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5 Ways To Work ON Your Life Instead of IN Your Life

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By now, we recognize the wise distinction that Michael Gerber makes in his book E-myth Revisited: to work on your business as well as (or instead of) work in your business.  I have lived that great lesson myself from all points in the business spectrum, and I’m still sliding myself hand-over-hand toward the happy end of that scale.  I remember reading that book back in 2005 and musing how that book’s three-pronged approach to business could be applied to life in general.  How often do we go through life doing what we think needs doing, all the while ignoring that which can’t be ignored?  As I have matured as a doctor of chiropractic, I can see now where that lesson can be applied to one’s approach to personal health as well.

I have a patient who is an obsessive extremist.  He’s got one of the biggest hearts you’d ever want to meet.  He loves people, he loves life, and he’s a true defender of humanity and a patriot.  When he sees a goal he needs to get, he goes for it, and does not hold back.  He pushes himself past his limits in every aspect of work and play.

He decided to lose 40 pounds and 5 inches around the middle, and despite my best advice to take it easier, insisted on running four times as much as I had advised, lifting weights four times as aggressively, and ate 1/3 less food than he should have to keep up with that kind of effort.  After a month, he was exhausted, light-headed, weak, and had plateaued.  When he asked why, I told him: he put his body in panic mode!  He was so stressed out about getting to his goals that he was throwing off his adrenal glands! His body was holding on to stores for dear life because it thought he needed them for the terrible crisis he was in!  Once he began to eat more and was kinder to his body, he began to lose weight on schedule and regain energy.

I have another patient who is on the opposite end of this spectrum.  She is in her early 50s.  She’s a spunky, awesome lady who loves to enjoy her life and sharing great gobs of happiness with everyone around her.  She has entered the intermediate stage of osteoarthritis in her spine; she has rounded shoulders and underdeveloped muscles from avoiding exercise on a daily basis.  Consequently, she has bouts of debilitating pain in her spine.  She also smokes and loves to eat and drink lots of the best food and drink she can procure, so the excess weight that she carries is centered on her abdomen.  Abdominal fat is a danger sign for a stressed pancreas and heart.

When she comes in for her monthly spinal check-ups (for which I do commend her vigilance), I, being the loving nag that I am, ask her if she’s done the exercises, the stretches, visited the yoga place I told her about, quit smoking, yada yada…I get the same cheerful, “nope…nope…nope…”

But sometimes the spasms come – the, “I-can’t-even-get-out-of-bed-from-the-pain,” spasms.  Those days are long days in the chiropractic office for my dear patient, and I end up seeing her quite a bit for a few days.  I tell her, “It would be a lot cheaper on you if you just stretch, exercise, drink lots of water, quit smoking….” “Yeah,” she acknowledges…

This has gone on for years.  Then, wonderfully, at this month’s check-up, I noticed an extreme difference in her spine!  The muscles were suppler, there was movement in the individual vertebrae, and the adjustment was smooth as butter!  I said, “What are you doing right?”  She grinned and said, “I’ve been swimming in the neighbor’s pool almost every day after work!”

Swimming!  The holy grail of exercises.  If there were only one exercise you could do in the whole world, swimming, is the overall best.  You get aerobic exercise as well as universal strength training, and the cushion of water is great for anyone’s joints.  You exercise your lungs, swimming movements naturally massage your viscera (your organs in your gut), and you come out of the pool feeling refreshed.  Swimming is just fabulous.

That one little change over the course of four weeks improved her muscle tone, her posture, and her spine.  She looked fresher and had a nice bounce in her step that matched her spirit.  Thank goodness for summer and that pool!

However, autumn will be here in a few months, and although it is my fervent wish that my patient continue to swim…well…we’ll see.  Maybe, just maybe, her good health will encourage her to continue.

It isn’t fair to single out my patients, though.  More often than I care to admit (that’s why I am), I am guilty as charged for not living mindfully.  When I get into a project, I let my healthy exercise habits slip, and it can get me in real trouble when that happens – because, my body is my work instrument.  If I can’t use my body, I can’t work!  I have a blog post documenting the time I let bad desk habits really throw me for a loop.  This is the link to it if you want a good laugh and tips on great posture: http://wp.me/p1.

I love living life, too; I love accomplishing my goals, and I love getting “to it,” whatever “it” happens to be.  I have to make myself be mindful to keep balance in all areas of life, and to move on when I spend too much time on one thing.

Life is a series of moments, and they add up.  We make the most impact on our bodies, our health, and our life, doing the things we do every day.  Grand demonstrations of effort yield only fleeting changes if your efforts are not steady and consistent.   So, if you slump in your seat steadily and consistently, you will get osteoarthritis and muscular weakness in key points in your back.  If you sit up and get up to move around consistently and on a steady basis you’re going to have a healthy spine and musculature.

