Am I Working Too Hard on My Health or Not Hard Enough?

Dec 14, 2021

As you go through your own health journey, from time to time it pays to step back and reflect on what you are doing. If I set goals, am I on track to reach my goals?

Am I focused on the activities that I set out for myself? Did I become sidetracked or distracted? Am I off-track with respect to the activities I set out for myself?

Have I not made any goals or objectives? Have I not made these goals or objectives ones that I can track and monitor my progress towards?

These questions help us consider the intentionality of our personal health program.

But, even as I think about these questions, I also begin to think about the work ethic I have related to my health. 

But, what does “health work ethic” mean? I use this phrase to refer to the sum of the energy, time, focus, and effort that we expend to improve our health each day.

It is likely that many of us have never reflected for very long on our efforts to improve our health. In part, this may occur because we have been totally preoccupied with other activities related to our families, our jobs or friends. This is completely understandable for sure.

And, in part, we may never have stopped to deeply reflect on our health because it can be frightening, scary, intimidating or generate emotions that make us uncomfortable. It may even make us sad or angry. But all these emotions that surface when we think of our own health are completely OK and expected.

So, if we do reflect on what we have done for our health, what efforts have we taken to improve our health, we can also then ask, how can I characterize my current health work ethic?

Do I feel that I am focused and energetic? Or do I feel that I am lazy or perhaps apathetic? Have I lost enthusiasm, and this has created some backsliding or decreased focus on my own health? I might also compare my own work ethic to others that I know—for example, I may look at my siblings, parents, other family members, friends or neighbors. How does my health work ethic look now?

Now, close your eyes and ask yourself, can I think of one or two simple things that I could change that might improve my health? Chances are, with a bit of reflection, you can identify a few small steps you can take now. And, I strongly believe--that is all we need.  A few small steps will get us on our way.

Developing a plan to take these steps will be a great way to strengthen your health work ethic.

When will I know that I am working too hard on my health?

With the reflection on our own health work ethic and activities we are taking to improve our health, I think it is useful to consider if you are working too hard on your health. At this point, you may be laughing and thinking, how could I ever work too hard at improving my health?

And, this is a fair question. Yet, we can point to examples of persons we may have seen or know where different forms of exercise or dieting are taken to extremes. In such situations, we may see “maladaptive” behaviors that seem to be outside the norm. We may even view these behaviors as dangerous to our health in both the short- and long-term. If we then reflect on our own health work ethic, let’s ask ourselves, am I working too hard on improving my health to the exclusion of other important life activities? Am I out-of-balance where I am doing too much to improve my health or trying to improve my health too fast?

How will I know that I am not working hard enough on my health?
On the other hand, as we reflect on our health work ethic, it is fair to ask also: Am I not working hard enough on my own health? Have I been neglecting any aspect of my health for any reason? If so, what are some of these reasons that I can identify?

And, what part of my health have I not been working on? Am I not focused on getting enough sleep or going to bed on time? Am I neglecting the consumption of healthy foods such as fruits or vegetables? Have I been neglecting taking a few minutes each day for any form of exercise? The answers to these and related questions can provide clues that you may not be working hard enough on your own health. The answers to these questions will also help you identify the short- and long-term impact from not working hard enough on your own health. This is how we can begin to quantify our health--much more on this in future posts.

Will I ever reach a point where I put in the work but see no changes?
Many people have discovered, including myself, that working on improving your health is not a short-term activity. In fact, it is quite common for many individuals to start out on a set of health changing activities or behaviors only to find that they are seeing no or little improvements.

This can occur for at least a couple of reasons. First, if we try to measure the effect of our health activities in small increments, these increments may be too small to detect measurable differences. The most extreme or absurd example of this would be if we tried to measure our weight every hour each day. Chances are we would find significant fluctuations (ups and downs) with perhaps little actual decline in our weight over a few days.

Another example might be our physical or aerobic fitness. Changes in fitness can occur over weeks or months but seeing changes in our fitness on a daily basis is much more difficult to detect.

No matter what our health program is and what work we are doing to improve our health, it is very likely that you will reach a period when your improvement seems to plateau or level off. In fact, we may not see any change for days, weeks or months. Such a leveling off may occur for several reasons, but one primary reason may be that our health work ethic may be compromised or even declining. The efforts we are putting in to improve our health may be tapering off.

