Health Continuum, as it relates to the Health Spectrum
In one of our prior blog posts and podcasts we discussed the Health Spectrum concept of how to mentally frame your position of overall personal fitness, ranging from optimal “Positive Health” all the way to the end of wellness, “Death”. As a reminder, I copied a diagram, below, for your review and to set the stage for today’s discussion.
Today we would like to discuss how to navigate upward on the spectrum of health by using, what we call, the health continuum framework or process. Think of the health continuum as a continuous looping spiral, either up or down, as you progress on the spectrum of health. When we are born, most of us start somewhere near the center of the spectrum. Given our innate genetic and acquired environmental influences, we progress either up or down the spectrum.
An easy way to think about the movement up or down is by imagining a single, ever changing, gentle, gradual, or steeper, quickly, moving spiral (depicted below) that either transitions us up or down depending on the impact of the myriad of variables we all encounter in our day to day lives. Sometimes drastic life changes cause us to move quickly and sometimes life is more stable and static. You can imagine how a surprise or unexpected life event would have the potential to drive our emotions up or down the continuum quickly. If our environment is perceived as stable, however, the emotional velocity isn’t as influential and we tend to stay, essentially, right where we are on the spectrum.
We have all heard the phrase, “That person is on a downward spiral” or “headed downhill” in life, which has the general connotation that bad things are going on in someone's life that are negatively impacting their mental, physical, emotional, and/or spiritual health which, together, essentially define one’s overall fitness. Conversely, we are also familiar with the notion of someone “Rising to the top”, “Elevating through life”, or “Moving up in the world”. This impression, of course, conversely gives the perception of positivity impacting one's fitness happiness.
When multiple negative or positive experiences occur, or at least strongly appreciated experiences occur, the perceived progression up or down the spectrum is heightened. These descriptions of elevating or declining may have their roots in religion, considering the generalized locations generally associated with heaven and hell, or they could just be positions that describe our emotions regarding general mood, that of feeling “up” or “down”.
Regardless of how you interpret the spectrum, it is a useful tool to gauge where you are in your own personal life status which can be used to help you plan when and how you want to proceed to the next level. First though, it is extremely important to realize the fact that we as human beings have the inherent, but unfortunately frequently forgotten ability, and responsibility, to decide for ourselves how we interpret the world around us. For example if something occurs during your day that didn’t go the way you thought it would, something that was important to you, perhaps an interview when you didn’t get hired for a job that you thought you were perfect for, and that you so very needed at that time. You have the decision whether to perceive the experience negatively, let it break you down and internalize that, not only the interview was a failure, but that that failure also defines you as a person.
So, your bad interview turns into a bad day which decreases your mood, which causes you to “drown your sorrows” in alcohol, which in turn decreases your sleep quality which makes you feel miserable the next day, with poor appetite, no energy and poor disposition with friends, loved ones and current co-workers. You take a break from the gym as your motivation just isn’t there. You start drinking more and eating more comfort type foods because you feel the best when you indulge. Your weight increases and your mood decreases into what you are told later is depression. Your relationships can’t handle the stress of the new you so you find yourself separated from your significant other or your friends. You feel isolated and your health declines as you find out you now have pre-diabetes and high blood pressure.
OR, perhaps instead, you took ownership of the fact that you really didn’t prepare for the interview as well as you could have, slept poorly the night before and decided to ask your interviewer for some constructive feedback to motivate you to learn what you could from the interviewer, and the overall experience, to make your resume and interview skills stronger. Thus adapting, adjusting and developing a stronger version of yourself to overcome the obstacles placed before you. Then you re-applied for the position, which you got, or who knows possibly an even better job offer once they saw your determination and positive outlook in the face of adversity. Either way, your confidence level improved, which made you feel strong and gave you experience that will be useful in countless future challenges in the future. This emotional and intellectual “win” could then carry over to even better workouts at the gym which spurred healthier eating habits, stronger relationships with co-workers and loved ones who appreciated and were inspired by your positivity and healthy aura. All of this made you feel healthier and happier which thrust you upward on the continuum driving you to make other positive changes.
This seems like a dramatic and exaggerated example, and might not relate to you specifically, but is presented to simply detail the interactions and connectedness of different areas of our life which influence either positively or negatively depending on the one, single, defining perception of any specific event and how that perception influences our behavior going forward. The experience was the same, up to the point where the person in each example decided to interpret the world around them. It bears repeating that the only difference is how the person’s perception, that was allowed, determined everything to follow. Human beings are easily influenced to move up or down the continuum by our own emotions. Practice and intentional strategies can help increase our chances for moving up rather than down.
The next time you have a situation that causes you to become angry, frustrated or sad, try this experiment. If possible, take yourself away from the situation, preferably a quiet place with no distractions, if not possible, reflect on the situation later. Close your eyes. Take a couple of big, deep, slow breaths. Acknowledge the feelings you are having, then think about the situation from the perspective of someone else observing the encounter or situation you just had that caused the negative emotions you just experienced. From this vantage point, now think about alternative outcomes or ways to handle the particular problem. Practice this process with every negative encounter you experience and soon it will become a habit where you won’t even have to remove yourself from situations. You will feel comfortable with taking a brief pause while you calmly reflect and react in a more productive and beneficial manner. And remember, if you aren’t fully prepared to come up with an alternative solution to the conflict or situation at that exact minute, or you can't think of another, more beneficial, scenario, take control of the situation. You can always calmly and thoughtfully inform the other individual or group involved in the event that you realize there is an issue and you are considering the options and will get back to them soon with a solution.
One of the underlying foundations of the self-ish life is that by affecting even one, seemingly insignificant and unrelated, area of one’s life, for instance sleep, nutrition or exercise, in a positive manner, we can initiate and increase the velocity of where we are at any level of the continuum in a positive manner (upward). We believe this is true with health and fitness but also in our positions in various aspects of life, be it our relationships, interests or careers. Improving any one aspect of our life will affect many other areas positively and keep you moving in the right direction toward optimal overall health. Reflecting on these relationships can be quite beneficial in keeping that momentum going.
Helping our clients identify these areas of focus for elevating their positions on the spectrum is what really gets us excited. We find great joy in finding individualized creative ways to inspire and motivate the desired change to advance them upward. This spectrum concept has helped a great many of Toby’s patients improve their overall health and numerous health coaching clients that Jacki has worked with. Let us know if you feel we can help you reach your goals in life and happiness.
We welcome your comments regarding your thoughts about how this framework helps you to organize where you are on the spectrum of health at any point in time, if it helps you to work your way up on the spectrum and any ideas you have that might help others be successful on their journey at improving their health. Our goal is to help the Self-ish community be as successful as they can be in life. More than ever, in this time of international and domestic conflict, unrest and divide, we strongly believe that by using the self-ISH approach, we can help improve the world’s collective health; one person at a time.