How often do you think about which muscles you are using when you walk?
If you’re like most people, you typically think about it only if you are injured and feel pain in the movement.
This applies for most of our physical movements. We rarely think about which muscles we are using. Physical movement is a matter of habit — once we learn the movements, we do it unconsciously.
In general, this is a good thing. If you thought about the muscles you used in every single movement, you’d be in cognitive overload. Movement habits free our cognitive energy for the important things we need to do each day.
But these habits are not a good thing when your movement mechanics are dysfunctional. When you use the wrong muscles to move your body, you put yourself at risk of sustaining injury and creating long term damage. You also restrict your ability to build strength and inhibit your flexibility. In the long run, it becomes harder to move with ease and flow.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been working diligently to break my physical habits of dysfunctional movement patterns.
Breaking Habits Requires More Than a Process
Breaking habits is hard work, and breaking well-entrenched movement habits is the hardest habit-breaking work I’ve ever undertaken.
It’s not just about strengthening the weak muscles; the first step in any change is awareness of what needs to change. Simply developing awareness of the dysfunctional mechanics requires a lot of cognitive energy.
In my experience with successfully breaking sabotaging habits in other areas of my life, I’ve observed my process of habit change. And I’ve learned that far more important than the process have been the qualities I needed to cultivate to create lasting change. Without these qualities, the process won’t work.
3 Qualities You Need to Change Habits For Life
Here are three of the qualities you need to successfully break entrenched habits:
One of my yoga teachers, Justin Ritchie, always says,
You can’t rush anything you want to make permanent.
Lasting change happens slowly. You can’t push it through quickly. I’m finding this is especially true when it comes to the physical body. Slow shifts over time add up to big results.
In our fast-paced world of insta-results, this pace can feel plodding. Remember that this isn’t a race. You’ve got to cultivate patience to play the long game.
Lasting change requires persistent reinforcement of the new moves. Cognitively, this is a process of grooving new neural pathways.
Think of it like clearing a path in a blizzard. If you want the path to stay clear, you must keep shoveling the snow.
I’m creating new paths for signals to travel between the brain and the body. This isn’t a “once in a while” thing or a “when I have time” endeavor. To change patterns requires constant repetition of the new patterns.
I’ve been grateful that I already have a well-established morning fitness ritual, because my schedule already gives me time in the gym every day to do my homework and solo workouts. On top of that, I have sessions with Carlos, my physical therapist, almost daily.
Think about when you learned to walk — you didn’t learn to walk in one day. And you didn’t learn to run at the same time. It was trial and error. You walked a few steps and fell down. The next day you walked a few more. And so on.
Training new patterns is not just hard on the body; the real work happens in the brain. This is a cognitively-demanding process. The brain has its limits on what it can absorb at any one time. There’s no way it will make all the changes at once.
Breaking habits is hard work. You will fall off track. Regression is part of the process.
Those moments of regression are the part where so many people give up on quitting smoking, or drinking, or whatever habit they’re trying to break.
If you want to change a habit for good, you need to bring the quality of perseverance to your process, to get up and keep trying even when it feels like you’re not making progress.
If you’re patient, persistent, and persevere through the setbacks, you’ll be rewarded with progress. It might be small and hard to see, but one day you’ll look back and realize how far you came.