Cognitive Blinders

Now for a quick word on those culturally based blinders I mentioned in my last piece. Don’t think you don’t have them. We all do. The trick is being able to see them BEFORE they get in the way. Part 2 of the trick is being able to push them aside to see what they’ve been blocking from view. One of the benefits of the practice of reframing is that you have the chance to consciously, and mindfully, do exactly that.

There are 2 primary blinders I want to discuss. The first is called the Availability Heuristic.

In summary, this is how we use the information we have collected from previous experience to judge what’s going to happen now, in this moment. Let’s say you’re sitting at a stop light. The Availability Heuristic is what tells you that within 30-90 seconds that light will turn green and you’ll be on your way. This comes into play with Reframing because it’s this heuristic that tells you what to think about your options for the issue at hand.

If you’ve ever experienced something similar to the current situation you’re working with, you already have some idea of how to handle it. The problem is that the previous experience you’re using to formulate these ideas may not be as closely related as the heuristic tells you it is. If you don’t take the time to acknowledge this blinder, you may not realize any of this until it’s too late.

Blinder #2 is what Daniel Quinn calls “…the voice of Mother Culture humming in the background…”

This is the accumulated detritus of the culture you were raised in. Let’s say you’re in the US like I am. This would include everything from what you learned watching Sesame Street to what you learned watching one pop star beat up another, then continuing to sell out stadium shows with no repercussions. It includes the lessons about sharing you (hopefully) learned in kindergarten, and it includes what you’re learning watching the current political…situation. It includes what you learned playing outside with your friends as a kid (if you’re at least my age and your parents let you play outside), and it includes what you learned from watching and internalizing 20+ years worth of commercial TV and Hollywood blockbusters.

Both of these blinders are easily addressed. First, you have to be present enough to realize that they’re in play. Then, you have to take a moment to ask yourself what these blinders are blocking, and what they’re forcing you to focus on. Once you can reconcile the difference between these two things, you’re beginning to see the whole picture.

Now take a step back and reframe the situation. Once you’ve finished this exercise, as I mentioned earlier, you may very well end up at the same conclusion you arrived at pre-reframing – and again, that’s OK. Having looked at the issue from all sides, you can rest assured that that is indeed the most appropriate solution, in this moment, for the situation at hand. This can be a powerful tool in your arsenal as you move through life, from conflict resolution at home to the direction your career is going. I encourage you to give it a try the next time you find yourself appraising a sticky situation, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Reframing, or Perspectives Revisited

Let’s start with a definition of terms, from Wikipedia:

Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique that consists of identifying and then disputing irrational or maladaptive thoughts. Reframing is a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives.

In other words, reframing is taking an issue, situation, or interaction and turning it around in your head in order to see it from different perspectives. For the visual learners out there, look at it as separating the issue from your Self, setting it on the floor in front of you, and walking around it.

The concept of separating an issue from your Self might seem…woo-woo, or just a tad odd to some of you. No worries. The first step is to understand that what you’re experiencing is not who you are. The situation you find yourself in is just that, a discrete thing. It’s something that’s happening in this moment. The Self that is experiencing it exists independent of that situation.

Internalizing this fact is what will allow you to view the incident as something you can set down in front of you and examine. This lets you see it from many different angles, taking in multiple perspectives on the issue. Do several laps. Really let each distinct perspective sink in and make an impact on how you view this thing that is your situation.

In performing this separation, you will gain distance from the issue. This will allow you some room to breathe, to really examine the issue from these alternate perspectives and get a better grasp on it. You’ll see additional possibilities that may have been hidden previously due to the cultural blinders we all wear. These blinders are the inherent biases we all carry with us every day; the things we think we know and the societal assumptions we make, often unconsciously.

Time for a personal example.

For something like 15 years now, I’ve worked in IT support in one way or another. I figured out years ago that this was not the field I was supposed to be in, yet with the passing years and increasing experience, it becomes difficult to make any substantive career moves. I didn’t get into this field for any of the reasons people expect. I don’t particularly like computers. I like helping people. I like being able to help them solve a problem that allows them to be their best selves and do what they need to do more efficiently and effectively. It turned out I had an ability to fix computer and software issues. Don’t ask where that came from. No clue.*

After going through my own health journey over the last several years, I discovered a new field called Wellness Coaching. Coaching relies on skills that I seem to have innately. Things like listening intently (and listening before speaking), only asking deep questions that cause people to really think through their answers, and using intuition to interpret the pauses in conversations. This leads to discoveries on the part of the client, helping them find their way to their own definition of wellness.

