One of the side effects of chronic pain is how it affects our sense of motivation and follow through.

Many of my clients talk with me about the feeling of “why bother?” They get beaten down by the pain, and an undercurrent of helplessness and/or hopelessness begins to wash over their lives and their attitudes.

makebedmemeHabits and intentions for living better begin to erode. Eating healthy food, making sleep a priority, even modest physical movement, begin to seem like too much, or things that don’t make a difference.

But they do.

Our habits sustain us and help provide the framework for feeling better, if not physically, at least emotionally.

The good news is that it doesn’t take much to start an upswing in this cycle.

In her book The Happiness Project  Gretchen Rubin talks about the simple habit of making her bed each morning, and how that contributes to a sense of well being and accomplishment.

Making your bed?? Well, yes.

Charles Duhrigg in his book The Power of Habit writes about “keystone habits.” Theses are small choices that we make consistently that become some of the structure or architecture of our daily life. Our keystone habits have an extentension effect helping other positive habits take hold.

I think of a client who decided to give up soda in order to improve her health. What I liked about her decision is it was small, measureable, and easy to monitor. She felt such a sense of accomplishment that she began to walk every morning. Each of these new habits began with an intention and then spread.

Another effect of these small decisions to make a healthy change is they also improve our attitudes. That feeling of helplessness or hopelessness is directly countered when we make our bed, or do the dishes in the sink before we go to bed.

These little actions say to ourselves “I matter. My environment matters and has an effect on how I feel. So I am going to do one thing  that I can every day to make a difference.”

When we live with chronic pain, these little actions may feel like drops of help when we need buckets. Again the “why bother?” voice may intrude.

One client of mine has a hard time with that inner voice. So she found ways to support herself – using me as her therapist and coach, a friend, and someone in her family to remind her that her decision to work on three small habits was worth doing. She chose to meditate for 10 minutes in the morning, tidy her bedroom every night before bed as part of her sleep routine, and eat lunch sitting down (instead of over the sink) four days a week.

Yes, small actions, but they each required a choice to act a little differently. She wrote them down so she would not “forget” and made a check mark every day when she did them (Keeping track of what we accomplish when we say we’ are going to is another powerful motivator. I like to encourage clients to use stickers or stars, but she wasn’t into that!).

The effect of her work? She slowly began to create keystone habits for three times of the day that helped her feel more in control of her life, and yes, a little happier.

Did it cure her pain? No. But she started to feel a little better.

And that counts for a lot!

As always, let me know if any of this speaks to you and your life.