teleos – arriving at a goal or an inescapable conclusion

Getting less bad

Posted by telos on January 22, 2008

Back in 2000 when I was an assistant professor at Arizona State University, I was invited to be first author on a book chapter in a major publication called The Handbook of Health Psychology. The title of the chapter was “Effects of physical activity on physical and psychological health:  Implications for exercise adherence and psychophysiological mechanisms” (A pretty long and involved title I admit, but then this was a pretty long and involved book – I was actually Chapter 38 out of 51). The reason I bring this up here is that in my research for writing this chapter I was struck by the fact that almost everything on ‘psychological health’ out there in the scientific literature was about ‘getting less bad’.

I still see the same thing out there today, with the rationale for setting wellness goals such as ‘getting active’, ‘getting fit’, or ‘eating healthy’ predominently based either on reducing your actual bad stuff or on reducing your risk of bad stuff. With a moment’s thought you could probably come up with your own list of the usual bad stuff culprits: overweight, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar,  stress, depression, anxiety, risk of a heart attack, risk of a stroke, risk of dying, etc.

I suspect this is a consequence of living with our ‘Medical Model’ of health which is uniquely designed to kick in and fix the ‘bad stuff’, and has little or no designs at all on the ‘good stuff’. The result of this is that we tend to view our wellbeing more in terms of how bad we aren’t rather than how good we are. When we try to set and achieve our wellness objectives we tend to focus more on overcoming obstacles rather than achieving goals, to focus on what we are not ‘getting’ rather on what we are ‘getting’. It reminds me of the lady I described in my last post. Even though she was truly gaining significant and meaningful benefits from her regular walking, her first response was to focus on what she wasn’t getting “It’s not fun”.

What I know as a scientist and Intrinsic Coach® is that focussing on the positive aspects of pursuing an active lifestyle will bring you a host of positive benefits – you’ll look better and feel better about your self and your life, be more alert, have more energy (usually this is substituted with ‘less fatigue’), clearer thinking, better quality of life, better sleep. And there’s more ….

That old cliched differentiation of people who either view ‘the glass half empty or the glass half full’ reveals a pathway to some major (and positive!) consequences. Research has shown that people who have a more optimistic (ie positive, glass half full) view of things do better in life: they earn more money, are more successful, have more friends and even live longer. And as this wasn’t positive enough, you can even learn to be optimistic. You think I’m joking? Go check out the research of Dr. Martin Seligman acknowledged as the founder of “Positive Psychology. Read his book “Learned Optimism”. You can also check out an interview on EQ

 So … As you read about these benefits – what positive things are coming up for you?


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