Fast forward to the present. I’ve completed a Graduate Certificate in coaching, incurring the student debt I’ve read so much about recently, and have moved back to Seattle. Yet here I am, on the hunt for another IT job. How to make sense of this perceived lack of movement away from IT? That’s where reframing enters the story.

This part hit me in a blinding flash of ‘Duh’ the other day. My training in coaching positions me nicely to fill the role of team lead, or senior member of a support desk team. These roles often come with the expectation of mentoring/coaching younger members of the team, along with the usual customer interactions. I can now use the traits I already possess and felt like I had to quash behind my mask of IT Guy. When I can tell a coworker is having a bad day, I can gently inquire and see if talking about it helps them move on and refocus their energy on the day’s tasks. I can use my intuition to help with reviews. the possibilities are endless now that I’ve made the cognitive shift to seeing my traits and training as boons to my IT career rather than as a failed attempt at changing careers altogether.

This perspective shift, or reframing, changed my view on the time and money I put into this certificate. I now see it as a way to further my current career trajectory. And at the same time, it gives me a way to use some of those traits that were previously getting in the way and causing a disconnect in my day to day life.

That example kind of got away from me, yet remains on point for this topic. You can do this exercise with any situation you encounter. Whenever you find yourself saying, “OK, here’s what happened, now what do I do?!?!” Or, “here’s the only option I can see…” This is your cue to try reframing. You may very well end up right back where you started, and that’s OK. If so, you’ll get there having examined the situation from all these perspectives and you’ll be confident that your course of action is right for the situation and the moment.

Next time, I’ll go into a bit more depth on those culturally based blinders I briefly mention above. They deserve more time and attention than I could give them here, at least without making this more of a tome than it already is.

* OK, that’s not strictly true. I’m pretty sure it relates to where I fall on what’s called the Global ⇔ Sequential Thinker spectrum. I’m all the way global. This means that I look at a problem and see it all at once as a single, unified whole. Sequential folks see things as a series of logical steps, to be followed in order, one at a time. The benefit to me in being a global thinker is that I can often see where the glitch is with only a minimum of input from the customer and/or a minimum of poking around – rather than following a series of 10+ steps, most of which are irrelevant to the problem at hand.

Shift Your Perspective

This is an amalgamation of what started out as 3 posts on a previous blog. I’ve edited it heavily and in the end decided to combine the whole thing into one longer piece, hoping that the resulting total is indeed more than the sum of its parts. Trust me, it’s going to make more sense and be easier to digest this way. Think of it like throwing the entire week’s leftovers into one pot and turning it all into a stew. Just goes down easier than the individual bits do.

Perspective is everything

I stumbled on an interesting piece on Placemakers some time ago that had a great, brief history of the NIMBY movement (Not In My BackYard). The article’s point was to pinpoint where the movement took a turn for the…for argument’s sake let’s say, worse, and it includes what I think is a fundamental life lesson about perspective:

“The burden now falls on you to stop telling them what you don’t want. And start telling them what you do want.”

In other words, if you go through life focused on the negative, you’ll likely miss all the positive that’s out there. This seems extra timely given the content of the 24/7 news cycle. Don’t become so focused on a negative, let’s say news story, (or worse all of them at the same time) that you miss out on all the positive ones that are also happening, often right under your nose.

Take a step back and see negative situations/stories as a learning opportunity. Learn about the importance of shifting your perspective. Instead of “you can’t do ABC,” try “I wonder if XYZ would work?” By reframing things in the positive you may be amazed that you can get results you’ll be proud of, results that get you something you want, rather than just NOT getting something you don’t want.

Back to the source quote and article for a second. NIMBYs focus all of their efforts and energies into blocking things they don’t want; bridges, trails, airport runways (to use some examples from Seattle) – that they often miss what they already have – community. What if these groups of neighbors got together more often than just every time there was a hearing where they wanted to oppose something and decided instead to build a community garden on a vacant lot? Or got together to help an elderly neighbor fix up their house so they could continue to live independently – and remain a part of their community?

