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Part 1 of 3 in the series, How Can Short Breathing Exercises Help You?
If you’ve downloaded the free Basic Breathing exercise and given it a try, you might be wondering, now what? How do you motivate yourself to implement relaxation in your daily life? In this series of three articles, I’ll go through the fundamental components that will help you add relaxation to your daily routine. We’ll look at motivation, routine and habit formation.
Learn what motivates you
If there was one way to motivate someone to make healthy choices everyday, we’d all simply follow this advice. But we all respond to stimulus differently, so a more individualized approach is necessary. Step one is learning what motivates us. Here are a few guiding questions to ask yourself (it can be helpful to have your answers written down to refer to later):
- Why have you sought out relaxation techniques? What attracted you? (For example, a recommendation from your doctor, advice from a friend, an article or book you read citing research supporting the benefits, etc.)
- What feels rewarding to you? When you do something worth celebrating, how do you usually respond? (For example, an edible treat, a drink, movie time, date night or a night out with friends.) What else could you use as an incentive (that is small and within your budget)?
- Do you respond to goal setting? When you have a deadline or something specific to work towards, does that motivate you? Or are you someone who prefers a simple checklist or a schedule? How do you prefer to “get things done?”
- What have you done in the past to motivate yourself? What has worked and what hasn’t? Are you influenced more by internal or external motivation? (For example, an internal cue is satisfaction knowing you’re improving your health, while an external cue is a notification on your Fitbit congratulating you on doing 10,000 steps each day.)
Now take those answers and start connecting them to relaxation.
Example one: Let’s say you were attracted to relaxation because you kept hearing that deep breathing can help reduce stress and anxiety, which you struggle with. And say you usually reward yourself with a treat and respond well to to-do lists. You’ve tried goal setting before and it didn’t work but you love checking things off a list.
What to try: Make a to-do list and include “relaxation exercise” every day. Check it off each day that you are able to do it. Post the article or leave the book out that first appealed to you, as a visual reminder of why you have made this a goal for yourself.
Also include a small reward: a healthy snack that feels special (if you have a sweet tooth, maybe fresh berries; if you crave salty foods, maybe a handful of salted nuts) for the times you complete a relaxation exercise. Or give yourself a larger reward each week for completing 5 out of 7 days of relaxation, for example.
This helps you associate relaxation with something positive and pleasurable. You can phase out the reward once the benefits of relaxation themselves are reward enough.
Example two: Maybe a friend introduced you to a relaxation technique and has been encouraging you to try it. You like setting goals for yourself, which has worked in the past, and socializing is a motivator for you.
What to try: Ask your friend to join you in creating a goal to help you each implement relaxation into your daily lives. The goal could be something like: I will do the Basic Breathing exercise everyday at noon for the whole week. Make it specific with a time of day and frequency, and start out small to make it achievable.
Your weekly reward could be to meet (online if necessary because of Covid-19 restrictions) to discuss your progress, if you’ve noticed any benefits, and to set a new goal for the next week (even if it’s to repeat goal #1). Doing this together helps keep you accountable and motivated. Use the rest of the time to simply hang out and catch up!
Knowing yourself and what motivates you is a key factor in creating new, healthy habits, which I’ll write about later in this series. For now, keep trying different things to find out what works best for you.
Featured relaxation exercise:
Neal, D. T., Wood, W., Labrecque, J. S. And Lally, P. (2012) How do habits guide behavior? Perceived and actual triggers of habits in daily life. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 48, pp. 492–498.
Schmidt, S. K., Hemmestad, L., MacDonald, C. S., Langberg, H. And Valentiner, L. S. (2020) Motivation and Barriers to Maintaining Lifestyle Changes in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes after an Intensive Lifestyle Intervention (The U-TURN Trial): A Longitudinal Qualitative Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 17 (20), p. 7454.