Only time will tell the whole story.

I welcome reader comments on my blog. They get me thinking. Here’s one, in response to my post, written after I tripped and gave myself a black eye.

Great blog today. I love how an unfortunate event becomes blog fodder. 😊

It made me aware that I hadn’t actually thought of my black eye as unfortunate. And with that awareness, I remembered the story that first shifted my thinking about good and bad fortune.

Here’s a charming version, narrated by philosopher, writer, and speaker, Alan Watts. Born in England, he moved to the US in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. Watts, who died in 1973, is best known as an early interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.

So what can we make of this ancient teaching?

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Do your assumptions trip you up?

Mine did. Literally. Tripped me up.

Here’s the evidence. In full colour, an unretouched photo.

Me with blackened eye

So…how did I get a black eye, and how does it relate to assumptions?

I tripped on a curb. Well, not a curb exactly. I was stepping onto the accessibility ramp that transitions the pavement to the sidewalk.

There was no snow or ice. I was not in a hurry. I was not distracted by my phone or iPod. I did not faint and then fall. I was wearing flat shoes that are old friends. There was no obvious reason for this to happen.  Continue reading

You’re a “study of one”…and the director of it.

Last week I wrote that we are complex organic systems, each with a unique combination of inherent constitution and life experiences. Under such conditions, the best way to address health issues is with an individualized plan.

In this model of achieving wellness, you are the subject in the study of you. Of course, a study also needs someone to direct it, and that is you too, since the medical system hasn’t yet embraced this approach beyond trying one prescription and then something else if that didn’t work.

How you think makes a difference to the process.

To handle your role as the study director, it helps if you will:

  1. adopt an experimental mindset,
  2. recognize that it’s a zig-zag path to where you want to be,
  3. look for clues,
  4. experiment judiciously, and
  5. think creatively.

Adopt an experimental mindset.

An experimental mindset is a huge asset because it keeps you from being trapped in the mode of doing things as they’ve always been done. It allows you to think, “There has to be another way.” This is not the typical medical approach, so you inject fresh energy into the situation when you approach an issue with an inquiring mind.

An experimental attitude allows you to be curious, to see what happens when you make a particular choice. It opens up possibilities and gives you a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s the attitude that has been behind many innovators and inventors, including Thomas Edison.

Recognize that it’s a zig-zag path to where you want to be.

In the search for another way, you’ll be reading, listening to interviews, and asking questions. As you do that, it will become apparent that there are very few definitive answers about solutions to health issues.

One expert advocates a certain approach, another takes an opposing position that is equally convincing. Both are quoting research that supports their position. How does that make sense?!

Because there isn’t just one perfect answer. Each of those contradictory protocols has worked for some people. The main variable in solving your particular issue is your specific symphony of information, as Dr. Kelly Brogan said so eloquently at the beginning of this post.

Your job, as the director of your study of one, is to find what works in your particular case. By judiciously trying things, you can gain information that will help you determine how to proceed. Then it’s a case of “rinse and repeat” as you apply your learnings from one stage of the experiment to determine what to do next. In doing so, you’ll almost certainly find yourself taking a zig-zag path.

This is not the typical approach In our culture, which is goal-oriented and success-driven. We don’t appreciate trial and error. Instead we look for a direct path to the right and perfect solution, and consider ourselves failures when our chosen solution doesn’t work the way we expected.

However, the search for the perfect and correct answer can be a handicap because it sometimes prevents any action at all. As psychologist Barry Schwartz found in his research, this occurs because you can never be really sure you’ve chosen the perfect resolution from among an over-abundance of possibilities. This is true whether you are buying a pair of jeans or trying to figure out how to bring down high blood pressure.

Look for clues.

Self Help visual

Over the past three years, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe my process as I worked my way toward wellness. I notice that I’m always alert for clues when I read or listen to expert interviews. I watch for things that stand out, catch my attention, ring bells for me. I make note of those ideas and often end up experimenting with them.

Let me be clear—I’m not implementing every idea that crosses my path. That would be a recipe for disaster, as Aesop pointed out in his cautionary tale of The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey. The old man and his son adopted every suggestion made by people along the road to market, instead of doing what made sense to them. In the end, they unintentionally drowned their donkey, losing something of great value in their lives.

Experiment judiciously.

When experimenting judiciously, we consider the inputs from others, including the experts, without blindly following them. All inputs need to be filtered through our own inner knowing to determine the best course of action in any given situation.

Clues can come from many places. Experts are an obvious source. But something might come up in conversation with a friend that unexpectedly catches your attention. Or a relative may mention something about one of your parents that gives you new insight into your current condition.

Your body is also a rich source of feedback and clues. Be alert. What does it seem to be asking for? How does it respond when you try something, whether it’s a new supplement, a medication, a different type of exercise, or regular meditation?. What makes it feel worse? …better? Why is there a knot in your stomach whenever your cousin walks into the room? Why do you sleep better when you’re on holiday?

These are all rich sources of information that become “grist for the mill,” as my grandma used to say.

Think creatively.

Clues provide information and ideas. Combining ideas in unusual ways is the hallmark of creativity. And it’s the key to finding solutions that work. Psychologist Keith Sawyer studies creativity and innovation in business, but the same principles apply to creating wellness for yourself.