Time to Flip It

“So maybe it’s time to flip our perspective upside down. Instead of talking about ‘lifestyle disease,’ maybe it’s time to start talking about ‘diseased lifestyles.’ This simple reversal will yield some new insights.”

Frank Forencich

It seems so simple on the surface. All you have to do is flip your view on something 180 degrees and you get a whole different perspective. You might find that you’re able to see it from someone else’s point of view, making it easier to come to an agreement. So why is it so effing hard most of the time? Well, for starters there’s this thing called The Backfire Effect. At its most basic level, this idea says that no matter how much ‘fact’ you throw at someone, at best they will not alter their strongly held belief at all – and at worst you’ll actually strengthen said belief. So the chances of you getting this person to ‘see things your way’ don’t look so good.

In terms of what Frank is talking about above, our western medical system is the manifestation of a strongly entrenched belief system that says ‘treat the symptom.’ It says nothing whatsoever about the cause. If you present with a stuffy nose, you’re going to get a decongestant to dry out the mucus in your sinuses. If you have a fever, you’ll get a pill to bring your temperature down. Never mind that the mucus and fever are your body’s natural defense, its way of fighting off an intruder. By treating the symptom you never get to the point of finding out just what it is your body is trying to protect itself from, and you effectively cut off your own defenses before they have a chance to get started doing their job.

And to start treating causes, you have to look at the root cause, not just the immediate one. So if your symptom is that runny nose, the immediate cause might seem to be a seasonal allergy. If you look deeper however you may find that you’re leaving yourself open to that seasonal allergy because your immune system is taxed past its limits because of the amount of sugar and refined wheat you eat (yes, that one was personal experience). So we’ve gone from taking a decongestant for relief from the snot to examining a cultural assumption (wheat is part of a healthy diet) in order to find the root cause and eliminate it.

All that from what should be a simple shift of perspective.

This 180 flip from symptom to cause can be useful in other situations as well. Take many of the culturally based assumptions we make about consumerism, the idea of keeping up with the Joneses. What if, instead of trying to out-spend the Joneses, we focused on out-experiencing them? Instead of buying a bigger plasma TV (is that still the top of the line option? I don’t own a TV anymore) how about taking a trip with your family and making some new memories?

Or instead of that new car you’ve been eyeing, how about selling the extra car and trying a cargo bike? The conversation on the way to school will shift from what video they want to watch to what bird made that noise, or how much fun it is to fly past all the cars stuck in traffic. All this from asking, “what if I did this instead of that?” Or “what might the outcome be if I did XYZ instead of ABC?”

Next time you have a decision to make around consumption, stop for a second and flip things over in your head. The results might surprise you.

“If you change how you think about it, it’s impact on what you feel and do changes.”

– Walter Mischel

This quote is a nice, tidy summary of the whole idea of shifting your perspective. By definition – If you want to see something from the “other” side, you want to change how that something is impacting your life. What Mischel is saying is that the simple act of looking at it differently can be all it takes to accomplish this.

That takes us out of the realm of disease prevention and consumerism. In fact, it pretty well opens up any and all topics and situations for exploration. Having a discussion with your boss about when that big project needs to be ready for presentation? They say next week for the leadership meeting and you say 2 weeks later in time for the shareholder meeting? Instead of sticking to your guns, take a step back and look at it from their perspective. You may find that having a dry run for the leadership group could, in fact, be beneficial, plus you’d then have 2 weeks to make changes and tweak your presentation before it goes public.

In many ways, this is also connected to staying grounded in the present moment. When you get wrapped up in defending your perspective, what’s really happening is you’re focusing on the future – and just one possible future at that. What you’re seeing is an extra 2 weeks of procrastinating, of being able to focus on other tasks that you view as more important than the project presentation. When you pause and take that step back, you return your grounding to the here and now. This is what gives you the opportunity to shift perspectives over to that of your boss and see the future results of your actions now.

In staying focused on your side of the discussion (argument really), you’re also staying focused on just one possible outcome. Being able to see an alternative can be extremely helpful in many areas of daily life. From work to your commute, to asking how your partner’s day went (or knowing when to avoid asking). Even from crashing on the couch in front of reruns after dinner to playing a board game with the family, or reading a book, or maybe taking a quiet walk around the neighborhood.

