Motivate me.
January 21, 2010 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Mefites, how do I stay motivated and do my physio exercises?

Basically I've had some lower back pain from prolonged sitting at the computer. My physiotherapist prescribed a bunch of exercises (such as bird dog). I was told to them once or twice a day for 3 weeks. I manage to go for a few days and then "fall of the wagon". The thing is, I feel the effects, but can't maintain my progress. I'd like to do them in the morning, before work, but it's usually a mad dash out of the house. I usually try to do them at night, but I end up skipping a day, then two days and that's that.

So, the question boils down to, how can I hack my motivation for this particular case?

Thanks for reading.
posted by aeighty to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There's a technique called the Seinfeld Calendar that's pretty useful. Basically, put up a big calendar, and every day that you do your exercises, mark that day with a big X.
After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.
Do you have to do all the exercises at once? My dad has back problems that he does stretches and exercises for, and he breaks them up throughout the day - some he has to do at home or at the gym, but some he can do in an office or while doing errands.
posted by muddgirl at 8:36 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

This might be over-simplified, but can you change the way you think about it? Meaning, when you skip a night of brushing your teeth, you don't keep skipping it, right? (Right?) Eventually you brush your teeth. These back exercises are just one more thing you have to add to the list in your brain where you keep the brushing your teeth task, along with taking a shower and washing dirty dishes, etc. It's okay to skip a session here and there but making a habit of skipping just isn't really an option.
posted by juliplease at 8:52 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

This guy is watching the entirety of Dr. Who while he excercises (treadmill) and then blogging a review. It strikes me as a carrot-and-stick approach. He gets to watch a show he likes, and everyone will know if he slacks off (assuming he's honest about it.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:52 AM on January 21, 2010

The Seinfeld calendar sounds great (must try that myself for other things).

I got sloppy for rehab on my shoulder, with the result that I was still having some problems a couple of months ago, a year after diagnosis. I finally started doing my exercises faithfully when I moved the weights I use into the living room and started running through my exercises while watching Colbert. My shoulder is now damn close to 100% range of motion and strength.

Having the equipment out there is an obvious visual reminder on its own. And even if you don't have equipment for your exercises, associating them with another daily routine helps it stick.

My schedule is now:

1) Daily Show starts: take Advil and wait 30 minutes
2) Do rehab while feeling sad about being Canadian
3) Ice (ice, baby)
posted by maudlin at 8:59 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Re: The Seinfeld Calendar. A similar free online tool is something I found out about here on the green; Joe's Goals. I'm currently using it for the same thing; physio reminders.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:00 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if your doctor says to do X once or twice a day, do it just once so you make it a solid habit without feeling overwhelmed and sorry for yourself. Either you will make good progress on once-daily rehab (certainly more than you would if you're stop and start about it), or you'll feel so solid in your routine that you can safely add exercises to another part of your day.
posted by maudlin at 9:07 AM on January 21, 2010

I had a good routine with physical therapy exercises when I set aside time every day at 3 p.m. to watch the Guiding Light while I did them.

I would also say, remember not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I am supposed to do my exercises every day, but I find that I get really noticeable results if I do them 3-4 days a week. I don't let the fact that I don't do them every day stop me from doing them those 3-4 days.

The exercises on my list right now break down into some done in a chair, some standing in a doorframe, and some on the bed. Sometimes I will do the doorframe ones if I just happen to be passing through, rather than waiting to make the big decision to "do my exercises." If I do what a can when a small window opens, I do more overall than if I always wait for an official exercise time.

A hint I learned from a homeschooling mom with six kids is the idea of "pegging" an activity to something you always do anyway. She said she never could keep a time-based calendar, because with that many kids it's just too unpredictable. So she would "peg" an activity like reading aloud to something that always happens, even if not at the same time every day: having breakfast, for instance. I have found this useful myself. Is there something you can "peg" your exercises to in the evening, something you always do and are generally home for?
posted by not that girl at 9:37 AM on January 21, 2010

You say that you'd like to do your exercises in the morning, but that it's a mad dash. I recommend reconsidering. It's much easier to do it mindlessly first thing in the morning than to motivate yourself to do it later in the day. Have something enjoyable that you only get to do while exercising. (For me, that's reading a novel.)
posted by moira at 10:14 AM on January 21, 2010

Lack of movement / sedentary lifestyle is causing you pain and physical degeneration. You know what the remedy is because you've demonstrated that it works

It's not something you do for a while, and then you're fixed. It's a lifestyle change you have to incorporate.

