This week, I have noticed that I have been talking to a lot of people about worth and value, what we truly find value in.
I confess that I am not a typical guy nor is my way of handling things typical. I am not sure why I notice these kinds of things, but I am certain that every event of our lives offers an opportunity to examine what we say or think we believe in and what our actions show we really believe in.
This is how we can discover wellness.
For me, money and finances are the perfect metaphor for wellness.
Recently, I was talking to a friend about her financial situation and the perspective she has about what things are worth.
We were talking about what she places value on and how she prioritizes the different aspects of her life. I asked my friend what the difference is between $50 and $500. She said $450.
I said, "No, the difference is that 50 has one zero and 500 has two zeros, and a zero is nothing. What is different is your own limitations or what you place value on over other areas."
I confess that it was one of my teachers who said this and his point was that how you view money is just an example of your beliefs.
Money is extremely important until the day you find out you have an illness that is so serious that you simply have to take care of yourself or you will die.
Then money shifts its position on your priority list.
Most of us would say that what matters most is family and friends.
But when we examine our lives, we find that we often put work ahead of the things we say matter most. Then we usually justify working as a means to "help" our families.
I believe that we do mean it when we say that. However, if you look at the fact that our jobs and money are often the things that create the most turmoil in our lives, then we really have to stop and examine where our priorities are.
I have a patient who worked in a plant that used chemicals. After going through another round of cancer, he now says to me "I wish I had my health and had quit the job."
I have patients, out of work for years, who now say that they wish they had stopped the first time they hurt their backs because now they can't work and they are depressed.
I have countless patients who look back on things with regret because they ignored their health and put a job or money ahead of other things on their priority list.
I have met people so strong in their beliefs about money that they simply can't see how it interferes with their enjoyment of life.
The stress it causes is literally making them ill.
Believe it or not, my own road to wellness did not start with health-related topics.
My road started with money. To be honest, I never placed a whole lot of importance on money.
Because of this, I have had the great fortune to receive several very expensive lessons. I like to say that I have spent enough money on my mistakes to pay for a four-year college degree. So my "mistakes" were really just lessons.
I have done really stupid things with money, like putting my friends' bar tab on my credit card even though I was completely broke and had no job.
I remember thinking at the time that when I got a job I would pay it off.
The trouble was, when I got my first PT job I had student loans, car payments, rent, credit card bills, food and other expenses, so I literally had no money at all to pay off my debt.
So paying off my debt became my focus early on in my life.
I "invested" in lottery tickets to pay off my debt and to catapult me into financial freedom. This never worked and I do not recommend this strategy even though I did win a million dollars on a scratch off for 30 minutes (until I found out that I had not really won, after all).
After years of struggling, I finally found a job that I made a very good living at and instead of taking advantage of that situation, I decided to borrow more and spend more and come to the verge of bankruptcy.
Yes, this was extremely stressful. In fact, this was the most stressed I ever remember being. In this period of distress, I made one poor decision after another, which in turn stressed me out even more.
Honestly, I saw no way out.
Then one day, my ego was crushed. I had no possible way out and I simply had to surrender my will. I literally remember thinking, "I can't do this on my own, I need help "
I prayed for any help I could get. Interestingly, after my call for help, I picked up a book that promised to teach me how to be successful.
Honestly, I don't remember anything about the book, but this book led me to a teacher who taught me two incredible lessons that changed my focus and eventually lead me to see wellness in a different light as well.
Incredible Lesson Number One:
My teacher told how he went camping one day and it was supposed to rain. He secured a tarp above his head and slept under it for the night.
The next morning, he woke up and stepped out from under the tarp into a giant puddle. In an instant, he realized that God had distributed the rain abundantly and without prejudice. "He was the one who had stopped the abundance by his actions."
Incredible Lesson Number Two:
My teacher put on ridiculous sunglasses and said, "When I look through these glasses, I see poverty and bills."
Then he put on cool modern sunglasses and said, "When I put these glasses on, I see opportunities and abundance."
The situation is the same, but our "look-at-life" lenses determine what value we give it.
This is why I have come to see that any situation is neutral.
How we interpret it determines how experience it.
When we have a steadfast belief about something, it often is the thing that stands in the way of our wellness.
Our stubbornness, often born out of good intentions, actually interferes with the very thing we want most in our life.
I used to struggle with money and paying the bills. I would pray and really focus on how life would be easier if only I had more money.
Then I would get my paycheck and instead of making wise choices with money, I would spend it on something I truly did not need. I would go out to the movies, for example, or eat out or buy cable TV.
Now make sure you understand, I am definitely not suggesting that there is anything wrong with these activities.
In and of themselves they are fine.
The problem was that I actually did have money coming to me that I could have used to pay off debt and to use for more important things like spending time with my family and friends. When I was really honest and looked at my situation, I realized that money coming in was not the issue.
The issue was my perspective that had me sending it out faster than I was receiving it.
When I learned to see that every event with money was an opportunity to see where I prioritized my life and my finances, I had several reality checks.
My view of money was through the silly sunglasses glasses of poverty and lack. I had placed the tarp over myself and was getting in the way of having what I wanted most. I was talking a good game, but my walk was in the opposite direction.
When I started to really look at my life, I could see that my intentions were good but my actions did not match.
I noticed that my spending was out of control and that my fantasy about "easy" money was taking the place of rational decision making.
I began noticing the same imbalance in my physical health, my mental/emotional health and certainly my spiritual health.
The struggle with money and its resolution helped me realize that my perspective and my inability to follow through with my intentions were limiting my potential.
It was not because money was lacking, it was because I lacked perspective.
Stress was one of the lowest things on my wish list, yet my actions were putting it at the top of the list.
I actually was making choices that added to my stressful life rather that taking away the stress.
I have said it several times before, but lately it has become so important that I feel like I need to really say it again: the time to stop is now.
That instant of stopping allows us to regain perspective.
Then all we have to do is be honest. Where do we really place value on what we do and say?
I remember praying for money, but then when I had it, I would simply spend it.
At the time, I thought, "Why can't money come to me?" But now when I look back I realize that money always came when I needed it.
I just happened to get rid of it so quickly that it seemed like I never had it in the first place.
I remember praying for discipline to eat well and exercise, but then when my body craved a walk, I would watch TV or write notes or read emails or even write articles for the paper. I would notice how I was not hungry at all and yet I was eating something, often very unhealthy foods.
I remember praying for help and then when people came to me I would say, "No thanks, I don't need help."
My beliefs about asking for help and accepting help from others were the tarp I put over my own head. People were offering help all the time. I just didn't notice it. I do now and I am incredibly grateful for it.
The value we place on things is often the same difference between 50 and 500 nothing. True worth comes from our actions.
If you want to see what matters most to you, take the time to examine every aspect of your life.
Sometimes choosing a topic that doesn't seem to have anything to do with wellness is the best place to start.
I have found that if you can notice where your walk doesn't match up with your talk, you can find the way back to wellness.
I have seen in my life that every situation is an opportunity to stop to examine where we really place our priorities.
Then after we tell the truth about this, we can choose to continue in that direction or get back on path to walking the walk to wellness.
Matthew Goodemote, a Gloversville native, owns Community Physical Therapy & Wellness. His Health & Wellness column will answer your questions and discuss topics that are relevant to your everyday way of life. If you would like to ask a question, e-mail Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org.