Filling out medical forms the other day, I came across these two questions:
- What makes you feel better?
- What makes you feel worse?
These are the quintessential questions, aren’t they? They apply not only to our physical well being, but to our emotional, mental, and spiritual health as well. They empower us to transform the negative into the positive; unhappiness into contentment.
In his book, Adrenal Fatigue, the 21st Century Stress Syndrome, Dr. James L. Wilson offers a similar exercise to determine what contributes to your health and what detracts from it.
He suggests taking a piece of paper, dating it, and drawing a line down the middle. Write the heading “good for me” at the top of the first column; write “bad for me” at the top of the second column. Then let you stream of consciousness pour onto the page in a simple list format.
About the “good” things, Dr. Wilson says:
“These can be physical or leisure activities, eating patterns, exercises, relationships, work, family, emotional patterns, attitudes, beliefs, dietary supplements, and any other things that make you feel good and contribute to your sense of well being.”
Most importantly, he advises,
“Do not list things that ‘should’ be good for you, or which you do not really find pleasurable or beneficial. Do not idealize and put what ought to be good for you. Reach into your heart and find what makes you feel good and what you love in life. List all the things that bring you pleasure and add to your life, even if you haven’t done them for a while.”
Following the same advice, next – without reservation - list what’s “bad” for you in the second column. If something has both “good” and “bad” aspects, list each of those aspects in their respective column.
Use two or three pages if you like. Take all the time that you need. It might take a few attempts till you have a complete list of both the positives and the negatives.
Creating Better Health and Well Being
The next step in the exercise is to examine the items on your list and circle the 5 most important entries in each column. Then boil it down to the number 1 item for each column. This may take take some time and reflection. It’s also helpful to explore precisely why a particular action or attitude is harmful to your well being. This will give you more fuel for change.
- What’s the number 1 activity or attitude that makes you feel better? How often do you engage in it?
- What’s the number 1 activity that makes you feel worse? How often do you engage in it? Why is it so harmful to your well-being?
The simple way to create better health and overall wellness is making a commitment and a plan to regularly engage in the top “good” activity on your list. At the same time, make an effort to gradually eliminate the top activity that makes you feel worse.
Once those actions, activities, or beliefs are firmly rooted in or removed from your life, move on to the #2 items on your list. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to take on too much. Just slowly chip away at the major offenders. As you gradually proceed through your list, the positive activities and attitudes will gradually submerge the unwholesome ones.
Be Honest with Yourself
The key in this exercise is to be honest with yourself. And, to also reflect in a deep way. It’s not the superficial activities of life that bring true happiness.
But it’s also important to create the relative circumstances that will sustain our health and well being, especially if your health has taken a dive. Far too often, we resist when illness sets in. Usually, we try to continue with the same old activities at the same unhelpful pace.
This is a short list of what popped into my mind upon reading the first question, “What makes you feel better?”
Just remembering these wholesome activities and attitudes made me smile and feel better.
The natural question that followed in my own mind was: “How much time do I actually spend on the positives?” Once the stream was uncorked, more ideas flowed freely throughout the day to add to the list.
It was also interesting to consider what didn’t appear on my list. While connection is important to me, it didn’t jump out in my mind on the first go. I felt isolated in my childhood. It’s a tendency that still creeps into my life. So considering what didn’t appear on my list was another way to counter this old habit and give priority to connection and relationships.
Review and Update Regularly
Review your progress once a month. Or more often, if you wish. This will keep you on the direct track to feeling better and more whole. You can always update the list too as you discover more actions, activities, and attitudes that empower you and positively influence your well being. And of course, you’ll want to add any one’s that drag you down so you can tackle them – in due time – once and for all.
This is a simple, but powerful exercise. It will help you to get to know your self and stop acting out of old, unhealthy habits and deceptive brain messages.
At the same time, it’s important to hold our preferences lightly. Being too attached to your preferences can also bring suffering into your life.
Life challenges are also important material for profound transformation. The idea of this exercise isn’t to create more attachment and aversion, but to discover what creates the most benefit in your life so you can act positively for both yourself and others.
Have you ever done an exercise like this? Do you know what makes you feel better? Worse? Do you organize your life around what makes you feel better?