By Mary Kay Foley
As parents nervously watching our children climbing on jungle gyms or trees, we are instructed to not use the words, "Don't fall!" The reason is that when we say these words, falling is the first thing a child will visualize. An even simpler example is: What comes to your mind when I tell you, "Don't visualize an elephant." Most likely it's an elephant that you see in your mind's eye. Whether the message is to focus or not focus on the subject of the statement, the way our minds work brings the subject to mind.
In the business world, it's this type of thinking that has led to using a process called "appreciative inquiry" as a model for change. In researching institutional change, theorists David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney and their team found that what you study is what you create. Traditionally, institutional change focused on looking at barriers, obstacles and problems. Cooperrider and Whitney found that the more they studied problems, the more of them they found. Instead, they moved their inquiry to "systematic discovery of what gives life to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms." This approach to personal and institutional change is based on "the assumption that questions and dialogue about strengths, successes, values, hopes and dreams are themselves, transformational."
In the field of psychology, a new branch called positive psychology has arisen to go beyond the disease model of treating those with mental illness. Positive psychology offers "normal" people tools for living more fulfilling lives. Again, positive psychologists lead inquiry into what your strengths are, so that you can use them in the service of something larger than yourself. They have found that it is this connection that leads to true happiness.
Likewise, in the field of integrative medicine, the focus is on strengthening the whole person to improve health, rather than focusing on disease states. Integrative health focuses on prevention and wellness, facilitating the body's natural healing abilities and development of self-care skills. Integrative health supports conventional medicine in treating chronic and acute conditions by addressing the complex needs of the individual.
As the year draws to an end, and we look toward what the new year will bring, I urge you to try this process yourself. Rather than setting a few empty New Year's resolutions, try a new approach. Consider when in your life you feel most involved, alive and engaged. Is this a regular part of your day-to-day routine? If not, how could you increase that feeling either in your work or home life? If you are looking to improve your health, what are the details of what that would mean to you? What strengths could you draw on? What activities do you enjoy? What setting? Are there people with whom you would like to spend more time who could join you? Are there groups that might offer support?
St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center and St. Luke's Center for Community Health offer groups for support in losing weight, for learning about diabetes, for cancer support and for learning to meditate. They also have yoga classes. The YMCA, local health clubs and the Blaine County Recreation District offer fitness and yoga classes, as well as various forms of support for healthy lifestyles. Sometimes the camaraderie of a group focused on a common goal can help sustain your commitment.
Are there foods that you enjoy that are healthy? Can you see yourself enjoying good, healthy food with your family and friends? Dr. Wayne Dyer, a specialist in self-development, likes to say, "Think from the end. Imagine yourself surrounded by the circumstances which you wish to create." What are your goals and what are the specifics of making it happen? The initiation of change is to begin to see your desired change as a possibility.
Mary Kay Foley, a physical therapist and Guild Certified Feldenkrais practitioner, is coordinator of the Integrative Therapies Program at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center and staff physical therapist at St. Luke's Elks Rehab.