Because of his team’s recently published research paper
on how to improve health consciousness, Dr. Joel Bennett has been asked for a simple definition. This is a challenge because health consciousness can be as much a process as it is a fixed trait or a steady state. Think of other processes like resilience or intimacy. Resilience is the process
of bouncing back and continually learning and growing. Intimacy is the process of
getting to know someone at deeper and deeper levels. The strength and the joy can lie more within the discovery and the journey than in arriving somewhere.
Similarly, health consciousness has processes and levels. When we understand the idea that we can have different levels and that health consciousness is a process, we can start off with a simple definition.
Waking Up. The simplest definition is “Paying attention to what we ingest.” As adults, most of us know we should be aware of what we ingest or put in our bodies. While we usually think of food, many thousands of adults a year experience poisoning due to food, drugs, or alcohol (with pain medications as the most frequent). Paying attention to what we eat is especially important in a culture given to gluttony, fast-food, and major growth in ultra-processed foods and food varieties due to innovation in food flavoring and ingredient technologies. But it isn’t only food or sugar-laced drinks. Many people have health problems when they mindlessly use tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Since the early 1900s, there have been a number of fads in OTC or non-prescription products for weight loss that have led to disease. This includes Amphetamine, Gelatin diets, Phen/Fen, PPA, and Ephedra. The most recent opioid epidemic is partly due to strong and not always ethical sales strategies in the pharmaceutical industry. So, the first definition is waking up to the fact that we need to pay attention to what we ingest.
Tuning Up: A Quick Health Consciousness Exercise
(adapted from Raw Coping Power, by Joel Bennett)
Journal your responses to these four questions
- Am I healthy?
- How do I know I am healthy?
- Could I be healthier?
- What would it take?
This next definition adds “… and how I treat my body
.” At this next level, we begin to realize that what we put in our body may be due to other factors. Are we tired? Are we under stress? When was the last time we ate? Are we at a party where there is cake? Do we have a condition that requires us to pay even more attention (e.g., diabetes, obesity)? We are not only paying attention to what we ingest but also to the general condition of our mental and physical state and the situations that may be a risk factor. When we “level up” we start going down a path of a healthy lifestyle. We make some commitment. Many of us attempt to level up when we make New Year’s resolutions. We know that our habits and paying attention are not functioning at the level
they should be.
Tuning Up. At this next level, process consciousness really kicks in. We come to the realization that leveling up is important but we have to keep leveling up; it’s a continuous process. We keep correcting ourselves in the face of risk. When it comes to lifestyle, the vast majority of us just don’t level up once. Many people cycle through stages when changing a habit: from not doing anything, to taking action, to relapsing, to starting over again. The more we cycle, the more aware (conscious) we are that we need to watch out for—stay attuned to— certain “triggers.” These triggers include cravings, difficult emotions (see NWI's Understanding Emotional Triggers Tool), and certain places (e.g., restaurants or bars). The acronym of HALT (Hungry, Angry/Anxious, Lonely, and Tired) has been used in many 12-Step or addiction recovery programs. It means it is time to pause, to halt, and stay on top of our game. In a way, when we keep waking up to our vulnerability, we are tapping into and strengthening our health consciousness.
Going Meta. “Meta” refers to going beyond the details and seeing the big picture or integrating all the levels at once. All three previous levels really work together. As we grow in health consciousness, we keep waking up, leveling up, and tuning up. At a deeper level, we value our health, we value staying conscious, and we value staying conscious of our health. Essentially, we value self-care. These values: (1) help us to recognize when our behavior puts at risk; (2) lead us to correct our behavior (tuning up); and (3) also find – or prepare ahead of time – resources and alternatives before we get into trouble. We lead a protective lifestyle. We have our shield up. We don’t go it alone. In the figure above, we see examples of different resources: talking to someone (getting support), exercising, getting rest, and taking time alone for contemplation or meditation (spirituality). These are just some examples and there are dozens of others.
Click here to learn more about our Health Consciousness Facilitator Certificate course .
Joel Bennett, PhD, is President of Organizational Wellness & Learning Systems (OWLS), a consulting firm that specializes in evidence-based wellness and e-learning technologies to promote organizational health and employee well-being. Dr. Bennett first delivered stress management programming in 1985 and OWLS programs have since reached close to 50,000 workers across the United States and abroad.
He is primary developer of “Team Awareness” and “Team Resilience,” evidence-based, culture of health programs recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Health as effective in reducing employee behavioral risks. Team Awareness has been adapted by the U.S. National Guard as one of their flagship prevention programs and it has been used by municipalities, hospitals, restaurants, electrician training centers, small businesses, Native American tribal government, and in Italy and South Africa.