Health can be confusing and intimidating. Medical research is not written with the average consumer in mind, so you are often relying on the reporting of journalists who are themselves not medical experts. Sometimes that reporting contradicts other sources you’ve read. Sometimes it overturns a piece of advice you have followed for years but is now “wrong.”
And then there’s the volume of health information that’s available to you. The human body is a complex machine, and the knowledge we’ve gathered about it fills countless books. Physicians themselves – people whose lives are dedicated to medicine – recognize that they can’t learn it all, so they specialize.
How are you, one individual in a chaotic world, supposed to take ownership of your health with all of these obstacles in your way?
The first step is to reframe the expectations you set for yourself.
Ownership Doesn’t Have to Mean Knowing Everything
I love sailing. The entire process – from preparing the boat for a trip to juggling all of the responsibilities of navigation and gear – is rewarding and fulfilling for me. I read books and magazines on sailing. I watch videos on sailing. I even love to watch other people sail, so I’ll anchor my boat near the course for a race and watch professionals in action.
For the years I have spent on the water or the countless hours I’ve spent learning about sailing in other ways, I still gladly call specialists. I don’t repair my own engines. I won’t refinish a haul. I don’t pull away from a dock without first using tools and experts to plan a course.
And yet, I still get a lot out of sailing.
Our health is not so different. My job is to care for the boat to keep it ready and seaworthy so that I can make the best decisions when I’m at the helm. In that way, your role in your health is to be that captain for your health. You might not know how to stripe down an engine and reassemble it, but you can make sure it has the right fuel, that it is inspected regularly, and that the necessary maintenance is done on time.
Learning to take care of your body is about understanding how it works and what it needs to be at its best. Along the way, you’ll learn a lot about the science of your health, but I hope my sailing metaphor is helping you to see that being a great sailor doesn’t have to mean being an expert mechanic.
In other words, you don’t need to be a medical expert to confidently navigate your health journey.
What a Captain Should Know
How do you build that fundamental confidence in your health? Here are some tips:
- Understand how your ship works. Psychology, for example, is a deep field, but if you learn the differences between your lizard brain, labrador brain, and human brain, you can use that insight to build better habits.
- Keep the ship in good shape. I know that if I leave a boat unattended for a long time, I am likely to come back to more problems than if I had kept up with the regular maintenance. I may not be able to build a boat, but I can make the right choices to protect and care for it.
- Talk to experts when you need to. If you want to make a change to your ship or if you are concerned about how one piece is operating, talk to the professional with the relevant credentials. Expecting yourself to know and do everything is unfair and impractical.
- Every voyage is a lesson. Every trip, every storm, and experience makes me a better sailor. I am always able to learn about the art of sailing, and taking the time to be present on a journey and to reflect when it’s over makes my next adventure more successful.
- Surround yourself with sailors. Hobbies and passions often lead us to spend time with others who share those passions. If you’re a basketball fan, you talk to other basketball fans, and the same is true for sailing and should be true for your health. Spending time around great sailors, even in a casual social setting, can help you become a better sailor because you learn from their stories and perspectives.
I hope you can now more clearly see that you don’t need to be a medical expert to create optimal wellbeing. You can learn the best practices and the key fundamentals about how you make choices and what your body needs to perform at its best without becoming a physician. The kind of learning I’m encouraging you to pursue here should be fun and exciting instead of intimidating.
Don’t be so hard on yourself and learn as you go.