This example may seem like it has nothing to do with business and life, but consider:

Mechanical back pain – and I’m just talking about back pain caused by stuck vertebral joints and muscles that aren’t in healthy condition, not herniated discs and rheumatoid arthritis and conditions like that – account for most of the debilitating back pain that people experience.

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Think about that word: debilitating.  That means you hurt so bad that when you try to move, your pain keeps you from moving.  Unlike the lady I described in the last blog post, you are able to move but the pain you experience is so vast, you can’t will yourself to move! That includes breathing, that includes bearing down to go to the bathroom…everything!

The trigger point problem I had in my intercostals – just one silly muscle knot – and I had every symptom of a heart attack.  How many people go to the emergency room with symptoms of a heart attack and end up with nothing to show for it but thousands of dollars of medical bills for examinations they didn’t need?

Well, I’ll tell you: Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain1—and that’s for diagnosis and treatment for the pain, as well as workers compensation payments and time lost from work.  That’s not considering people who go to the hospital or doctor’s office looking for more serious diagnostic worries like a heart attack, like an ulcer, like a brain tumor, and goodness knows what else that end up being just back and neck pain.

It also doesn’t assume the personal income you lose due to the inability to perform your job because of pain, nor does it account for lost revenue for your company because you or your employee couldn’t work due to medical absence.  So, aside from your health insurance and workman’s compensation premiums skyrocketing, how much more are you losing…from back pain? In most cases, back pain that’s not even from a “serious” back injury that chokes off the full expression of your nervous system and leads to real weakness and loss of use.  That’s even worse!

The realization is astounding, isn’t it? It’s hard to believe unless you have lived through that kind of pain.  Then you get it.

Back and neck pain is like no other pain.  Because the spinal cord and peripheral nerves exit through the spine, when your joints aren’t working well and the muscles of your back are not conditioned well, when they are pushed to that brink, the resulting inflammation affects nerves that run every system of your body. Nothing can work right.  You can even get hot and cold flashes, heart palpitations, hyperventilation, and weak bladder.  It’s just ridiculous.

And what about when we put too much unhealthy stress on our bodies at the expense of equilibrium? Pulling all-nighters, beginning Friday with Thursday happy hour, and even trying to compensate for bad behavior with obsessive, stressful, dieting and exercise will cause short-term delays in your goals and long-term damage from self-induced hormonal and visceral dysfunction.  Remember: the body is a beautiful servant of the mind.  If the mind is in a state of disequilibrium, the body follows.

Luckily, health care spending growth seems to be slowing overall for small businesses (not including spending for the newly-insured); however, it is not reversing, and legislation is only part of the issue.  The other part is us and our lifestyle behavior.

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For small businesses, smoking and obesity are the top direct and indirect health expenditures for employees.  Our government has estimated that annual health care costs for these populations are about $96 billion in health care and a $97 billion a year in indirect cost, including lost productivity for smokers2.  For obesity, it is $147 billion3 in medical costs and an additional $68 billion in indirect cost, including lost productivity.  Associated health care costs for these health care issues are partially paid by small business people and corporations, as well as fellow employees whose rates are higher in a business setting because of the overall risk.  In fact, the Affordable Care Act allows a $0.50 increase per smoker increase by insurance companies, and some legislators are calling for a similar levy for obese people.

It is important to remember that both smoking and overeating are addictions, and they are both physical and psychological addictions. The way that we manufacture our food and cigarettes in this country has a lot to do with their addictive qualities, and the social suggestion that eating and smoking equal happiness are tremendous.  So if you suffer from either, please remember that.  These problems are not impossible to overcome, and the blame is not entirely yours.   Our bodies were never built to ingest the quantity and quality of food that is most common and most affordable in America today, and the food and tobacco industry has their own dirty history of which we are becoming all-too-well aware.

So I hope I’ve made a case that getting lost in your day to day has serious financial and personal implications for you, and given that 1 in 5 of us smoke and 1 in 3 of us is overweight-to-obese, I hope I’ve shown that working on your life is just as important as working in your business.  In fact, they are interrelated.

Here’s some ways you can work on your life as opposed to in your life:

 1: Be conscious of what you put on and in your body, and how you use your body every day.

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This may sound like a nuisance suggestion, but given the amount that you can save yourself, your colleagues and your family in heartache and dollars, keeping a journal where you jot down the brands, types and amounts of food you eat, as well as the brands of products you wash with and use as cosmetics. Keep a ledger of the amount of times you walked and got up to walk, exercised, and just straightened up your back.  If you smoke, be aware of how many cigarettes you are smoking, and when you seem to smoke the most.  As far as eating is concerned, your goal is to eat 5-6 small meals a day, about the size of your fist, and a wide variety of foods. See how close you can get to that. When you get a chance, read the ingredient list of what you put on and in your body.  If you can’t pronounce the ingredients and you have no idea what they are, it’s time to take an inventory of what’s in your house and office.

