Mastering Atomic Habits for Effective Daily Physio Exercises and Pain Reduction

Today I want to explore the fascinating world of habit formation and its practical application in the realm of physiotherapy and rehabilitation. I recently read a book by James Clear’s which I found to be quite groundbreaking called “Atomic Habits.” This book provides valuable insights into how small changes in behaviour can lead to remarkable transformations over time and the first thing that came to mind was how we can apply this to those pesky little physio exercises we get given that we know will help us, but our adherence to them slowly drops way with each passing day after that Physio consult.

So, let’s delve into the theoretical and practical aspects of using Clear’s principles to enhance your daily physio exercises and rehabilitation routines.

Understanding Atomic Habits:

Before we dive into the application of Atomic Habits in physiotherapy, let’s briefly recap the core principles that underpin building these habits into your daily routine:

1. Cue: A cue is the trigger that initiates a habit. It can be something as simple as a specific time of day, a visual reminder, or an emotional state.

2. Craving: Cravings are the desires or motivations that drive us to act. In the context of physiotherapy, this could be the desire for pain relief, improved mobility, or overall well-being.

3. Response: The response is the actual habit or action you take in response to the cue and craving. In this case, it’s performing your prescribed physio exercises.

4. Reward: Rewards provide positive reinforcement for completing the habit. This can be the immediate relief of pain, a sense of accomplishment, or any other form of positive feedback.

Applying Atomic Habits to Daily Physio Exercises:

1. Start Small: Begin with exercises that are easily manageable, even on your worst days. This minimizes resistance and makes it more likely that you’ll follow through. We as Physio’s often get caught out by trying to prescribe all the exercises all at once that we know will “fix” your issue. But le’ts be honest, no one will do 30 minutes worth of exercise every morning. Pick one or two “best bang for your buck” exercises that don’t require big setups, and can be done within the space of a minute or so.

A great example of this is the seated retractions for when you are at the work desk. It’s a brilliant circuit breaker to prime those key postural muscles in the shoulder to break up those protracted seated postures we often fall into, and takes no more than 20 seconds.

2. Create Clear Cues: Set a specific time and place for your physio exercises. For example, commit to doing them right after brushing your teeth in the morning. Or using an alarm to remind you to take those 20seconds to quickly break up a position or activate a muscle.

A great way to do this is setting up the hourly reminder to “Stand up” on your smart watch or phone. That quick little ding noise can start to become a great external cue to remind you to do a quick activation set for your glutes if you’ve been sitting for an extended period of time and your back is getting sore. Seated banded abductions is a good quick circuit break I like to use for this.

3. Visual Reminders: Place visual cues like a sticky note or a picture of your end goal in a visible location to remind you to perform your exercises.

A great one I use with my clients is to place a colourful exercise chart or post-it note on your bedroom wall or the fridge, highlighting the exercises you need to do. Each time you see it, it will serve as a reminder and a visual representation of your commitment.

4. Build a Habit Stack: Pair your physio exercises with an existing habit. For instance, if you’re already in the habit of having a morning coffee, use that as your cue to start your exercises.

The morning coffee or tea breaks in the day is a great way to habbit stack, using it as a cue to start your exercises. After pouring your coffee/tea, dedicate the time it takes to brew as your exercise window. This habit stacking technique links your physio exercises to an existing routine, making it more likely to stick.

5. Track Your Progress: Use a journal or a habit-tracking app to record your daily exercises. This helps you visualize your progress and stay accountable.

Now this one is often trickier as a bit of extra work is required. However, creating a simple exercise journal where you record the date, the exercises you completed, and any notes about your progress or how you felt during the session can be so effective. Over time, you’ll see the improvements and consistency, which can be a motivating factor.

Overcoming Challenges:

Physiotherapy and rehabilitation often come with challenges such as pain, fatigue, or lack of motivation. Here’s how to address them using Atomic Habits:

Reframe Your Cravings: Instead of focusing on the discomfort of exercise, shift your mindset to the positive outcomes it brings, such as pain relief and improved mobility.

Reward Yourself: After completing your exercises, reward yourself with something enjoyable, like a healthy treat, a few minutes of relaxation, or a favorite activity.

Accountability: Share your goals with a friend or family member who can help keep you accountable. Social support can be a powerful motivator.

Adaptability: Be flexible and adapt your routine to your current physical state. Modify exercises if needed, but don’t skip them altogether.


By applying these specific examples and Atomic Habits principles, you can tailor your physiotherapy and rehabilitation routine to your individual needs and circumstances. Remember that the key is consistency and gradual progression. Over time, these habits will become an integral part of your daily life, leading to improved health and well-being. Remember that small changes over time can lead to remarkable improvements in your physical well-being. So, start small, stay consistent, and reap the rewards of your newfound habits on your path to recovery and better health.

Joel Adelman – BeFit Training Physio Coogee

Joel Adelman – BeFit Training Physio Coogee

Joel Adelman is a physiotherapist based in Coogee in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. Joel has successfully treated musculoskeletal problems on the basis of a thorough assessment and diagnosis coupled with evidence-based rehabilitation programs tailored to the needs and goals of each individual. To book a consultation, click the link below.

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