We all want to live our best life, with our BMI below 25, our blood pressure below 120, and a good night’s sleep averaging eight or more hours per day. We all strive toward these great outcomes, but our current, national health statistics reflect that we still need quite a bit of work to get there. The World Health Organization defines health as the complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. I don’t know about you, but I believe that one of the major risk factors to my optimal health is my own intolerance of my imperfections: I seem to have the tendency of giving up on any health improvement initiative the moment I take a wrong turn and make a mistake! Have you ever been on a diet? What happens when your desire for that slice of pizza wins over your willpower and you give in and eat the pizza?
Do you just shrug it off and move on back to your perfect balance between fruit and veggies, protein and carbs, saying, “hmmm…that was good, now I will get back on track,” or do you give up on the diet all together and eat the whole pizza? Hopefully most of us fall somewhere in-between, but I have an idea: Since none of us are perfect, what if we strive for balance instead of perfection? What if our health goal is to end up with a “five-to-one” positive to negative ratio in our choices that pertain to our health? In other words, what if we ensure that we make five positive choices for every mishap or negative choice we make? If I have that pizza for lunch because I was at that work function and “that is all that was available,” then I will add an extra positive act toward health, like adding an extra fifteen minutes to my walk.
I first became aware of the “five-to-one ratio” concept when I attended the Gottman Institute’s “Art and Science of Love” workshop a couple of years ago. Apparently, since we cannot avoid making mistakes in our primary relationships, making a conscious effort to replenish our emotional relationship bank with five positive acts of kindness for every time we mess up, has been found to do wonders for neutralizing the impact of impasses in relationships. The Gottman Institute, founded by John Gottman, Ph.D., has gathered data for several decades that link behaviors with relational success—predicting divorce with 94% accuracy. However, over this last decade, scientists have explored the application of this ratio in many different life situations, even in the workplace. And guess what? The higher the positive to negative ratio is at work is directly linked to a steady, measurable increase in performance.
Personally, I have found this ratio to be true in every relationship that is important in my life, not just with my precious daughter or a significant other, but also in my relationship with food, my relationship with exercise, my relationship with nature, and most of all, the relationship I have with myself! Striving for perfection and punishing ourselves for giving in to a piece of bacon, or a slice of pizza, is making significant withdrawals from the bank of positive emotions we have for and with ourselves. In order to accomplish optimal health, we have to look with eyes wide open at every component of our lives that is interfering with our ability to maintain a positive balance. Optimal wellness is a significant commitment that we choose to make. But as with every other commitment in life, the commitment to our health requires a deep and unconditional love for ourselves—one that forgives a limitation, or a moment of weakness, and recognizes our beauty in our best and our worst.
So, if you are one of us, struggling to lose weight, give up a bad habit, or stick to a routine of regular exercise, my most heartfelt and effective tip is: Love yourself a little more and increase your self-compassion for your mistakes.
And who knows, maybe striving for a healthier balance in the way we embrace all of who we are, with all of our good and not so good actions and choices, may well be just the perfect prescription to reverse our current health trajectory!