Underneath all of the goals we set for our health and our lives, we really all want one thing: to feel good. This means feeling great physically, enjoying our life more, having the capacity to be there for our friends and family, and being able to pursue our passions and dreams.
We work hard because it feels good to see the results of that hard work. We work out because it makes us feel sexy and strong and fit, which makes us feel good. We eat tacos with friends because it feels good to eat delicious salty food and laugh. We daydream because sometimes, it feels good to escape.
The “No Pain, No Gain” myth
If feeling good is a core driver for us, why do we so often think we can improve our health by making ourselves chronically miserable? We often pick foods that don’t taste good (looking at you, dry, boneless, skinless chicken breast) and punishing exercise regimens that leave us physically drained.Then, we’re surprised that we don’t stick to these for very long, as we rebound back to where we started.
The focus of the health industry has been consistently aimed at spreading two lies:
- If you like it, then it’s not good for you
- If it isn’t painful, you’re not doing it right (NO PAIN NO GAIN, BRO)
The reason I spend so much time focusing on “feeling good” is because this is the only thing that’s going to keep you moving forward on your journey towards health. You need to not only love the taste of the food you eat, but it needs to make you feel more vibrant and energetic. You need to not only love the results you get from your exercise, but you need to love the process itself. If you don’t love the means, you’ll likely never get to the end result. Even if you do, maintaining it will be a chore instead of a joy.
One statistic that gets thrown around in the health community is that 95% of diets fail. That doesn’t mean they have no willpower, it just tells me that there are a lot of people out there who believe the myth that health = misery. There’s nothing sustainable about that.
Why You Need to Feel Good
To be able to make sustainable changes with your life, you need to see some instant results or truly enjoy the process. Sometimes this can be as simple as the flavor or aroma of something. Other times it may be a lifestyle change, like exercising in the morning, that gets you a good night’s sleep that night. Either way, the results must be noticeable or your brain will seek to avoid those very things you are looking to instill. By providing your brain with these rewards, you will be linking it to the routine that you are creating to get those rewards.
Your brain is not purely rational, where it can instantly calculate all of the long-term pros and cons of a given activity, otherwise there wouldn’t be nearly as many smokers out there. Your brain needs the support of feeling good along the entire journey for your lifestyle change to actually take hold. It needs to love the process and have sufficient evidence of the benefits of that process to continue.
internal world vs external world
While the two lies above may have driven past efforts to change, you should instead swap them out for the following ideas.
- My core desire is to feel good
- If I like it, I’ll keep doing it
Sometimes, you need to prioritize your internal world to see results in your external world.
When you recognize that your core desire is to feel good, this doesn’t necessarily mean to feel pleasure and avoid pain. Instead, you want to feel good over the longest-possible time horizon. Thus, some things that may make you “feel good” temporarily will not make you feel good in the long run. Getting wasted on a weeknight, sleeping with someone you shouldn’t, eating an entire pizza, or staying up too late to binge-watch a show suddenly lose their appeal when you can put your current self into the shoes of your future self (called “playing the tape forward” and think about the way you will feel the next day or week. If you notice that you keep doing things that make you feel bad, you know that you have some internal work to do!
The inverse is also true; sometimes getting super sweaty in a hot yoga class, learning how to cook healthy meals instead of eating out, or saying “no” more often will give you short term unpleasantness. Healing isn’t always easy, and there might be bumps in the road and painful moments in the journey. Ideally, however, that pain and unpleasantness will only be a bridge to higher levels of peace and satisfaction with your life. You will know it’s the right thing to do based on the positive results you start to see.
Love the journey, get results
Feeling great again will show you that you’re on the right path.
When you focus on the internal world, you’re going to be able to feel when you’re headed the right direction towards your health. Maybe you’ll make a diet change and the scale won’t budge but you feel more energy and happiness (and your kids notice this). Maybe you’ll quit a habit that clears you of your mental fog. Or take some supplements that help reduce your anxiety. When you focus on the internal world, the external will eventually catch up, and you’ll love the journey and not just the destination.
Tell me how to do it!
So, you may be thinking right now “Yeah, sure…if I did only what made me “feel good” I would sit on the couch eating bbq pizza and watching The Hallmark Channel all day. Give me something practical.” First of all, that would actually make you miserable after a short while, but here you go:
Okay, so we know that some form of movement/exercise is essential. But maybe you hate running and can’t stand the thought of going to the gym and lifting weight with all the meatheads. Then… don’t do it!! Take dance classes. Go to a rock climbing gym. Go on hikes with your dog. Get some friends together to play volleyball or ultimate frisbee in the park.
Maybe the very idea of kale is repulsive to you. Lots of people would agree with you. So…you don’t have to eat it! Find healthy foods that you actually like and load up on them instead. I personally cannot stand steamed veggies, so I never eat them. I roast them, saute them, or load ’em up with pastured butter (which actually makes the nutrients in the veggies way more bioavailable!). Find good quality foods that you love, and learn how to cook them deliciously.
Create daily rituals that bring you joy AND health.
Everything else will catch up
The really cool thing about our bodies is that the things that are good for us in a physical sense also feel make us feel great mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
What this means is that as soon as you start working on one thing, such as unpleasant emotions or trauma from your past, the other areas tend to fall into alignment. The weight will fall off as you start to see yourself as someone worthy of taking care of. The compulsive binge eating will slowly subside when you deal with the emotional trauma causing it. The acne, hormone problems, and insomnia will start to drift away as you begin to nourish yourself with the right foods that make you feel *truly* nourished (aka probably NOT iceberg lettuce and diet shakes) and stop punishing yourself with workouts that are too intense and drain you.
Instead of your health practices taking over your life and disconnecting you from people, they will empower you to feel like your best self and use your gifts to pour into those around you.
And isn’t that what we all really want, anyway?
Now get out there and enjoy your life!