All that from the seemingly simple act of taking a step back, staying present and shifting your perspective.

This piece took on a life of its own when I started editing. The idea was to show the wide variety of situations and topics where shifting your perspective can open up new vistas and possibilities. Perspective as a topic holds a special place in my heart since one of my traits is the innate ability to see things from multiple perspectives by default. I’ll address that trait and what it means to me in a future post, or possibly a series of posts.

Wellness Defined – An Addendum

Wellness is about how you show up, about how you allow yourself to be.

I’d like to revisit this concept I first brought up in my 3 part series on Wellness (Part 1, part 2, part 3)

In those posts, I started with a dictionary definition of Wellness, this time I want to take a ramble down a parallel path, looking for an answer to that nagging question, “what is wellness?”

Wellness is what YOU make it.

That may sound like a cop-out to some of you, please remember that there are no concrete metrics for wellness. There is no test your doctor can run, no results page with a list of numbers. I’ve said all along that wellness will be defined differently by different people, or even by the same person at different stages of life. Wellness is dependent on the totality of what makes you YOU at any given point in time.

Wellness is NOT about how you look, or how much you can lift.

Those are legitimate aspects of Wellness to be sure, there are just so many other aspects that to focus on those two is to shortchange yourself and to lose track of the goal – whole body well-being. From these two points, how can we hope to come to a concrete definition? Let’s try reframing the question – why do we feel the need to have a concrete definition of such a fluid concept after all? We might as well be asking, “How can we come to one concrete definition of wellness that will work for everyone?” We can’t. Great, now that we’ve ruled out that possibility, we ought to be able to get somewhere.

Reframed question – How can we define wellness in a way that each person seeing that definition will know how to interpret it, FOR THEMSELVES?*

Here we go, now we’ve arrived at where I think the paraphrase that started this whole chain of thought comes into play and why it resonated so strongly with me. Look at wellness as a state of mind. If you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and your first thought starts with “why can’t you…” or “why aren’t you…” your state of mind that day won’t be brimming with wellness, will it? You’re going into the day feeling shame for some aspect of your appearance, or by chastising yourself for a perceived flaw. That’s going to color everything you do, all day.

What if when you looked in the mirror, you thought of 3 things you appreciate about your life? Or 3 things you’re looking forward to that day? Now you’re starting off with positive thoughts, no shame in sight, and no dwelling on that perceived flaw (that in all likelihood isn’t a flaw at all). Doesn’t that sound more likely to engender a good state of mind?

And that better state of mind will in turn influence how you show up in the world – and according to this new definition we’re looking at, your wellness. Your interactions with coworkers will be more pleasant because you aren’t seeing everything through either the filter of body shame or the “what if” filter. This is what creates the sense that all of your interactions are with people who are judging you, while in reality, this is just your negative self-talk being projected onto others.

Eliminating these filters allows you to just Be with the other person, free from assumptions and self-conscious self-talk. To NOT project your insecurities onto them, to simply Be there with the other person, in that moment.

Now that we’re seeing wellness as a state of mind rather than a set of metrics we can have diagnosed by our doctor, trainer, etc…what now? It’s time to combine this point of view with the outcome of my previous post series – Wellness is a moving target, and those with a good SOC (Sense Of Coherence) are more likely to be able to make the changes necessary to overcome the hurdles and find their way to Wellness.

One of the key aspects of a healthy SOC (no pun intended), is an individual’s ability to adapt to ever-changing situations. This includes overall health, acute disease diagnoses, even things as seemingly mundane as a cold. This ability to adjust is key because, without it, people can end up wallowing in the ‘what-if’s’ of a situation, and that tends to lead to a downward spiral that it can be difficult to pull out of.

When you combine this idea of adaptability, a high SOC, and wellness as a moving target – you begin to understand that it’s going to take some experimentation, some trial and error even, before you find the path to wellness that’s right…for YOU. Understanding this is the first step to that high SOC, and therefore more adaptability and willingness to experiment and to not let one path being a wrong turn keep you from trying another.

In turn, all of this makes it all the more likely that you’ll find your path, and your ideal wellness.

*I have a post on cognitive reframing from a previous blog, I’ll get it touched up and posted early in the new year.

Narrative (Fallacy) in Everyday Life

The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.