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2: Take an inventory of what is in your house and office.

First of all, if you wouldn’t eat what you put on your body, it shouldn’t be on your body. You don’t always eat your nutrients or poisons.  Your skin absorbs lotions, gels and liquid materials, and transports their ingredients into your blood stream via a complex combination of nervous and lymph channels. Your skin also excretes waste through your pores; that’s why you smell bad if you don’t wash after a day or two.  Without getting too far off topic, I’m going to make an argument for reverse osmosis water filters in your home and office.  Your skin even absorbs water in the shower or bathtub, and every chemical compound in it.  In fact, when you inhale, you ingest just as much as when you wash6.  Some of those chemicals include antibiotics and pesticides from farming, so those lower your immunity and resistance right there.

The more unnatural chemicals that go in and on your body, the less resistance you can acquire in fighting unwanted habits and addictions.  In fact, a lot of these chemicals produce the addiction to begin with!  So chuck out any food and cosmetics that contains ingredients that you can’t pronounce or easily identify as safe by a simple online search.  Two great websites are veritey.com and environmental working group ewg.com to do that.

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3 Take an inventory of your motivation for continuing harmful habits.

I know what I’m talking about here.  I smoked for twenty years, and loved every minute of it.  I didn’t really want to stop when I did, but my checklist of what was at stake if I didn’t convinced me I ought to stop.  So consider: given everything I know you already know and more, do you really want to smoke?  Do you really want to eat as much as you do?  Why are you doing it?  Are these habits really more important than everything else that you know is true?  What is the cost of not acting on what you know you need to to? How happy are you going to be if you continue to alienate every other principle that is important to you if you continue?  Can you really stop when you want?  If you know you should stop, when are you going to stop?

None of these questions are easy, and all are vital to every aspect of your life. You know they apply to drug (illegal as well as prescription) and alcohol addiction too, but I figured I had better just say that to drive the point home.  If you find yourself grappling with this suggestion, keep in mind suggestion #4.

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4 Don’t do it alone.

You don’t have to be alone in this process.  In fact, addictions speak for themselves using your voice, so it’s actually very important to get help in overcoming them.  I already referenced my friend and colleague Meg Tocantins, who is a hypnotist extraordinaire and who is on a personal mission to demolish the smoking industry single-handedly.  I told her she needs help to do that, too; so you folks can work together!

Work out with a buddy.  In know you hear that all the time, but you hear it all the time because its true.  You know someone who wants to get moving as much as you, so go do activities with them.  There are lots of things to choose from.  Go dancing!  Play golf or go to a bellydancing class.  Or better yet: go swimming!  The local Y has a pool all year round, and so do many gyms.  If possible, find a pool that is cleaned via oxygenation rather than chlorine or other chemical methods, for the reasons stated above.

If overeating and/or eating the wrong things for your body is your problem, first, go to your health care professional and find out what type of dietary effort is best for you.  Not everyone is suited to the Atkins diet, nor is everyone suited for a raw juice program.  Find out your metabolic type and go from there.  Find a system and a support to get you through.  I have a list of folks you can contact in my show notes, but there are literally thousands of health coaches and support groups everywhere.  Go to your church, temple, mosque, tribe or synagogue; check the local library or event listings in your town.  Go to Meetup.com and see if there are any groups listed there.  Make sure the group you attend isn’t or doesn’t devolve into a useless gripe session with no useful support structure.

If you are an employer who is reading this, if you haven’t already, institute a program at work for these efforts. Many insurance companies will actually offer discounts and benefits to companies who institute wellness programs for their employees, and a multitude of health and wellness professionals would literally love to help you with this.  I’m forming a party of health missionaries right now to get started on this type of quest, and so are many others in many places.

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5. Continually remind yourself why you are doing it.

Make a list of every benefit there is of taking charge of what you put in your body to remind you when times are tough.  Keep these reasons handy every time you feel like you are going to slip.  Read continually.  Read as much as you can from experts in the field (I recommend some good books in my show notes).  For employers, I already hinted at the financial and productivity benefits; take an inventory of your staff’s behaviors and your insurance premiums, and weigh the cost of the projected savings when you successfully initiate in-house wellness programs.  You may even find that your staff is grateful that you care.  I mean, beyond the cold numbers, no one wants to see their friends and families suffer from the effects of ill health, hopelessness and depression – because these problems cause plenty of depression and self-esteem issues, believe me.  Just knowing you care enough to help may go a long way in building a corporate culture that will benefit you in the short and the long run.

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