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Compounding Ourselves for the Better

exercises life matwork philosophy pilates

As Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly sing, "from little things big things grow" (If you're a non-Aussie & not familiar with the song of the same title I suggest you check it out as a great, short, history lesson)

I had a whole different topic in mind for this blog entry but got waylaid, as I often do, by an idea stemming from a quote I came across. Guess what, it's not the quote above, it's this one:

"The biggest generator of long term results is learning to do things when you don't feel like doing them."

This comes from a gentleman named Shane Parrish who is way smarter than I am but seems just as curious. He has a blog called Farnam Street and his podcast, The Knowledge Project, is one that I started listening to in 2020 while I was stuck on a ladder for endless hours painting bits of our house to spruce it up before we sold it.

The quote puts in a nice, tidy, nutshell what it's going to take for me to get some desired projects up and off the ground - yep, doing things when I don't feel like doing them. Good-o, my new mantra is all sorted :)

One of Shane's blog posts got me thinking about habits. You know, those things we always try to change at the beginning of the year - New Year's Resolutions anyone?

The premise, which comes from a book by author James Clear, (is this rabbit hole getting increasingly murky? sorry, no really I am!) is basically that we can compound ourselves just like interest on money and, that compounding reinforces what's already happening.

Here's how he puts it: "The neutrality of compounding is what makes it interesting — as we can get it to work for us. If we can replace a negatively compounding habit or mental discipline with one that’s neutral or positive, we instantly get better. And if we can accelerate positive compounding, we can really see the results."

Let's circle back up to Kev and Paul at the top of the page: “from little things big things grow” aka, small changes over time can make a big difference. Remember though, making those changes takes effort - especially when you don't feel like doing the things.

It's time to ask why habits are so hard to change. Why do the little things that we know we need to do, and would actually make us feel better, sometimes feel so hard to get started? How do we get going so we can take advantage of positive compounding?

Why does it feel so dang impossible to change your behaviour even if you feel totally committed and really, really want to? Well...

Photo by Jesse Martini 

Guess what? Turns out there's a scientific reason. It's because you have to change the neuron responses in your brain to change a habit. Basically to break a habit you have to replace the old one with a new one.

Here's a fun fact, if you've heard that it takes 30 days to change a habit, a study from 2009 shows that the actual average number of days is 66! Check out the full article here

(with that knowledge I'm giving myself close to three months before I assess how my positive compounding around my new goals is working - you with me? 


Alrighty, since the blog is called Pilates + Life + Health, let's explore these things in our Pilates practice.

A reminder, we’re talking about:

1. Doing things when we don't feel like doing them, i.e sucking up to the idea that we not only have to identifying where the gaps are in our Pilates practice, but we have to commit to trying fill them in, and…

2. Positive compounding, i.e. continuing to work through things that are hard, making headway in baby steps, so that all of a sudden, one day, we surprise ourselves and do the thing we never thought we could do, and...

3. To change a habit (or movement pattern) we need to replace the old one with a new one so we have to input something different into the brain, and...

4. It takes time! (on average 66 days so be kind to yourself)


I'll be honest, sometimes I don’t even really feel like getting down on my mat let alone tackling an exercise that I dread. (Leg Pull Front, I’m talking to you!) But, it’s pretty clear that we actually have to do the things we don’t want to do, otherwise the positive compounding is never, ever going to have the chance to help that particular skill or exercise. Agreed?

So, what to do, what to do, what to do?

Here are my suggestions:

Identify the exercise or skill that needs work. How to do this? Two simple ways:

1. Like me, pick the exercise you always avoid (I know, I’m a bloody genius!)

2. Pay attention to the correction(s) that your instructor always usually gives you every class or session. It will probably link to a skill that you’re not so flash at and that needs ahem, some attention.

If it's an exercise, ask yourself :

  • Why am I avoiding it?
  • Do I not understand the choreography?
  • Does it cause me discomfort?
  • Do I feel like I don’t have the strength/flexibility/body awareness/fill in the blank, to accomplish it?
  • Do I not want to look foolish as I attempt it? 
  • Or is there what I call an icky bit that you either rush through or blast through just to get it over with?
  • Where’s the gap?

As for the consistent correction or feedback:

  • What is your missing skill or your limitation?
  • Can you break it down?
  • Do you even understand the correction, i.e. does make sense to you? 
  • Is your brain telling you that you can't change?
  • Can you identify very specifically why it’s hard? 


Find some concrete things that will assist you to change your habits and take advantage of positive compounding:

PROPS are your friends and can give the body that little bit of support so you can work through your icky bit. Using a prop might offer your body a new or slightly different sensation that you can use to change those neurons, beginning the process of changing your not-really-helping-you-do-the-exercise previous movement habit.

An example: Me, Leg Pull Front, I hate it, it hurts my hyperextended knees so my assist is a foam roller underneath my legs as I lift my hips up. My eventual goal? Strong enough quads so I can hold my own legs up. 

(should you always use props? If they can help, for sure-sies but then you need to be aware that you might be relying on them too much so, it depends. (there's def a whole blog post I will write on props)

IMAGERY & VISUALISATION! I know some peeps don’t like it/don’t get it, but it’s been proven to work (again, a separate blog post is warranted…)

An example: You accelerate and crash on the way down in your Roll-Up. One image I give is to think of a string tied to the back of your waist pulling directly behind you as you roll. This encourages you to reach the spine back instead of down, hopefully allowing you more control on the descent. 

BREATH: I find this is usually underrated in how it can assist inside of an exercise. A lot of people when something is challenging either hold their breath or turn into puffer fish and lose the connection into their deep breathing muscles. (and yes, this topic deserves its own blog post too!!)

An example: Let’s use the Roll-Up again. Asking your body to do the whole thing on an exhale and not taking advantage of the lofty quality that the inhale can supply is unnecessarily hard. Make sure to take a full inhale and not just a sniff as you lift up into your Hundred curl. An image that works for me: imagine you’re wearing a life preserver and the inhale is it inflating to lift your head and chest up.


Alrighty, that's a lot of stuff to chew on but my hope is this post has helped you think about your Pilates in a new way. If it has please let me know in the comments and if you want more goodness delivered directly to your inbox then get yourself on my email list.

Be well, xBec


The opinions expressed and contained above are provided for information purposes only. The contents of this blog are not intended to amount to advice. Rebecca Forde & Dragonfly Pilates & Movement disclaim all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this post. 

cover photo by Fabian Blank, social photo by Linus Nylund  

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