I recommend putting up a sign where you'll see it that reads Daily exercise or pain and degeneration. Your choice.

No tricks, no clever hooks, just stare the truth in the face. Because if you choose "not in pain", then your exercises will become a priority and you will make room for them in your daily schedule.

If you don't choose from inside, I'm not a believer in the idea that external motivation produces lasting results.

Best of luck and power to you.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:28 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I feel like each AskMe answer I give these days starts off with the qualifier, "I have cerebral palsy..." (see previous posts for details), but in this case I really feel it's warranted to mention. Basically, with my condition, I've had to relearn how to walk 7 times, teach myself how to use my left arm/hand (instead of neglecting it) and been involved as a pedestrian in 2 hit and run car accidents that left me crumpled on the street/sidewalk. Essentially, physiotherapy is a big part of my life and I have to do it every day or I can't walk the next day.

Kids and adults are alike in the fact that doing physiotherapy stretches are simply not fun (or exciting) to do, even when we know it's good for our bodies. I asked my sister (who became a physiotherapist in part because of my medical maladies) how she ensures that her patients continue to do the prescribed exercises outside of the clinic or after she has discharged them. Her answer? "You can't. It's up to each person to do it themselves." It's very frustrating for her to see patients come back year after year with the same issues that could have been mitigated had they been continuing their stretches on their own time. I don't tell you this story to discourage or frighten you, but rather to look forward in your life - you don't want to spend years (and money) on physiotherapy that could have been prevented, do you? :)

Now onto your question of how to motivate yourself. After 25+ years of physiotherapy being a constant factor in my life my #1 suggestion is: Integrate it into your daily routine by doing other activities at the same time. My favourite orthopedic surgeon told me that secret (and he does hamstring stretches when performing surgery in the OR!) I find it's much easier (and fun) to do a handful of stretches at once rather that x reps of y stretch in one go. As a bonus, I find myself often doing extra stretches throughout the day without noticing.

Here are some examples from my day to day life:
a) I eat my breakfast standing up while reading the newspaper: Exercises completed? Hamstring stretches.
b) Walking to work, waiting for the streetlight to change or waiting for a bus: Exercises completed? Ankle rotations.
c) Taking an (uncrowded) streetcar/bus/subway: Exercise completed? Calf/Achilles tendon stretches - I don't sit, but rather find an empty area of the subway car to stand and stretch. The distance between each subway station in Toronto is the perfect "holding" time for my stretches.
d) Reading a Book/Watching a movie of TV show: Exercise completed? Bent/Straight leg raises or the Wall Sitting position
e) Hanging out with a friend? When tumble and I hang out (going for coffee/tea, flying a kite, etc.), he straightens/massages my frozen left elbow while we're talking and otherwise having a good time. We've reached that level of friendship where we don't care if it looks ridiculous to others, and he doesn't mind helping a friend out. Ask your friends to do the same! They still can talk to you while you're doing your stretches.
f) Learn how to skateboard. I'm not kidding, I'm learning to skateboard for the first time in my 20's (thanks to tumble) in order to improve my co-ordination and balance (current weaknesses). Seriously. Find a sport/exercise (yoga?) that mimics the motions your physio wants you to do. I joined yoga for that reason, but still do these exercises daily when the class does not meet.

I hope this helps! I know it's a struggle. Good luck!

On preview: Apologies for length!
posted by carabiner at 10:30 AM on January 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

Positive self talk.

Sometimes when you watch videos of high caliber athletes training, you see them talking to themselves in a very positive and motivating manner. A great example of this is Ronnie Coleman, who as you can see here in this youtube compilation, talks to himself the entire time he trains with very positive self talk.

"Light weight baby"
"Yeah man, I ain't messing around"
"Yeah buddy"
"Lets do this"
"Nothing but a peanut"

Provide a mechanism to give yourself internally occuring awards when you do rehab, talk about how good your back is going to feel, how strong you'll be, how good you'll look, how awesome you are, it doesn't matter just keep it positive.
posted by zentrification at 11:22 AM on January 21, 2010

Just as a datapoint - I had previously scoffed at the Seinfeld calendar thing, but started doing it myself recently and damn if it isn't satisfying to see all those x's in a row!

I also like the idea of tying it to something you already do. Like during a tv show, or while waiting for your coffee to brew, etc....
posted by grapesaresour at 2:06 PM on January 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks guys. A lot of great answers. I'll try everything :) Gotta get where I want to go!
posted by aeighty at 4:18 PM on January 25, 2010

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