Last fall, Dr. Sawyer spoke to a gathering of tech visionaries and experts in human flourishing. He began with this description of creativity:

Creativity is not mysterious. Creativity is not a rare insight, that comes to you suddenly, once in a lifetime, to change the world. It’s just the opposite. Creativity is a way of life. It’s a process. The process starts with an idea. But it’s not a big insight–it’s a small idea. And that small idea can’t change the world by itself. In the creative life, you have small ideas every week, every day, even every hour. The key is to learn how to bring those ideas together, over time, and that’s the essence of the creative process.

More next week about personalized medicine. In the meantime, here’s Dr. Sawyer’s short talk about creativity.

We are organic systems. Not mechanical.

Organic. Not mechanical. That means we need to think differently when trying to fix problems in the system. Repairing a mechanical system is usually a straightforward, clear-cut, logical process.

Not so with living systems, which are elegantly complex and sometimes incomprehensible. We have a capacity for emotion, interconnected body systems, and strong survival instincts. No wonder it’s challenging to zero in on one correct thing to do when you have a health issue.

Integrative Health Approach

Institute for Functional Medicine Clinical Matrix for Core Imbalance. From the Institute for Functional Medicine: Textbook of Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor, Wash: The Institute for Functional Medicine, 2005, p 100. © 2005 The Institute of Functional Medicine. Via the Cleveland Clinic

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Dilemmas of Decision-Making

Information overload combined with a lack of clear answers can be confusing, frustrating, and discouraging. It’s tempting to think it would be so much easier if life were black and white, if someone else could tell us the precise course of action to guarantee the results we want. But that won’t be happening any time soon.

And really, that isn’t the point of life, as far as I can tell. From my viewpoint, life is about learning and growing. And health issues certainly provide us with opportunities to do that.

So it’s on us to be conscious and engaged when making health-related choices. Here are a few thoughts to consider.

1. We are organic, not mechanical, systems.

Repairing a mechanical system is usually a straightforward, clear-cut, logical process. Not so with living systems, which are elegantly complex and sometimes incomprehensible. We have a capacity for emotion, interconnected body systems, and strong survival instincts. No wonder it’s challenging to zero in on the one correct thing to do.

2. It helps a lot to adopt an experimental mindset.

Because maybe there isn’t just one perfect answer. Maybe it’s a zig-zag path to where we want to be.

In this culture, we tend to look for a direct path to the right and perfect solution. This search can have the unintended consequence of preventing  any action at all because you can never be really sure you’ve found the correct one.

On the other hand, an experimental approach allows us to be curious. It opens up possibilities and gives you a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s a time-honoured approach, as illustrated by this story from Thomas Edison’s friend and associate Walter S. Mallory.

I said to him, “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?” Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: “Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

With an attitude like that, there’s no need to feel like a failure when you try something that doesn’t work. After all, you were just testing a theory, not staking your reputation for success on it.

3. You’ll be a lot more confident in making health decisions once you learn to access your innate self-knowing.

Self-knowing is the key to being able to rest easy with your decisions. It’s the aspect of decision-making that provides the greatest opportunity for growth, and the one that’s easiest to overlook.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how you can marshal your resources to know what to do. In the meantime, here are The Delta Rhythm Boys to sing us out…

Emily Fletcher (#3 in a series: I Couldn’t Have Said It Better)

Be present to yourself.

This is being posted on Valentine’s Day, when it’s traditional to acknowledge those you love. If you aren’t on your list of people you know and love, this is a good time to think about how to change that.

Meditation is a time-honoured means of learning to be present with yourself, to get to know and appreciate who you really are.

If you’ve ever had even an inkling of interest in meditation, this video is for you. Emily Fletcher started her career in theatre. When she refers to being able to dance, that relates to her 10-year career on Broadway, which included roles in Chicago, The Producers, and A Chorus Line. Continue reading

Brain on Sugar

This photo is not me having a bad-hair day. It’s how things felt inside my head before I stopped eating sugar and greatly reduced other carbohydrates. I managed to keep functioning and sometimes smiling, but it was hard work. And I’m not sure I fooled everybody, although I tried.

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Within a few months of eating no sugar or grains, I realized my brain was feeling like this…

blog-tack

…and I began smiling more, even in a Canadian winter.

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I’m not the only one…

A couple weeks ago, I posted about new research showing that Alzheimer’s can be reversed. The success of the program comes from using a whole-system approach to discover the causes of disturbed brain function in each individual. To do this, they look at 36 factors in the areas of diet, environment, toxins, activity, and stress. Sugar is one of those factors. Continue reading

The party’s over. Now what?

It depends on what we set in motion.

This new year I was surprised to find myself more aware of it than usual. When I heard that 2017 is the beginning of a multi-year cycle, my heightened interest made sense. Each new year is a time for new beginnings, but the first year of a new cycle sets the tone for the next decade or so. Worth paying attention to, I’m thinking!

Another view of the significance of this time of year has to do with nature’s seasonal cycles. We have just passed the winter solstice, the time when we have the least amount of daylight and the days are cold in my part of the world. In terms of nature and growth, the harvest is completed and there’s a tendency toward rest and hibernation.

The stage is set.

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Stress: An Uncommon View

The usual view of stress:

Stress is the enemy—to be avoided  if possible, and managed when unavoidable.

But what if…

stress-is-call-to-action

Believe it or not, we need stress.

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Process or Goals?

Last week I wrote about the inch-by-inch principle. This is the viewpoint that regaining health is a process rather than a goal. After reading that post, you may have thought I’m a proponent of aimless wandering  through life. Not at all!

Why can’t it be both a process and a goal?

I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of having my cake and eating it too. Why not a process with direction instead of one  or the other? Continue reading