There can be a fine line between self-sabotage and personal success.
What comes to your mind when you hear Maureen O’Connor, the former Mayor of San Diego, admit that she gambled billions of dollars between 2000 and 2009?
Is it disgust, sadness, jaw dropping or a bit of all three?
What about alcoholism?
How do you view Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Or those crazy (or admirable) athletes that race something called the Ironman Triathlon (2.4 miles swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run)?
Maureen O’Connor was married to Robert O. Peterson, co-founder of Jack in the Box. He died in 1994 and she was left about $50 million dollars. Today she is destitute.
She admits to taking $2 million dollars from the foundation her husband established, the R.P. Foundation, to fund her gambling. From 2000 to 2009 O’Conner reports that she won $1 Billion dollars! However, she lost $1.13 Billion.
What makes a person act out in such an odd way? I don’t know for sure in Maureen’s case, but I do know she lost three siblings in one year; then suffered a stroke and later had a large brain tumor removed in 2011. Both the stroke and the tumor could explain some abnormal behaviors.
What about less extreme examples; the thrill seekers, a wealth accumulation compulsion, the fitness addicts, the drinkers, the blog trolls or sex addicts? It begs the question, what is going on up in our heads?
“Mental Fitness and Physical Fitness Go Hand in Hand”. That quote is one of my all-time favorite statements. I believe Plato said it over 2300 years ago. I see it more as a goal than an axiom. I believe the closer we get to both mental and physical fitness at once, the closer we are to personal potential for long term health.
When we are young, we may have no idea how challenging it might be to fulfill both components of this equation at the same time, long term.
Many kids think these two things, mental and physical fitness, naturally flow together along a continuum; it turns out for many adults it is a little more complicated than that and requires constant due diligence and focus.
David Linden has written a book entitled, “The Compass of Pleasure”. Linden describes normal pleasure as water, food and sex. He suggests that many of the other obsessions we experience are a result of the dopamine circuit of the brain gone a bit awry. [ed. note: dopamine is a compound present in the body as a neurotransmitter and a precursor of other substances including epinephrine. It is thought these elements, when flooding the body, give a sense of excitement, arousal, pleasure, even a sense of ecstasy... and that these bodily elements can be sought habitually in healthy ways, or destructively in certain other ways... as a person seeks to ramp up by engaging in certain activities and endeavors repetitively.]
There is an attenuated dopamine system in the brain. If dopamine is low, the same set of variables that lead someone else (more “normal” — whatever that is) to experience pleasure may not register pleasure for another.
Yet, those impulses to seek pleasurable outcomes that are useful, may serve us well in business, when serving clients, seeing patients, seeking control, saving the world or when pursuing athletic success.
Some men and women feel they have a need to go near or over the line to find similar pleasure, and this too, we see in those who challenge themselves for instance in extreme sports, for instance. However, sometimes those expressions of dedication to an idea or activity can be less than constructive.
If we take Plato’s thoughts and incorporate Linden’s ideas we might have a compass for health. It is Linden’s opinion that our pleasures can be virtues or vices.
Interestingly, it appears that some brain scans suggest that generosity and exercise impact the same areas of the brain as gambling, alcohol and marijuana.
Likewise, uncertainty (and all things that bring it) stimulates the medial forebrain and the dopamine circuit; the same brain center that is stimulated while waiting for the flop card when playing blackjack, or video poker. And this circuitry may have been underlying in Maureen O’Conner’s case.
More than a few alcohol drinkers turned endurance athletes intuitively understood this prior to being presented with medical evidence.
The activities and endeavors that provide us short term happiness seem to overlap in the brain with things that make us healthy (or unhealthy) long term.
Linden’s advice: take your pleasures wisely, take your vices moderately and mix in some virtuous pleasures. In other words, raise dopamine levels on purpose (generosity and exercise).
It would be a mistake to underestimate the role our attitudes play in our health. Whether recovering from sessions on a bike or a run, or sessions in chemotherapy, we need all of our resources from within and from outside ourselves to support us to be at our best.
and seek to maintain a positive attitude.
There is a healing force in the body that is enhanced by positive attitudes. This healing force is something no one can dispute nor diminish by saying it is merely philosophical rhetoric.
When we boil health down to a healing art and science, it is clear how powerful our choices can be. As in Maureen O’Connor’s case, which is complex because of medical conditions, there can be much healing yet. It’s not that exercise and kindness and positive attitude will do it all. It’s that learning about the ways and means of body and mind will help one to be at optimum judgement, optimum choices about health in every way possible.
Dr. Kevin Purcell is also known as KP here at TMV. Dr Purcell, D.C., works with long course triathletes; from elite to those new to endurance sport. Coach KP has guided dozens of athletes to qualification to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, including over 15 IM age group championships. He is certified in Active Release Technique (ART). Coach KP retired from competition in 2006.
Ed. note: the image is of Mayor O’Connor before she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.