What strategies can I use in my work ethic for health when I see “leveling off”?

Once I recognize that there is a leveling off my effort, it is then worthwhile considering I might revisit the strategies I am using to improve my health. Where I am putting in the most effort? Where am I putting in the least effort? Where I am most focused? Where am I least focused?

A few minutes of self-reflection in our efforts to improve our health are likely to provide new insights. For example, changes in our work schedule may account for reduced efforts focused on our health. Or changes to our family (e.g., a divorce, death) may contribute to previously unperceived changes in efforts related to improving our health. Such changes in life are inevitable but being aware of how these life events can change the focus around our health is critical to identifying strategies that can get us away from the leveling off in our health effort.

How does my work ethic for my health relate to those around me?
You may have seen this before: spouses or partners or family members begin to manifest health activities, health behaviors or efforts to improve their health that are like each other. There starts to appear to be a synchronization of health among family members that drives the health of individuals in the family or group. So, a natural question you can ask is, “what are those around me doing to improve their health and what can I be doing to continue to improve my health?

Of all the activities we do when considering our own health work ethic, I believe this evaluation is most important. The reason this is so important is that we all will tend to revert to the mean level of effort of activity that we observe in those around is. The behavior of others around us is a key driver of what we do for our own health.

Am I too impatient when looking for results from my health work ethic?

For many of us, the start of a new year is a great signal to start new efforts around our health. To re-energize our health work ethic. Of course, this is a great thing. The challenge, however, is that the start the of any new activity around our health can be accompanied by strong initial energy. And with that comes high expectations. In fact, we may have unrealistic expectations that our health, our fitness or other goals we have will be improved over a shorter period time or faster than is truly possible.

In the example of setting new year’s resolutions, then, managing our expectations, having a reality check to our goals is a critical tool to have from the very beginning--even before we start out on any new health effort or “health kick”. Reflecting on a more patient approach to expanding our health work ethic may mean that we take small or very small steps first. The goal here is to create very small steps that I can adopt in the long-term and perhaps for years to come. 

When am I in danger of fatigue or burning out from the work on my health?
With new year’s resolutions or any new efforts, we put into our health work ethic, there is a chance that we become fatigued or burn out from this effort. Why does this happen and what are the warning signs?

Fatigue or burn out can occur when we try to do too much too fast or try to do too much over a short period of time. Fatigue or burnout can also occur when we try to reach our goals too fast or set unrealistic goals or deadlines to reaching any one of our goals that we set out for ourselves. Fatigue or burnout with respect to our health work ethic and efforts to improve our health can also occur when new stressors enter our lives.

For example, the decline in the health of a loved one or family member is a major life stress. Another example might be moving to a new location. Another example is any change in our job status, either a promotion, a firing or even a job change to a new company or organization. Of course, if we were to get sick ourselves (e.g., mental or phy7sical illness) then we would find ourselves at risk for fatigue or burnout that puts us at risk for declines in our efforts around our health or reduced improvement in our health.

What strategies can I use to prevent burnout from my work on my health?
This is a key question and one that has a different answer for each one of us. In fact, I believe each one of us is at risk for burnout or fatigue in working on our health. So, how can we watch for this, see the early warning signs and try to prevent this burnout that may compromise our work to improve our health?

I think there are a few key activities that we can undertake that will help reduce the risk of us burning out in our health improvement efforts. First, I think we need to remind ourselves that we need to be patient and not be our own worst critic. It is often easy to see that we might be able to put in more effort but if putting in the increased effort runs a risk of getting burnt out, then we need to step back and look at our accomplishments. For example, tracking activities that you do in different areas of our health can be a great way to see what you have done. Celebrate these accomplishments. An easy way to do this is to create a reward system.

Now, I want you to try this: take a few minutes and reflect on what you have done for your health over the past 12 months. Write down as much as you can remember of those activities you have done that focus on your health. Did I get a doctor checkup? Did I have tests done? Did I join a gym? Have I learned new recipes? Have a cut out some foods that may be bad for me? Then, once you have this list, find someone who you can talk to and share this list. In fact, you may wish to share this list of accomplishments with a friend at your gym, or community center or even with a friend in your building or neighborhood.