—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Black Swan

Narrative Fallacy as a concept relates to our innate tendency as humans to construct a story to fit the facts we’re confronted with. It’s how we concoct a backstory for a situation, without knowing the actual backstory. We do this all the time, watching the news we want to know why that guy did what he did. We want to know how that middle-aged dude ended up working as a barista at our local coffee spot. Or why our coworker is particularly grumpy today.

We want to know the WHY.

Did that barista get laid off recently from a high paying executive job and now he’s just looking for health care coverage? Or has he been a barista for 20 years? Did your co-worker’s wife leave him last night? Or did he just miss his morning jog/coffee/have a bad commute? What would our day look like if we didn’t construct all these backstories? If we just took what we saw in the present as all there was?

Might we see people for who they are now, in this moment, and might that be all we really need to know?

Being in the moment. Might this simple idea be a solution to lessen the hold Narrative Fallacy has on our daily lives? It’s an idea that comes up often as I delve further into the world of Coaching. It’s also a way of being that has interested me for years. It’s why and how I started meditating. It’s how I got through years of uncertain work situations. It’s how I’m dealing with once again being jobless – thinking in the present helps me construct enough story for interviews that the questioner doesn’t fall back on Narrative (Fallacy) to fill in the blanks. It’s also how I keep from dwelling on the past.

I can’t change what happened that led me to where I am. What I can do is address my present moment.

Will knowing the ‘why’ of that middle-aged barista change how you interact with him? Probably not, and if so that should tell you something about yourself rather than about him. And as for your co-worker, treat them with kindness and respect and you may alter the course of their day – whatever the cause or backstory.

Wellness Defined, Part 3

Let’s jump back into the Wellness Defined series with a quick definition of the terms disease and illness. Then we’ll look at a different way of seeing health, wellness, disease, and illness.

The shortest and most eloquent definition I’ve found for these terms goes as follows:

“Illness is what a person feels on the way to the Doctor’s office, disease is what they have when they leave.”

For a more technical look, we return to Dictionary.com:

Disease: – a disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors, infection, poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavorable environmental factors; illness; sickness; ailment.

Illness: – unhealthy condition; poor health; indisposition; sickness.

Defining wellness using terms like disease and illness brings up some issues. First, the two don’t have to have anything to do with each other. Next, putting disease/illness opposite wellness necessitates seeing things in a good/bad kind of way – and that’s not always the case.

Disease is a malfunction of an organ or system in the human body and illness is – well, it’s “feeling bad.”

Put another way, disease resides in the body, illness in the mind. Where does this take us in terms of our discussion of wellness? It takes us to the idea of the Sense of Coherence and to seeing health and well-being as existing on a continuum, that “health” is a heterostatic thing that will change over time, rather than the more pervasive idea that it is homeostatic. Another way to state this second view is to say that health is zero-sum, you have it, or you don’t. Period.

OK, now we pause for more definitions. The Sense of Coherence is an idea put forward by Aaron Antonovsky in 1979 as an attempt to explain why some people got sick and others didn’t. To quote directly from Antonovsky:

Sense of Coherence (SOC): A global orientation that expresses the extent to which one has a pervasive, enduring though dynamic feeling of confidence that (1) the stimuli deriving from one’s internal and external environments in the course of living are structured, predictable and explicable; (2) the resources are available to one to meet the demands posed by these stimuli; and (3) these demands are challenges, worthy of investment and engagement.

In other words – a person who has the resources to deal with what comes their way, and knows they have these resources, has a high SOC and stands a better chance of staying healthy. The shorter version – a high SOC can stop an illness from becoming a disease. There are several factors that go into a SOC, and many scholarly articles have been written on the subject – however, for our purposes, I’m going to leave it there.

Homeo– and heterostasis are terms describing the condition of our internal systems in the face of constantly changing external conditions. It’s long been assumed that “health” was a homeostatic condition. Either you were healthy, or you weren’t. Health was seen as a set point that a person’s body either was at, or they weren’t healthy.

The idea of health as being heterostatic is a newer concept that grew out of the investigations into SOC. In essence, this idea states that human health is a moving target. What health means for someone at age 24 is one thing, when that same person gets to 42, that definition will likely have changed. This also applies one person to another, what I consider healthy for myself is different than what the person sitting next to me as I write this considers healthy for themselves.

