Friday, July 2, 2010

Avoiding the Awful Outcome - Two Very Different People

Today, some encouragement. But first, some straight talk. If you feel that's not something you want to hear right now, then maybe you should click the Back button on your browser. 

I'm thinking about two very different people.

On the one hand, you have Carolyn, who tries to live a healthy lifestyle. She's a non-smoker. She's fortunate because she didn't have to quit. She's never smoked a cigarette in her life. She exercises 90 minutes five times a week. She prefers organic fruits and vegetables when she can get them, and she uses sugar, fat and alcohol only in moderation. She loves experimenting with herbs and spices to make healthy dishes taste wonderful. 

Most of her friends don't live this way, so why does she? She claims she was "scared straight" by the death of her mother at the age of 52, who had heart disease and Type II diabetes. In other words, at this time of her life she's proactively trying to avoid a similar fate. She knows what she should be doing for her own good, and she's doing it. 

On the other hand, you have her friend Daisy. Carolyn shares an interest in gardening with her, but Daisy's lifestyle is nearly the opposite of Carolyn's. Daisy loves pastries and the only exercise she gets is in her garden. She weighs 290 pounds, and she's been a heavy smoker since she was 14. Carolyn has made tactful suggestions, but Daisy always comes back with statements such as, "My grandmother smoked and drank until she died at the age of 91. Not everyone gets lung cancer, you know."

Daisy is in denial. She doesn't want to think about what could happen to her if she continues doing what she's doing. Change would be miserably hard, and she can't bear the thought of it. So she rationalizes that everything will be OK. She puts these issues out of her mind and goes about her life. Someday, she might be willing to change her habits, but only when her back's against the wall and she sees no other choice. But of course by then it may be too late.

You probably know someone like Daisy - an otherwise good and intelligent person who acts in an irrational way. Looking into the future and doing the right thing to avoid an awful outcome seems too hard - too far to go. 

Maybe you have similar issues. Do you have symptoms of a health problem that should be checked out by a doctor, but you discount the seriousness of it? Is there something really important you need to do, but it means sacrifice and so you put if off? Do you hate your job, but you stick with it because the alternatives seem overwhelming and risky? Are you overweight? Do you smoke? Do you drink too much?

If so, maybe you haven't tried to make positive changes because your pattern has become an ingrained part of your life, and doing the hard work to establish a new pattern seems unthinkable. So you don't think about it.

I hope you don't have issues like these. I hope you're the kind of person who faces tough choices, sees the potential consequences, and does the right thing. 

This year, someone I know, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer before she was 50.

A friend of mine once had a serious alcohol problem. When his family and business partners threatened to leave him, he decided to go into rehab. With dedication, he completely turned his life around. But back then he wouldn't do anything about it until it was almost too late.

I encourage you not to wait until your situation is so painful or scary that your back's against the wall. Acknowledge what you need to do, gather up your personal strength, get help if necessary, and do something about it.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from


Sean said...

It was mentioned in the news today that scientists have identified a collection of genetic markers that are highly correlated with longevity; which provides some merit to that whole "my moma lived to be 95 so I will too" argument.

There are various flaws in that reasoning, though.

First off, you only get half of your genetic traits from your mother. The other half you get from your father. This mixing of genetic markers can cause all sorts of things to simply occur or not occur; you might get the best features of each, or the worst of each... it's random. Plus some genes are recessive so you may carry it but it simply won't work for you.

Second, when people live to be 95 and claim to have smoked, drank, and eat sugar all their lives, they are exaggerating. Take a look around. Go on, look. Notice this: THERE ARE NO FAT OLD PEOPLE. Now alcohol acts as a blood thinner, which can help prevent heart disease and clotting, but it will also damage your brain leaving you stupid and senile in your twilight years. As for the smoking, smokers are always in denial. They cough all the time, wheeze all the time, constantly are getting sick, and typically end up with lung problems that lead to a slow death. So again, even if you live into your 80's while smoking, it's a horrible life. Also, those people who smoked all their lives and made it to 95? They probably didn't inhale as much. My grandfather smoked all his life and lived into 80's, but he frequently would leave cigarettes burning in ashtray.

A third thing to consider is that we have all sorts of NEW unhealthy factors that previous generations didn't have. There's more pollution in the air, more strange cancer-causing chemicals in the food (even so-called "organic" ones). And just about everything seems to have high-fructose corn syrup in it, which is worse than the sugar of yesteryear. So you're already a strike against you even before you add the high-fat diet, smoking, and drinking.

Not that it matters; by the time someone has read through this lengthy comment they've probably died of old age anyway.

Anonymous said...

Changing oneself can be the toughest changes one ever makes. It's easy to build the case for change, but tough to do it.