April 17, 2020
Can Self-Care Be a Calling?
If asked: “Who wants to be well?”, most would raise their hand high! Wellness is a logical choice. Overwhelmingly, we’d all choose to take life’s journey with vitality and vigor. Yet, many – for so many good reasons – forsake that dream.
Public-health indicators point to our heading in the wrong direction. Body mass index? Up! Cholesterol? Up! Blood pressure, weight, pre-diabetes symptoms, triglycerides; all up! Despite our desire for long-term physical and mental wellness, we seem to be off track and our actions are out of whack.
When it comes to wellness, it seems that even medical professionals threw in the primary-prevention towel some time ago. As waistlines and illness risks increased, they chose a more urgent approach – the secondary-prevention route of prescribing pills to sustain our lives and assuage the ire of the private and public bodies that track outcomes. They shifted from cajoling us to be more concerned about our health to urging us to take prescribed medication. The result is that we all lose. Somehow, life expectancy versus our expectations for life are not trending along the same curve. We are living longer, and at life’s end, we’re often sicker.
I had been watching these scary health indicators creep up slowly, year after year – and I’m not immune from them. They were never quite alarm bells for me, just cautionary increments in the form of a lab report or buckling the belt an inch or two looser. The bathroom scale should have been enough motivation for me to shed pounds. Perhaps, an inner image of my younger years as an army paratrooper veteran overshadowed the outward reality of “middle-age spread?” Of course, my response was “there is always tomorrow.” Tomorrows would come and go, until something clicked.
Some months ago, my colleague Tom Jones* of FINN Partners, presented me with a book – The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. It seemed prophetic, arriving on my desk at exactly the right moment. New York Times bestselling authors and brothers Chap and Dan Heath suggest that a series of experiences in close quarters sharpen mindfulness and create life-changing moments that put us on new, (hopefully) desired paths.
NOT ALL MOMENTS ARE CREATED EQUAL
Along with the book, three life events, like dominos falling in rapid succession, would lead me to a mindset shift and a successful effort to shed 20 pounds. These three moments prompted me to embrace self-care as a calling. Success did not result from the reasons I knew that I should make essential lifestyle changes such as peer-reviewed clinical data; it came, rather, from connecting to the other piece of the puzzle – the inner soul of wellness.
1. What is the purpose of my life? The inner search for an answer drives most of our daily actions. As a battlefield medic, that question was answered by the call for help, time and time again. I’ve realized that this role led me naturally to my chosen career in health communications, the bridge that connects healers to those seeking to be healed. The job suggests we serve as representatives for everything that we say and write. How can we not choose self-care and the pursuit of wellness as part of our answer to the question of life’s purpose? To believe in the purpose of this work requires we save and sustain quality of life – long term – we must include our own.
2. Can my empathy for others enable me to make a personal connection? Tall and trim, one of my closest friends suddenly felt relentless, tingling pain in his feet and legs. Was it a serious neurological condition? Thankfully, not; it was genetics calling, a family history of pre-diabetes. Those numbers sliding upward seem to be a societal norm, but they cannot be an excuse to surrender our hope for wellness in times to come, the futures we imagine living and places we yearn to visit. Wellness is among the keys to unlock these adventures.
3. Do I have a job or a mission? People often define themselves by their jobs. How often are we asked: “What do you do for a living?” Our careers are a prism through which others view us and are often a mirror in which we see ourselves. That sense that this is not a job, but a personal mission was reinforced to me earlier this year when our agency launched its Wellness Collaborative, marshaling ideas and talents across many regions and disciplines, timed to coincide with the Global Wellness Summit’s “2020 Wellness Trends Report.”
Now a multibillion-dollar market that includes attire, design, exercise, food, medicine, sleep, tourism and so much more, wellness also involves spiritual search and self-journey. For those not in the health field, choosing wellness is to embrace a higher mission – to be part of something bigger than ourselves, loving family members, a community of friends and society. As a “Wellness Collaborative” member, everything converged; it is my job AND mission to be well!
The Heath brothers, Duke and Stamford academics and bestselling authors, wrote in Fast Company:
“Moments are not created equal. Our experiences are mostly forgettable and occasionally remarkable. But those remarkable moments don’t create themselves. What if we didn’t just remember the standout moments of our lives and work but made them? We can be the designers of moments that deliver elevation and insight and pride and connection. These exceptional minutes and hours and days—they are what make life meaningful. And they are ours to create.”
It's our body. It’s our future. It’s also our choice. Numbers don’t lie, people with normal blood pressure and lipids fare better. But numbers are not sufficiently compelling to get us off the couch, moving and staying fit. Statistics have not motivated us to reach for an apple instead of a cookie, and physicians and professional associations have thrown up their hands, shifting from lifestyle coaching to secondary prevention prescribing. What will work?
MOMENTS! COMBINING MOMENTS CREATES MOMENTUM.
Start in your heart and then move to your head. Think of your family and treat wellness as an investment in their future. Do you want those closest to you to be pre-assigned caregivers, or do you imagine a happy future with those whom you love? If it’s the latter, then start by nurturing with self-care. Reach for the apple.
[*The Global Wellness Summit's Kim Marshall speaks with Tom Jones, senior partner of Health & Wellness at Finn Partners, about the future of wellness and highlights the takeaways that have the greatest impact. Listen to this episode on your favorite podcast platform http://ow.ly/1VCB50zgjzr]
[For too many, wellness will remain a constant challenge – especially during COVID-19 social distancing and striving to source nutritious foods. Overcoming racial, mental health and economic disparities must be part of everyone’s mission. The COVID-19 pandemic points to our collective vulnerabilities; when one community is disadvantaged, we are all at risk.]
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