There’s that saying people throw out when a hypothetical situation is profoundly unappealing or flat-out unconscionable to them – “Not for a million dollars…”. Not for a million dollars. Not for ten million. Not for…what? Think for a second and identify the most important, precious, valuable principles and priorities that you wouldn’t sacrifice for anything in the world. Got ‘em? Let me ask this: does your health make the list?
If it did, think about how you got to this point. How and when did you decide your health was so comparatively critical? How have you arranged your life to live that priority each day? What’s been a fairly simple adaptation, and what’s required genuine compromise? What options have you been obliged to reject? What people have you disappointed as a direct/indirect result? And what have been the benefits that keep you committed? If health didn’t make your list, let’s put the obvious on the table. Honesty congratulated, why didn’t it register?
It’s true we pay lip service to health every day as a country and as individuals. Walk down the street, and you’ll see public health messages on the sides of buses and bus stops. You’ll see rental bikes to encourage active commuting. Regardless of these messages and resources, however, our populace isn’t buying it. According to the CDC, fewer than 20% of Americans get the baseline recommended 2.5 hours of physical activity in an entire week. (That’s 2.5 hours out of 168 total, folks.) Less than 30% of people in most areas of the country eat three or more vegetables per day. (PDF) On the flip side of that equation, the American diet is now comprised of 70% processed food. Nearly 50% of Americans surveyed admitted knowing they were sleep deprived, and half of these people reported doing nothing to change their behavior.
It’s all about where the rubber meets the road….
So what are the reasons we can’t seem to follow through? Despite health being arguably the most important and fundamental thing in our lives, for what are we willing to sacrifice it every day? Consider the excuses and defenses you have offered as justification in not showing up for your health each day.
“I can’t find time for exercise because I’m too busy with work.”
“When I get home from a long day, I can’t make my own dinners every night. I need down time. If I have to do one more thing, I’m going to burst.”
“My commute during the week and family obligations on the weekend make cooking ahead impossible.”
“My job schedule is crazy. Getting enough sleep is just not possible on a swing shift.”
“The kids overtake my day, and time for working out just slips by.”
“I don’t sleep well, and everything ends up snowballing from there. I know I have some minor health issues, but there’s no time with a family crisis going on for me to deal with them now.”
All these reasons of being too busy with work, of needing downtime, of having too long of a commute, of needing to spend time with the kids are red herrings for larger questions we don’t want to address. Why do we stay in a job that requires such a long commute or so many extra hours? Why are we afraid/unwilling/unable to ask for enough help in caring for children that we can take care of ourselves? Why is it we have such difficulty drawing reasonable boundaries around work, social obligations or close family – especially during complicated times? If we don’t have time for ourselves today, when exactly do we envision ever making ourselves a priority? When will we begin respecting our own needs?
The fact is, in most of these circumstances, most of us have a choice. It may not be the most attractive choice, the easiest choice, the most socially acceptable choice, but it’s an option when we’re designing our daily life and the larger shifts that influence it. If we truly value our health, I’d brazenly propose that our health actually be a concrete consideration for our decision making.
I suspect that there’s a certain degree of magical thinking in the back of many people’s minds – the irrational belief that some other force or turn of circumstances will intervene and save the day (and state of their health) and prevent them from really getting into the trouble they’ve been warned about all along.
With every detrimental choice, however, we feed a physiological chaos that over time becomes a defining force in our lives. The bigger it gets, the more of an excuse it becomes. Eventually, when the hammer comes down, we throw up our hands as if we had no way of knowing what was truly coming, let alone ability to prevent it. The truth is, most of us had the power – and even enough knowledge – all along. We knew on some level what we had to do. It was a matter of not choosing to do it and maybe playing a serious game of chicken along the way, seeing if we could keep ahead of eventual outcomes.
So often, however, we tell ourselves we had no other choices. Our job demanded our time. Our children needed our full attention. A spouse was out of work for months, and anything else seemed like an inappropriate focus. A parent was ill and needed care or visitation. Our volunteer commitments needed us because who else was going to do the work? We get caught up in the belief that the world hinges on our presence, and guess what we give up – our ability to live a long, vital, healthy life. How is this reasonable?
There’s something definitely sabotaging and perhaps moderately (albeit unintentionally) disingenuous about someone who professes to take care of others but not him/herself. We want to think of ourselves as doing the “right” thing in this situation – putting off our own needs indefinitely, tending to others – whether it’s our beloved children who depend on us or the office department/PTA committee who wouldn’t bother coming to our funerals. What we end up offering these people is something that isn’t really ours to give. Giving today’s energy is one thing. Giving the well-being that is supposed to create tomorrow’s energy is another story.
Call this harsh, but I think we sacrifice a certain integrity in our lives when we continually shortchange our bodies. In a certain light, it’s akin to not paying the bill for our daily physical existence, living according to these other dictates and priorities as we dodge what we owe our physical forms. Sure enough, we accumulate arrears – back payments in the form of sleep and nutrient deficits, muscle wasting, dwindling bone density, toxin accumulation.
The inconvenient fact is, not every set of circumstances, not every job, not every lifestyle option is conducive to our health and well-being. The choice is ours which one of these we will sacrifice. We too often shrink from asking bigger questions, taking more substantial challenges, upending more significant patterns because we’re afraid. We want the pieces to stay in place. We can’t imagine a scenario in which they’re not.
But our bodies don’t care about those illusions. They either get what they need – or they don’t. The outcome is pretty clear either way. What’s truly sacred in our lives versus what is ultimately worth sacrificing – a particular house or location, a specific job, the existing parenting or chore division with our spouse, our current definition of downtime, a status quo schedule – or our good health? What will you envision?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know your thoughts, and have a great end to the week.
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