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When was the last time you found a piece of clothing marked “one-size-fits-all” that truly was a comfortable, flattering fit; the right color; the right fabric; and the right level of warmth for anyone who might wear it? Right. Me neither. One-size-fits-all doesn’t often work for clothing. And it  works even less in health and everyday life.

Making “normal” a health goal is a faulty pursuit for the same reasons. “Normal” can be an arbitrary measurement. Just as a one-size-fits-all coat would be a bad choice for most of us, “normal” is not a close enough fit for the majority of my patients. People of differing sizes and lifestyles, with varying medical histories and experiences, who don’t have the same tolerances and sensitivities, can’t all fit into an identical health mold. Trying to make ourselves fit can lead to choices that run counter to good health.

We looked at two dangers of pursuing “normal” in the last newsletter. Here are yet another three obstacles to wellness that too much focus on normal can lay in your path.

Danger #3: Settling for normal can keep your “playing small.”

This is true in health and in life, both personally and professionally. Trying only to measure up to “normal” may prevent you from being the best, most empowered version of yourself. There are aspects of you—innate traits, talents, and abilities—that you have the potential to hone to levels that far exceed normal. But you may never discover them if you let “normal” be good enough for you.

Nicole was afraid of standing out and hid behind a poor self-image and low self-esteem. As a result, she didn’t succeed in making the new relationships that she sought or securing that promotion at work. Why? She chose what she thought felt safe and normal—in other words, her comfort zone—to avoid feeling fear. Could that be your “normal,” too? If so, I have good news for you: Recognizing this self-limiting pattern has allowed Nicole to begin changing her outlook. You can, as well.

Danger #4: “Normal” thinking lets unhealthful patterns get passed along through the generations.

For as long as I can remember, my family has had its own set of preferences and habits and celebrations. I heard advice and wisdom about my heritage from my elders that I would never hear anywhere else. Sound familiar? There’s much to be valued in family tradition. But the fact is, not every tradition is all that healthful. Continuing those that are risky to health or wellbeing can certainly be sadly misguided.

Frank ate bowl after bowl of pasta, bread, and dessert because he thought his Italian roots led him to those choices. Two hundred fifty pounds later, Frank is rethinking the diet that’s “normal” in his family even as his relatives say, “Mangia!” His new, updated eating plan reflects what is healthful for him now, in this stage of his life, and he’s enjoying experimenting with new foods that he had previously ignored. Does the change mean Frank respects his family any less? Of course not. It just allows him to better respect his own wellbeing.

Danger #5: When we accept something as “normal,” we can perceive it as too hard—or even impossible—to change.

Karen’s story speaks for itself. Karen came in with shoulder pain. It started as a twinge with certain motions such as brushing her hair, and then progressed to more pervasive achiness in her arm. Eventually. it spread to numbness and tingling in her fingers and made cooking and computer work difficult and, at times, painful for Karen. The thought “stress always lands there” helped her rationalize the growing discomfort in her body.

What happened was that as Karen’s shoulder issue gradually became her new “normal” state of affairs, she grew accustomed to discomfort. She was reluctant to get the care and testing that she needed because of the inconvenience and lack of time and energy. She wound up postponing the early treatment which might have prevented her condition from progressing to levels that compromised everyday activity. We eventually resolved her problem, I’m happy to say, but the good results would surely have come much more easily if she hadn’t accepted her pain as “normal.”

These patient stories send a clear message to me: Normal might be a starting point, but maybe it shouldn’t be the end goal for anyone. We can, and should, treat ourselves better. Take a good look at the patterns in your world that you regard as normal, and ask yourself whether each “normal” offers you maximum satisfaction and comfort. If not, stop settling. It’s time to say goodbye to emotions, comfort levels, and attitudes that are simply business as usual and don’t represent what you really want. Seek out, instead, a renewed sense of what’s genuinely right for you, here and now.

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