It’s Wednesday again, so you know what that means…. It’s time to talk about wellness! In the post What Is Wellness? I asked the question, “do we have a wellness focus or an illness focus?”. Today I’d like to explore that a little more.
First of all, let’s look at our definitions of wellness and what it encompasses again:
“Wellness is the process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth.” (UC Davis)
“Wellness is multidimensional and holistic, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being, and the environment.” (National Wellness Institute)
Now let’s take a look at the difference between having a wellness focus and an illness focus.
What am I talking about when I say we have an illness focus? All I mean by that is that we gear all our efforts toward preventing illness or disease or mitigating the symptoms of an illness we already have. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with doing everything we can to prevent disease or lessen the impact of the symptoms of illnesses; in fact, that’s essential to our being able to thrive. The only problem with this kind of focus is that if we are already ill, we can get “tunnel vision” and fail to see that we can still have a fulfilling life in spite of our illness.
With a wellness focus, we are looking at, as we see in the definition above, a process that encompasses all dimensions of wellness, not just the physical or mental. Where an illness focus is results-centered (I want to feel better, I want to prevent disease), a wellness focus is process-centered. We are concentrating more on the processes of change and growth toward “a healthy and fulfilling life.”
There’s a concept in Psychology called locus of control. In his outstanding post Are You In Control Of Your Life? Dr. Perry from Make It Ultra Psychology explains it this way: “…it refers to our perception of where control lies and how we account for the successes and failures we experience.” He then explains that the concept “can be applied to many different areas of your life and one can have an internal or external locus of control depending on the situation….A person with an internal locus of control generally believes that they have influence over the outcome of events….A person with an external locus of control blames outside forces that are beyond their control for everything that occurs in their life.” This is only a bare-bones rendering of his explanation; he explains it much more thoroughly in his post, so please take the time to pop over to his site for the entire post. In the fitness world, an internal locus of control is closely associated with something we call self-efficacy, belief in ourselves and our ability to make changes necessary to be as well as possible.
Let’s apply the locus of control concept to a wellness or illness focus. If we’re wellness focused, there’s a good chance we believe that we have control (internal) over at least some aspects of our overall wellness. We know we can’t control the outcomes, but we can control what we put into the process.
With an illness focus, because we can’t control our illness (external), we run the risk of developing negative feelings around our perceived lack of control that can start to make us feel helpless and/or hopeless. We may start to feel that because we can’t control our illness we can’t control anything. This can lead to increased stress, which we know can lead to further problems.
If we can shift our focus from being illness-centered to wellness-centered, it can help us move toward having a feeling of satisfaction with our life even if we’re not at our healthiest physically.
So if we’ve been operating from an illness focused perspective, how do we move to a wellness focus? Here are a few things that I’ve found useful:
- Find your “why.” Why do you want to improve your overall wellness? Is it so that you can run and play with your grandkids, be a role model for someone, serve others in some capacity? What drives you? A strong “why” is what keeps you moving along when things get tough and you’re not seeing any immediate improvements.
- Remember that wellness encompasses much more than just your physical health. It also includes the emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, social, and spiritual dimensions of wellness.
- Realize that you can’t be in control of everything all the time, but neither do you have to feel that you have no control at all. You have the opportunity to make choices and take small steps toward better health every day.
- Concentrate more on the process and less on the results. Obviously when we’re dealing with an illness and trying to reduce symptoms we have to be concerned with the results of any treatment methods or lifestyle changes we’re trying, but in that case we can focus on the desired outcome of that particular piece of the puzzle. For the “big picture” we continue doing the activities that contribute to “the process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life.”
When we focus on our overall wellness rather than focusing solely on trying to prevent disease or “beat” our illnesses, we can move toward a happy, fulfilling life no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.
Do you think it makes a difference whether you have a wellness or illness focus? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!