I was having coffee with a good friend the other day, and she was telling me, with a big sigh, that she really needs to get her lifestyle back on track. She’s usually glowing with all the good stuff, but lately she’s been letting things slip with too many late nights, too many occasions eating on the run, and too much socialising involving wine.
It doesn’t take much for the balance to tip, and she wasn’t feeling great. ‘I wish I had your willpower…’ she said.
‘Well, it’s not actually willpower,’ I replied. 'I live the way I do because it makes me feel good, so I want to do it’. It's not too much effort, because there's a reward for me in the doing.
You see, when we feel like we’re moving towards something pleasurable, it’s much easier to motivate ourselves to take action.
On the other hand, when we’re doing something to avoid pain (often imagined pain in the distant future such as disease or weight gain) it's much harder to get ourselves feeling inspired about doing the things that are good for us.
Now this may seem like a little distinction, but the magnitude of this mindset shift, when you think about the butterfly effect of all the little choices we make throughout our lives, is enormous.
Think about it. You get up in the morning and you’re short on time but want to get some exercise in before work. What will make you more likely to make the time to do it?
Feeling like you should, because you know it’s important for heart health and your dad had a heart attack at 54, and also if you don’t you’re not going to work off any of the extra calories you ate last night when you went out for dinner and had that rich dessert and you just know that middle-aged spread is a lurking beast waiting to devour you the moment you let down your guard?
Or feeling like you want to, because you know when you finish your body will feel relaxed and flexible, like you’ve just had a massage, and you’ll feel so much brighter and more energised throughout your day?
If you take the first approach to your health, you could be taking a pathogenic approach to health. A pathogenic approach is focused on disease. Health behaviours are measures taken to avoid disease. You have an understanding of the causes and consequences of disease and make your health decisions accordingly.
The second approach, however, takes a salutogenic approach to health. A salutogenic approach focuses on the factors that support health and wellbeing, rather than on the factors that cause disease.
Are your choices based in wanting to avoid disease? Or are they based in seeking health and wellbeing?
You could argue that they’re the same thing, and certainly the resulting behaviours could look the same on the outside. But how they feel on a day-to-day basis is worlds apart.
Consider the following:
What would life be like for you if you wanted to exercise because of how good it makes you feel?
How would things be different for you if the foods you want to eat - crave even, are the foods that are most nourishing for you?
What would your days look like if you valued relaxation and pleasure as an important contributor to your wellbeing and prioritised it as such?
The wonderful thing is, moving over to a salutogenic approach to health is a mindset shift that is totally achievable.
By training your mind to tune into the subtle ways you feel different depending on the choices you make, you’ll become more drawn to the things that nourish you on a deep level. You’ll find that fresh, light foods leave you feeling so much better than rich or processed foods, so you’ll naturally want more of them and seek them out.
By attuning your focus to all the ways you can feel good in your body when you treat it with care and respect, you’ll naturally want to do more of what makes you feel good. And you'll want less of what doesn’t.
Unfortunately, our culture is geared to make taking care of your health feel like another job to do, with lots of effort required to achieve results. You know the saying, no pain no gain.
Well I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. It IS possible to live a life filled with pleasure, enjoyment and delicious food and be in great health.
But it requires learning to tune in and listen to your body, honouring the messages it gives you, and potentially redefining your priorities in life.
It can feel like a big step, but the rewards are beyond worth it.
About Samantha Dawn
Samantha is a Wellness Coach & Hypnotherapist specialising in eating psychology, lifestyle change & plant based nutrition. Book a consult with Samantha here.