Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: July, 2013

Magic Bullet 2: Wouldn’t it be cool if maintaining good health were easy?

photo of young women on edge of bed, holding head in hands, and feeling unwel

No magic bullets for health dilemmas

In The Point, I promised to expose myself to a boatload of embarrassment on this blog, in hopes of sparing you some of life’s common problems. This post is chock full of embarrassing info, so pay attention!

Sometime during my forties, I began having several little health problems, all seemingly unrelated. Up until that time, I’d been very healthy, so this new chain of events was irritating, to say the least. (Up till then I’d pretty much stomped my Type-A foot down on that accelerator and zoomed on down the road of life.) 

For years and years, I practiced magic-solution, vacuous thinking.

  • If the chiropractor can make the right adjustments, I’ll feel great.
  • No, wait: if the dentist can just make a few adjustments to my bite pattern, I’ll feel great.
  • If the neurologist will just do whatever it is that neurologists do, I’ll feel great.
  • If I can find the right meds, I’ll feel great.
  • If I can find the right supplements, I’ll feel great.

But the health incidents kept increasing and escalating in severity. My new normal was alarming. In desperation, I fired off the mother of all magic bullets – major sugery. Bad idea: it helped very little.

After surgery, I became unhealthily skinny. I slowed to a quarter of my usual speed. I was depressingly fatigued by the slightest of everyday stressors. All this necessitated a dramatic decrease in my client workload. I saw doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist, submitted to test after test, procedure after procedure – with practically no help from any of them. And on and on, until I faced the music: lots of problems all intermingled, no magic bullets to be found.

Now what?

It was time to throw out the magic bullets. It was time for serious research.

The more research I did, the more I learned about my body. That’s when I made the melancholy discovery that I’d definitely not been paying attention to my own body. It was embarrassing what I didn’t know about my body – and didn’t care that I didn’t know – until it no longer worked.

Along the way, I picked up a tidbit that helped this symptom, something else that helped with that symptom. I learned with much disappointment that I’d been living in very unhealthy ways on a number of fronts until one day – voilà. I struck the mother lode – a major piece of information about celiac. Once I adjusted my diet, life improved considerably, just four “short” years after my magic-bullet surgery.

Almost everything I’d learned along the way helped a little bit – and sometimes, though not often, a lot. I began to realize that there were several health problems all playing into each other. As I talked with others who’d gone through similar experiences, guess what? I wasn’t unique! Our health issues are complex because our bodies are complex. Duh.

Most doctors are short on time and short on knowledge of all modalities. They practice either conventional medicine or alternative medicine, but very rarely both. They prefer specialist income to GP income, so they specialize in one narrow field. Not overly concerned with how all the body parts work together, they either know ALL about the skin or ALL about the brain – but not both. (And the specialist to whom you’re referred is not the only sage on stage, just so you know.)

In short, very few docs are looking at the big picture: your body in all its complexity and all its parts. But let’s be fair: no doctor can know all about your daily physical and mental habits – the countless things you do every day that have a slow, steady impact on your health. There isn’t a medical/health questionnaire long enough or thorough enough to give a health professional all of this very necessary information.

Drop brainless magic-bullet thinking.
Adopt these intelligent-thinking concepts.

It’s what I should have been thinking all along – and how I hope you’ll think from this day forward.

  • The person who lives in your complex body is the person responsible for its care and feeding. Even though you’re the one who’s sick, YOU will need to pay meticulous attention to your health issues – because precious few in the medical community will. They’ll be looking for the one problem they can fix with their one magic bullet from their very specialized area of medicine.
  • Ask your close family members or spouse to pay attention to your health. Often, their feedback will be far more objective than yours.
  • Pay attention to The Big Picture and take note of all its little problems that may be interconnected or contributing to the seemingly isolated Big Problem.
  • Pay attention to all of you: your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical states and how they interact.

 And lastly, tattoo this on your brain: firing a magic bullet at a health problem is just folly gone to seed. Dooooon’t do it.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text of a quote from Quentin Regestein, M.D. about the patient's job of taking charge of his own life.

A respected doc: there’s no magic health bullet

Magic Bullet 1: Wouldn’t it be cool if life were simple?

photo of silver magic bullet

Sleek. Shiny. Silver. And totally ineffective.

You have a problem.
You ask around.
You hear about a magic bullet.
You get one.
You pop it into your six-shooter.
You fire it off.
Bingo-bango: problem solved.

Wouldn’t this be awesome – to know that all you have to do is find one magic bullet for your problem? But you’re an adult, and you know the scenario I’ve just described is a lie.

We all know life is complex. We all know its problems are also complex, resulting from a plethora of causative effects. We all know precious few of our problems are caused by one thing and can be obliterated by one shiny-silver, magic bullet. We ALL know these facts, and yet many of us spend a good portion of our waking hours pretending there is indeed the fairy-tale scenario I described above.

You’ve been paying attention.
So what do you see
as you look around?

