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 Discover What You Already Know 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by . View all columns in series
Wellness starts with the recognition that your body is wise, your mind is wise, and your soul is wise. You may not always honor that wisdom in yourself, but it is there nonetheless. You are at the leading edge of over five billion years of evolution. You are a being of amazing resources. It's time to discover that.

Humans have an insatiable hunger for answers and cures, and show great persistence in their searches, which may take them around the world and back. Yet in looking "out there," they overlook, dismiss, and even demean the obvious - the knowledge that lies within.

Experts and guides are valuable in all aspects of life. But the trouble comes when too much responsibility is shifted onto these experts, these doctors and teachers, and intuition and self-understanding are ignored. Giving away personal power to an ever-growing army of "professionals" puts us on the well-worn path to a power-robbed existence. Such reliance easily becomes a source of confusion when the advice of one specialist seems to contradict that of another.

One simple way to practice self-responsibility is to acknowledge what you already know about your own life and health. You have a basic sense of what's good for you and what isn't. By looking within and asking yourself some simple questions, you can access information for your own wellbeing. If you are currently seeing doctors or other helping professionals, share this additional, valuable information with them. It will help to move you out of the role of passive patient and into a partnership with a healing team.

The next major advances in health of the American people will come from the assumption of individual responsibility for one's own health and a necessary change in lifestyle for the majority of Americans.

John H. Knowles,
former president,
Rockefeller Foundation

In a classic study conducted by psychologists Ellen Langer of Harvard and Judith Rodin of Yale, elderly residents in a nursing home were given plants to care for and were encouraged to do more for themselves instead of letting the staff take over all their responsibilities. Another group of patients, of similar age and disability, received no such encouragement for self-responsibility. Within three weeks, there was significant improvement in the health and vitality levels of the first group. Eighteen months later, even more dramatic findings were revealed. The death rate in the "increased responsibility" group was half that of the other group.

This is only one example from a growing body of scientific research that supports the theory that individuals who have choices in managing and directing their own lives stay healthier, live longer, and heal faster than those who do not.

An Experience in Discovering

  1. Have pencil and paper handy. Now, begin by letting yourself relax. Sit back and take a few slow breaths. Close your eyes, if you wish, to help achieve an inward focus, and just rest for a minute or so. When you feel at ease, open your eyes. Working quickly now, make a list of things that encourage your health and wellness. You can write out each response in a complete sentence, or simply use a word, phrase, or symbol to capture your idea. For instance:
    • I know that more outdoor exercise helps me to work better.
    • I know ...
    • I know ...
  2. Next, make another list, this time focusing on things that discourage health and wellness for you. For instance:
    • I know that eating in the car as I'm driving is not conducive to my digestion.
    • I know that ...
    • I know that ...
  3. Expand this self-discovery by writing yourself a letter about your current state of illness or health. Write as one best friend to another. Address any other issues that may be particularly troublesome for you at this time and don't hesitate to write about the changes you want and what you know will support you in making those changes. For example:

    Dear Janet,
    I know you've had a lot of pain recently, and I want to encourage you to keep up your exercise program, which really seems to help. There are some other things that might be beneficial for you, like ...

    Love, Janet

You will gain maximum benefit from the exercises suggested above by repeating them periodically. For instance, try writing a letter to yourself every day for a week or more. Remember, as you write, that your health or illness is influenced by your state of mind, your emotions, and your spirit. Consider all aspects of yourself as you write your letters. You may find it helpful to write about your fears, your grief, your imagined weaknesses, and your negative opinions about yourself. Write also about your insights and intuitions, your dreams and plans, your day-to-day learning about questions of being and meaning.

Doing this kind of honest self-exploration will gradually reveal more of your own inner wisdom. This will give you the confidence to trust yourself as the expert on your own healing. You can begin to shape your life in new ways that promote greater health and wellness. You can speak self-reliantly to your doctor or other experts about what you know about yourself.

Take That First Step Today
Now that you are off to a good start by discovering what you already know, it is time to act on that knowledge. Please don't discourage yourself by attempting an instant overhaul of all of your life patterns. Habits have built up over years and will take time to change. What is one step that you can take today to encourage your wellness? Write it down. Do it. And give yourself a pat on the back for taking one small step toward health and wellbeing. For instance:

  • I will walk outdoors, vigorously, for ten minutes today.
  • I will refrain from eating sugary snacks or desserts today and have fresh fruit or nuts and raisins instead.
  • I will ...

The world is such-and-such or so-and-so only because we tell ourselves that that is the way it is.

- Carlos Castaneda

Reprinted with permission, from Simply Well by John W. Travis, MD, & Regina Sara Ryan. Copyright 2001. Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA.

The online version of Dr. Travis' Wellness Inventory may be accessed at ( The Wellness Inventory may also be licensed by coaches, health and wellness professionals, and organizations.

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 About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of ...moreJohn Travis MD, MPH
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