As a writer of a health book, it must seem strange that I would come out in opposition to typical health books as an effective strategy for actually achieving the stated goal. Most health books are written in response to the unique desire on the part of the general public to find someone – anyone – with a good story about health and say to them, “Please, just tell me what to do.”
If you haven’t actually spoken those words to someone who presents themselves as a health expert, you’ve at least wanted to. This plea – in the guise of a market demand – is designed to make someone else take charge of our health. It says, “I’m confused, frustrated, and I haven’t got time for this. Just tell me what to do” is what people do instead of taking responsibility for their health. No matter how educated and caring the advice that request solicits, it will result in something less than they could have created for themselves.
Any health resource – person or institution – that spells out exactly what to do or, worse still, does it for you, actually contributes to the dismantling of created health. And the more detailed the advice, the worse the results.
Here are some very fine examples:
Exercise books that spell out the workouts; either day-by-day, or in groups designed to be followed in order.
I have said elsewhere – and truly believe – that your most effective workouts will always be challenges that are prescribed by someone else, but getting your workouts out of a book or a magazine is not what I had in mind.
It is true that when we create our own workouts, they will inevitably fall prey to the acute human tendency to pick and choose our favorite activities, usually based on that which keeps us in our physical comfort zone in either kind or degree or both, and away from the greatest catalysts for health. However, receiving you workout instructions from a book or the internet means that it fails another very important test: personal interest.
Specifically, the failing is in the fact that the prescription is originating from someone who doesn’t know you, and who you do not know. That is a major failing in the creation of health through physical challenges.
Workout prescriptions from a disinterested third-party are missing the requirement that the work must have something to do with you. It certainly must not be about you in the sense that it came from you, but it should meet the test of having been prescribed by someone who knows you, and by someone who you know. These are qualities that do not exist when you receive your work from a disconnected third-party (i.e., a book or the internet). What you get out of that form of prescription is simply differently corrupted challenges.
In addition to receiving workouts from an “interested” 2nd party, you should be offering yourself up as the creator of someone else’s workouts so that you are actually involved in both sides of the process.
The way this works best is when both people in the equation – the person prescribing the work (the “prescriber”), and the person performing the tasks (“the performer”) – know and trust each other. Every person should be both a prescriber and a performer on an ongoing basis. I recommend small groups or clubs of people committed to each other’s progress and development, and that you create a matrix of prescribing and performing in a way that exposes you to the prescriptions of everyone in the group. They will all challenge you in a slightly new and different way, which is exactly the point.
As the prescriber, you should only go to the trouble of prescribing workouts for people who are disciplined about their work and who will honestly report their experience to you after the work is done. It is also important that the work be communicated to the performer in person; verbally, if possible. I know this sounds very arcane and dealing in minutiae, but this is a very real and powerful piece of the puzzle. The nuance of the work being prescribed is only available to you when it is communicated in this way.
As the performer, you must know that the person doing the prescribing is of like mind and understands the nature of health-driven physical challenges. The performer should also expect to receive the prescription personally – as in verbally if at all possible.
Second,you must be accountable to the person prescribing the work for it to have its maximum effect. They need to know that the work was completed to the best of your ability to do so and when that occurred, and receive a full report about the experience.
For many of the same reasons, here’s another pitfall in our attempt at self-created health:
Diet books that tell you what to eat and when to eat it.
One version of this concept is the diet book that tells you what foods to eat, and actually gives you meal-by-meal instructions including items and quantities. They will also provide details about duplicating the taste and mouth feel of the less healthy version of your favorite foods, and how to continue eating out in restaurants with no compromise to your health (impossible).
And then there are the healthy recipe books; these are actually even worse, and a whole other class of destructiveness.
All of these books have one thing in common: the only goal they serve is to pander to your desire to abdicate responsibility for your own health. “Don’t think about it, just do this.”
In general, you can assume that the more detailed the instructions, the more they will separate you from any chance at real and powerfully created health.
Just as with the creation of workouts, you must be adept and involved in the process of creating eating plans and recipes. But, unlike with workouts, it is perfectly fine to subject yourself to your own recipes and eating plan. The principle here is that you need to be intimately involved in the process of deciding what ingredients to use and how to put them together for maximum personal health. We will likely also pick and choose our favorites when it comes to food sources, only in the case of food that is not really a problem as long as we are adhering to the principles of healthy eating.
When I use words like “dismantling” and “destructive” and “separate you from health”, here’s what I mean:
Anything that eliminates the need for you to understand the origins of health, and to create the components of it for yourself, are contributing to your desire to abdicate your involvement in the task, and will inevitably spill over into other areas of responsibility. As I’ve mentioned before, this is the beginning of the end in terms of real, controllable, maintainable, and highest potential for health. Involvement – personal and deep – is the only path to the kind of health that is available to each and every one of us.
I know there are a million ways to justify using “tried and true” plans – created by (so-called) experts, for diet, exercise, and other lifestyle cues, and that trying to create all of that from scratch is reinventing the wheel. But here’s the truth of it: in addition to the heightened awareness of all of the issues involved in the creation of health that you derive from being more involved in the process, there are also details about that process that are unique to you.
It is true that on the surface there are many lifestyle cues that are common to all, but we are no longer dwelling on the surface. While the main ingredients (pardon the pun) of health will look very similar to the casual observer, many of those details are going to be different from person to person.You are the only one with enough access to how you feel and respond to certain lifestyle behaviors to know which are better for you than others.
A pristine, natural environment will always result in superb health, assuming you survive it.