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.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz (#4 in a series: I Couldn’t Have Said It Better)

The Paradox of Choice

Last week I wrote about the dilemmas of too much information. It strikes me that too much information is like having too much choice. It complicates things, even though there’s a good side as well.

The paradox of choice caught my attention when I was teaching college classes about consumer issues. In the TED Talk below, researcher Barry Schwartz speaks about choosing consumer goods, but his findings can also be applied to health and wellness decisions. Continue reading