REAL Wellness Is Not for Sissies - Or Those Who Think It’s Easy

Introduction: Most People Can’t Sustain Healthy


Over the years, I’ve collaborated with an eminent Australian polymath (Dr. Grant Donovan) in conducting research on lifestyle change. Our work has focused on understanding whether adults have a better than 50/50 chance of benefiting from efforts to improve their lifestyles. Our double-blind, crossover, randomized horizontal and dignified trials have explored a simple but profound question that others have taken for granted, namely, can humans do it? That is, can individuals convince themselves to change their lifestyles and, more important, can they sustain over time whatever healthy habits they attempt to adopt? If not, then clearly the frustrations of failure and increases in learned hopelessness make it highly unlikely that attempts at lifestyle improvements offer a fifty percent chance of being beneficial.

Out studies have shown, conclusively we believe, that most people can’t do it. This is not good news. However, if one has a predisposition for reality versus magical thinking, decisions based upon evidence seem more reliable, rational and desirable guides for living. Better to deal with the world as it is than how you want it to be and wish it were.

You can read about our work in a series of twenty essays posted online detailing our investigations, all under the title of “Icantdoit.” Once the nature of this reality is understood, those who still desire to attempt positive lifestyle changes will have a better chance for success, since a rare few can in fact do it, if somewhat gifted by favorable circumstances and aware of the difficulties. Everyone should be willing to pay attention to ways that boost success rates.

Our Findings Summarized

We found that living healthfully is too demanding largely because most are not prepared for the obstacles in the way. Make no mistake - if everyone could put into practice and sustain healthy choices, they would. Who wants to be sick and die prematurely? Who wants NOT to look good and have ample energy and live life to the full? If it were easy, everyone would accept responsibility for a high quality of life by choosing to  exercise vigorously on a regular basis, eat well, manage stress, think critically and do all the rest. After all, wellness is fun, romantic and hip, sexy and free. It's a richer way to be alive. You'd be a little crazy not to live this way--IF YOU COULD. However, the sorry situation we discovered is most for most cant.

Napoleon Hill, author of the famous Andrew Carnegie formula for money-making entitled, Think and Grow Rich: The Andrew Carnegie formula for money making, studied several thousand people -- and concluded 98 percent of them were failures. This might be a little harsh and an overestimate. Still, it was interesting to think about the thirty major reasons he thought accounted for why so many fail.

When Grant and I looked at Hill's explanations for explaining failure at making money, we concluded that twenty of Hills reasons apply as well to attempts to live healthfully, along the advanced lines of wellness lifestyles.

Here are the twenty factors so identified:

  1. Unfavorable Hereditary Background -- Many people are born with a deficiency in brainpower or lack of physical capacity -- and there is nothing they can do about it.
  2. Lack of Ambition to Aim Above Mediocrity -- people lack ambition and are not willing to put in the considerable effort required for success.
  3. Insufficient Education -- Hill argues that the "the best-educated people are often those who are self-educated and get whatever they want in life without violating the rights of others." Many people have school-based knowledge but lack the capacity to effectively and persistently apply their knowledge. As Hill notes, "men are paid, not merely for what they know, but more particularly for what they do with that which they know."
  4. Lack of Self-discipline -- Most people fail because they lack the discipline required for self-control. Hill argues, "if you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by it. You may see at one and the same time both your best friend and your greatest enemy, by stepping in front of a mirror."
  5. Ill Health -- Hill postulates, "No person may enjoy outstanding success without good health." Most of those Hill studied overate foods not conducive to such favored health status, lacked sufficient physical exercise, rarely breathed fresh air and generally had poor habits of thought. Sound familiar?
  6. Unfavorable Environmental Influences During Childhood -- Most people acquire bad habits from poor environments and improper associates during childhood. They spend the rest of their impoverished lives blaming others because they cantdoit.
  7. Procrastination -- Hill's research led him to conclude that people are always waiting for the 'time to be just right' to start doing something worthwhile. And, of course, the time is never just right.
  8. Lack of Persistence -- Most people start well but finish poorly. They fail people because they are prone to giving up at the first signs of defeat.
  9. Negative Personality -- Most people don't like each other. Hill argues that "success comes through the application of power, and power is attained through the cooperative efforts of other people. A negative personality will not induce cooperation."
  10. Uncontrolled Desire for Something for Nothing -- Most people have a gambling instinct and a desire to be rich without effort, hence the worldwide success of casinos and lottery groups.
  11. Lack of a Well-Defined Power of Decision -- Hill believed, "successful people reach decisions promptly and change them, if at all, very slowly." Most reach decisions very slowly and change them frequently..
  12. Wrong Selection of a Mate in Marriage -- Poor relationships are energy-sapping and destroy most ambitions.
  13. Superstition -- Superstition is a sign of ignorance. Most people believe many foolish things unsupported by evidence or reason.
  14. Wrong Selection of a Vocation -- The chances of success are not good in work environments that are disliked.
  15. Lack of Concentration of Effort -- Most people are easily distracted. They fail to focus efforts on one definite aim. 
  16. The Habit of Indiscriminate Spending -- This is the big one in Western society. Most people risk financial stability by spending (not investing) more than they can afford.
  17. Intolerance -- People often fail to realize quality lifestyles because they are close-minded, acquires little knowledge and easily becomes religiously, racially and politically intolerant
  18. Inability to Cooperate with Others -- More people lose opportunities in life because they lack the capacity to work effectively with others.
  19. Guessing Instead of Thinking -- Hill suggests, "most people are too indifferent or lazy to acquire facts with which to think accurately. They prefer to act on opinions created by guesswork or snap-judgments."
  20. Lack of Capital -- Most people start out and travel through life without sufficient capital to absorb the shock of mistakes.

Donovan and I do not hold that these twenty factors are THE most critical variables for everyone with regard to changing lifestyles for the better. Yet, these twenty do explain why so many find it difficult to sustain good intentions to live healthfully.

By familiarizing yourself with this list, you may develop a greater appreciation of the seriousness of the barriers or obstacles to wellness, and thereby increase the extent of your commitment. It takes a great deal of devotion and intention to continue over time to invest the required energy to sustain your wellness lifestyles.

New Study Supports Our Findings

An influential website has just referenced an AMA Journal story about a new study that supports our findings. Researchers found no data that would lead anyone to change his or her lifestyle. The rigorous, controlled study in the JAMA revealed a trend showing that “nothing will make you take better care of yourself, or alter your behavior in a meaningful sense.” This led Dr. Janice Carlisle, the report author, to conclude that “we’re all wasting our time here.” Dr. Carlisle added, “... long-term health meant nothing last year, and will mean nothing this year or any year after until you die, so forget it. Just do what you want.” The article, entitled “New Study Finds Nothing That Will Actually Convince You To Change Your Lifestyle So Just Forget It,” can be examined at the Onion website, one of my best sources for light-hearted if not reliable news. (See The Onion, Apr 30, 2013.)

Think about all this and decide if you are truly ready to pursue a REAL wellness lifestyle.

Good luck and don’t underestimate how hard it can be to remain focused on the bright side of life.