WWB Passioneer Library: Q&A With Author of: Life On Purpose–How Living For What Matters Most Changes Everything

Aug 26, 2016 by

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The World Wise Beauty ‘Passioneer Series’

Excited to welcome back  one of my favorite experts, Dr. Vic Strecher.  He came to visit World Wise Beauty in 2015 to talk about his book ‘On Purpose’, which is a graphic novel telling a beautiful, fantasy-fueled, story of self-discovery and personal growth. His new book while not a graphic novel, covers the important topics of ‘purpose and meaning’ in more depth, and shows us how ‘purpose’ not only leads to self-fulfillment but to a better society. Not only is Dr. Stecher a professor and author, but he is also an inspiring entrepreneur who has taken his passion for health and well-being, and created new solutions that operate at the intersection of the science of behavior change and advanced technology. See his very impressive bio below and join me for a stimulating Q&A about his new book Life on Purpose, How Living For What Matters Most, Changes Everything.

Vic Strecher PhD MPH is a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and Director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship. For over two decades Vic Strecher has been a leader and visionary in the fields of health and well-being, creating new solutions that operate at the intersection of the science of behavior change and advanced technology. A noted researcher and successful entrepreneur, Vic has cultivated a passion for connecting academic research to practical applications. In 1998, Vic created Health Media pioneering Web-based “digital health coaching.” The company set a new benchmark for scalable, lifestyle and condition management program delivery. Health Media was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2008. In late 2014, Vic founded JOOL Health Inc. as a major paradigm shift in how individuals engage in the pursuit of well-being while offering organizations a more insightful means to support positive, healthy change. Vic and his work have recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, WIRED, the Chicago Tribute, and at TEDMED and TEDX events. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife Jeri.

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Dr. Vic Strecher

 

 

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Lauroly Q-Welcome back Vic! Let’s dig in. Just recently I had a conversation with someone who was feeling very depressed about the world in general. She was feeling disillusioned with not only politics but humanity in general. Giving her time and energy to many causes, she felt like giving up. Rather than lecture people, I always have a book up my sleeve to recommend. Guess what it was Vic? It was ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl. That was a book I never forgot reading as a psychology major in college and always reminds me of mankind’s greatest gift which is the ability to choose and select our own meaning. You mention his work a lot and of course it makes sense because your passion is purpose. I love how you took your passion for philosophy and extracted amazing wisdom for us to think about.  I hope more people discover ‘works of philosophy’ who never studied it in college, through your book. Why do you think going back to the great philosophers is so important when it comes to finding our purpose? You admit in the book, that you didn’t have much interest in it as a young man.

 

Dr. Vic Strecher: True, I never felt an affinity with ancient philosophers until I needed them. Then, it felt like they were writing personal letters to me. If you want to read something thoroughly modern and useful, you might start with Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, or better yet, Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things. Then read a few of Seneca’s letters and essays. See if you don’t get hooked on these 2,000 year old philosophers as well! These writings were amazing for two reasons: (1) they were written by people who grew up in such different circumstances, yet had such relevant things to say about my own modern life, and (2) they push you to more carefully consider your existence, to not just run on automatic.

Lauroly Q-Thank you for sharing your great book recommendations. I love adding to my wisdom reading list! While you take us on this wonderful tour of philosophy, you also balance things with real world stories and examples of inspiring people finding their purpose. The most important one I feel is your own story. In sharing your touching and personal story, it makes me feel that you have truly connected the dots. Your wisdom was gained not just by research or study but by ‘getting through’ your own challenges and pain, and coming out of it with your own passionate purpose. My favorite quote is from Robert Frost “The Best Way Out is Always Through’. Can you share how you got through losing your nineteen year old daughter to life-long illness?

 

Dr. Vic Strecher: A few months after my daughter died I finally realized that, if I was going to survive, I’d need to think differently. It’s hard to think differently (at least for me) but two books really helped me: Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Elizabeth Lesser’s Broken Open. These two books shoved me into a rabbit hole of new words and ideas. Words like, “ego,” “transcendence,” and “purpose.” But being a skeptical scientist, I’m always wondering whether these words and ideas have actually been tested. I was happily surprised to find that these ancient concepts have recently been studied by really good researchers. Over time, they’ve become subjects of my own research.

