Diet: A Key Component of Personal Success
Everyone has a mental list of goals and aspirations. For example:
- Compete for a job promotion
- Lose weight
- Go back to school for a higher degree
- Start a new business
- Improve my personal relationships
- Diminish the stress in my life
However, when it comes to personal transformation, many people find it difficult to establish new habits and remain committed long enough to make them stick. In fact, studies of New Year’s resolutions (the most popular time of year for personal transformation) indicate that less than 10% of people who make resolutions will actually stick to them.
Reasons for failure can vary, but the most prominent reason is that people set unrealistic goals. Additionally, many people have unrealistic expectations, often believing that they can immediately overcome a habit that they’ve spent years establishing. Indeed, the combination of unrealistic goals and expectations provides a perfect framework for inevitable failure.
A second reason people experience difficulty with achieving the changes they desire is due to a lack of understanding of their bodies and themselves as an interconnected system. Though most wellness models present seven personal dimensions, we should consider that the boundaries between each dimension are artificial.
As you can see on the wellness wheel to the right, each dimension overlaps the others. When conceptualized as an interconnected, multi-dimensional system, it becomes evident that it would be difficult to make changes in one dimension of our lives without affecting or needing support from the other dimensions.
Nutrition and Performance
Each of the hypothetical goals listed above requires increased performance (output) in at least one dimension. For example, to lose weight, it will be necessary to increase your physical output (i.e., exercise) to burn more calories. Some goals, such as going back to school to earn a higher degree, require increased intellectual output. Other goals, such as working harder for a promotion or starting a new business, may require combinations of increased occupational, intellectual, and physical outputs for higher levels of productivity and longer work hours. Even the goal of improving your personal relationships requires a combination of social, emotional, intellectual, and possibly physical (e.g., more family outings, increased sexual activity) outputs.
How does this relate to nutrition?
Increased output invariably requires increased input. For a car, extra mileage requires increased fuel in the form of gasoline. For humans, our fuel comes from the food we eat. Therefore, it is important to consider the relationship between sound nutrition and how your mind and body performs.
Research indicates that nutrition affects several important areas of functioning, including:
- Cognition (Brain Functioning)
- Energy Levels
- Susceptibility to Stress
Again, considering the hypothetical goals above, can you identify one that would not be affected by brain functioning, immunity, energy levels, or stress? Most people would agree that the answer is no.
From Good Health to Optimal Performance
Most people recognize that better nutrition leads to better health. Unfortunately, for many of us, that’s where our thinking stops. This is unfortunate because when it comes to committing to change, our thinking needs to go deeper.
Focusing on nutrition as a path to “good health” can be an ineffective method of motivation. How so? Because “good health” is a sweeping concept that really doesn’t have a concrete meaning. For some people, “good health” may simply mean “free from illness.” In that case, it’s plausible for a person to live off of junk food and be without illness – and, therefore, be considered healthy.
An alternative, and more effective, approach is to focus on optimal functioning instead of good health. With regard to personal transformation and success, taking the time to think about how good nutrition specifically relates to optimal functioning in each dimension of our lives allows us to think more concretely and to create personal meaning, which is a key motivator for sustained change.
To begin your transformational process, start by asking yourself the following questions:
- What is my goal?
- Which personal dimensions will be affected by this goal?
- How would an inadequate diet affect the dimensions associated with my goal?
- How would optimal nutrition help me to achieve my full potential?
- How would my life look and feel if I achieved a state of optimal functioning?
Becoming the Best We Can Be
Including nutrition as a part of an overall success strategy is a holistic approach that promotes optimal functioning. Optimal functioning, in turn, allows us to become the best person we can be, which ultimately helps us to achieve our goals.
Marcos, A., Nova, E., & Montero, A. (2003). Changes in the immune system are conditioned by nutrition. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 57(S1), S66–S69. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601819
Wärnberg, J., Gomez-Martinez, S., Romeo, J., Díaz, L.-E. & Marcos, A. (2009). Nutrition, inflammation, and cognitive function. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1153, 164–175. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2008.03985.x
*Image: Gunnar Pippel