We are told it is “up to us” to make the healthy choices. But our culture and environment are typically slanted to make the healthy choices the most difficult. In the end it is up to us — we simply need to be aware of what we are up against.
“This Is A Football”
On December 26, 1960, the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles met for the NFL championship. (This was before the Super Bowl’s debut.) In a heartbreaking loss, the Packers ran out of time when they were stopped nine yards short of the goal line as the clock ran out.
Now it was July, 1961. The Packer players had had the entire off-season to mull over their humiliation in that final championship game. They assembled at training camp, eager to polish their skills, advancing them to a higher level, ready to avenge their loss and show the world how great they really were.
Vince Lombardi, the Packers’ head coach, had other plans.
“Gentlemen,” he said, holding up the object they knew intimately well, “this is a football.” [Maraniss]
Back To Basics
Although Lombardi was coaching a team of highly-skilled, professional football players, who a few months before had come within seconds of winning the top prize in their league, he took nothing for granted. He knew that to make the best use of talent and skill, his players needed to perfect the basics. And this meant getting back to the fundamentals of blocking and tackling and running basic plays.
The work of concentrating on the fundamentals, getting back to basics, became a hallmark of Vince Lombardi’s coaching method. That year, his team beat the NY Giants, 37 – 0, to win the NFL championship. Lombardi went on to win two more NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls. Much of his success is attributed to his focus on the fundamentals.
Like Lombardi’s teams, you and I have some fundamentals we can focus on to make healthy choices and improve our health and performance.
Writing in The Healthy Deviant, Pilar Gerasimo shares these unhappy statistics from the CDC, the Mayo Clinic, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
- 50% of US adults are diagnosed with chronic illness (CDC)
- 68% are overweight or obese (CDC)
- 70% are taking at least one prescription drug (and for folks over 60, the average is five) (Mayo Clinic)
- 80% are not flourishing, mentally or emotionally (NIH)
- 97.3% are not maintaining healthy habits (Mayo Clinic):
– eating a reasonably healthy diet
– getting adequate exercise (150 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity per week)
– maintaining a healthy body composition (20% body fat for men; under 30% for women)
– not smoking
In addition, these factors, which are just as important to health, weren’t measured: adequate sleep, managing stress, and maintaining strong social supports. Factor these in and maybe 1% are “healthy, happy, and on track to stay that way.” [Gerasimo]
Chances are, you and I can do a little more to implement healthy behaviors and move closer to that 1% who are on track to staying healthy.
(Please NOTE: I am neither a medical professional nor a licensed counselor. If you suffer from any health issues and / or before you make major changes in your health maintenance, consult with a qualified medical professional.)
Building A Strong Container
“There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life. The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.”
“You need a very strong container to hold the contents and contradictions that arrive later in life.” [Rohr]
So writes Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, in Falling Upward: A Spirituality For The Two Halves Of Life. One important aspect of building and maintaining a strong container, at least in the physical sense, is to master the fundamentals.
It is important if we are to give our best service to the world, that we take excellent care of ourselves. You cannot give what you don’t have.
The “Unhealthy Default Reality”
Two fish were swimming along one morning, when they met an older fish going in the opposite direction. “Mornin’, boys,” the old fish said. “How’s the water?” “Fine,” they replied. They swam along in silence for a way, then one asked the other, “What the hell is water?”
Most of us, writes Pilar Gerasimo, exist in an “Unhealthy Default Reality” (UDR). Because of our culture, our environments and other influences, we cannot see that our health issues AND the generally accepted – but mostly impotent – solutions are mainly due to the reality in which we live.
And because it is our “reality”, we seldom think to question it. We’re like fish, unaware of the water we’re swimming in.
The Lie Of The UDR
Here, according to Gerasimo, is the story the UDR tells us:
“No matter how many unhealthy things the marketplace presents us with . . .
No matter how appealing advertising makes them seem . . .
No matter how pervasive unhealthy choices are in our environment . . .
No matter how much damage unhealthy products do to our collective health . . .
No matter how much unhealthy products are incentivized and subsidized at taxpayer expense . . .
No matter how huge the institutional barriers and health disparities . . .
It is always entirely up to each of us to manage our health choices all on our own, to decide precisely how much unhealthy stuff we allow in our bodies, and to overcome all obstacles to living a healthy lifestyle.” [Gerasimo]
This is the lie of the UDR.
Take Back Control
Knowing that there is such a thing as the Unhealthy Default Reality and knowing that we are probably living in the midst of it gives us a slight edge — knowledge, as they say, is power.
