Why Old Habits Die Hard – Not Your Jagger Kind of Habits

Old Habits - SideStix

Our patterns of negative thinking are often based on unhelpful, well-practiced, old habits.

“I’m not that bad!” That’s what my mom would say about not wanting to use a wheelchair at the mall after her stoke. She’d say, “Just help me to that bench and I’ll sit.” It was a lot of work to run back and forth to Mom and show her what we wanted to purchase. Because of her stubborn habits, she also spent too much time alone.

To my attempts to change her mind about trying the wheelchair, I’d say to her, “Mom, where would I be without my forearm crutches.” She would retort, “Look at you! You need them!” It wasn’t until years later, forced in a wheelchair to tour a Newport Mansion, that my Mom discovered how much fun she had been missing. And what she missed by not being with us.

So, what keeps us from adapting to our mobility changes? I think it’s mostly our intuition over-riding our ability to be critical thinkers. Yep, its that internal dialog saying; “I’ll stick out and be seen as weak. I don’t really need this aide. I’ll get better. I don’t want to give in.“ Or something similar to these same unhelpful thoughts.

There is no doubt, acquiring a disability or losing function as we age takes a huge toll on our self-worth. We can feel inadequate and vulnerable. Layer that with choosing a tool that may make us ‘stick out’ and it becomes too much for some of us to handle. Especially, for those whose disabilities are not as physically obvious.

3 Habitual Thoughts that are Slowing Us Down:

1. Historically Speaking

Assistive mobility devices have a history of not being sexy or fashionable. Paired with centuries of ugly, evil people in folk tales, or disease (post-polio) and mobility aides have become hard for society to embrace.

Like high heels; we are willing to lose function for fashion. Yet, even in the world of high heel fashion, women are now becoming more pragmatic and only using heels for special occasions. Using assistive mobility devices such as forearm crutches pragmatically (i.e. for long walks or when needed) is slowly being adopted by many with MS, spinal injuries and high-end athletes to stay mobile.

2. Less is Best

Bill Byers, July’s AOM says, “After I compressed my spine, I went from the parallel bars, to crutches to two canes. Then to everyone’s delight, including my therapists, I went to one cane. But, my gait was very unstable, slow and I fell a lot. I lost confidence and stamina. So, I went back to two canes, but I quickly realized forearm crutches improved my stride. Sure, they were more bulky and remarkable to others, but it enabled me to do more. It didn’t take long for others to see this too.” Regaining stability and mobility enabled Bill to gain more confidence. Once he felt more self-assured, he began to go farther distances. He began to navigate uneven terrain, including cobblestone streets in Europe and his beloved hiking trails.

3. How I’ve always done it

Our intuition (fast, but often born of habitual thinking) can get in the way of critical thinking (slow, logical and looking at a variety of choices/resources to problem solve) and doesn’t always allow us to see all of our options.  We don’t always choose to take in the scientific and statistical evidence in order to validate the best choice.

As Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness says, we need to “Look for ways to challenge certainties our bias gives us. In our brains endless search for matches, ways to short cut to give us comfort and efficiencies. Your brain might reject information that might broaden our outlook. Its unconscious and intuitive. You’ve got to feel comfortable with conflict and consciously practice critical thinking”. She explains further in her TED Talk.

Facts are Facts

Using the right assistive mobility device can improve your stability, mobility, endurance (increase cardio) and well being. Dr. Carolyn Quartly’s video “Raising the Bar” is one of many testimonies that relays this fact.

It takes time to recognize the extent of one’s injury or loss of ability. It also takes time to find the courage to push outside our comfort zone and challenge our bias (often being re-enforced by societal norms). But, if your willing to question your intuition and critically explore all of your choices, you may be pleasantly surprised. Critical thinking has never been so sexy!

Sarah Doherty


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