Lauroly Q- You discuss ‘personal agency’ in Chapter 2, and it’s a very important aspect of ‘finding and living your purpose’. Yet essentially the takeaway in your book is, we are all ultimately fulfilled from being ‘other focused’. I believe that’s why Viktor Frankl’s ideas and creation of ‘logo therapy’ is so profound. In this world, there are a lot of people worldwide experiencing strife and they don’t seem to have a sense of ‘personal agency’. They may find it quite difficult to find their purpose in a way that many self-help practitioners might suggest. Do you think like Maslow suggests, that we must first get past survival modes before we can be altruistic? I can answer my own question when I think of Jesus, Buddha, and Mother Teresa. It’s a great topic to explore with you, because there are many stories and examples of transcendence in your book I loved. Feel free to pick one…

 

Dr. Vic Strecher: I’m particularly drawn to the story of James Arinaitwe, who, as a boy in Uganda, lost his mother and father to AIDS by the time he was ten. He and his mother walked over 300 miles to the residential home of the President of Uganda to ask for an education. He’s now the co-founder and director of Teach for Uganda. He laughed when I suggested what many Westerners believe — that purpose is only a higher-order need. He said that “Families that break down are the ones who have no purpose or vision for the family. Purpose goes hand in hand with hope. In the West, people may not relate to this, but this is how we think. Purpose sustains poor people.”

 

Lauroly Q- I loved that story in your book. While purpose is your focus you really make the connection that wellness is key to our personal development. There are 5 wellness practices and rituals you explore in your book. Sleep, Presence, Activity, Creativity and Eating. How did creativity get on your top 5 list? I might add you really expand on the meaning and expression of creativity in your book.

 

Dr. Vic Strecher: Thank you for noticing! Creativity is one of my favorite subjects. It’s consistently ignored or at least de-emphasized in our schools and in our society as a whole, yet creativity is what will ultimately be needed to maintain our competitive edge in the world. I spent quite a bit of time understanding the way people conceptualize creativity. My favorite view is put forth by the psychologist Rollo May — that creativity requires courage — the courage to say that the status quo isn’t good enough and that there’s a better way. By the way, in our research, creativity and presence are the two leading predictors of energy and willpower, exceeding the impact of more traditional behaviors such as physical activity, eating behavior, or sleep.

Lauroly Closing: I could go on forever chatting with you about the ideas in your book, but this is a blog and most people will be better served reading your fantastic book for themselves. So this is my gift to the person I was recently talking to about hope and purpose. Your book is one I will no doubt recommend to anyone struggling with meaning, purpose and direction. Thank you for writing it Vic, and keep them coming. Your gift for communicating and emotionally connecting has so much to offer, especially in wellness culture.

Dr. Vic Strecher Closing: Thank you, Laura. I’ve so enjoyed your blog and your perspective and greatly appreciate your interest in this work!

 

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WWB WATCH: ‘It’s Complicated’ –Three Important Articles and Why We Don’t Have to Be So Dazed, Confused, & Clueless About Our Health

Aug 20, 2016 by

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I love connecting the dots and sharing with you! In the last week I came across three high profile health articles I thought were very interesting, conflicting and ultimately illuminating for us. ‘Here at ‘The Watch’ I aim to raise awareness about important developments in wellness culture that matter. I think sifting through these three articles is worth your while and below I share my takeaway on what I believe matters. The reason I share these particular articles, is because they are all inter-connected and expose the challenges we are confronting today. Each of them also offers wisdom on how to navigate in an increasingly over-loaded information highway on health and wellness.

 

IT’S COMPLICATED! 

 

1- Gina Kolata wrote an article in the New York Times entitled ‘We’re So Confused, The Problems with Food & Exercise Studies”. She put a spotlight on the conflicting data researchers present focused on lifestyle prescriptions, and quotes doctors who conclude the data is inconclusive, and that we don’t know how to measure diet and exercise. It is worth your time reading this article, simply because it shows us just how complicated research is. The research itself is complicated ( size, how rigorous it is and who is supporting the research). The NYT writer does remind us there are some pretty large federally funded research studies that are taken seriously. Yet in other cases there are so many studies that conflict with each other. These studies are released to the public and are deciphered by health media and biased organizations, and often in sound bites. The result as one doctor interviewed points out is ‘whipsaw literature’ and news. One week coffee is good for you and the next week it it is not.

