Each year, about 18 million self-help books are sold, 10 million dollars are spent on personal trainers, and 33 billion dollars are spent on diets. We have 24/7 access to more information about how to be healthy than we could ever possibly read. Millions of us set health goals, like get enough exercise, lose weight, improve blood pressure, and eat clean. At any point in time, the majority of people are in one of three states: trying to get to a health goal, trying to maintain a health goal, or trying to get back on track with a health goal. At what point do you stop trying and simply be healthy and well?
From a very young age, we are schooled in how to do. We learn that if you want to achieve something—good grades in school, excellence in sports, getting a good job, buying a nice home—you need to work for it.
“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic. It takes sweat, determination and hard work”. Colin Powell
We commonly accept that we need to use the same approach for health goals. You set your sights on a healthier weight, better blood pressure, cleaner diet, stronger body. You decide specifically what you want in the future, what might be attainable in the future, how to measure your progress toward the future, what realistically gives you the best chance to get to a state in the future, and decide a time in the future you will achieve that health goal. That moment when you reach your measurable health goal is awesome. Then, in the very next moment, you move into the phase of trying to maintain it, or, even better, set a new health goal.
My working definition of stress is the state of trying to get somewhere else. In this state, the healing and repair that are the foundation of health are put on the back burner while you put energy into getting to a different state or place. You can see how the health goals mindset isn’t compatible with being healthy and well.
The state of ‘well’ is the opposite of the state of stress. Every moment you are in the state of well is a moment health happens. The more moments you are well, the greater chance you have of achieving a health goal.
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. The World Health Organization
This leads me to my working definition of well: when you allow the fullness of this moment to be your guide. The more moments you are aware of what is going on in your whole person, the more moments you have that contribute to your health. Being healthy and well starts with knowing how to be.
Learning to face and accept the reality of the present moment in self-awareness is the key to authentic well-being. Dr. Robert Cloninger, premier research on well-being
When it comes to exercise, working hard is the way to get to a goal, or so we are taught. Certainly if you are an athlete you need the sweat, determination and hard work Colin Powell talks about. Yet what do you get when you take that same approach to exercising for health? You get be in a constant state of trying to burn more calories, reach your step goal and get your heart rate up. In short, you get to stay in the state of stress as you are continually trying to get to a goal, stay at that goal or reach a new goal. Exercising for health requires a whole different mindset. Why?
Every single benefit of exercise is completely dependent on what you are doing now, in this moment. Exercise is the coordination of your brain and body. If your brain is elsewhere, your body has no director to tell it how to move well. If your brain is elsewhere, you are practicing being in a state of stress. If your attention is on your whole person moment by moment, you are practicing being well. Measures like calories, steps and heart rate are simply guides (and not very good ones, but more on that later!). When you meet your body and mind where it is right now, in this moment, you are exercising in the most efficient and effective way possible for your health. The best part is, you get to be well each step of the way.
It’s not easy to shift that mindset away from trying to reach a goal, especially with exercise, but it is well worth making that shift! That is why we are taking a whole month to break down how to Be Well Now one step at a time. Post your comments below and join the journey by signing up for my email list and follow me on social media. Next week we will look at the next step in being healthy – knowing how to be well in your whole person, even when life is less than perfect.
This week: Simply notice when you are in the state of trying to get somewhere else, both during everyday moments and at times you are doing something for your health. Notice your body position, your emotions, your thoughts. Stay curious about the state your whole person is in at that moment. If what is here and now is messy, remember to be Kind Inside. The biggest challenge is not to judge it, just stay curious and kind. When this feels like you are not making progress toward a health goal because you are not ‘doing’ anything spectacular, smile and remember self-awareness is the key to being well and being well is the key to being healthy.
- Cloninger CR. On well-being: current research trends and future directions. Mens Sana Monogr. 2008;6(1):3-9. doi:10.4103/0973-1229.40564Fahlgren E, Nima AA, Archer T, Garcia D. Person-centered osteopathic practice: patients’ personality (body, mind, and soul) and health (ill-being and well-being). PeerJ. 2015;3:e1349. Published 2015 Oct 27. doi:10.7717/peerj.1349
- Harvard Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness www.hsph.harvard.edu/health-happiness/research-new/positive-health/measurement-of-well-being