What is your most valuable possession – the one thing that if taken away from you, would make life most unbearable?
The answer is somewhat illustrated by a previous coaching client of mine, who insisted on spending our sessions discussing how to expand his already successful business, that was causing him some anxiety and restless nights, and at the same time to how to get it to a place where he could have some time to himself, to follow the hobbies/outdoor lifestyle he had long been ignoring, and spend time with the family and some friends he was drifting apart from. This is an all too familiar story, of being overly busy doing one thing that we find ourselves ignoring other important aspects of our lives. Remember the story of the man-of-the-tournament at the 2011 ICC cricket world cup, who was diagnosed with lung cancer soon afterwards? For some time before then, Yuvraj Singh was coughing up blood and experiencing a lack of stamina, and he too ignored this, admitting, “At first I was in denial about it — playing for India was more important than my health and for a few months I chose to ignore the blood I spat out or my decline in stamina.”
That client of mine suffered an unexpected stroke and the ensuing physical damage rendered him unable to lead the business to where he wanted it to be, incapable of pursuing his adventure hobbies, and has left him busy patching up important relationships. Yuvi was luckier, his cancer was a treatable kind, but he too had a reality check around his health, “I cried like a baby. When no one could see me or hear me. Not because I feared what cancer would do, but because I didn’t want the disease. I wanted my life to be normal!”
Our health is arguably our most important asset. We know this. And we also know full well that we need to attend to it, but few do a proper job… until we get that scare, or it’s too late. For a supposedly intelligent species, we’re remarkably dimwitted about maintaining our own health. (For now, I’ll focus on our own health – but please go ahead and translate what I’m saying to be relevant for mother nature. We’re equally ignorant when it comes to neglecting the health of our natural environment). And if you’re in any way offended by being called dimwitted or ignorant in relation to managing your or natures health, then please keep reading – this is for you – deliberately written with both challenge and care.
Live smarter. Die later
Our physical health is the easiest aspect of health to attend to, especially in the current information era. We know we need to move our bodies about 3-4 times per week, and depending on your age, ailments and goals, you can find sufficient information or help out there to get stronger, fitter, more flexible or to age slower. Same when it comes to information about what to eat and drink, and what not to eat and drink. Virat Kohli is a good example, his first four years as an Indian national cricketer was as a tubby batsman who was unfit by international standards. His wake-up call came in 2012, which was nothing more than a change in attitude. Since then he sets the example of physical fitness for all Indian, and many international cricketers. As for smoking, you know the story. Same with sugar.
The question really worth asking is, if we know we need to look after our physical health as our most important asset, and we have free access to most of the information required to do so, why do few act on this knowing? As happened with Kohli, maybe it’s our attitude towards our health that needs a wake-up call.
Our mental health is more under threat now than ever before with seemingly increasing incidences of depression, burn-out, anxiety, insomnia, ADHD, addictions, athletes taking ‘time-out’, and suicide to name a few. Some of these are genetic, some result from traumatic events, and a lot more are self-induced due to poor management of mental health. Many of these ailments can be alleviated through improved diet, sleep, exercise, rest/time-out, better time-management, increased self-esteem, dispassion (not being carried away by feelings), not taking ourselves so seriously, and knowing that what other people say about us is none of our business. Techniques such as breathwork, meditation, mindfulness, gratitude and similar are additionally useful. Again, the problem is not lack of knowledge of the mental health challenges, nor what to do to alleviate many of them, but one of so many individuals not following this knowing.
Emotional health is less tangible than physical or mental health aliments, and its impact can be so much more creeping. It might take years for unprocessed and hidden anger, guilt, sorrow, fear, jealousy, etc to surface, which can manifest in physical ailments such as chronic pain or any number of illnesses, including heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Assessing emotional health and prescribing antidotes can be a bit touchy-feel or unscientific, but could include approaches such as increasing the quality of key relationships, resolving conflicts, mending broken relationships, practicing forgiveness (towards yourself and/or others), releasing troubled memories, or seeking help from someone you trust and who is skilled to help. Does one of these strike a chord for you, as something that might be useful to increase your emotional well-being?
I’m no expert in this domain, but I did carry an emotional burden sufficiently long to warrant having spinal surgery – only to realise afterwards that the real cause was the ‘load’ I was trying to carry, alone. Had I acknowledged my struggle rather than try to tough my way through it, and maybe spoken to someone who could have helped release the emotional burden, it’s unlikely I would have eventually needed the help of a spinal surgeon.
As for spiritual health, the subject is too broad and maybe even controversial to do any justice to in this short article. Many people may poop-pooh this and think they are on the right path anyway, including those who are stuck in dogma or spiritual ego/ignorance, those in pursuit of greed, lust or a similar unsatisfiable craving, as well as those who might be following universal wisdom in the pursuit of living consciously. Either way, it might be worth pondering whether you’re living the kind of life that, when you’re lying on your death bed, you’ll be proud to have lived when viewed through the eyes of the people you love and respect the most, and who hopefully will be surrounding your bed. This includes, when they hold a mirror for you, that you’re proud of the life you’ve lived. No one’s perfect, but we can pursue living even more consciously today than we did yesterday. Live smarter. Die later.
I guess maybe one-percent of readers who read this will actively make a few tweaks to some aspect of their health. I hope you’re one of them! After-all, our health is our most valuable asset.