By becoming conscious of the ways we hand over our choices to this unhealthy way of life, we can begin to consciously choose a better way, to make more healthful choices, and to build “stronger containers”.
And we can start with the fundamentals. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a football.”
The Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research reports that an estimated 30 million Americans suffer chronic insomnia, 6 million have moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea, and another 6 million are afflicted with restless legs syndrome. Anyone suffering from a sleep disorder should consult a physician.
For the rest of us, there are simple steps we can take to ensure we are getting enough sleep. Here are a few. You can see more at Arriana Huffington’s Sleep Revolution.
- Go to bed early? Well, perhaps – if you are a “lark” as defined by Gretchen Rubin in Better Than Before. Larks, according to Rubin, like going to bed early and waking up early. “Owls” prefer the opposite. This is partly genetics, partly age (teens and young adults tend to be owls, older adults tend to larkish behavior). The point here is to determine which works best for you, then adjust your sleep schedule so that you are getting the proper amount of sleep — 7 to 8 hours for most of us.
- Eat a light dinner. “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.” Having a large amount of food in your stomach when you lie down is an invitation to acid reflux and other digestive issues. [Huffington]
- Eat early, ideally 3 – 4 hours before you go to bed. Eat light and eat early. It takes 2 to 3 hours to digest a meal. [Huffington] Eating and then trying to sleep can disrupt our circadian rhythms [Kay], even those of us who don’t suffer acid reflux.
- Dim the lights about 1 hour before bedtime. Light interferes with the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that signals us to sleep. [Huffington] If possible, have low wattage lights you can turn on in the living area, bedroom and bathroom when you start getting ready for bed.
Movement doesn’t have to be hot and sweaty “exercise”. Look for ways to add natural movement throughout your day.
- park further away
- take the stairs
- move 5 minutes every hour (even if to stand and stretch)
- dance, garden, sweep or mop
- add a walk to your daily routine
Pilar Gerasimo holds that diets and dieting and the whole diet industry is a fabrication of the Unhealthy Default Reality. Her advice:
- Skip the diets, tracking calories, etc.
- Eat more whole foods, fewer processed foods.
- Avoid the “white poisons“: sugar. flour, and salt.
Kaizen: Make Small, Continuous Improvements
Kaizen is a Japanese word that means “improvement” or “change for better”. The word has been adopted in our manufacturing sector and has come to mean “continuous improvement” based on making many small changes. But kaizen isn’t limited to industry. It also has a useful place in personal growth and improvement.
It is difficult to escape Pilar Gerasimo’s Unhealthy Default Reality, as evidenced by the many health problems we see around us and maybe are experiencing ourselves. But it can be done. The first step is to recognize that there is a UDR. Then we can adopt the concept of kaizen to begin the small and continuous healthy choices that lead to a better way.
Focus On The Fundamentals
Some estimates tell us the average person is exposed to 6000 to 10,000 ads every day. [Carr] Every day, we are beset with ads for fast food and sugary drinks and the ads for the medications to treat – not the problem – but the symptoms of the real problems caused by our poor diets. Or medications to help us sleep but that don’t address the issues underlying our inability to get a good night’s sleep.
“Anything if done in moderation can be part of a healthy lifestyle,” we are told. It is “up to us” to make the healthy choices. But this is the UDR speaking. Our culture and environment are typically slanted to make the healthy choices the most difficult. While the unhealthy choices? — you guessed it . . . those too often become the defaults.
But in the end it is up to us — we simply need to be aware of what we are up against. You can take back your health and well-being, by focusing on the fundamentals, one tiny step at a time, Kaizen style. That is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Excelerated Fundamentals™ — perfecting basic self-care practices — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being and a life of meaning, purpose and service.
Kay, Annie B. “How To Eat In Harmony With Your Circadian Rhythms.” Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health. Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, . Web. April 16, 2020.
Carr, Sam. “How Many Ads Do We See A Day In 2020?” PPC Protect. PPC Protect Limited, April 9, 2020. Web. April 15, 2020.
Gerasimo, Pilar. The Healthy Deviant: A Rule Breaker’s Guide To Being Healthy In An Unhealthy World. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2020
Huffington, Arianna. The Sleep Revolution – Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. New York: Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. 2016, 2017.
Maraniss, David. When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi. New York: Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, 1999
Rohr, Richard. Falling Upward: A Spirituality For The Two Halves Of Life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2011.
Rubin, Gretchin. Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits Of Our Everyday Lives. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015