Most of us give over the decisions about our health to someone else. Decisions about what we should eat, what exercise we should do, and how we should respond to getting sick. Essentially, what to put in our bodies, how to move our bodies, and how to fix our bodies when they are not working right. It is a lot to understand, and there are experts who have studied all of this, so we should just do what they say. Right?
Maybe. Partially. As famed physician and author Atul Gawande asks in his book Being Mortal, why are we asking technicians to decide moral questions for us? While they are very highly trained technicians, medical professionals can help us get to the state we want for our bodies, but that requires that somebody decide what that desired state is, and Dr. Gawande suggests that we are the ones to decide that for ourselves.
What are we supposed to decide for ourselves and where might we depend on experts? Easy. If we understand that we are assessing 4 different things. 3 of these are ours to decide, for ourselves. Experts can help guide us with 1 of them. We need to know (1) our actual state, how we are actually doing, (2) our desired state, what we want our health to look like, (3) the gap–the difference–between the actual and desired states, and (4) what to do to close the gap. We have to understand our actual health, in comparison with the health we actually want for ourselves, and what we can do to move towards the health we choose.
There are infinite suggestions about the life you should lead. Most of us don’t follow most of these suggestions. Someone out there tells us not to, but some people like to eat meat or carbs, walk on busy streets or late at night, eat from street vendors or in local dives, smoke, complain, jump out of airplanes and off of cliffs, swim with sharks, drink sweet soda drinks or alcohol, or sit on the couch all day. These are all things that some expert says is bad for us. And, lots of us like to do some of these things. That might be what leads to a life well lived. The problem then might not be what we choose to do or how we choose to live our lives, rather in what we do about what happens along the way.
To know what to do, to maintain our health or strengthen it, we need to know the standard of health we want, where we are right now, and what we can do to close the gap between the two. Information from technology and experts can support us in understanding what our desired state of health looks like and how to measure it (e.g., pulse rate, muscle strength, clean thoughts, no headaches), how to assess our current level of health with similar measures, and what we can do to alter our current state. If you want to be able to have stronger legs, these different forms of exercise might work for you, depending on what you like to do. Swimming, walking, lifting weights, squats. Here are the measures, the possible actions, and now you can assess and decide. It’s your choice–what you want, where you are, and what you can do to get where you want. If this is what you want to do (see the long list above), these are the consequences that you live with, and what you can do to ameliorate the impacts.
To be able to make this shift in mindset, from leaving it to others to decide to deciding for yourself, it is helpful to clarify how you think about your health. To you, what is your “original state” and what is “normal”? Let’s look at this question for your physical health and then your mental and social health.
YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH
There exist 2 very different perspectives on your physical health. Where you start from will greatly determine what you do and what you achieve. One perspective is that you start with your “original state.” The other perspective is that you start from a “normal state.”
Your original state. The body you were given is a miracle. While it has been studied forever, we still have very little understanding of how it does what it does. It is born, with you in it. It grows. For half of us, it makes babies and milk for babies. For the other half, it makes seeds for babies. It grows older. It grows stronger. It fights diseases and fixes wounds. It dies. That’s a lot. In your original state, you have a very high functioning physical state, doing a huge amount in every single instant, over a whole lifetime, and this is normal. Lower than this is pathological. For some reason, in this whole universe of infinite energy, we exist as Homo lumens, as natural beings. Our body is created, grows, strengthens, and procreates, without our conscious awareness or design. And, our awareness and design influence what we do with this energy-flowing structure-energy-field we are given. It is a very complex system that is made to work at a high level of performance (efficiency and effectiveness, leveraging small inputs into sustainable, resilient outputs for all systems, in all parts of the body, at all times). This is our given state, a state that our lack of understanding and awareness “normally” degrades. This is our “original state.”
Your normal state. From a “normal state” view of the world, we look at what is normal for people, what the standard distribution of people do. From this perspective, low levels of health are fine. Higher is nicer. We expect people to be in poor health, because that is what we find, normally. We make conscious choices and accept unconscious conditions that work against our body instead of with it. Just think of the obesity epidemic, chronic disease years-of-life lost, and the high levels of malnutrition we accept around the globe. With a world of water and plants, we allow vast amounts of people to die from dehydration and malnutrition. With easily-scalable high technology, we allow many people to die early from easily avoidable conditions (dirty air, dirty water, contaminated food, communicable disease). After all, this low state of health is what we see in lots of people, so it is “normal.” Better than normal is nice. This is our “normal state.”
YOUR MENTAL, SOCIAL HEALTH
We see the same for your mental and social health. The World Health Organization suggests that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. As with our physical health, the same two perspectives apply to our mental and social health—and “original state“ and a “normal state“ view. Which do you choose? Your original, given state or what is normal amongst others? Your “original,” given state of intense creativity, passion, and will to engage in creating a future to which you give your love, in your own, unique ways, every day? Or your “normal state” of being disengaged and apathetic about what actually happens?
You decide and you assess. Here are a few quick, easy tools for measuring your own state of health, using instruments my colleagues and I have developed and tested over the past two decades in over 125 countries. All of these well-tested, validated measures are available for free online—I provide the link to them. You can use them as you wish for yourself. If you would like help in understanding or applying these tools to your own health, feel free to contact me.
- “Quick Pulse Check“
- Flourishing overall — your overall level of physical, mental, and social health
- Communal well-being — the health of the community where you live
- “5-point Health Check“
- Agreements health check suite — the health of the agreements of any of your groups
- “Deeper SCAN”
- 10-point diagnostic SCAN of the social health of your group
The “You Choose” Plan.
- You choose your standard of physical, mental, and social health
- You asses your actual levels
- You determine the gap
- You choose the actions to take
Experts and expert tools can help you assess these, and they can help you setup a continuous monitoring scorecard system, to bring you greater resilience for when things happen. It is a choice. Your choice.
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