Typically, when we want to check our health and fitness progress, we step on the scale or look in the mirror. But when it comes to well-being, what you see isn't always what you get -- or at least, not all that you get.
We've been inclined to believe that pursuing health and fitness is predominantly self-focused, and that we alone stand to profit from the results.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Certainly, whenever we change our lives for the healthier, there's a lot in it for us as individuals: more energy, strength, confidence, vitality, mental clarity, better moods, improved appearance, lower disease risks, and so on.
But there's just as much in it (if not more) for all the people, places, and projects that we touch during the course of our daily lives.
Weirdly, this is not something we are typically encouraged to reflect upon, or to draw on as a potential source of inspiration.
Instead, most of the health-and-fitness messages we receive via mass media ("Flat Abs Now!," "Lose the Flab!," "Drop 4 Sizes") are aimed at the vulnerable narcissist within each of us.
They imply that the central rewards of health and fitness are largely derived from appearing healthy and fit, and by extension, from impressing others (or avoiding their judgment).
And so, within the vast and deep slipstream of positive results created by healthy lifestyle changes, we've tended to focus on only a comparatively narrow and superficial band.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with wanting to achieve appearance-related changes. In fact, the aesthetic rewards that go along with healthy body transformations have some very real superpowers. (I'll get to those in a moment.)
But in many cases, some of the biggest payoffs of our healthy changes have less to do with us than with the people, places, and things that matter most to us.
The reality: When you make even a modest improvement in your health status, or in even a single health habit, a whole bunch of people around you invariably benefit -- regardless of whether they (or you) happen to realize it at the time. And being even marginally aware of this dynamic can serve as a powerful intrinsic motivator.
Psychological research suggests that intrinsic motivators (those connected with our sense of enjoyment, value, or meaning) are dramatically more powerful and long lasting than extrinsic motivators (those connected with our desire to impress others, win material rewards, avoid punishments, or comply with social expectations).
By expanding your awareness of the potential intrinsic rewards embedded in the fabric of your life, you can tap into a new reservoir of motivation. The kind of meaningful motivation that comes in very handy on those days when bikini-body and flat-abs promises seem to have lost their luster, and the appeal of eating caramel corn in front of the television seems especially strong.
Here are just a few bigger-picture factors to keep in view.
- Relationships. Your level of health, vitality, self-esteem, and equanimity all powerfully influence how you show up for other people. Reflect on what you are like to be around when you are healthy versus unhealthy. Think about how your needs, resources, and capacity shift, and the potential support or pressure that shift creates for others (family, friends, kids, coworkers). As you get healthier and happier, the people closest to you are the most likely to benefit -- and to be inspired by your example.
I had a neat experience recently that illustrated this last point for me. A woman I helped many years ago -- an overstressed nurse practitioner who was then going through a health and life crisis of her own -- wound up getting some coaching that I recommended based on my own experience.
She shifted her daily priorities and choices, started taking better care of herself, got trained in functional medicine, and, to my surprise, wound up becoming one of the first members of the medical team at Life Time's new LT Proactive Care Clinic. (For more of her story, see "The Nurse Who Learned to Heal Herself First".)
She now provides the kind of life-changing care that lights her up, and that empowers other people to reclaim their health and optimize it.
I did my annual physical with her a couple months ago, and as she helped me interpret some labs and offered me great nutritional counsel, I was struck by how we'd come full circle: The simple health support I'd offered her so many years ago was now directly benefiting me, and being multiplied through thousands of other patients.
None of this would have happened had I not embarked on my own health journey decades ago. None of it would have been possible if there weren't a whole lot of other inspired people out there working on creating healthier lives, sharing what they know, and creating the demand and delivery mechanisms necessary for more healthy stuff to get out into the world.
So go ahead: Look in the mirror -- and see the bigger picture. When you change your life for the better, everyone around you changes for the better too, even if only by having witnessed the changes you've made and realizing they are possible.
"Get Your Groove Back" -- Dr. Frank Lipman on why finding your body's natural sleep cycle and circadian rhythms is the key to strength, vitality and wellness.
"Fearless Health" -- Worrying excessively about our well-being can do us more harm than good. Here's how to keep your health concerns in perspective.
"With Power, Responsibility" -- It's time for us to start taking better care of our amazing bodies -- and for healthcare to start raising its game.
"Fresh Start: A Spring Detox Guide" -- Say goodbye to internal grime and grunge. Your body is begging you to take out the trash!
Pilar Gerasimo is a nationally recognized healthy-living expert, author of A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World, and the creative force behind the 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy. She serves as senior vice president of Healthy Living for Life Time, the Healthy Way of Life Company, and is currently working on a book about the art of being healthy in an unhealthy world. Learn more about Pilar's work and connect with her via social media at PilarGerasimo.com.
Follow Pilar Gerasimo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pgerasimo