People have many excellent reasons for wanting to get and stay healthy. Most of them come down to two basic things: People want to look better and feel better. No big surprise there.
Delightfully, whenever we succeed in upgrading our health, we tend to get both of those benefits at once. But we also get a whole lot more — not just from the positive outcomes of our healthy efforts, but also from the pursuits themselves.
Unfortunately, within the context of our current culture, a lot of these positive benefits don’t get nearly enough air time or attention. In fact, most of them are hopelessly undersung.
Mass-media channels are too busy selling us on flatter abs, thinner thighs, and bigger biceps to dig into the broader payoffs of health improvement. And social media’s torrent of Fitspo posts rarely convinces us to lift our eyes (or our minds) above the level of a tightly sculpted midsection.
While there’s nothing wrong with chasing the torso of your dreams (particularly if you enjoy the chase), I have found that there’s greater value in expanding our horizons, and seeing that we can win much bigger than that.
Like many, I originally got interested in eating better and becoming more active because of yearnings that revolved around the basic “look-better-feel-better” promise (a subject I covered in my September column, “Revolutionary Acts No. 14: Leverage Your Big ‘Whys’”).
Gradually, though, I discovered that I was getting more than I’d bargained for: There were richer and more nuanced experiences to be noticed; more substantial rewards to be reaped.
I got a rush of unexpected satisfaction each time I discovered a new one, as in: “Hey, neat! Why didn’t anybody tell me about this delightful side effect?”
And yet, on some days — especially when I was feeling stressed, frazzled, tired, or distracted — it was hard for me to stay cognizant of all the ways I was profiting from my healthy commitments. And on days like that, of course, I found it a whole lot easier to let my commitments slide.
So years ago, in an effort to keep myself more consistently motivated, I started developing a list of all the benefits I stood to gain from my continued commitment to health stewardship and self-care. Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorites:
- Improves your sense of self-confidence and self-esteem
- Amplifies your self-efficacy
- Increases your energy
- Upgrades your mental focus and endurance
- Balances your hormones
- Improves your moods and lowers your stress
- Eases depression and anxiety
- Relieves chronic aches and pains
- Reduces inflammation; reverses many chronic conditions
- Prevents hereditary, disease-causing genes from “switching on” in your body
- Improves your immunity and decreases your vulnerability to contagious diseases
- Extends your longevity
- Reduces the likelihood of being hospitalized or put on prescription drugs
- Lowers your healthcare costs
- Makes you smell better and eliminates offensive body odors
- Heightens your senses and increases your pleasure in being alive
- Makes you more fun to be around
- Enhances your chances of career success and improves your earning power
- Makes you more present and less reactive in your relationships
- Makes you a better partner, parent, and friend
- Emboldens you to try things you might previously have believed beyond your reach
- Gives you strength to fall back on in times of trouble, and helps you bounce back faster
- Helps protect you against addictive and disordered tendencies
- Allows you to exchange the role of low-vitality victim for the role of
- Demonstrates your integrity, your willingness to pursue your priorities, and your ability to follow through on your commitments
- Gives you an opportunity to experience your life in a proactive, intentional way
- Makes you a force for positive change; lets you contribute more powerfully to the world around you
- Reduces your likelihood of becoming a burden on those you love
- Connects you with other strong, exceptional, health-motivated people who share your healthy values and interests
There are many more great payoffs, of course. And, day by day, my list continues to grow.
Whenever I look at my list, I feel a rush of excitement and motivation — and a funny sense of “Duh!” Because of course I want all that; of course I’m willing to go after it; and of course it’s worth the effort.
To me, the promise of all these payoffs goes a lot further in sustaining my motivation than the promise of any idealized midsection could.
Much of the time, we put our attention on minutiae. We nitpick the parts of our bodies we wish were different, we obsess about the things we don’t have, we get all hung up on the forbidden fruits we “aren’t allowed” to enjoy.
And in the process, we lose track of what really matters. We lose touch with the rewards already within our grasp — all those bigger payoffs and pleasures that stand to make the biggest difference in our lives, both now and over time.
There’s a very natural human tendency to overlook and take for granted the most fundamental of things, particularly when faced with a media landscape intent on endlessly reminding us of the new, the novel, the crazy, the click-worthy, and the terrifying.
So if you want to stay focused on the things that are actually most likely to change your life (as opposed to the “life-changing” discovery or trend of the moment), you are probably going to have to take matters into your own hands.
You’re going to have to reclaim enough brain space and life space for the pursuits and priorities that matter to you, and you may have to reorient your attention toward the less-advertised rewards of your efforts.
Start by making your own list of the payoffs you experience (or hope for) as the result of your own healthy choices, habits, and perspectives. Then allow that list to grow.