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Are You Missing This Critical Key To Sustainable Wellness?

Last week, I made the claim that attitude is the first wellness. In a nutshell, I proposed that, unless we are willing to take responsibility for our own choices and change the behaviors that have been impacting our wellness in a negative way, our health will deteriorate over time.

Your willingness to change is the determining factor.

This week, I want to take it a step further.

One Step Further

Let’s get down to the “why.”

Why do you want to be healthier?

People fall into two camps when they answer this question, and how they answer tells me a lot about how they are going to progress:

  1. People in the first camp want to be healthy because they are afraid of dying. They may have had a frightening brush with a heart attack or cancer, or their cardiologist told them they need to lose 25 pounds. So they start eating healthier and join a gym. They may not like the new lifestyle, but they keep it up as best they can because they don’t want to die.
  2. People in the second camp take proactive steps to improve their health because they want to make the most of their lives. They aren’t just avoiding death, they are enjoying life.

Guess which one is more sustainable.

Attitude Is The Difference

This is where attitude plays a role again. If you are making the bare minimum lifestyle adjustments to prolong your life, but you are complaining about giving up your favorite foods or having to exercise, then you are going to have a difficult time keeping it up.

On the other hand, when my patients who had to make some pretty significant lifestyle changes (like diet or movements) did so with a good attitude, it wasn’t long before they started to recognize that they felt so much better. Feeling better was a key to sustaining the change.

Humans are naturally drawn toward things that feel pleasurable. That’s why drugs and social media is so addictive. But it work in the positive as well: if you change a behavior pattern and it makes you feel better, you are more likely to continue doing it.

Pleasure Is A Start, But It Isn’t Enough

Still, even pleasurable feelings wear off over time. The first hit of a drug is usually overwhelming — that’s why people get hooked. But the second hit never has the same effect as the first, so you have to increase the dosage to get the same result. The same is true with many pharmaceuticals. Your doctor will call it “dose titration.” In order to sustain a result, you have to “titrate” or increase the dosage consistently.

That’s why feeling better is not enough to keep your wellness program going indefinitely. There has to be another supporting factor.

That factor is your “why,” and as we already saw, fear is not a strong enough why. If you love junk food more than you fear to die of a heart attack, you will eventually go back to eating junk food. Even fear gives in to pleasure at some point.

So, what is your “why?”

Nutrition Is Not The Only Wellness Factor

Several years ago, a researcher named Dan Beuttner, under the auspices of the National Geographic Society, conducted a worldwide research project where he identified regions of the world where unusually high numbers of people lived to be over 100 years old in good health. They called them the Blue Zones. If you’ve been following my blog or attended any of my classes, you’ve heard me talk about it. He found communities in Greece, Italy, Japan, and one in the United States.

His team found that there were nine factors that were common to all of the Blue Zones. What’s more, at least one of the nine factors was noticeably absent from all the other communities they studied. This research changed my life, my practice, and everything I knew about wellness.

Not surprisingly, one of those nine factors is healthy movement, and three have to do with nutrition. What was surprising to me (and to many others, I’ve come to find out), is that the other five have to do with mental, emotional, and relationship wellness. You can eat right and exercise and still not enjoy a long life if you have no purpose for your life if you don’t manage your stress and if you don’t live in community with others.

So we’re getting closer to our “why.”

The Bondage Of Habits

I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a patient who didn’t have at least one lifestyle habit they wanted to break. I’ve worked with smokers, people who ate too much, and people who were addicted to things like video games, porn, shopping, and work. Most of them know their behavior is bad for them and are too ashamed to tell anyone about their struggle, but don’t want to let it go. When I ask them why, the answer is almost always the same: it helps them cope with the negative emotions they face during the day.

Why would people do something that they know is bad for them?

It gives them a “why.”

Knowledge is not enough. If it were enough, whole segments of the junk food industry would disappear. The tobacco industry wouldn’t exist. The war on drugs would never have been needed. But people don’t make decisions on facts alone (or at all!).

Our bad habits are a (misdirected) effort to fill a hole. To cope.

The Missing Element Is Love

We are lonely and craving intimacy.

This might seem soft and unscientific to some of my clinical friends, but the research is growing quickly. Every human has a deep-seated need to be emotionally vulnerable and available to others. Facebook is a false intimacy; we really only show each other the parts of our lives we want others to see. We never get real with each other there, not at the level our souls need.

The pleasure of being emotionally vulnerable and accepted by another is a basic human need. We were created to live in families and in communities. The Blue Zones call these factors “Family First,” “Belong,” and “Right Tribe.”

