It’s not rocket science, but this Provision draws the connection between the choices we make and the health we enjoy. Too often, we adopt a passive, unassertive, victim mentality when it comes to health. The doctors know best when bad things happen to us. But that mentality will only get us in trouble. Our choices make the difference.
If there’s a secret to creating and sustaining health, it’s the simple notion that our choices make a difference. What we eat and drink, whether and how we exercise, as well as when and if we orient ourselves around health are not accidents. They are choices. And they’re really up to us.
This truth has come home to me on many occasions and in many ways over the course of a lifetime. You are perhaps familiar, for example, with the story of Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the horrors of Auschwitz and other Nazi prison camps for three grim years. Why did Frankl survive while so many others perished, including virtually his entire family? He suggests that it had something to do with the choices he made.
Frankly frequently writes in his autobiography about the importance of the will to live, of humor, and of curiosity. People who lost these attributes, which required a measure of detachment from the unspeakable realities of their everyday life, did not survive.
Frankl also writes about the importance of choice. Apart from the luck of the draw, which was very real, Frankl notes that those who survived the death camps were those who made the inner decision to retain their human freedom and dignity. “Everything can be taken from a person,” Frankl notes, “but one thing: the last of the human freedoms • to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make.”
If Frankl had choices to make, and if those choices made the difference between life and death, how much more do we have choices to make? Our relationship to health is really up to us.
I remember visiting a friend in the hospital whose body was rejecting a new kidney. Twenty years earlier, he had gone through the same procedure, only to have his body reject the kidney transplant almost instantly and mercilessly. His immune system was just too tough. Now, in spite of all the medical advances in anti-rejection drugs, his body was doing it again. After two rounds of rejection, the doctors gave him little to no hope of going home with a functioning kidney. The kidney, they assumed was already damaged past the point of no return.
When I walked into the hospital room, my friend was despairing. After talking about the situation, I asked a simple question. “Have you prayed for the kidney to work?” To my surprise, the answer was no. “I’ve always felt that praying for myself was both selfish and inappropriate.” “What if one of your daughters was lying in this bed?” I asked. “Would you have trouble praying for her?” “No, I would not have trouble praying for her.” “Then what’s the difference?” I asked again.
My friend saw through the conundrum to a place of inner decision. At that very moment, with me still in the room, he not only prayed for the kidney to work but he took control of his own health and healing. What the doctors were doing was obviously not working. After a lifetime of kidney disease, my friend knew as much about his disease and his treatment options as anyone did. Therefore, he literally began directing traffic, telling the doctors what medications he wanted, in what dosages. He also kept on praying.
Since the transplant had already failed in the doctors’ eyes, they agreed to go along with my friend’s instructions. After all, they had nothing left to lose. Guess what happened? The kidney stabilized and even recovered its functionality. My friend walked out of that hospital a healthy man, all because he made different, more positive choices about his relationship to health and healing.
These stories of Frankl in the concentration camp and my friend in the hospital illustrate the power of choice. We are not victims of circumstance. As a marathon runner, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many races with a wheelchair division. I’ve even had the opportunity to talk with some of the wheelers and to listen to their stories. Invariably they hark back to a moment of decision. They could have chosen to shrivel up and die. As paraplegics, they had every reason to feel sorry for themselves. Instead, they chose life.
So too with Benjamin Franklin. As one of seventeen children with no more than two years of formal education and no inherited wealth, he could easily have remained, like his father, an obscure candle maker. Instead, he came to epitomize the ideals of material success, moral regeneration, and social progress. What made the difference? His choices. He chose to read and learn from the masters of his day. He chose to venture out and do something different. He chose to live by a strong set of virtues and values. He chose to experiment with his world, his body, and his life.
The ability to choose does not immediately nor even necessarily produce the conditions we desire. Frankl chose life but he was still in a death camp. My friend chose health but it was a long road, in some respects more than twenty years, before he got it right. Wheelers choose to compete but the training is arduous, especially at first. Ben Franklin chose to make something of himself with great effort, discipline, and not a few setbacks.
Our health and healing is no less a matter of choice for us than it is for anyone else. We too have the power to influence the condition and quality of life. Do we accept that responsibility? Increasing our awareness of the things that make for health, paying attention to what works and does not work for us, and surrounding ourselves with supportive systems and relationships will not happen by accident. They don’t just fall into our lap. The odds are even worse than winning the lottery.
But a simple decision, to take responsibility for these things, changes the odds from a long-shot to quite likely. We can influence whether or not the universe works for us or against. I believe in the power of life to pull us forward rather than backward. I believe that there is a Spirit in life that is on the side of goodness, peace, and joy. That’s why I sign LifeTrek Provisions this way each week! But I also believe that our choices make a difference as to whether or not we take full of advantage of that Spirit.
This applies to health as well as to every other desirable aspect of life. Whether we walk out of that hospital room with more or less health, apart from the luck of the draw, has a lot to do with our choices. The more passive we are in relationship to our health, the less health we will enjoy. The more we learn about health, and the more we choose to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, the more health we will experience and exude.
As with Frankl, my friend, the wheelers, and Franklin, our choices will not always make health easy or automatic. But our choices can improve our chances. Our choices can make life both more responsive and more responsible. As someone who often coaches people around issues related to health, healing, and wellness, I can testify to the power of choice. Choose health. It can make all the difference in the world.
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Reader’s Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. These selections do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. They do reflect the diversity of those who read Provisions each week for support and strength on the trek of life. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
I’m enjoying your newsletters. I wonder if it would make sense to compare the accretion of health, which comes from good health habits, with the benefits of compound interest. I think that people that have been particularly focused on dollars as a yardstick of success might be able to relate to that way of thinking about health. I saw a piece earlier today • an excerpt from the Finish Rich Workbook • that talks about the value of saving a dollar a day. It claims that at 10% interest it will compound to $1 million in 56 years. It seems to me that good health is like that. A little extra effort every day will add several years to the average life. How many people at the end of their lives would pay a million dollars for a few more years? (Ed. Note: A perfect analogy that fits in well with this week’s Provision. Thanks for moving the conversation forward.)
Your newsletters have been providing me with interesting insights and inspiration for almost 7 months now. Thank you! I was inspired to write in response to this week’s message because of the contrast between my agreement with your statement, “You’re probably not saying to yourself right now, “What a surprise! …” and my reaction to the Wellness Pathway (“Brush your teeth”) which was exactly “WOW, What a surprise!” Who would have thought that there was any connection at all between brushing our teeth and strokes! Thank you and keep up the excellent work. (Ed. Note: Thanks for the encouragement and the recognition.)
I saw an article in today’s WSJ about a personal “owner’s manual” being used by some executives and it made me think of you. I think the owner’s manual is a great idea and could work for family members as well as on-the-job. Self-assessment can be a good thing. I wanted to make sure you saw the article. I enjoy getting the Life Trek Provision each week. Thanks for writing it.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
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