How to change your world one smile at a time

Written by BITE Contributor Dr. Jay Rook

In a movie you might remember from the 90s, Robin Willams plays a budding physician. He conducts an experiment to see how smiling and/or saying “Hi”, even to strangers, changes everything. It begs the question – how does your day change when someone is kind to you? How can you make someone else’s day better?

In the vast realm of fitness, wellness, nutrition, and athletics, there is a central, underlying theme that says one should never become satisfied with his/her current state. We are constantly striving – to be better, leaner, faster, stronger, prettier, healthier. On the opposite end of the spectrum is an evolving trend exclaiming, “Love yourself!” At its most extreme, it implies that whatever you eat, however you eat it, whatever your habits or exercise practices (or lack thereof), the world should accept and embrace you. Between these extremes are the shamers and critics. So who’s got it right?

I’m a health professional, and other members of my team will often declare, “Dr. Rook would never eat that…” or “Don’t let Dr. Rook see you eating that…” Even more interestingly, one colleague with more lax nutrition/fitness habits will sarcastically comment on another more focused person’s food choices. You’ve probably been on one end or the other of this type of exchange. The responses are typically comments like, “It’s too hard to eat that way, so why bother?”, “I’m eating this way to fit into…”, “It just takes too much time and effort.” or “I have to do this or I would be X pounds heavier.” There are a million justifications we make, regardless of which side of the debate we fall on.

The real question isn’t who’s right or wrong, it’s this: Are you happy with yourself? Our justifications, in some degree, are really just criticisms. They are subtle, passive-aggressive digs at the beliefs and positions of others (and your own as well). They are a battle cry to get someone off their bandwagon and on to yours.

Consider this. When you are happy with yourself, there is no need to criticize, or dig, or rally cry at someone else, or at yourself. Don’t hear me wrong, I’m not advocating complacency — in my opinion it’s often the complacent who are guilty of these behaviors. But perhaps, in this great debate on what to eat, how to eat, where to eat, when to eat, what to do, how to look, etc., when you are happy with yourself (regardless of diet, physical appearance, or activity level), you exude security, confidence, and inspiration. Because of those qualities, you don’t react with justifications.

I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone else — I tend to be a very confident person (some misconstrue this as cockiness). But sometimes I feel compelled to particiapte in these types of justifications. In my role as a physician, I need to impart wisdom and guidance while being constructively supportive. This maximizes the likelihood that my patients will achieve success.

What would it be like to live in a world where everyone was happy with themselves? I can only control myself, but I can influence others by finding balance in myself and exhibiting it. I may think my food choices or habits are better than someone else’s, but I can maintain my happiness and balance while inspiring change in others by learning to be content with my choices no matter what my goals or ambitions are. Our goals and ideals have been skewed by social media, TV, and magazines anyway — chasing an unrealistic goal you can never achieve will never bring happiness! Analyzing and refining a goal to make realistic, attainable objectives is something I do often with patients.

What does this have to do with being happy with yourself? If you have selected a realistic goal and designed a practical plan with measurable objectives, then every day should be a happy day as you work towards your finish line. Unrealistic goals effectively move the finish line, so you are never closer to it. It makes no sense.

This next week, make a point to smile, be enthusiastic, and be supportive. If you do this five times more than you would have normally, give yourself a reward (one that doesn’t sabotage another goal!). If, at the end of the week, you’ve hit your objective every day, have a bigger reward planned. This strategy, called Health Behavior Change, works in wonderful ways to make progress with a variety of behaviors and habits. But more importantly, see how you feel at the end of the week. Look at how you have progressed with your other goals. What has changed in your social and family circles? Do you notice a broader change? Imagine if everyone did this every day. Not only would it become an easy habit, the world might be a brighter place if, when asked, you could respond that you’re happy with yourself.

Dr. Jay Rook is the Integrative and Athlete Wellness physician with Heritage Life Fit/Heritage Victor Valley Medical Group in southern California. He provides nutrition and fitness oriented primary care to athletic-minded individuals aged 18-64. He also offers integrative, longevity and non surgical injury therapies as a sub-specialist with a focus on athlete performance and recovery. Read more

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