Health and wellness are not just good ideas to write about and admire. They are the fruit of the attitudes and actions that people plant in their everyday lives. It’s of course better to plant good seeds. But if you’ve given up on that, for whatever reason, then plant something else. Better to take action, any action, than no action at all.
Before we move on, next week, to some very practical strategies for maintaining optimal health as we age, I want to write a bit more about one other pre-condition for success. In the past five weeks, we highlighted five important strategies for getting ourselves hooked on health:
— Play Attention. Attention games are critical to figuring out what things work, and don’t work, for us. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all prescription for optimal health, neither will our unique health imprint appear as if by magic. It takes active experimentation • hypothesis, perception and reflection — in order to call it into being. The sooner we take up the project of playing attention games, the sooner our health will improve.
— Get Interested. Of course, you’re not going to start playing attention games unless you get interested in health in the first place. Too many people take a fatalistic view: “I’ve always had high cholesterol. It runs in the family. And there’s nothing I can do.” Even many physicians harbor this attitude. But once you get interested in health you’ll discover a vast array of prospective strategies to experiment and play with.
— Get Support. It probably came as no surprise when I wrote about the importance of getting support for optimal health. Health is not a solo adventure! It takes adequate systems and resources in order to stay interested and engaged over time. Once your environment is so oriented and equipped, it becomes much easier to establish and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
— It’s Up To Us. Guess who determines whether any of this happens at all? It’s really up to us. No one can force us to play attention games, get interested, or get support in order to optimize our health (or to do anything else for that matter). Our choices make a difference. They cannot guarantee success, but they can make success more or less likely. It’s a question of responsibility and it’s not hard to improve your chances.
— Get Happy. Lest this all sound far too difficult, heavy, and burdensome, I reminded us last week that attention, interest, support, and responsibility can really be a lot of fun. It’s about shifting gears from the things our consumer society says are fun to the things we know, in our hearts, to be fun. Our flesh and spirit have the wisdom to know the difference, if we but take the time to listen. Different people will have different interests and desires, but when they come from the heart • when they are authentic and genuine • they will be nothing but joy.
Of course, these strategies have no value unless they are taken up and practiced. Health and wellness are not just good ideas to write about and admire. They are the fruit of specific attitudes and actions, which people plant in their everyday lives. Have you planted any new seeds of health and wellness since the start of this series? If not, why not? What are you resisting?
Perhaps you have heard the expression, “That which you resist, persists.” You may have some intuitive sense of how this works. By definition, resistance is “a force that opposes or slows down another force.” Unfortunately, and as most of us have experienced (just ask the parents of teenagers), directing your energy in this way often provokes a showdown rather than an actual resolution to the problem. Resistance can even add fuel to the fire, and make matters worse, as forces rise to meet each other.
This is as true in the political realm as it is in the personal. Just look at what’s happening between the United States and Iraq. As each side resists the other, the problem not only persists, but it grows in both scope and intensity. Resistance generates a spiral of violence, which may expend itself in a great conflagration before too long.
In the personal realm, just look at the five responses to death and dying identified by Elizabeth K•bler-Ross. Four of the five are resistance responses. (1) We can deny the reality. “This can’t be happening!” (2) We can scapegoat the reality. “You did this!” (3) We can bargain with the reality. “Save me and I’ll be good!” (4) We can despair of the reality. “How depressing!” People who never move beyond these four resistance responses have a hard time learning from and preparing for the experience of death and dying. Only people who (5) accept the reality can move through the experience with any semblance of dignity and design.
Ironically, we see the same phenomena when it comes to health and wellness. Some people resist change by denying the reality. They either don’t know, or don’t want to know, the truth about their health. “I’m afraid to go to the dentist!” Others scapegoat the reality, blaming their metabolism, spouse, upbringing, family history, or anything else that will let them off the hook. “The men in our family always die young!” Still others bargain with the reality, earning the right to ignore some areas by over responding in others. “I’m just too busy taking care of the kids to take care of myself!”
Despairing of the reality of health and wellness may be the most common of all resistance responses. Most people have tried, at least on occasion, to improve their health and wellness through eating better, exercising more, or reducing stress. They may have tried, for example, to lose weight, to quit smoking, or to control their diabetes. But if they don’t succeed, they may become so discouraged and depressed as to give up entirely. “I just can’t do it. There’s no hope. There’s no way.”
Do any of these factors sound familiar? Are you feeling resistance around issues related to health and wellness? If so, it may help to learn another lesson from holocaust survivor and logotherapist, Viktor Frankl. When Frankl worked with people who had irrational fears about doing something, he would often employ a technique called “paradoxical intention.” He would ask people, in all seriousness but with unmistakable humor, to stop resisting their fears and to plan to act them out.
If people were afraid of public speaking, for example, instead of trying to speak without fear he would ask them to plan to have the most fear possible while giving a speech. Paradoxically, by intending to produce the result they feared, they would actually deflate their anxiety and achieve new levels of personal mastery.
“Paradoxical intention” works with irrational fears because it breaks the cycle of resistance and persistence. I am intrigued by the possibility that it can work just as well for health and wellness. If we resist implementing one or more of the five strategies summarized above, perhaps we can plan to do the opposite in order to get ourselves back on track. Instead of playing attention games, for example, we could plan to notice absolutely nothing about what we eat, drink, or do throughout the day.
Sound laughable and crazy? Therein lays the key to its power. It’s easy to be mindless and distracted throughout the day. But planning to do so is an oxymoron. It creates enough cognitive dissonance to break the spell of defeat. What an interesting way to sneak up on health and wellness. Instead of battling the enemy head on, we can use “paradoxical intention” as one more action at our disposal.
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
That “USDA Organic” standard of 95% seems to leave a hole big enough to drive a truck through. What can the other 5% be • pesticide, hormone, etc.? I’m not sure that your readers should take comfort from a “USDA Organic” label. (Ed. Note: The “USDA Organic” label is an improvement over no standard, which resulted in some manufacturers putting “organic” on a product with only one organic ingredient. Organic fruits and vegetables are just that, 100% organic.)
Regarding your message about being happy, I thought you would like this quote from John Adams: “Griefs upon griefs! Disappointments upon disappointments. What then? This is a gay, merry world notwithstanding.”
I love to read your weekly issues. In every article, I learn something new. I wish you success with inspiring exercise. Keep up the good work.
Thanks for following your joy. Have you reflected how God uses our joy when the world so often seduces by appealing to illusions of joy? I think there is some role for “should” in terms of God’s will. Not the guilt inducing kind of should, but the invitation to enlightenment. (Ed. Note: I prefer to speak about finding true joy rather than about what we should do. You are right about the distractions of the world. Nevertheless, true joy still abounds.)
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
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