Prognosis: Attitude Problem – How outlook toward life affects health

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I have many, many fond memories about my late grandmother. Like how she would race my brother and I down the street in a skipping contest. Her slow and steady pace always won, because in our hurry to try to win, my brother and I would forget, in mid-step, how to skip. Breakfast at home was usually cereal or toast. Breakfast at my grandmother’s was toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, and fries. When I used to stop at her house after work during the winter, she would have a chair ready near the heater so that I could warm up while she made supper (a supper, once again, consisting of at least three courses, starting with soup, then meat and fries, followed by salad, fruit, and dessert).

My grandmother had health problems most of her life. When she had something enjoyable to distract her, like catching up on her “stories,” reading the Bible, making us dinner, or entertaining her new grandchild, the pain or other bothersome symptoms disappeared. When one of her friends got her on the topic of health (“Oh my Lord, my back was hurting so much yesterday”) she would feel the burden of her age and her depleted health. My grandmother was one of the bravest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. But when her outlook was dark or when she wasn’t focused on the happier things in her life, her health would suddenly take a turn for the worst.

I knew when her time was coming to an end even before her doctors or the rest of my family did. I could see it in her dejected face when she had to return to the hospital after being let out for the Christmas holidays. I saw it in her last act of defiance when she snipped off her hospital bracelet, forcing my mother to find a ribbon to tie it back together. I saw that snip with the scissors as a symbolic gesture; a desire to be freed of the burden of her illness – to stop being, what she felt, was a burden to her family. She died a few weeks after this happened.

The Buddha said that “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” I’ve recognized this many times in my own life. When I’m stressed because I’m worrying about the future or regretting the past, I suddenly come down with the flu or a cold sore.

Attitude is everything. What makes some people so resilient in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges? Research we conducted at Queendom using our Hardiness Test reveals that resilient people take a unique attitude toward life that can be summed up in three words: Commitment, Control, and Challenge. They commit themselves to every activity they take on, no matter how simplistic. They take responsibility for their actions and their life (i.e. an internal locus of control). Finally, they view stressful situations as challenges to overcome, rather than as permanent setbacks or obstacles.

Here is some other eye-opening information that our research revealed about hardy people:

  • 98% are actively involved in hobbies or other leisure activities (compared to 19% of people who are not hardy).
  • 90% believe that they can control their destiny (compared to 5% of people who are not hardy).
  • 92% look forward to their day (compared to 2% of people who are not hardy).
  • 71% accept change when it is required (compared to 5% of people who are not hardy).
  • 83% can find something enjoyable in even the most mundane tasks (compared to 2% of people who are not hardy).
  • 95% find ways to “spice up” everyday tasks (e.g. listening to music while cleaning; rewarding themselves after getting all the cleaning done, etc.).
  • When they fail at something, 79% use it as motivation to try harder next time (compared to 0% of people who are not hardy).
  • In the last year, 82% of hardy people have taken 3 or fewer sick days. Of the people who are not hardy, 61% took more than 3 sick days last year.
  • 58% of hardy people exercise 3 or more times per week, compared to 21% of people who are not hardy.
  • 79% of hardy people eat a healthy diet, compared to 29% of people who are not hardy.

Here are tips to boost hardiness:

  • Take pleasure in the small victories. Even the hardest occupations have moments when you can stop and savor a job well done, a person helped, or a difficult task accomplished. By stopping for a moment to reflect on your accomplishment, you may begin to feel more satisfied with the work that you’re doing.
  • Remember, bad days are temporary. Even people who are naturally positive, upbeat, and love what they are doing in life have bad days. Those bad days here and there don’t stop them from appreciating the overall positives in their lives. If you tend to become pessimistic after a bad stretch at work, fight against the tendency by reminding yourself of the good things. Accepting that every job has ups-and-downs can help get you through rough patches.
  • Know the benefits of having an internal locus of control. Although taking responsibility for your actions may sometimes cause you to feel disappointed in yourself (as in when you accept blame for a failure), it also leads to greater self-motivation and a more active attitude towards life. People who feel that they have control over the outcome of their actions are more likely to take ownership for their behavior and to exert strong effort in life.
  • Eliminate “cognitive shortcuts.” Cognitive shortcuts are unhealthy thought patterns that have become a habit. For example, you might automatically blame the fact that you haven’t had a steady relationship in two years on your looks or personality. You might think, “I’m unattractive” or “I have no charisma”. These negative thoughts are surefire success-killers because they lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. If you don’t feel good about yourself  you will come across as lacking confidence, and others will see you as someone who isn’t worthy of their attention. Stop these shortcuts, these habitual though patterns, in their tracks by consciously replacing them with healthier ones.
  • Take a step back when a task overwhelms you. Getting out of the situation for just a little bit will help you relax and put things into perspective. Try breathing techniques, meditation, or simply changing to a different task to get your mind off of a difficult undertaking.
  • Talk it out. Sometimes, all it takes when a molehill looks like a mountain is to talk it over with a friend who can help to put things in perspective and outline steps for the future.
  • Take the long view. Think about how you will feel about a difficult situation in ten days, ten weeks, ten months, or ten years. Either you will think nothing of it, or you will regret not doing anything. Regardless, you will gain the motivation to move on with your life by either working to fight against the setback or to move on.

Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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