We live in a world of uncertainty. Everything from our jobs and economy to national security, health care initiatives, global warming and our personal life story seems to be in an endless reality TV show in flux. Many people commit to get fit, decide to get into an exercise routine, to stock the fridge with organic foods, stop smoking and to take a multivitamin supplement. Then there is the post holiday syndrome where we decide to lay off the soda, caffeine and alcohol, lower our refined sugar, sodium and fat intake, get more sleep, drink more water, and lose those infamous 10 to 20 pounds. These action steps would transform anybody into the new-and improved. I refer to this type of person as a change junky. The change junkies surround themselves with all the trappings of good intention: a life coach, physical trainer, a yoga guru, a chef, and other specialists. While they are busy changing their lives, they forget to reevaluate their beliefs, behaviors and assumptions which represent their values system.
The promises of healthy living begin on the fertile ground of your own mind. It’s not that these virtuous, practical endeavors aren’t valuable, rather they are much like the individual trees, bushes and flowers within a landscape. In the context of what I refer to as “human terrain” the focus should be the whole or “total person” as it is argued that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The fertile ground of life change occurs by designing a complete, integrated approach to a healthy lifestyle. For Western culture, the roots of the total person can be traced back twenty four centuries to the time known as the “Golden Age of Greece,” as can so much of our political, philosophical, and educational heritage. This combination of mind and body can also be traced to the concept of dualism fostered by Plato, Galen, and Descartes, among others (Sarafino, 1990).
Each component of that landscape/lifescape adds to a larger more vibrant outcome. As in any successful landscape, the architect knows it is important to understand the structure, complexity, desired outcome and the budgetary factors. Only then can you focus on the “needs”, such as adding rocks, soil, a water feature, some trees, bushes, flowers, ground cover and grass. When dealing with human terrain it’s important to know how certain variables in our lifescape relate to each other and how they influence our behavior during life changing decisions.
When exploring and assessing your own lifescape, it comes down to paying some attention to the mental ground you’re standing on and that may require you to do a little or a lot of digging. You actually may have to rethink the way you live. In many cases, to really get the lay of the land, you may have to consciously choose to see the invisible messages that surround your current lifescape by evaluating your present belief system. Even Darwin’s world changing ideas about life evolved in his mind; the connectivity of all his world experiences provided him the possibility of new thinking. Steven Johnson, author of the book, Where Good Ideas Come From, states. “Our thought shapes the spaces we inhabit, and our spaces return the favor.” Pointing to the fact that life’s patterns recur over and again in unusually fertile environments.
Today’s world of compressed timelines, the internet and “instant global access”, has become more demanding and complex; regardless of whether we make the right decision, fail or succeed, we must face each detour life gives us. Each problem identified will increase the demand on your life and with every solution a new set of complex problems becomes apparent. Physical science teaches us that all living systems increase in complexity as they evolve. Even quantum theory states that all matter is unavoidably in motion making the notion of stability no more than the perpetual act of trying to achieve dynamic balance. It is our naiveté combined with our need for balance that allows us to pursue the illusion of being able to forecast the future in the first place. It seems to be one of the most dominant truisms of our time that we live in an age of technological acceleration; this new serge of innovation keeps rolling into our lives like a tidal wave, and the intervals between them keep shortening.
Instead of viewing each life decision as a story with a beginning, middle and an end, we should start viewing our lives as an ongoing story which would allow us too quickly and effectively respond to events as they occur; similar to how a soap opera or sitcom is directed. This will give you the freedom to learn from each life decision combined with the capability to rewrite how each new change will unfold.
Life always gets in the way if you’re living life. So instead of isolating ourselves from life’s temptations we actually need to prepare ourselves for the constant and inevitable disruptions when making a life change by planning for the unexpected.
As an example, if intent were sufficient for achieving ideal weight, we wouldn’t find tasks like buying the right foods, throwing out the wrong foods and overeating so difficult. Intent is adequate for initiating the diet, yet intent will not sustain your diet nor get you to your ideal weight. Put another way, if the intent of the diet is modest, and the consequences for not achieving your ideal weight are slight, then intent alone may very well be adequate to succeed. But on the other hand if the targeted weight represents a dramatic departure in eating habits and the consequences for failing to achieve the desired weight severely affect your state of health, the intent to change ones eating habits must be within a broader more structured framework.
Achieving true lifestyle change requires more than mere intent or desire to succeed; it demands a mental tolerance to life and attitude that can only be achieved through extended learning. The components of reinventing the human terrain are simple: mind (mental awareness), energy (nutrition used to promote growth, maintenance, and repair), and body balance (physiological state and level of activity).
Welcome to my world.
>Edward P. Sarafino, Health Psychology: Biopsychosocial Interaction, 2005.
>Peter Seraganian, Exercise Psychology, 1993