Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Adding a New Activity to a Daily Routine

This is the time of year when people are struggling with their resolutions (or have given up!). Often, people want to add something new to what they are doing every day. It could be taking a new medication or vitamin, checking the calendar for activities regularly, brushing or flossing, taking out the garbage, exercising, practicing a new skill such as mindfulness or meditation, using a SAD light, or many other things.

One of the best ways to incorporate a new activity on a regular basis is to make it part of your already established routines. If you think about it, there are already many things you do every single day.

I encourage clients to link the activity they would like to do with a specific activity they already do every day. The morning cup of coffee is one of the best activities I have found to link things to. If a person drinks coffee, he or she is not likely to forget that first cup, and is likely to still be at home for it.

If the person you are working with does not drink coffee, or wants to do the activity at a different time of day, you might need to be a bit more creative. Some people have taken medication for so many years that it is an established routine you can link to. Hygiene activities can work, as well as meals e.g. every night after supper I will...

It is important to take into consideration what time of day might be best to do the activity as well. Some things (like checking the calendar) need to be done first thing in the morning, whereas others are more flexible.

Our energy levels can vary throughout the day, so if it is something that requires a lot of energy, it is important to plan it for a time of day when energy levels are high. For example, I often feel tired right after supper, so this would not be a good activity for me to link to exercising.

Visual cues can be placed where the person does the activity that you are linking to. For example a sticky note on the coffee-maker, bathroom mirror, or medication bubblepack can be a great reminder.

Here is the catch though: people stop seeing things that they see every day. It is a process called habituation. We could cover the home with sticky notes, but if the notes do not change, within a few days the person will not notice them anymore.

The way to prevent habituation is to change the visual cues regularly. You can change the colour, size, or placement. I have printed out varied signs on varied colours of paper and then placed them all in a plastic sleeve that shows one at a time. This makes it easy to quickly change which page is on top to keep it fresh. Additionally, sticky notes come in a variety of sizes, colours, and patterns.

It can be really difficult to incorporate new activities on a regular basis, but hopefully some of these tips will be helpful.

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