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Dr Rangan Chatterjee on Why Good Health is a Journey Not a Destination

Posted on 6th December 2019 by Mark Skinner

In his new book Feel Better in 5, Dr Rangan Chatterjee makes the case that too many of us have our journey to good health the wrong way round. With too much emphasis on the ultimate goal rather than the process of how we get there, we could be fundamentally misunderstanding the best way to improve our health. In the exclusive essay below, he explains why. 

Why Good Health Is A Journey Not A Destination

How often do you find yourself visualising a ‘healthy new you’? I’ve done it; we all do it. We decide to turn over a new leaf and fix an image in our minds of who we want to become. We see that beautiful beach body holding a perfect yoga pose or that muscle man breezing through his 20-kilometre run and we think, ‘That’s who I’m going to be.’ We motivate ourselves towards that distant ideal – and then are surprised and disappointed when it doesn’t materialise.

So why don’t most health-transformation plans work? Why do quick-fix diets fail? Why can’t we simply decide to revamp our lifestyles, snap our fingers and make it happen? Because all these approaches are based on that huge but extremely common mistake. They involve thinking about health solely as a destination, about the place where we end up. But that’s not how we get anywhere. I wrote my new book, Feel Better In 5, to help all of us break free from this type of thinking. And to be empowered by the knowledge that what really matters is not the destination but the journey.

Even doctors do it

That’s right, health professionals are prone to destination thinking, too. Let’s say you visit the doctor because you feel depressed. They might treat this symptom of low mood with an antidepressant. Of course, it seems perfectly reasonable to focus on the symptom because that’s the cause of your immediate distress. But low mood is just the current complaint. It’s the destination where you’ve found yourself.

Your condition might have its roots in a lack of quality sleep, in poor food or lifestyle choices, in stress. It could stem from a lack of real-life human connection or an absence of meaning and purpose. In prescribing antidepressants, your doctor is jumping ahead to the destination, to where you’ve ended up. But people’s symptoms are usually just the end point of a journey they’ve been on for one, five, 10, or even 20 years.

Change your journey, change your health

Conversely, it’s destination thinking that undermines our attempts at getting healthy, too. A typical health journey is made up of thousands and thousands of little daily steps. It’s these daily steps that Feel Better in 5 targets. I ask you to focus on your health for just five minutes, three times a day. By doing that, trust me, you’ll put yourself on a better journey.

If you’re doubtful, think of it this way: imagine I were to ask you to start smoking for five minutes every morning, then gorge on chocolate biscuits for five minutes at lunchtime, then drink as many litres of sugary pop as you can physically swallow for five minutes each evening. Imagine I wanted you to do this for five days a week, every week. Would you be at all surprised if it impacted your health?

After a week or two of this madness, you’d start to feel worse in yourself. You’d have less energy. You’d start coughing. You’d start craving sugary foods. The shape of your body would begin to change. After a month or two you might experience the first symptoms of ill health. And after a year? Two years? You may well be on the road to some life-threatening diseases.

Good health works in exactly the same way as bad health, yet we don’t think of it in the same way. It’s the journey you’re taking – the small, regular, daily steps you’re choosing to make – that set you on the right path towards an amazing, happy and healthy long life.

Take a few minutes right now to map out your own health journey

Come on, grab a pen and some paper and make a few notes. Ask yourself:

• What has been going on in my life over the past few years?

• How have I ended up at the health destination where I find myself at today?

• Which part of my journey would I hope to change by starting the Feel Better In 5 programme?

• What daily steps have I been taking over the past few years, and how could I replace the unhelpful ones with new and improved ones?

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