by Don Bates
Well-being takes many forms – physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social. All contribute to health. If one is out of sort, the others are affected. Suffer significant loss – job, friendship, loved one – and one or more will be shaken if not irreparably damaged. Thankfully, most of us regain our balance quickly, but for some of us the pain can last for months, years, a lifetime, often leading to depression or worse. So the question of what we can eliminate and still be healthy becomes more a matter of how much we can and want to tolerate. Change of the kind we are addressing means transformation, modest or extraordinary, but transformation nonetheless. For this change to work, we have to make it stick. Thus, whatever we want to eliminate, we should want it gone forever. Otherwise, why bother? Now, let’s make it more personal. What can you eliminate from your way of being and still be healthy? Like anything worthwhile, you have to begin where it can count the most. One place is in front of a body-length mirror. Stand before the glass and look deep and long, not only at the surface image, but at the “aura” – the feelings your eyes, hair, ears, mouth, shoulders, arms, hands, nose, skin and other aspects of your appearance convey or imply. And be real. This is the body you were endowed with at birth and that has evolved from a convergence of personal intervention and “outside” assistance from family, friends, teachers, religion, culture, community, medicine, books, lovers, luck. Whether you believe in supernatural powers or natural selection, you are the “essence” of all that learning and you will be for as long as you live. Look, in particular, at what makes you special, even if you don’t like everything you see. Analyze the total package. Front side. Back side. Flex your muscles. Smile. Grimace. And speak. Hear your voice, accent, tone – what you sound like to the world. But stick to the facts. Don’t exaggerate. You are what you are and no one else. As a Nepalese taxi driver once told me: “Everything is as it should be.” I said: “That’s discouraging.” He continued: “That doesn’t mean it can’t be otherwise but for this moment, it is what it is and nothing else.” As you look, consider what else makes you special – your knowledge, intelligence, ideas, beliefs, prejudices, skills, abilities, desires, needs – the list goes on. And probe the implications. If necessary, use a notebook for help, lipstick on the glass. For change to occur, you have to invest time and attention. We’re talking about your life, not a walk in the park. Look, as well, at the contrasts you represent – strong-fragile, powerful-weak, exciting-boring, essential-inconsequential, amazing-trivial, loving-unloving. Your goal: to gain a better understanding of your importance as a human being. Now comes the hard part. What can you eliminate from all you understand and still be healthy? If you’re like most people, you’ll think of the obvious: but I can assure you that the following steps will you help you to make the right decisions if you want.
Mirror, mirror on the wall. Once you’ve parsed your person, pick one thing or a few things you want to eliminate.
Decide strategically. Work for permanency, not temporal pleasure.
Set a time limit. By when will you do what you intend?
Enlist support. Find a “sponsor,” someone who will encourage you to succeed from start to finish.
Evaluate progress. Maybe check in with the mirror once in a while. Even better if you ask friends.
But maybe you’ll decide to do nothing – that you like the way you are or that there is no hope for change – but you’ll be a lot healthier if you engage the process. Either way, you’ll not only please yourself; you’ll also please those around you who care the most about your well-being.
Illustration by Paul Davis, London, UK
Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Fall 2011