What Behaviors Do You Want to Modify?

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

One of the best courses I took in university was Behavior Modification.  Our main project was to modify one of our own behaviors over a four month period.  Personally, I had a dog and wanted to develop a better walking routine.  So, over the four months I mapped out several walking routes that increased my time spent walking on a weekly basis.  By the end of the four months, I was walking my dog two hours and twelve kilometers a day.  Research indicates that it takes four months to develop a new habit, so by the end of the course my new walking routine became standard practice and something I did religiously with my dog (and then dogs) until I had my family and needed to develop a new routine.

Often, when our regular routines are interrupted by disability bad habits develop.  While not immediate, over time days can become more and more unproductive until soon very little is getting accomplished.  This has a drastic impact on mental health and impacts all areas of physical, cognitive and emotional functioning, let alone the impact on those that we live with.

The best way I have been able to help clients to break such routines is to simply have them track how they spend their time.  Once this is documented, people can quickly identify the problems areas and then together we discuss how to fix them.  For example, through tracking for a week, one client discovered that she does not shower, one found that he watches ten hours of TV per day, and another learned that she does not eat during the day, but consumes junk food all evening.  In every case, people discovered something about their routine that drove them into action for change.

So, if you are concerned that your routine is lacking in productivity, self-care or leisure, or there are activities you would like to resume or goals to achieve, just keep a log of how you spend your time.  After a week, reflect on your log and make a list of the problem areas.  Commit to making small changes (start with the easiest changes first) and over time, you will see huge improvements in how you feel about yourself and your routines.  Or, for a more structured approach, consider hiring a professional to assess your suitability for the Progressive Goal Attainment Program.  This program involves using time tracking over 10 weeks to completely revamp routines to reduce psychosocial barriers to recovery, improve mental health and reduce disability caused by chronic pain.