Where was I? Oh yeah, disease vs illness. We can now see that a person can have an illness without having a disease – and that it’s also possible for someone to have a disease without necessarily having the accompanying illness. There are also multiple stages in between, depending on each individual’s SOC and ability to deal with what they’ve been handed healthwise.

What does all this add to our discussion about wellness, besides muddying things up real good?

It highlights what I said way back in part 1 – that wellness is a moving target. What I hope you take away from these 3 posts is that wellness and overall well-being is not one static thing. Achieving it takes work. It takes accountability. It takes time. And most importantly for today’s discussion – it takes experimentation. Trial and error is how I lost 80 pounds.

The key is not seeing the errors as failures. They’re signals that you might want to try something different. That’s all.

Another key is to remember that even while you’re trying multiple paths, your destination may be a moving target as well. That is to say, your definition of Wellness will change over time, so it’s important to keep this flux in mind when you’re laying out the next path to explore. Check in with yourself to be sure you’re aiming the right direction for your current definition.

And now for the obligatory self-promotion. I am a Wellness Coach, so if you think you want to get started making some changes to your well-being, and maybe increase your own SO, and you aren’t sure where to begin – get in touch. Initial consultations are always free, and I’d love to talk you through some ideas and see if working together will benefit you in your wellness journey.

Wellness Defined, Part 2

Welcome back! Here in part two of the “Let’s Define Wellness” series, I’ll be taking a look at the second part of the dictionary definition of wellness to garner a starting point for your journey.

part 2 of dictionary.com definition:

Wellness: 2) an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases.

This one presents some sticky points in our discussion. For example, preventing illness. This sounds like an admirable goal and there are indeed many illnesses that have proven to be preventable with intervention. What if you’re one of the millions who is already living with one of these illnesses? Is it too late for you to find wellness?

Absolutely not.

While it may be too late to prevent a disease*, it is never too late to learn how to live well with your illness*. The trick is in realizing that your definition of wellness has changed with time and diagnosis. Even if you aren’t living with a specific illness, you may simply be feeling the effects of the passing years – feeling down about the fact that your runs have been getting shorter, that you’re feeling out of breath playing with your kids/grandkids, or that you’ve started noticing it takes more trips to get the groceries in from the car.

The common denominator here is time and shifting definitions. In all of the above cases, there are things you can be doing, right now, to improve your situation and your well-being – things that may very well keep you from developing a disease.

Any of us can benefit from many of the same behavior changes and from developing some of the same habits. The trick is to be willing to try new things, to experiment, and to NOT be disappointed when something doesn’t work out. When a new behavior doesn’t accomplish what you want it to, that’s a cue to try something else. Maybe the second, third, or even fourth thing you try will prove to be the right one for you.

Sounds kind of like what I said about paths in the last post, huh?

These changes range from the simple and easy to institute, to major life alterations. These changes involve diet, activity level, job situation, family dynamics, or sleep patterns. One thing all of these potential changes have in common is that you, the changer, need to have the willpower and tenacity to stick with a change long enough to know whether it’s going to help, hurt, or be neutral.

This takes accountability. It takes a deep understanding of how to tap into your store of willpower. It takes time.

* In Part 3 I’ll look at a more concrete definition of the terms Disease and Illness, and we’ll see how they’re often conflated yet actually refer to divergent aspects of related situations. I’ll also look at a different way of looking at them in your life, one that I hope will bring some perspective to your search for wellness.

Wellness Defined, Part 1

Wellness is one of those topics – everyone has an opinion, yet nobody can make sense of it. Let’s change that.

This is the first in what will be a series of posts covering wellness and what it means for different people. Part of the problem is that wellness will mean something different to each individual. It can even mean something different to the same person at different times, which serves only to further complicate the matter. (that was a lot of ‘different’s, huh? Appropriate, as you’ll see shortly)

Let’s start with a definition:

Wellness: 1) the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort. 2) an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases. (Dictionary.com)

Today I’m focusing on number 1 – “The quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort.” (emphasis added)

I wonder if they’re being intentionally vague? I mean, what does “healthy in body and mind” mean, anyway? That’s my point. What it means will be different for you, that guy over there, your next door neighbor – and me. For example, I was in a car wreck a while back. For the most part, I was fine – however, I did have some back issues. So for several months of, I was not “healthy in body.”

