Give Yourself a Win!
Client: I want to work out 6 days a week but I missed 2 days this week, so I gave up.
Me the Physiotherapist: How many days a week have you been working out in the weeks before?
Client: Zero, it’s been months since I’ve worked out consistently.
Me the Physiotherapist: That’s such a great goal. Maybe we can restructure it in a way that makes it a little easier for you to achieve it as you are just starting to get back into working out. Think about giving yourself a win! It is important to set realistic goals for ourselves not just to allow our physical bodies to adapt but our mental and emotional selves as well. Start small. It is better to achieve a goal easily and then set your sights higher than fail to meet your first goal and feel defeated.
Client: Huh, I didn’t think of it that way before. I just know I am supposed to work out 6 days a week so I thought I should start with that goal.
As a Physiotherapist, people seek my advice and guidance on how to address their pain and get back to the activities they enjoy. I often have versions of the conversation above with my clients when they feel defeated for not meeting one of their goals or when they are creating their goals and next steps.
Tips for creating meaningful and achievable goals:
An important part of my management approach is planning a persons’ activity and exercise routine. Crafting plan that addresses one’s physical needs, builds strength and endurance, and improves mobility where needed, is the first step. A program that is realistic (aka ‘doable’) is essential. Plans and goals will only work if they are generated by the person who is going to do them! Expecting someone who does not like to run, who only runs ‘because they have to’, to work up to running 5 days a week is a failure waiting to happen. Instead find out what motivates the person. Maybe it’s walking in the neighborhood with their dog. Creating a goal that involves this preferred activity is step 1!
Step 2 is about finding a frequency that will be achievable for that person, on the short term. Let’s continue with the dog walking example. Instead of setting a goal to walking 10minutes more EVERY day your client walks their dog, instead set a goal to add 10mintues more EVERY OTHER day your client walks their dog. This gives some flexibility to the plan and allows for a slowly progressing activity load.
Now let’s be clear, not all wins are created equal. The win can’t be perceived as too easy of a win. Whether the task is lifting weights or performing a movement or stretch, it must be challenging enough to appropriately stress the physical systems and at the same time the task needs to register with the brain as being challenging enough that when it is achieved it is perceived as valid win. It is important that these wins are both successive (occur in different areas of their program) and cumulative (they can see the exercises building in complexity and challenge). This is where the expertise of a Physiotherapist in matching the appropriate activity to the individuals’ current abilities and health status is crucial. It is the individualized approach to care that makes an individuals’ goals possible!
One final tip. I have found that my clients are more successful when I have been clear about the benchmarks we are working towards. When I have clearly posted signs for them on their road to recovery (or road to constant improvement) they are able to keep their eyes to the horizon, achieving and acknowledging the multiple wins along the way.