Take a moment and reflect on your response to the word Wellness. In all probability it’s a reminder that you should take better care of yourself. This concept, which is almost a half-century old, has been the only term ever associated with an overall state of health. Hence, one cannot overstate its cultural importance. That said, I would argue it is time to add another term to the health lexicon: Lifestyle Intelligence (LQ).
Lifestyle Intelligence addresses the following critically important question: how successful are you in managing the three fundamental elements of living – eating, sleeping and exercising? Each of these has two components: sensory awareness, the organic aspect and learned content, largely driven by the health information that has become omnipresent in the media. For our purposes, it is the neural or sensory awareness hardwiring which is of most concern.
Think of the processing of internal sensory data as our Central Intelligence Agency. This monitoring system, which provides information as to what is happening at any moment in time, presupposes that you’re tuned into the channel so that your conscious mind can receive the broadcast. In infants this processing is automatic since cognition and sensation are synonymous. Thus, infants are never confused about whether they’re hungry, tired, or need to move.
As we grow older, cultural and familial programing begins to insidiously degrade our awareness resulting in “sensory blindness.” We begin eating with our eyes or by the clock and ignoring sensations of fatigue, an all too familiar script in our culture.
Exercise has an analogous structure, but the feedback mechanism is very different. Unlike sleep and hunger, which are tied to circadian rhythms, sensations of “exercise deprivation” are typically camouflaged and manifest themselves in the form of seemingly unrelated physical and psychological complaints such as lower back pain, fatigue, moodiness and constipation. We perceive these issues as minor medical conditions due to our diminishing sensory awareness.
LQ becomes more relevant as we explore the relationships between its components as well as their interactions with the two established forms of intelligence, IQ and EQ. We know that IQ is a quantitative measure of intellectual functioning while EQ, made famous by writer Daniel Goleman, is the Emotional Intelligence skill set that includes self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy and motivation.
It would seem that the three types of intelligence function autonomously, since they each reflect different sectors of our experience –neurophysiology (LQ), social-emotional life (EQ), and abstract thinking (IQ). A closer look suggests otherwise.
To begin with, we now know that sleep deprivation disrupts normal appetite rhythms. In other words, when you don’t consistently sleep enough, your brain responds by generating feelings of hunger resulting in chronic overeating and weight gain. Fatigue also makes you less likely to exercise. Further, losing sleep causes the emotional regulation skills associated with EQ to go awry. Anger, anxiety, and depression occur more frequently. Moreover, these negative emotional changes limit your ability to experience empathy. This typically results in difficulty navigating important relationships. Additionally, motivation a central component of EQ, becomes more difficult to sustain.
Lastly, as we all have experienced, sleep deprivation slows down your ability to think. Slowed cognition means that alertness, concentration, focus and logical reasoning become increasingly impaired.
Taken together, the evidence suggests that Lifestyle Intelligence, which effectively integrates the essential elements of healthy living into a uniform overall concept, can do for health what EQ did for social-emotional life.
Now comes the difficult part. How do you translate this model into a program that can alter people’s behavior? Most attempts at change are plagued by the New Year’s resolution syndrome – enthusiastic beginnings followed by failure. This is explained by the statistical concept “regression to the mean,” the process by which everything tends to drift back to its average. In this case average reflects the dysfunctional behavior attempting to be changed.
In order to successfully alter people’s lifestyle patterns, it is necessary to shape a program around the way people currently live. This means it must be digitally driven, user friendly and should provide the right amount of contact, content and reinforcement so it synchronizes with the rhythm of people’s lives. Think of it as a “time-released” awareness/information program that helps you to make changes at the right times and in the right places.
Successful living is built on rhythmic consistency. There’s nothing more important than a solid back beat.
Timing really is everything.