A Personal Mission:
Take Charge of Your Own Wellness
by Deepak Chopra, M.D., F.A.C.P.
A basic outline for prevention has existed for more than thirty years, but wellness has had a hard time making real headway. Old habits are hard to break. Our society has a magic bullet fixation, waiting for the next miracle drug to cure us of every ill. Doctors receive no economic benefit from pushing prevention over drugs and surgery. For all these reasons, compliance with prevention falls far below what is needed for maximum wellness.
Rather than feeling gloomy, my focus has been on getting the individual to take charge of their own wellness. This can be a considerable challenge, since we are each unique in our bodies but also unique in our pattern of bad habits and poor lifestyle choices. More than 40 percent of American adults make a resolution to live a better life each year, and fewer than half keep their promise to themselves for longer than six months. Conditioning is hard to break, but the key is that the power to break a habit belongs to the same person who made it – the turnaround amounts to giving up unconscious behavior and adopting conscious new patterns.
Once your mind begins to pay attention, your brain can build new neural pathways to reinforce what you learn. Much is made of the brain’s ability to change and adapt – the general term is neuroplasticity – but I think science has been slow to catch up with wise experience. It has always been true that applying awareness in any form, through such things as resolve, discipline, good intentions, and mindfulness, has the power to create change. Breaking the process into manageable steps will you create a lifestyle that supports health, happiness, and genuine fulfillment.
Step 1: Set Goals by Baselining Your Health
The first step in taking control of your well-being is to set goals, and a sensible way to do this is to “baseline” your health. Gather some basic facts that realistically inform you about your body: weight, height, family history, exercise habits, general diet, and a self-assessment of your stress levels at work and in your home life.
Some experts would add medical measures that only a doctor can fully determine, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and other lipids levels, and bone density. My difficulty with these tests is that they encourage worry. Being in an anxious state is a bad motivator for most people. It can motivate you for as long as you remember to be afraid, but after that, people tend to give in to impulses, make erratic choices, and increase their own stress levels. With that in mind, I go against the grain of standard medical advice, at least partially, by saying that heeding these medical markers should come second, after you have already set yourself on a good wellness program for at least six months. Give consciousness a chance before you undermine it with potential anxiety.
How do you actually set your goals? Start thinking about the big picture. Changing poor lifestyle habits is rarely easy, especially if they comfort you, as smoking or overeating do for many people. You need a strong vision of what you want to achieve in order to succeed. I’d say the strongest vision comes from knowing about a simple trend: the latest research shows that more and more disorders, including most cancers, are preventable through a good wellness program. The benefits are increasing with every new study.
Step 2: Set Priorities
Making lists of your hot spots and your sweet spots will help you to set your personal priorities. The hot spots are weaknesses, the sweet spots strengths that crop up during an ordinary day. You can’t attack every bad pattern all at once; it’s good to achieve a series of small victories at first.
Hot spots: List the times you feel unhappy or most agitated—fighting a futile battle to get a good night's sleep, perhaps, or recriminating yourself for ordering dessert when you were already full. Identify with clear sights your biggest challenges, such as getting to bed on time, reducing food portions, resisting sweets, choosing the couch over the treadmill, and so on. Doing this will help your mission take shape and direction.
Sweet spots: List the things that give you joy and satisfaction, for instance, spending time with your family or enjoying a favorite hobby. Recapture in your mind what it feels like to resist ordering dessert or to spend half an hour walking outdoors. Appreciating the sweet spots in your life is a source of strength as you embark on your habit-changing mission.
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Dr. Deepak Chopra is the co-founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California. As a global leader and pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine, he is transforming the way the world views physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social wellness. He is a prolific author of more than sixty-four books, including nineteen New York Times bestsellers. To learn more about the Chopra Center, please visit www.chopra.com or call 888.736.6895.