At the end of September, I wrote a newsletter titled "Health is a Weak Link Problem." In it, I wrote:
Imagine your health is a chain. Every facet of your genetics, lifestyle, history, and environment is a link in the chain of your health.
To strengthen your chain, you can either improve your chain - drink more water, exercise more often, etc. Or you can support a weak link by building around it - adapt your exercise routine when you are in a flare or avoiding allergens would be examples of that.
Basically, take a look at your habits and assess where you have the most room for improvement and start there. There are a few benefits to this process:
First and foremost, you'll get the most "bang for your buck". This is the definition of being a weak link problem. You'll get a bigger boost to your health and energy by improving the weakest link than you would if you improved an area that you're already doing pretty well at.
Second, you can see the benefits from a very little change. If you're sleep deprived, a half hour more of sleep is incredible. But when you're already getting enough (or nearly enough) it doesn't really make a difference in your day. If you're only eating highly processed foods, a simple salad feels so refreshing.
Third, because you can make a little change and actually feel the difference, you're more motivated to continue and perhaps even expand your efforts. If you have more energy, of course you can do more.
But there are 2 traps we need to watch out for.
Trap 1: The Control Trap
It is tempting to believe that if you eat just right, if you destress enough, if you exercise just so, that you can avoid flares for good. But unfortunately that is not the case. Possibly we can reduce the number, severity, or length of a flare - but we can never know for sure if our habits actually made any difference in the flares. It sucks, but it's true.
The only way we could know would be if we could tap into a parallel dimension identical to this one except for you chose not to work on your health habits and see what happened there.
We cannot control our arthritis. BUT - and this is how we avoid the control trap - by having positive habits in our mindset and how we move, rest, and eat, we feel better than when we don't.
Here's how I think about it in my own life. I know that my major trigger is sleep deprivation. It makes me cranky, anxious, stiff, sore, and achy - basically miserable all around. So I do what I can to get enough sleep as often as I can. But I also have a 10 month old child so sleep sometimes just doesn't happen. I cannot control that. So I take advantage of the good days and when there is a challenging day, I stay in my coziest pajamas, put on a movie, and put a blanket on the floor so I can corral the child in the living room instead of having to get up all the time to chase her down. Yes, I complain about it - as I stated, I'm pretty miserable those days. But I know that this is life and eventually I remember that this is just how it is and there is no use getting mad. Tomorrow is a new day.
Trap 2: The Perfection Trap
If you're lucky enough to avoid flares and continue this incremental process, you'll eventually get to a place where you are doing pretty well in terms of eating, moving, resting, and mindset. This is where you need to start to shift your mindset again.
Rather than focusing on trying to get "better" at our various habits, you need to double down on mindset. Specifically, on the perfectionism trap. Yes, striving for improvement is a good thing, especially when you are first starting on the path to better wellness. But there is a fine line between striving for improvement and attempting to reach perfection.
Perfection cannot be reached and trying to get there ends up damaging your health and wellness.
Not only is perfection damaging in and of it self - by raising your stress levels when you cannot possibly meet your unreasonable expectations. But it also tends to lead us into quitting habits that we have so carefully built.
This is such a tricky thing to spot for those of us who have perfectionist tendencies. And it takes a long time to dismantle. One example of perfectionism that I've worked to dismantle is with cleaning my house. I've often felt like if I couldn't finish the job (dishes, cleaning the floors, tidying that junk pile that always accumulates somewhere), then there wasn't much point in starting. Which is silly of course. And whenever I consciously thought about it, I could recognize the perfectionist thought and start the job anyway, even if I knew I only had 15 minutes. I first noticed this tendency in 2016 and it's taken until this year for me to move past it (for the most part).
Perfection is not required. Do the best you can with what you have and what you know right now. And remember that your best will be different day to day and month to month. That's just life.