WWB TAKEAWAY:  It doesn’t matter whether coffee is good or not. It does matter whether it is good for you personally. This article needed to be written, because it is exposing two major issues concerning research and interpretation. What it doesn’t focus on enough is how ‘industry’ gets a hold of research and further muddies the water. We all know that many supposed ‘health websites’ are created by and supported by certain industries. We can’t get away from it. Does it mean you can’t trust any study? No, I don’t think so. It does mean we have to be savvy and conservative about embracing the results of new studies released, because they may not apply to you at all. We also have to connect the dots. Who is funding the research, how rigorous was it and who is interpreting the research? It’s complicated! We need research to uncover important health findings, yet we now know that bio-individuality is really all that matters. Some can drink coffee all day and others can not. This is a simple example of bio-individuality but serves the point. Who cares what the study finds if you feel okay! If you are 65 and have been drinking coffee in the morning all your life, it’s safe to say it’s not all that harmful, unless you develop a new health condition that may be adversely affected by the caffeine in coffee. Do you see how it gets tricky? Yes it’s complicated!

You will find me coming back to this one central idea in wellness over and over. The idea… is we are all unique bio-individuals and epigenetics matters. Therefore our interaction with environment, food and substances are always going affect us differently. We have to know our own bodies. The only thing we really have across the board in health and wellness, is common sense. Which leads me to my next article, shared by a well respected expert and nutritionist Marion Nestle, in response to the article by Gina Kolata.  Marion is full of wisdom and is always reminding us to use our common sense! Her perspective is decidedly more optimistic about research.  I agree with Marion Nestle but also see the larger context, which is ultimately a funnel of information spinning around, vulnerable to industries work of marketing distortion. Making us…

 

DAZED, CONFUSED & CLUELESS? WELL MAYBE!

 

2- Marion Nestle’s (Founder of Food Politics) article was entitled “Confused About Diet? Oh Please! She was exasperated by Gina’s NYT article and felt that it only created more confusion for us. Marion believes quote, ” Nutrition advice could not be easier to understand.  Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits; balance calories; don’t eat too much junk food.”.

Good, wise common sense. What part aren’t we getting? Her website ‘FOOD POLITICS’ actually explains a lot.

She is right,  but oddly enough she has an entire website devoted to educating us on the politics of the food industry. She is always trying to keep them honest. We are thankful to have her guiding us and informing us. Her prescription of common sense is so important, but Marion herself recognizes the ‘culture’ of marketing and the power of industry can certainly lead us astray. Or at the very least tempt us. I will get to the ‘culture’ challenge in the next article below. Marion emphatically reminds us quote, “A global consensus of expert judgment concurs… Routine physical activity and a diet of mostly minimally processed vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and water when thirsty redounds consistently to the advantage of human health. It offers benefits to the planet as well.”.

WWB TAKEAWAY: Marion is spot on in my book, but our culture in the last thirty years and two major industries ( food and pharma) have slowly and methodically conditioned us to approach our diets and our illnesses very differently from the stance of ‘common sense’. What we are left with after a forty year infiltration of marketing is a culture of illness and dare I say, perhaps ignorance. You live and you learn, and in our case we have to re-learn what would seem to be easy common sense. I think what we need is a social/cultural anthropologist ( which is me without the degree!) to give us contextual understanding of how culture shapes us and can mislead us. Oops! I now need an historian to illustrate just how off the grid we have gone taking care of our health and wellness. I will get to this with my closing. Marion shared another link to an article written by Dr. David L. Katz who is a renowned expert in Preventive Medicine and Public Health and a driving force in the practice of lifestyle medicine. His article was entitled ‘Diets, Doubts and Doughnuts: Are We Truly Clueless?  He pretty much makes the case that Marion is strongly advocating. He absolutely believes we are not clueless. He ends his article with this statement “I recommend that you leave your eyebrow just where it is, and lift instead your feet, and your fork, accordingly.”

