Positive perceptions unlock perfect health

Do you consider yourself well, a bit unhealthy or maybe even sick? I ask this because your thoughts and perceptions about yourself and especially your state of health can influence the trajectory of your wellness.

Last time I wrote to you about the need to find personal meaning in your wellness. Today I want to follow up and talk to you about how that meaning can get skewed by our personal perception of how well we are.

Body image

A recent study published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice looked at the connection between the perceived and actual body weight among Chinese Americans. According to researchers, such a study was needed because there is greater risk for obesity among Chinese Americans than Chinese living in China. This they think is related to the Chinese-American’s perception of their own body weight and their weight-related behaviors.

The study found that 32% of the people they looked at did not perceive their body weight correctly. 20 of them overestimated their body weight and 32 underestimated it. Interestingly, those who overestimated were women while the men underestimated.

I found it interesting that the participants reacted to their weight in much the same way many Caucasian Americans do. Many women who are of a healthy weight try on clothing and ask, “Does this make me look fat?” Like the women in the study, they overestimate their weight. And many Caucasian American men, even when out of shape in middle age, still think they are fit and athletic on the weekend basketball court and perceive themselves as being thinner and fitter than they are.

When perception becomes reality

Your own perception of the state of your health and fitness can impact your life for better or worse because your perceptions can become reality and lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let me give you an example.

I suffered severe, chronic body pain and headaches daily for most of my life. Every day I woke up with pain and cramping in my neck, shoulders, arms and back. I had headaches that started small and raged by midday. I was swallowing handfuls of medication and seeing specialists and therapists of almost every kind for years.

Life was painful, spirit-crushing at times, and it was certainly difficult during the worst of bouts.

But that’s not all.

You see, I really enjoyed life too. I was very active physically, playing on school teams for soccer, baseball, tennis, and wrestling. I was very active 3-5 days per week in martial arts and took long hikes every weekend.

Did it hurt? For sure; it was unbearable at times. Yet at other times it was manageable.

My perception of myself and my chronic pain was not one of self-defeat or of being victim to anything. There were so many things I wanted to do to enjoy life and many more things I envisioned for myself, that I perceived and defined myself as someone who succeeded and enjoyed life in spite of my chronic suffering.

When the pain was low, I did more. When it was at mid-levels, I did all I could and often more than I should. And when my head was pounding and I was in cold sweats and shaking from pain, I laid down, managed my way through it, and waited impatiently to emerge on the other side where I could be in a well lit room again.

The pain was an annoyance, and it slowed me down (way down) many times per week. But in no way was “I” my pain. I was separate from it. And I developed a meaningful and exciting life of activity and travel in spite of it.

In fact, I changed my life to study traditional medicine in search of a cure for myself. The condition did not control me or oppress me. On the contrary, it led me to my destiny all because of my perception of my condition and myself in relation to it.

Live up to your wellness perception

My partner has multiple sclerosis (MS) and has many life struggles because of it. As I was writing this story I asked her what she does to make for herself a vibrant life. She said she envisions what she wants her life to be like, then she perceives herself as someone vibrant and happy, and over time she becomes just that.

She said, “I live happy and fulfilled because I realize that I and many others create a wellness persona … and we live up to that persona.”

And so your perception of your wellness state (e.g., my pain, the Chinese-Americans’ weight), leads to the development of a persona in relation to it. For me, my persona was one who succeeded and lived life in spite of my pain conditions.

For others, unfortunately, it is a persona of a suffering individual, a life on a steady decline, a martyr syndrome of poor me no one can help. As just mentioned, this persona leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your perception leads to a persona that leads to a reality… for better or worse.

Create positive change

Everyone with a negative health or wellness condition begins at the same place every day. That is a place of choice and action that sets you on a wellness trajectory that can (and over time will) change your life.

You can wake up and choose to perceive yourself as a suffering person and live that role. Or you can wake up and decide you are a vibrant person with some hurdles to manage each day, and live that role.

What you want to do is to focus on the moments each day where you feel most vibrant and say, “Man I felt great at 11 today and took a walk,” rather than, “my pain really spiked at 12.”

When you focus on the bad segments of the day, you perceive yourself as a sufferer and your life as difficult. But you can choose to focus on the best segments of the day and create a different perception of yourself and your life.

Envision. Perceive. Become. You can create your own wellness persona and live the life you want, in spite of your health issues.

The women in the study I mentioned saw themselves as overweight when they weren’t and this perception alone can change their self-perception and lead to eating disorders, disappointment in themselves, unhappiness, and more.

The men in the study perceived themselves as underweight, which has its own bag of problems, like not eating right because you don’t think you need to, doing more physical activity than your body can handle, eventual risk for obesity, heart disease, and so on.

Our perceptions become our realities. Please choose wisely.


Find meaning to better your health and wellbeing


Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.