Validation From Others Is Important For Wellness

People who feel loved and accepted by at least one other person are more likely to value themselves. In turn, they are more likely to take better care of themselves. You may have seen this truth play out when someone you know falls in love. They eat better, use better hygiene, and keep their cars cleaner. Why? Because they feel accepted, they see themselves as acceptable. To the extent that they have been real and vulnerable with the person who accepts them, they feel safe. By the same token, if they haven’t been real and vulnerable with the other, then their experience of the acceptance is shallow and unsatisfying. The more we sense that someone accepts us exactly as we are, the more satisfying their acceptance is to our deepest need.

I’ve seen guys quit smoking because of a new girlfriend. You can probably think of someone in your life who gave up a lifetime of drinking when they experienced the love of God personally. Feeling loved is a powerful “why” to live a healthy life and drop unhealthy habits.

I’m thinking of one friend who came to my church years ago. He shared with me that he had lived a hard life of drugs, alcohol, porn, and a dozen other things that might have gotten him kicked out of any other church. But he had an experience of the love of God that was so real and tangible to him that it instantly satisfied the deep need in his soul that had been fueling his other addictions. He walked away from the drugs, cigarettes, and other vices in a heartbeat because he didn’t feel the need for them anymore. That empty ache in his soul had been filled, so he didn’t need the unhealthy habits to mask it anymore.

But it’s possible to live well knowing that more people hate you than love you. Ask any politican. What keeps them alive?

The Key To Sustainable Wellness

Here’s the most powerful “why” behind wanting to be healthy: because you care about yourself.

The idea of self-care has been so demonized, and I believe it’s because our culture has drifted into selfishness. But you can care for yourself AND still care for others. In fact, I don’t think you can properly care for others if you don’t care for yourself. Didn’t Jesus tell us to love our neighbor AS we love ourselves?

I’m thinking of another young man I knew several years ago. He was talented and popular. His parents were good people who loved and supported him. But he attempted suicide in high school. He had become despondent because, even though the people around him loved him deeply, he didn’t love himself. As a result, he let the bad opinions of a couple of classmates hurt him. I don’t know what became of him, but I hope above hope that he found a healthy love for himself.

Self-Neglect Is Self-Hate, Not Humility

When I see people neglecting their health, I immediately suspect that there is a deeper issue at work. These same people would never allow their children (or even their pets) to be neglected. Some of them are passionate advocates for the welfare of the poor, the elderly, or people they will never even meet. They might even say they are being humble by putting others’ needs first. I think that’s a copout.

Why is it OK for them to neglect their own wellness while working so hard for others? Because they carry a sense of unworthiness. Something in their heart believes that they do not deserve to be treated well.

Why is this important?

More and more research is pointing us to the fact that all chronic diseases come from the same roots. Heart disease, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s Disease all basically link back to a handful of root causes. And you can tie all of those root causes — whether it’s chronic inflammation, cell breakdown, or the buildup of toxicities — to a fundamental principle that has been violated somewhere along the line. At some point, we stopped eating right, moving right, staying hydrated, managing stress, or getting enough sleep.

Think Right About Your Own Wellness

To rebuild our wellness, we have to be willing to nourish and move our bodies the way they were designed. By the same token, we have to be willing to end lifestyle behaviors that violate the fundamentals of wellness.

It’s not enough to stop smoking because you’re afraid of lung cancer, or to eat right because you don’t want to have a heart attack.

The most powerful motivation to move right, eat right, and live right, is because you think right about yourself. You must love yourself enough to want to protect your own wellness. Imagine one of your children were self-harming; wouldn’t you stage an intervention to make them stop if you knew? Why, then, do we let ourselves suffer the effects of neglecting our own wellness?

If all your diseases are traceable back to a behavior that is violating a fundamental principle of wellness, then stage an intervention to make yourself stop that self-harming behavior.

You Can’t Neglect Yourself And Still Love Others

Now, let’s turn it around: if you had a friend or family member that you knew had amazing talent, wisdom, or potential that could have a major positive impact on the well-being of millions of people, wouldn’t you do everything you could to see them fulfill that calling?

You have a significant purpose that is meant to benefit the people around you, and you have not fulfilled all of it yet. Don’t let your purpose go unfulfilled because of health problems, especially health problems that are preventable with a little self-care. Believe in who you are, your purpose, and your value to the world. Love yourself enough to want to see the greatest within you come to fruition.

It really doesn’t matter how you feel about yourself at any given moment. The principle of self-care comes with a promise of wellness. It’s like the quote I always share at the end of my blogs. Let this principle guide your life and your life will be better.

LIVE: Let’s Talk About Self-care In Person Tomorrow Night

If you live in the Naples area, I would love to have you join me for one of our Fundamental Food and Friends Dinners here at my office behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road and Airport Road. Tomorrow night at 6:15, bring a dish to share and get ready for some great teaching! My friend and esteemed colleague, Dr. Jacqueline Romero, will be here with Becky Shariob. They will share how we can manage stress and sleep better for better aging – another important part of self-care. You don’t want to miss it. If you’ve heard Dr. Romero before, you already know she’s terrific. Be sure to click here to RSVP.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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