Dilemmas of Decision-Making

Information overload combined with a lack of clear answers can be confusing, frustrating, and discouraging. It’s tempting to think it would be so much easier if life were black and white, if someone else could tell us the precise course of action to guarantee the results we want. But that won’t be happening any time soon.

And really, that isn’t the point of life, as far as I can tell. From my viewpoint, life is about learning and growing. And health issues certainly provide us with opportunities to do that.

So it’s on us to be conscious and engaged when making health-related choices. Here are a few thoughts to consider.

1. We are organic, not mechanical, systems.

Repairing a mechanical system is usually a straightforward, clear-cut, logical process. Not so with living systems, which are elegantly complex and sometimes incomprehensible. We have a capacity for emotion, interconnected body systems, and strong survival instincts. No wonder it’s challenging to zero in on the one correct thing to do.

2. It helps a lot to adopt an experimental mindset.

Because maybe there isn’t just one perfect answer. Maybe it’s a zig-zag path to where we want to be.

In this culture, we tend to look for a direct path to the right and perfect solution. This search can have the unintended consequence of preventing  any action at all because you can never be really sure you’ve found the correct one.

On the other hand, an experimental approach allows us to be curious. It opens up possibilities and gives you a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s a time-honoured approach, as illustrated by this story from Thomas Edison’s friend and associate Walter S. Mallory.

I said to him, “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?” Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: “Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

With an attitude like that, there’s no need to feel like a failure when you try something that doesn’t work. After all, you were just testing a theory, not staking your reputation for success on it.

3. You’ll be a lot more confident in making health decisions once you learn to access your innate self-knowing.

Self-knowing is the key to being able to rest easy with your decisions. It’s the aspect of decision-making that provides the greatest opportunity for growth, and the one that’s easiest to overlook.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how you can marshal your resources to know what to do. In the meantime, here are The Delta Rhythm Boys to sing us out…

We are organic systems. Not mechanical.

Organic. Not mechanical. That means we need to think differently when trying to fix problems in the system. Repairing a mechanical system is usually a straightforward, clear-cut, logical process.

Not so with living systems, which are elegantly complex and sometimes incomprehensible. We have a capacity for emotion, interconnected body systems, and strong survival instincts. No wonder it’s challenging to zero in on one correct thing to do when you have a health issue.

Integrative Health Approach

Institute for Functional Medicine Clinical Matrix for Core Imbalance. From the Institute for Functional Medicine: Textbook of Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor, Wash: The Institute for Functional Medicine, 2005, p 100. © 2005 The Institute of Functional Medicine. Via the Cleveland Clinic

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You’re a “study of one”…and the director of it.

Last week I wrote that we are complex organic systems, each with a unique combination of inherent constitution and life experiences. Under such conditions, the best way to address health issues is with an individualized plan.

In this model of achieving wellness, you are the subject in the study of you. Of course, a study also needs someone to direct it, and that is you too, since the medical system hasn’t yet embraced this approach beyond trying one prescription and then something else if that didn’t work.

How you think makes a difference to the process.

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Be curious. Ask questions.

Curiosity is the antidote to being stuck in that awful place when you know what to do and can’t make it happen. You are stuck, and might be inclined to beat yourself up about that. Instead, get curious about what is going on that’s keeping you stuck.

It might be that you’re not hurting enough yet to want to make the effort to get unstuck. You might be afraid of losing something when making lasting changes. There are a lot of gains we get from doing things as we’ve always done them, or doing what we know we shouldn’t be doing. Or you might feel you “should” do something, but part of you is resisting.

Whatever the case, this is an invitation to find out what’s really underlying your resistance to making a change. Being more self-aware and understanding ourselves is our superpower…when we use it.

Get curious on your own behalf.

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Conscious Consumption in Everyday Life

As I pointed out last week, the consumer culture is structured to propel us to buy, buy, and buy even more, without thinking. From the consumer side of the equation, it’s so easy to react mindlessly to the demands of the culture and then find ourselves dealing with the consequences of excess.

Why does overconsumption matter? Because there’s too much collateral damage when purchase decisions are dictated by businesses that have a vested interest in getting us to buy more than we ever thought we needed.

