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New Year / New Habits: Laying Down a ‘New Trail’ in 2019

By Erica Demarch - December 31, 2018

I wanted to share an inspiring post I read from Anna Louise-Bouvier on LinkedIn.  I think it’s quite fitting as we all reflect on our goals for the New Year. 
She wrote: “I always find it fascinating to explore the relationship between the ‘habit’ research and the ‘addiction’ research. The path to laying down new positive habits is so relevant to understanding the paths we lay down to change bad habits. Whilst they are different in many ways there are also some commonalities.”
Below is a beautiful analogy that relates to someone trying to stop drinking, but you could also relate it to building any new habit. As health professionals, we understand how important it is to help people lay down new hiking trails in their brains ... whether it’s exercising, mindfulness, sleeping, eating or any of the other positive health behaviors we try to build.

Just as a path becomes smoother and simpler to navigate with each use, newly formed habits get easier and more natural with time. It’s simply a matter of continuing down that path we wish to travel until it becomes clear.
What habits do you hope to clear a path for in 2019?
It’s so important for us to lay down new “hiking trails” in our brains ... be it exercising, mindfulness, sleeping, eating or any of the other positive health behaviors we try to build. It may be a difficult or slow path in the beginning, but the more we do it, it will become more comfortable and easier.
As I reflect on 2018 and look forward to 2019, I am planning to start new exercise habits, one step at a time. My first step in this plan is to add daily stretching.
Make a Habit of Stretching
We all know stretching is good for us, especially if we have postures such as sitting for a long time at a desk, carrying a child, participating in a recreational activity or sport like biking or running, etc.  We know there are so many benefits to stretching; it increases blood flow, flexibility and range of motion, and even reduces stress. If we are more flexible in our spine and legs, we also have better balance and can use our equilibrium strategies (ankle, hips and stepping) more efficiently.
We know how important it is for us to add stretching to our daily routine, yet why aren’t many of us doing it? Our lives get so busy that we end up skipping this important and quick step. How do we make stretching a habit?
I’m a physical therapist and even I’m guilty of omitting a good stretch. I watch my young children and even my dog stretch before they get up, but why don’t I do the same? Most mornings, I am in such a rush to get my day and my family’s day started that I just dive right in. Do you do the same? (Perhaps you do stretch right when you wake up, and if so, CONGRATS – you are one step ahead of me!)
Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit talks about the framework of forming a new habit:
• Identify the routine • Experiment with rewards • Isolate the cue • Have a plan
Let’s use this framework to start a habit of stretching:
Identify the routine: You can start by trying some of the exercises in this video of stretching in the doorway. 
Video of stretching in the door frame
Experiment with rewards: This may be different for each of you. It may be as simple as you feel better/more balanced, maybe you perform better at a sport, or you look better with improved posture.
Isolate the cue: The cue is a reminder to do stretches. Perhaps it’s every time you walk through the doorway of perhaps your bedroom or bathroom. I like to start after a habit I already do, such as after I brush my teeth or while I’m waiting for my morning coffee.  There you have it - my plan is to stretch while I’m waiting for my coffee in the am and after I brush my teeth at night!
Have a plan: When are you going to stretch? Let’s start today! My plan is: every morning and night, waiting for my coffee and after I brush my teeth, I will do my doorway stretches (extend, sidebend and rotate). The doorway provides feedback on foot position (wide or narrow stance will change your stretch) and can help you deepen your stretch by reaching higher or moving your hips to the side to touch the doorframe.  

Please comment and share your plan for a new healthy habit!