Several years ago, I had a patient who came to me with some significant health challenges. We developed a plan of healthy food choices and exercise for him to follow, and he did a great job. It wasn’t long before we saw a dramatic improvement in his overall health. He lost a bunch of weight, got off several medications, and regained the spring in his step. It was a major victory.
Then, he disappeared.
Several months later I ran into him in the grocery store. He had put on most of the weight he had lost and was struggling with a whole new batch of health problems. He looked absolutely devastated.
I was reminded of one of the most important lessons of wellness.
Wellness Is An Ongoing Process
If you’ve been reading our “Wellness Wednesday” articles the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at wellness from several perspectives:
Then, we looked at the three-part nature of man: spirit, soul, and body.
Last week, we saw that wellness (as we understand it) is really just the surface manifestation of our choices, behaviors, values, culture, and faith.
This week, I want to go in a new direction and look at wellness in terms of time.
To do this, we need to understand a couple of basic foundational truths:
- Wellness is a continuum running from well to unwell. Everyone exists somewhere on that continuum. I like to imagine it like the gauges on your car’s dashboard.
- Each facet of wellness has its own gauges. Your physical health, mental health, spiritual health, emotional health, spiritual health, financial health, and career health (among others) each have their own wellness gauge. You can be very high on the physical wellness gauge and at the same time be in the middle or at the bottom of the wellness continuums in your emotional health, financial health, etc.
- Over time we move up and down each the continuums in each of these areas. The hope is that we would always be moving up on all of the wellness continuums in our lives, but that it not the case. Your physical health can rise and fall, as can your financial wellness, your emotional wellness, and all of the others.
Why does this happen?
If You Don’t Climb, You Fall
A car accident can make your physical wellness take a nosedive, along with your emotional wellness. It might even cut into your finances. However, after the wreck, life goes on. Slowly, you recover and your wellness gauges begin to rise again. I’ve seen people who used recovery from an accident to achieve a higher level of wellness than they had before.
The patient I mentioned in the story above started out with very low physical and emotional wellness. Over time, we helped him raise those levels. Interestingly, as his physical wellness gauge went up, his emotional, spiritual, and financial gauges rose as well. So it was disheartening to see his needles near the bottom again.
That’s the important thing I want to get across to you today: wellness is not “set it and forget it” like a thermostat; it’s more like a thermometer that goes up and down over time.
I like the analogy of swimming upstream: you may work hard and reach a goal (fitness, for example), but you still have to maintain your gains or they will just drift downstream with the current. You may finally achieve a level of confidence at work, but the culture that brought you down before will push against you again unless you learn to manage your emotional wellness.
Put another way, the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that all systems tend to move from order to chaos over time: machines wear out, organisms die, groups break apart. If you do not take action to maintain operation of a system, it will break down.
I can’t count how many people I have met who were athletes in high school or college, but when they stopped playing sports, they gave up the habits that made them strong in the first place. Eventually, their metabolism slows down, their muscles soften, their posture sags, and their organs begin to clog with toxins brought on by less-beneficial choices they made instead of exercising (like eating or drinking too much). Meanwhile, people who exercise every day, eat living food, and keep their environments clean will maintain a high level of wellness well into their advanced years.
It’s about lifestyle choices and consistency.
The Power Of Lifestyle Habits
It’s easy to give up candy for Lent and then make up for lost time on Easter Sunday. From a healthcare perspective, you might as well not give it up at all. I mean, hooray for the short-term victory, but wellness comes when you can parlay that victory into a consistent lifestyle pattern.
This is why I have such a problem with most diet plans: they take a short-term approach to a life-long concern. When you adopt behaviors that carry you to optimal wellness, you must continue those behaviors to maintain that wellness. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.”
In the case of our topic, wellness is not an act but a habit (or lifestyle).
Or as the mighty Bob Dylan once said, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”
To get healthy and stay healthy, we need to take the life-promoting behaviors we learn over time and form habits out of them. Consider embracing one of these activities as a daily habit:
- Drinking filtered water instead of sugar drinks.
- Spending 15 minutes in prayer and meditation first thing in the morning and/or last thing before bed.
- Spending 5 to 15 minutes each morning doing at least one of the Move Right Monday exercises.
- Speaking kindly when you feel like barking at someone.
- Eating fresh raw vegetables for snacks.
- Writing down five things for which you are thankful.
- Setting aside $20 from each paycheck into a savings account.
- Speaking affirming words to your spouse and kids.
- Taking one step toward a goal you had abandoned.
Any one of these behaviors will lift the needle in at least one of your wellness gauges. Some will lift more than one. The problem is that change intimidates people. People naturally shy away from discomfort and changing habits looks really uncomfortable and huge!
But here’s the key to victory – the one thing that will make a difference:
Start with one. An easy one.
Then do it again.
No matter activity you choose to start, you have to do it again the next day (or again later in the day) in order for it to begin to take root in your soul. The key to forming a new habit (and thus, a lifestyle) is repetition. Falling in front of the TV after work became a habit through repetition. Use that same power in your mind to establish a life-building habit.
Consistency is the key.
Some say it takes 21 days to form a new habit; other say 60. I say focus on doing it today. Then don’t think about it again until tomorrow. When tomorrow becomes today, focus on doing it today. One day at a time.
Habits Do Make A Difference
I am healthier at 50 than I was in my 30s. That’s not an accident. I had to establish life-promoting habits early on that kept my gauges rising. But because I formed habits out of those behaviors, I do them without thinking. They are part of who I am, so the struggle is over. If you can overcome the current that wants to push back downstream, the habits you form will allow you to maintain the lifestyle you desire with less effort.
Here’s another behavior that is worth repeating into a habit: tomorrow night is our first Fundamental Foods night of the new season. I promise, this event at our newly-remodeled office will transform your thinking and help you make some informed decisions about habits you want to form with the food you eat. Bring a dish to share or $10 cash. Details are available here. Don’t miss it!!
I hope you’ve been enjoying this new series of “Wellness Wednesdays.” I know I learn something each time I sit down to write. I want them to be impactful. We are setting the groundwork for some really fascinating health insights over the next few months. If these articles have been helpful to you, please take a few seconds to share them. You never know who might need to hear this.