Hopefully you are following me! Let’s move on to the last article but equally as enlightening as the others.  Like Marion’s, this article reminds us of another expert’s ( Michael Pollan) sage advice ” ‘Eat food, mostly plants and not too much’. The writer for the Atlantic plays with that wisdom and applies it to our exercise conundrum. Please read on…

 

 

DO WHAT YOU CAN & SIT AT YOUR OWN RISK!

 

3- James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk  and wrote a recent article entitled  ‘The Futility of the WorkOut-Sit Cycle–Exercise Can’t Undo Sitting’. Here we go! Is it all for naught? Are we doomed to obesity and illness? Nah, not at all. This is ultimately another article that ultimately reminds us of…there’s that word again, COMMON SENSE. Before he gets to this, he covers all the complicated research and also uses excellent real world examples of how the conclusions and the prescriptions born out of the research, may not be ideal for getting most of us moving and taking care of ourselves. It’s complicated and he also reminds us how many people have different health profiles ( someone with a disability, or diabetes) and different lifestyles because of their individual conditions. Yes we are all different.

I can personally add to this particular conversation because my mother suffered from severe Rheumatoid Arthritis and limited mobility but always made it a point to move. She walked slowly when able, and sometimes just around her home. I also might add through good conscious diet, she showed no signs of heart disease, but ultimately died of cancer. We all die one way or another and sometimes of things that are out of our control. That’s another discussion, let’s get back to Hamblin’s article. In his article he walks us through all the confusing research regarding exercise and fitness. He quotes another expert with this conclusion:

“In a press statement, the chair of the group, Deborah Rohm Young, the director of behavioral research at Kaiser Permanente Southern California, put it this way: “Regardless of how much physical activity someone gets, prolonged sedentary time could negatively impact the health of your heart and blood vessels.”

Or, as Hamblin puts it you can’t undo sitting! This might sound futile but it’s not, because I am here to remind you that bio-individuality matters and so does the WHOLE picture of your overall lifestyle. It’s great to isolate food and nutrition, or exercise and fitness for research purposes, but health and wellness is dependent on a whole host of considerations which includes yes our genes, but also our social connections, emotional/spiritual well-being, and mental health too. It’s complicated! He concludes in his very good article that maybe we need a similar mantra for exercise as Michael Pollan’s for eating. Sit Less…Move More. Once again we hear, sound, wise, common sense.  My closing and takeaway follows here. I connect the dots and find our ‘culture’ to be at the core of all this.

 

OUR HEALTH & WELLBEING IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE CULTURE WE LIVE IN

 

All of these articles create the sense of urgency we need to have about health and well-being. There wouldn’t be experts writing about this so much if there wasn’t such a crisis. What I often feel is missing in the conversation about wellness is how our collective values can create a healthy society and a sick society. Connecting the dots matters. Whether it be the food industry, or the pharma industry or any industry, they can’t be successful without our buy in. Am I blaming the industry? Am I blaming us? No to both. Because it takes two to tango, and the buy in happens insidiously through cultural shifts and trends. For example, back in the 80’s we discovered that the Japanese were surpassing us as an economy and superpower. What came out of that fear and discovery was a cultural shift. We learned that they worked much longer hours, and this knowledge led us down the ‘workaholic is good’ path. This shift lead to other ‘stressors’ on family, health and diets. Each area became neglected. Fast food and frozen dinners could never be successful without the culture cooperating. The culture’s values changed and wellness was not part of the new ‘value system’.  We got swept up in a culture that systematically affected our overall health and wellness through a span of forty years. It happened slowly and not because we are clueless, but because we shifted our attention to one value superseding all others. You can connect the dots for yourself!

The mission at World Wise Beauty is to advance and celebrate wellness culture, and the word ‘culture’ is extremely important because values create culture. When I share the WWB Watch I am shining a light on all the little things that matter and add up. They illuminate our values and sometimes illuminate our blindspots. Let’s focus on what matters because wellness or the lack thereof affects every aspect of our lives. As Ancient Rome’s greatest poet ‘Virgil’ said, “The greatest wealth is health”. Paying attention really matters, and we don’t have to be dazed, confused, or clueless when we are clear on our values.

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