Fake It Until You Make It

There are a lot of barriers to our health.  One of the biggest one is our attitude about our own health. As I was preparing for this post, I found this very interesting article. It essentially reviews the literature on the idea of “resilient aging”.  It looks at all the available research on the topic and identifies the factors that help lead to a more healthy aging process.  The main factors they identified are:

Resilient ageing
core attributes               Related terms

Coping                           Adaptation and attitude change

Hardiness                      Endure, survive, cope with hardship

Self-concept                  Self-worth, self-reliance, self-esteem, Self-concept, self-                                                        acceptance,  self-identity, self-discover, self-identity, self-                                                      discovery, self-efficacy, self-understanding, self-knowledge, self-                                          competence, self-discipline.

I suspect many of these traits are nature/nurtured into us by our parents and our childhood.  I do think people can make improvements in them. I know I had the fortunate experience to be nurtured into a high hardiness rating. We weren’t allowed to get sick when I was a kid. My mother forbid it.  She was a single working mother when I was really young and didn’t have time for us to not be able to go to daycare or school.  This continued even after she married my step-dad.  I had perfect attendance in 3rd grade and at that time they had a reward for White Sox tickets (I lived outside Chicago).  I went to 3 White Sox games- on the house- for not being sick that year! Talk about positive reinforcement.

Being a physician is probably a good job for me, since I’m around sick people all the time. Even now I’m rarely sick, I’m the only person I know that hasn’t had a cold this winter.  If I do feel like I’m getting sick, it’s never much more then being a little sniffly and tired for a day or two (I’m also aggressive with the zinc lozenges which may help).  High hardiness, thanks to my mother and probably some genetic factors.

I don’t know if you can learn that hardiness later in life. I suspect exercising more helps.  I know that exercise causes “demargination” of white blood cells (release of white cells into the blood stream) which can help fight/prevent infection.  I also think that getting enough activity just makes you tougher. People who were high level athletes deal with labor and pregnancy pain better then others.  I don’t have science to support this, it’s low numbers and from my experience with friends, patients, and my wife.  I have a friend who ran in college and took no pain medication after a surgery.  My wife thought her contractions were indigestion.  The night she was going into labor she kept having “indigestion” every 5 minutes.  So my tip for developing hardiness, if you don’t already have it, is to exercise.

The other two are harder, but they are also less tangible. Things like how much pain you have or how sick you get from a cold are pretty tangible.  They can be measured like in how much pain medication you need or how many sick days you take.  Things like your “coping skills” and self-concept are more ephemeral. People may be able to describe them about you, but in a lot of ways your internal feelings are the measure and our feelings can be pretty intangible.

That said, I think we can improve them.  We can work on not letting ourselves get as bothered by comments made by strangers on the internet.  We can get better at shrugging off the comments made by our family members about us.  We can improve our ability to move past unkind things done to us.  One way to do that is: fake it until you make it.

I’ll illustrate the concept by talking a bit about my life.  In junior high I had very close friends. A circle of buddies that I talked about deep things with, went on adventures, and with whom I played video games. We weren’t the cool kids in school- we were probably more the nerdy kids.  Several of my buddies went on to be pretty popular in high school, but at the time, none of us were.  Add to that- I was the smallest kid in my class.  Ok, there might have been one girl that was roughly my size, but she and I were dead-center front row at our 8th grade graduation.  Small, nerdy, not-cool.  My confidence wasn’t that great.  Let me re-phrase, my confidence in social settings wasn’t that great. I always had great confidence in my intelligence and somewhat of an irrational confidence in my physical ability.  The summer after my 8th grade year we moved from Illinois to Washington.

I honestly showed up in Washington on Friday and was starting high school at a new school in a new state the following Monday.  Usually this wouldn’t be an ideal situation.  I, however, decided that I was going to change my social lot and be “confident”.  I started faking it.  I pretended that I didn’t care about peoples opinions and that I was willing to talk to anyone.  It wasn’t really true. I was faking it.  I definitely had some days those first weeks where I ate my lunch on the walk to the cafeteria so I wouldn’t have that moment where you can’t find a place to sit in a social acceptable spot.  I even recall once or twice eating my lunch in the bathroom, just so someone wouldn’t have to see me eating alone or sitting at a table with the Magic the Gathering kids (more on that in a moment).

Time passed.  I’m not sure how much time, because I ended up running cross country that fall and then wrestling that winter and I started meeting people I also made friends with my neighbor Jenny and made friends with her friends (thanks Jenny and Allison!).  But somewhere along the way….I wasn’t faking anymore. I was confident.  I don’t know how “cool” I ever was. But confidence- yeah I had that.  In-fact it reached a point where Sophomore year I not only wrestled, but I was captain of the chess team (with all the Magic the Gathering kids) and nobody batted an eye lash about it.  In fact the wrestlers would give me a “Go kill ’em” on my way to chess matches, genuinely impressed and excited.

Fake it, until you make it.  Eventually you won’t be faking it anymore and your elderly self will look back and thank you for putting that work in.

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