Messed-up lives? Crumbling marriages? Self-sabotaged careers? Ruined health? If you’ve been paying attention, you know a ton of bad decisions (and perhaps a small amount of bad luck) created those messes. But rather than sort through the debris and develop a realistic action plan, more likely those people you’ve been observing grasped at one, quick-and-easy answer – the proverbial magic bullet.

  • I’ll go to rehab for a month, and the staff will help me kick my habit.”
  • It’s just stress. We’ll take a vacation to the Bahamas, and that’ll fix our marriage. Or maybe if we had a baby, that would bring us closer together.”
  • My boss needs to realize how talented I am and give me the raise I deserve.”
  • This new diet is the answer I’ve been looking for: it says I don’t even have to exercise because the weight will literally fall off!”

Of course, pay-attention person that you are, you’ve noticed that in all of these not-so-unusual statements, it’s someone or something else who’s being given the clean-up job. And did you notice that the clean-up job is assumed to be relatively simple?

What happens next?

You know what happens because you’ve been paying attention. They shoot off the magic bullet. Then they’re amazed and disgusted when it doesn’t fix the problem. Then they continue making the same mistakes which lead to:

  • more messed-up lives,
  • more crumbling marriages,
  • more sabotaged professions, and
  • more health issues.

What nonsensical,
paradoxical thinking we practice.

We intellectually acknowledge that life is complex and, therefore, its problems must also be complex. Yet we proceed to throw up our hands at life’s problems, jettison all reason, and reach for a magic bullet.

When faced with the apex of a health issue, a financial crisis, or a spouse walking out the door, we look around for one magic solution that will make it all better. We’ve not been paying attention. We’ve not been practicing critical thinking. And now we think if we could pop that one magic bullet into our six-shooter, we could solve our very major, very complex problem.

Why? Why? Why?
WHY do we do this to ourselves?

Know what I think? I think we tell ourselves that it’s just more than our feeble little minds can sort out. But, of course, that is also a lie. We can sort it out. We just have to pay attention AND ask some thorny questions.

  • Am I lazy? Am I not up for the arduous task of unraveling my problem and devising an action plan?
  • Am I undisciplined? Am I unwilling to follow my own action plan, even after I’ve spent considerable time creating it?
  • Am I blaming others? (Often we decide it’s easier to go through the mental-gymnastic rationalization of “_____ did this, so she’d better fix it” than to admit it’s our problem and we need to figure it out.)

Hard questions, aren’t they?

But the sooner we start honestly answering them, the sooner we’ll start the unraveling process of our lives’ stickiest messes. And as you’ve probably noticed, the longer we let the events and people of our lives get tangled up, the more unraveling we have to do.

Just so you know, I still stand by my premise that very ordinary, pay-attention people can live successful lives. In spite of that, though, you’ll never hear me claim that life itself is simple.

No siree. There is no magic solution, no magic bullet (except for the kitchen appliance). There are only complex lives, complex problems, and complex solutions. That’s the bad news. The good news? Though 99 percent of life’s problems are complex, paying attention will help you learn how to resolve them.

Keeping my promise to heap boatloads of embarrassment on myself, I’ll give some examples from my own life in future Magic Bullet posts, and you’ll see what I mean. (By now, my dignity is already shot, so I have nothing to lose.)

red box with white text of Dr. Temple Grandin's quote about there being no magic bullet

Famed lecturer & author of The Autistic Brain

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Process 5: Building Character


photo of two young women hugging and forgiving

Forgiveness – character-building par excellence

This process-thing works in the deeper, more important areas of our lives, too. Let’s use forgiveness as an example. 

If you believe in God, you know He’s commanded you to forgive. It isn’t an option; it’s a command. Even if you don’t believe in God and Dr. Phil is your Higher Power, you know that forgiving others is one way we keep ourselves mentally and emotionally healthy and happy. It has very little to do with the person who wronged you; it has everything to do with what’s best for you.

Yes, the process of building
good character is tough.

Forgiveness, like the cultivation of almost every other good character trait, can be a long and tedious process with erratic progress. We can’t let go of the hurt and disappointment right away because our feisty human nature keeps us dwelling on the broken promises, hurt, and betrayal. 

And then, we get distracted and we forget for a few days. As we forget, the hurt lessens, and our eventual ability to forgive completely seems more feasible. On and on it goes, this process, until one day we’re astonished to find that we’ve actually forgiven that person and we truly bear them no ill will. (Trust me if you’re not there yet, it can and does happen.)

While we may not want them in our lives anymore, we realize we’ve given up wishing their computer would crash – daily. We no longer fantasize about their car getting totaled – in the parking lot, of course; we don’t have a death wish for them, after all. We no longer wish that their beloved twelve-year-old dog dies a long and expensive death. The process may have taken a very long time but – and here’s the real point – it did occur. While we weren’t paying attention, it did occur.

That’s how
the character-building process goes.

