery store when shopping for food? The brain and the body tend to take the path of least resistance when operating at a daily level, because it uses less energy to mindlessly go through much of our day.
Habits are subconscious activities that came to be that way because of actions done over and over.
The body moves differently when it experiences pain, because pain is a signal that your brain wants something to change quickly. So you favor your ankle when you injure it, and end up with a slight limp, even when the ankle is healed. If you didn’t intentionally reinforce the normal movement when your ankle improved, you kept moving as if you had an injured ankle.
Since this isn’t the way you were designed to move, some muscles get tired and overworked, while others get sleepy and less active.
This eventually leads to pain, but it takes awhile, and by then, it is very much a habit.
In the office we use the Movement Method, an assessment process to figure out what habitual movements have been working towards the problem. We then test an exercise intervention, and follow that up with a quick reassessment. We do this for a couple reasons, the most important being the empowerment this brings to the patient.
With behavior modification, the closer the benefit is to the intervention, the more significant the change seems to our brain. This means that if you do something that leads to a positive consequence, you’re more likely to do it again.
In the office, this means if you do an exercise and it makes you feel better and improves your range of motion, you’ll start to associate the positive effect with the behavior, so you’re more likely to understand why we are prescribing you the exercise, and you’re more likely to do it at home.
When we give self-care advice, like in this blog, we encourage you to self assess before you try an exercise. This way you know if something helps right after you try it, because you have a baseline that you can compare to your new results.
The barefoot bodyweight squat is a great self assessment. Most of us should be able to squat, but there are a lot of reasons people would be unable to. Your ankles could be tight, your hips tight, your upper back stiff, the list goes on. The benefit is that the more you squat, the better you’ll get (it is a skill), and the restrictions will diminish. It can help with awareness of the body, and usually it starts to feel good.
This is not at all to say that a “good” barefoot bodyweight squat should be your goal. But it is a goal, and breaking it up into bite-size pieces (ankle mobility, hip control, upper back mobility), makes it more doable.
Behavioral Change– one habit at a time
Set the Goal
The first component of an effective goal is to name the goal well. It has to be precise. You have to know what you’re working toward, and specificity is key.
Starting to keep a journal to become aware of the effects of the changes you are trying to make can be very beneficial. Part of effective goal-setting is making your goals measurable. This is why, in the clinic, we test movements and then retest them following an exercise. We want to measure the change, as best we can.
It’s really important to start small. The small dopamine rush that comes from the satisfaction of doing something to accomplish your goals is much less than the dopamine rush of a delicious candy bar, so you have to let it build on itself. Set your goals, and break them up into bite-sized chunks, that are both easy to accomplish and easy to track.
Setting a deadline to a goal can be beneficial in a number of ways. When we “need” to do something, at some point, we get to keep putting off action until we run out of time. If we have a deadline, we need to pack everything into the time we have. Short deadlines can lead to more success, simply because you won’t forget what you’re working for, because it will be a smaller chunk of the overall goal. For instance, I have had an ever-growing list of household projects over the last few years. None of them have really gotten done, but now I have a hard deadline (guests coming for a wedding), so the list is getting done.
If anyone’s paying attention at this point, you’ll see that I’ve basically outlined SMART goal-setting. This can be a great way to make changes in behavior.
What are your goals?
Seriously. I can’t be the one to tell you what your goals are. You have to think about them. If you make your goals, especially after some real thinking, you’ll be much more inclined to try to accomplish them. What should you base your goals on? How about your values. Why do I want to be able to hold a barefoot, bodyweight squat for a couple minutes? Because doing so ensures that I will be able to keep the movement ability necessary for a life full of play (one of my own core values). It also helps me fulfill my desire to be near the ground, comfortable in nature, and able to be useful moving big things around to help people (for my other core values of nature, family, and relationships). You can see the thought process I go through sometimes, in order to decide what to spend my time and attention on. Because time and attention are valuable currencies these days.