How can I retool my work on health to sustain it over the long-term?
This question is a common one and a question that is important to ask at regular intervals. Revisiting this question at least once a year will help you think of ways to refresh or energize your health work ethic and develop new activities or efforts that improve your health.

Getting some new ideas to reinvigorate your health work ethic can come from a variety of sources. Look at the list of classes that are offered by your local gym, fitness club, senior center or community center. Talk with the manager of your gym, club, or local center to see if they know of any new programs that are being offered. Visit your local library, bookstore or online bookstore and search for recently published books, magazines or newsletters that identify new ways you can improve your health. Of course, be careful to note the sources you read and take time to make sure that the sources are providing you with information from reliable, reputable and reliable sources.

What is my comfort zone for work on my health?
Understanding where you are most comfortable when working on your health and where you put your effort is a very important step. This question is also one that you can answer with some quiet self-reflection. Again, close your eyes. Ask yourself, where do I feel most at home when working on my health? Am I most at home when thinking about healthy foods? Am I most comfortable when designing or scheduling my fitness plan? Am I most comfortable when talking with my doctor whom I have known for years? Am I most comfortable when I am among my friends talking about the latest book I read on health or health seminar that I attended?

How can I step outside my comfort zone for working on my health?

If I know where my comfort zone lies, then the next thing that I can imagine is that area outside of my comfort zone. Where do I feel I have the least expertise? In what aspects of my health do I feel I have the most to learn? Or, in what areas of my health do I feel I know the least?

I am sure that anyone us can reflect on our comfort zone and those areas of our health that are our “discomfort” zone. It is these areas where we have the least knowledge or feel the most insecure that represent the important area outside of our comfort zone. Going forward, I believe that it is these areas outside of our comfort zone where we can begin to focus in small steps. By focusing in these areas with small steps, we will then be able to identify key areas for improving our health.

In future writings, videos and of course the online course content, we will work to prioritize these areas outside of our comfort zone. When we step inside our discomfort zone, it is here that I believe we stand to make our greatest health improvements.

How will I know I am ready to take my health to the next level?
Identifying when we can take ourselves to the next level of our health effort is perhaps the most challenging task we have. For some of us, we may instinctively know the best day, time, week or month. For others, we may have nagging doubts. You may say, I am not ready yet. I have not taken care of these other needs or responsibilities I have. “I just don’t have time right now”. These are very common concerns and questions.

So, I take us back to the concept of identifying our discomfort zones. Identify those items and activities that we have not undertaken for any reason. Next to these items, then write down the reasons why you believe you not undertaken these activities. For each reason then, reflect on each and ask yourself, what would it take to eliminate this reason. What would it take to eliminate the explanations for factors that I have noted that prevent me from undertaking any of these activities in my discomfort zone? Then, list these activities in order of those that have the easiest reasons to eliminate.

For example, if the reason you have not started swimming at your local gym is because you don’t feel that you really know how to swim, then write down one potential solution: talk with the gym or fitness center manager where there is a pool and inquire about group class or private swimming instructions.

Taking the focus on your health to the next level may seem challenging at first.

My recommendations for addressing this challenge is to take small, gradual but measurable steps. Identify those activities you have done, note your successes and celebrate these.

Then, identify those activities that you have not undertaken because they are outside your comfort zone. Identify those reasons why you have not stepped outside your comfort zone and tackle those reasons that you can more easily address first.

Start with small steps. One activity at a time and don’t try to tackle all these activities outside your comfort zone at one time. Be very patient with yourself but never hesitate to ask for support from a willing friend, your doctor, an instructor or any teacher.

Starting on this page at first may seem challenging but over days, weeks and months, you will reach levels you never thought possible that bring you to higher levels of health.

And remember, I am here for you and you can reach me. The telehealth menu item at was created for you to discuss any question you have. Make an appointment now or contact us so we can get you on the list for future communications. 

Also, be sure to visit the courses and sign-up today to get your head start on the best year of your life in 2022.


Dr. Paul Kilgore, MD, MPH, FACP

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