Few of us have the time or the inclination to be reflective enough to pay attention to the processes of our lives as they’re occurring. On the contrary, we tend not to notice processes until later – much later. The real key, then, when it comes to benefiting from knowing about this whole process thing, is to pay attention and learn from the character-building process as it unfolds.

Let’s go back
to the profitable character trait
of forgiveness.

Forgive. Today. Just a little. Declare a moratorium on remembering the unjust wounding for just today. Too hard? The hurt too deep? Promise yourself no remembering for just this morning, just an hour, or whatever seems doable to you. Do it again tomorrow.

Celebrate your little successes: “Good for me. I didn’t once think of how much I’d like to strangle her today!” Keep it up. Forgiveness and all the other worthwhile character traits make us feel SO much better. And if we’re paying attention, we get the additional pleasure of observing a healthy new good-character habit as it progressively forms in our own lives.

red box with white text of Jesus' quote from Mark 11: "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Process 4: Developing Relationships

photo of three young people working on electronics together

Developing relationships through geeky stuff

This process-thing plays out in relationships, too. My circle of friends, network of business associates, and support group of those with whom I would trust my life is HUGE. But it took 64 years to reach its gargantuan size.

One by one, I made new acquaintances who turned into something more than mere acquaintances. One by one, I added people to my life who deserved to be there. One of by one, I paid attention to those who were indifferent and or who kept raining on my parade (more on this in Feeling Good: Encouraging Others post) and removed them from the theater of my life. And voilá, a support system that would make the Pope drool.

Have you noticed
life isn’t much fun sometimes?

Sometimes life feels suspiciously like slogging through mud. You’ll need some friends along the way. Good ones. Lots of them. Start the process of accumulating these people who will help you through thick and thin – and who you will be able to help through thick and thin. 

Invest in these people. Help friends with no thought of reciprocation. (Feeling Good: Encouraging Others contains my disclaimer about this reciprocity thing.) Pay attention to the process of consciously developing friendships.

Paying attention to – and investing in – others’ lives is a process that gradually produces a gloriously rich and complex support group.

red box with white text of anonymous quote, "Doing nothing for friends eventually means having no friends to do for."

Pay attention! This maxim is oh-so-true.

(Right about now would be a good time to move on to Process 5: Building Character.)

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Process 3: Personal Habits

photo of a healthy breakfast of oatmeal and fruit

A healthy breakfast = one worthwhile habit

This whole process-thing isn’t confined to your personal and household clutter. Even things as untouchable as good habits happen as a slow, steady process.

Quick – what do you do each morning? I’ll bet it’s a set of actions that have become your morning’s good habits. Even by our twenties, most of us have already established an intricate, well-established pattern of daily habits.

Deciding to instigate a good habit and then sticking with our resolution is a painstaking process. If we’re fairly self-disciplined, we make it happen – in good time. While I’ve heard ra-ra-ree, kick-em-in-the-knee “experts” claim it takes a mere 27 days to turn a repeated action into a good habit, my humble experience says longer – as in twice as long.

But don’t fret. Just keep hammering away at those good habits. One day, you’ll wake up and realize you could fill a page with your good habits – habits that have saved you a great deal of grief for years. Was each one an exercise in self-discipline? You bet. Did it hurt that much? Not really. You just added them one at a time, as you recognized the need. It was a process, and now you can lay claim to plenty of good habits.

Breaking Bad Habits

While it takes a month or two to develop a good habit, it takes a nanosecond to develop a bad habit and then months and months to break that bad habit. I well know what I’m talking about here, dear reader. It’s a perverse fact of life – brutally perverse.

Oh, we do pretty well for a few hours or days as we try to break one of our nasty little habits, and then we fall down and go boom. We pick ourselves up, pump up our resolve, and get ourselves through a little longer period of time before we fall off the proverbial wagon again. On and on it goes until the day we realize we’ve finally broken that bad habit that so plagued us a few months ago.

Take this for what it’s worth. In my very unscientific observation, I’ve found it’s sometimes more productive to expend energy developing a new good habit than agonizing over the painful process of breaking a bad habit. For some reason, the bad habits are eclipsed by the new good habits. Interesting paradox, huh?

Pay Attention

This paradox makes it even more important that you sit up and pay attention when you notice other people’s good habits. Ask yourself how you could tailor their good habit to fit you. What could you tweak about their habit to make it become your habit? Start – today. Just do it. And while you’re at it . . .

  • Start hammering away at one new good habit at the first of the month.
  • Instigate one – just one – new good habit every January to make your New Year’s resolutions a tad more credible.
  • Choose a new good habit on your birthday.

I promise, one by one, they’ll add up. It’s a process, I’m telling you. Collect good habits instead of salt-and-pepper sets. It’s an incredibly rewarding process and while good habits are a little trickier to inventory than salt and pepper sets, they’re way more valuable assets.

Come on, help us all out. Share your tricks for developing good habits.

red box with white text of quote by Samuel Smiles

Wisdom from a late-1800s Scottish reformer

(Right about now would be a good time to move on to Process 4: Developing Relationships.)

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

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