1% of Change Per Day
At the beginning of a new year, we are all called upon to contemplate change, but what are the actual mechanisms involved in change? What does it mean to change by 1% each day?
I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. It is a fascinating book, examining biology, psychology, and neuroscience as it explores the the formation of new habits, the breaking old ones, and the process that eventually changes one’s core identity and self-concept. Clear’s message is that incremental change has a powerful effect over time due to the “compound interest effect.” Small actions that are consistent will stack up, and these processes will rewire the brain until one’s outer world mirrors the inner world — the process through which one’s self concept is transformed.
When I read this, I immediately thought, this is exactly what we are doing with Myofunctional Therapy!
Myofunctional therapy is neurologic re-education. And it isn’t just about exercises or techniques. At its core, the therapy addresses the habits people have that impact function, form, pain scale, and ultimately, quality of life. Think of someone who sleeps on their side for many years— you may see the effects of this habit show up on the face or with the teeth. One side of the face may look fuller while the other side is flatter; or the teeth are caved in, showing signs of palatal collapse. Now, these changes didn’t appear over night. It was the “compound interest effect” over time. The act of side sleeping night after night exerts pressure on the face and bones (and TM joint) potentially diminishing the oral cavity volume and affecting tongue space. You will also likely see teeth tipping inward.
When we try to correct side sleeping and encourage back sleeping, it no doubt is a practice that is hard to keep. But, according to James Clear, the small actions we do on a daily basis have a 1% of change impact per day. So reversing the effects of side sleeping by sleeping on one’s back may not show change right away; the change is incremental. You won’t see the face gaining symmetry within one week — it is likely three months or more before you will really start to see the change.
Same with exercises. Working on a tongue thrust through exercises that train people to push the tongue up into the palate won’t show change right away. But day after day, and week after week, these small changes will really start to become visible further along. You will likely see the teeth or the open bite close and even the mentalis muscle become less strained. Gradually, as the patient gains more control and strength—through hard work— they see that the work pays off, they can make changes in their lives, and the best part, their self-confidence grows.
Myofunctional therapy not only changes the neurologic patterns around chewing and swallowing, but because the therapy is also built on a therapeutic alliance between client and therapist, self image and quality of life improves. The hard work people put into it has a direct impact on their sense of responsibility and control. They see they can actually change and guide their own health trajectory. It really is the best feeling when your patients thank you for helping them feel better about themselves and their life. And this happens a lot!
As a therapist, it’s important to keep encouraging your patient. You have to cheer them on and figure out ways to to motivate them to keep going. 1% of change per day feels really small. But built over months and a full year of therapy, the impact is profound! Atomic Habits tag line is this: Tiny changes, Remarkable Results. This is so very true!
As we move into 2021, think about the 1% of change effect. I highly recommend you read Atomic Habits. It is an inspiring book not just as a therapist, but as someone who is really interested in the mechanics of change, and how we can strive for improved conditions no matter what area we focus on.