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In John W. Travis’ Illness–Wellness Continuum (1972) he introduces the notion of responding sooner to emerging situations in a wellness context; he differentiates between signs and symptoms and explains their relationship with proactivity and reactivity.
If you study the continuum, you will see that Travis has high-level wellness on the right side. For mental toughness purposes, high-level wellness may be interpreted as the realisation of our dream. At the other end of the continuum, he has premature death. Here we can view premature death metaphorically, like the premature death of aspects of our intention, e.g. a relationship, success in business, or our physical abilities.
By using the continuum, Travis intended to illustrate the relationship between the treatment paradigm and the wellness paradigm. Moving from the neutral point in the middle of the continuum to the left indicates a progressively worsening state of health. It starts with signs then moves on to symptoms and finally, disability before premature death. Moving to the right of the neutral point indicates increasing levels of good health and well-being, starting with awareness through education to growth, and onto high-level wellness at the extreme right-hand side.
The treatment paradigm, e.g. interventions using medical drugs, surgery or psychotherapy, can bring you back from symptoms to the neutral point. That is what the treatment is designed to do. It is essentially a quick-fix approach. But when you adopt a treatment paradigm in isolation of a wellness paradigm approach, you have not attended to the signs that led to the symptoms. It is most likely that you will be back to experiencing symptoms very shortly. This is like living your life on a hamster wheel.
The wellness paradigm can be utilised at any point on the continuum. This approach encourages movement toward high-level wellness. The right side of the continuum isn’t meant to replace the treatment paradigm, but to work in harmony with it. Even though we often lack medical symptoms, we may still have psychological indicators such as boredom, depression, anxiety or simple discontent with life. Such emotional states often set the stage for disease.
Wellness isn’t a static state and its variability has a strong correlation with taking care of your physical self, using your mind constructively, expressing your emotions effectively, being creatively involved with those around you and being concerned about your environment. In fact, it’s not so much where you are on the continuum, but in which direction you’re facing.
It takes a mentally tough, trained mind to be aware of and respond to signs rather than wait for the negative symptoms and react to them. Movement to the left-hand side of the continuum, which ends up with premature death, starts with missing the significance of the signs. These signs are usually our poorly-conceived choices, whether they are instinctive or rational. The most mentally tough people can read the very weak signs before they become full-blooded signs. The symptoms that follow are the consequence of our choices. If they remain unaddressed, they lead to the dire outcome of a metaphorical premature death.
Movement to the right-hand side of the mental toughness continuum starts with awareness. Realising that a significant part of our success is determined by our decisions is vital. Very often the choice of not making a choice is negative, leading us to the left of the continuum. For example, if you don’t choose to dream or develop a personal strategy, you become a victim of your own lack of choosing. Self-help guru and author Wayne Dyer claimed: “You are doomed to make choices. This is life’s greatest paradox.”