Collateral damage from the profit-at-all-cost paradigm

  • Over-indebtedness, which leaves us with no capacity to cope with emergencies such as interest rate increases and job losses. In March 2017, Statistics Canada reported that the country’s average household debt-to-income ratio hit a record high of 167%. This means that Canadians owed $1.67 for each $1 they generated in disposable income, In everyday terms, this suggests that many Canadians are living beyond their means or, at best, are just making ends meet.
  • Environmental impacts, in more ways than most of us can imagine. Air pollution, climate change, and overpopulation are familiar issues, but a list of 25 on Conserve Energy Future reminds us about others such as light and noise pollution, urban sprawl, and medical waste.
  • Chronic health issuescaused by stress on many levels. Overconsumption leads to the emotional stress of over-indebtedness, the physical stress of eating food contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals, and the mental stress of trying to sort through overwhelming amounts of information in an attempt to figure out what to do to remain financially and physically healthy.

What can we do?

We can start by taking responsibility for our part in this dysfunctional system. As long as we continue purchasing what corporations sell, we are reinforcing their bad behaviour and they will continue doing what they’re doing.

We get the products we deserve. Continue reading

The Precautionary Principle

In this culture, where technology makes a lot of things possible and affordable, we North Americans are inclined to embrace new things wholeheartedly. Some would say we’ve thrown caution to the wind in the rush toward new and improved.

If we stopped to take a breath, we might decide that sometimes the precautionary principle is called for. The Canadian Environmental Law Association defines it this way: “The precautionary principle denotes a duty to prevent harm, when it is within our power to do so, even when all the evidence is not in.”

Instead of asking how much harm we are willing to permit, the Precautionary Principle asks how little harm is possible.

Sometimes it takes a number of years for harm to show up. By then, many people have been affected. By the time we experience these unintended consequences, the product is entrenched in such a way that banning it becomes an epic struggle. Bisphenol A (BPA) is one example. Read this blog for more about toxic ingredients in non-food items we use regularly.

We’d like to think that scientists can do a study and find definitive proof of the safety (or not) of a product. Not so. Scientific uncertainty is a fact of life, and scientists word their statements cautiously.

Years ago, when I was investigating the relationship between food additives and children’s behaviour, I watched a film in which a highly placed Canadian health official talked about food additives and safety. He said, “We can never definitely prove safety. At the most, we can say that, in the quantities given and under the conditions of the test, a particular additive is probably not unsafe.”

I remember his statement so vividly because it was one of those pivotal moments when a bubble burst for me. Before then, I had lived under the happy illusion that if something had been tested and approved, then it was clearly safe for consumption. In that moment, I realized this is not true. Stating that something is “probably not unsafe” is quite different from providing an assurance that it is safe.

Preventing harm…

By allowing new products to be widely used until proven harmful, we become inadvertent test subjects. What if we changed our attitude and created a culture of preventing harm instead? We could ask how little harm is possible instead of how much harm we are willing to permit. The precautionary principle is based on this important distinction.

Instead of waiting for proof that something is harmful, what if we created a culture of preventing harm?

Originating in Germany in the 1970s, the precautionary principle has now become part of international law. We can hope that our governments will use this principle to guide their decisions and avoid unintended negative consequences from new chemicals being introduced into our food and environment.

In reality, this doesn’t always happen. Many products in the marketplace are detrimental to our health and well-being. So it’s important that we take individual action to look after ourselves. That’s what healthy deviance is about.

But we need to keep a sense of proportion…

Conscious consumption challenges us to choose judiciously rather than react in a knee-jerk fashion. We need to keep a sense of proportion. Automatically shunning everything new is as shortsighted as mindlessly adopting everything that comes along.

Someone who generally takes a balanced view is Dr. Alan Christianson, a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) who writes a useful newsletter. One thing I appreciate is that he’s an independent thinker. Rather than repeating the common wisdom, he investigates by reading research studies and forming his own assessment. Sometimes he does a direct investigation himself.

In the video below, he is looking into the level of electromagnetic fields generated by appliance and devices in his house. Many of us wonder if we should turn our wi-fi off when it’s not in use, or if we should be concerned about carrying a cellphone in our pocket. He measures these and much more.

The video received a lot of response, so the following week he posted another one to answer the questions that arose.

I’m curious what you think. Looking forward to comments.