On the other hand, meditation was going well and I was in a good place mentally, so I could tick the box next to “healthy in mind.” Combine these two, and I considered myself to be well. With my good head-space, I was able to navigate around the back issues just fine and get on with my day-to-day life – including walking and riding my bike. This outlook also allowed me to begin strengthening work as soon as my back was ready, without any feelings of inadequacy or guilt about NOT working out at the time.

So how does this apply to you, the wellness seeker? It means that before you can find well-being, you’ll have to pick a path to try. Then you may have to try another path. And possibly another. This seeking and experimenting is part of the journey to wellness. This falls under the “deliberate effort” part of the definition. In my example above, meditation is a path I tried that turned out to work quite well – for ME. Don’t be afraid of self-experimentation. This is the best way I know of to narrow down the options and find the path that works, for YOU.

One of the things I harp on is this, YOU are the expert on YOU. Not me. Not your GP. Not even your therapist (there is NO shame in seeing a therapist, as a side note). YOU. Every path you try will deepen your understanding and knowledge base of yourself. Every bad habit you break, and every good one you successfully start does the same.

Paths that don’t work out are not failures. They’re simply paths that didn’t work out, you learn from them and then you move on to the next one.

To bring this post to a close – since every definition of wellness will be different, There can be no one right path to well-being. Finding wellness is a matter of trial and error, and patience. Next time we’ll look at part 2 of the dictionary definition of wellness and see how even that doesn’t have one straightforward answer. From there we’ll dive into some of the myriad paths that exist for a person starting out on their journey to well-being.

You are not your story

Western culture has a bad habit. Well, several actually, but that’s the subject of another blog. Or a Masters level seminar. Anyway, the habit I want to talk about here is our felt need to have a backstory for…well, everything. This often extends to ourselves and how we view ourselves in the context of our daily lives.

We listen to what others say about us, combine that with what we think we want our lives to look like, or what we think we stand for, and voila – we end up with a narrative, often with a side order of low self-esteem and unreasonable expectations for good measure.

And that’s where I want to pick up the story (pun fully intended) – after we’ve built this narrative around these externally derived concepts of ourselves. First, you need to understand that these stories often serve a valid purpose. They can give us the motivation we need to keep going when things get difficult. They can smooth the bumps in life.

However, these narratives can also lead us astray – to a false sense of self that’s based on the story and not on who we truly are.

The tricky part is recognizing when you start telling yourself such a story, then being able to separate your actual, present self from the version in the narrative. Start by realizing that you’re constructing the story around past events. Because that’s all you have to build them around, events you remember and can put yourself back into in order to sort out what’s happening now. You’re telling yourself, “something like this happened once, and here’s how I handled it.” This is often followed by a critical assessment of how you handled it and how your past self failed in some way. Here comes the self-doubt.

Now step back from the story you’ve constructed and realize that this is not who you are. This is an event from your past. Your present self has learned from that past event and is attempting to translate what happened and make it relevant to the present.

Let go of the story and allow yourself to live now.

“Nothing happens for a reason, but everything that happens has purpose.”

– Megan Hollingsworth

Saying that an event happened for a reason shifts accountability (blame) to something that happened before that event – and since that precipitating event is in the past, there’s nothing that can be done. This conveniently shifts any impetus to take action off your present self, since all you can affect is now.

However, saying that “everything that happens has purpose,” now that’s a different story (I know, I know, again with the puns). Now you’re saying that the event happened in order to affect something that hasn’t happened yet. Now the focus is on the future, something that your actions in the present can certainly impact.

Suddenly, your future is firmly in your hands and rests on what you do now, in the present – in reaction to the event in question.

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

– Epictetus

This follows from the first quote, and Epictetus’ words ring true today – two thousand years after he said them. Granted, he was a Stoic philosopher who believed that all external events happen as a result of fate and should be accepted without fuss. I’m not advocating that extreme a view, I just want to take it far enough to adopt an outsider’s view of events in order to learn from them and carry that lesson forward.

If you can make this perspective shift, even if only when you remember this article, imagine the changes you can affect. Instead of saying, “why did that happen to me?” What you’re saying is, “what can I do with this right now to affect my future positively?”

You’ve just taken the negative experience of dwelling on the past why and turned it into the positive experience of figuring out the future how.