Where’s Your Focus? Wellness or Illness?

Are your efforts toward better health more wellness-focused or illness-focused? I know, you’re probably thinking that’s a silly question, but let me explain….

What I mean is….Are the things you’re doing every day geared more toward the process of making your life better (wellness) or are they more to prevent or lessen the impacts of illness or disease (illness)?

The Definition of Wellness

First of all, let’s look at our definitions of wellness and what it encompasses again:

“Wellness is the process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth.” (UC Davis)

“Wellness is multidimensional and holistic, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being, and the environment.” (National Wellness Institute)

What’s the Difference Between Having a Wellness Focus and an Illness Focus?

Now let’s take a look at the difference between having a wellness focus and an illness focus.

What am I talking about when I say we have an illness focus? When we have an illness focus, we gear all our efforts toward preventing illness or disease or mitigating the symptoms of an illness we already have. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with doing everything we can to prevent disease or lessen the impact of the symptoms of illnesses. In fact, that’s essential to our being able to thrive.

One problem with this kind of focus is that if we are already ill, we can get “tunnel vision” and fail to see that we can still have a fulfilling life in spite of our illness. Another issue could be that once we’re not under threat of that illness, we might start to make less effort when it comes to our healthy behaviors. It’s easy to slide back into old habits when what was previously driving you is no longer present.

With a wellness focus, we are looking at, as we see in the definition above, a process that encompasses all dimensions of wellness. Where an illness focus is results-centered (I want to feel better, I want to prevent disease), a wellness focus is process-centered. We are concentrating more on the processes of change and growth toward “a healthy and fulfilling life.”

What’s Your Locus of Control?

There’s a concept in Psychology called locus of control. Dr. Perry from Make It Ultra Psychology explained it this way: “…it refers to our perception of where control lies and how we account for the successes and failures we experience.”

He then explained that the concept “can be applied to many different areas of your life and one can have an internal or external locus of control depending on the situation….A person with an internal locus of control generally believes that they have influence over the outcome of events….A person with an external locus of control blames outside forces that are beyond their control for everything that occurs in their life.”

This is only a bare-bones rendering of his explanation but I hope it lays out the basics. In the fitness world, an internal locus of control is closely associated with something we call self-efficacy — belief in ourselves and our ability to make changes necessary to be as well as possible.

Let’s apply the locus of control concept to a wellness or illness focus. If we’re wellness focused, there’s a good chance we believe that we have control over at least some aspects of our overall wellness (Internal Locus of Control). We know we can’t control the outcomes, but we can control what we put into the process.

With an illness focus (external Locus of Control), if we can’t control our illness, we run the risk of developing negative feelings around our perceived lack of control. That can start to make us feel helpless and/or hopeless. We may start to feel that because we can’t control our illness we can’t control anything. This can lead to increased stress, which we know can lead to further problems.

If we can shift our focus from being illness-centered to wellness-centered, we can enjoy our wellness efforts for what we’re gaining now.

Nebula in a night sky, with quote: Whatever you think about the most will grow. This applies to both the positive and negative ends of the spectrum. ~Dr. Caroline Leaf

How Do We Move Toward a Wellness Focus?

So if we’ve been operating from an illness focused perspective, how do we move to a wellness focus? Here are a few things that I’ve found useful:

Find your ‘why.’

Why do you want to improve your overall wellness? Is it so that you can run and play with your grandkids, be a role model for someone, serve others in some capacity? What drives you? A strong “why” is what keeps us moving along when things get tough and we’re not seeing any immediate improvements.

Remember that wellness encompasses much more than just physical health.

It also includes the emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, social, and spiritual dimensions of wellness.

Realize that you can’t be in control of everything all the time.

That doesn’t mean you should feel that you have no control at all though. You have the opportunity to make choices and take small steps toward better health every day.

Concentrate more on the process and less on the results.

Obviously when we’re dealing with an illness and trying to reduce symptoms we have to be concerned with the results of any treatment methods or lifestyle changes we’re trying. That’s only one piece of the puzzle though. For the “big picture” we can continue to do the things that contribute to our overall wellness.

Last week, I shared the results of small changes I’ve made over the last few years. There were times when I felt I was making no progress at all, but I knew my healthy behaviors had to be benefitting me in some way. I just kept concentrating on the process, and eventually, I started to see the results.

Does Where We Focus Really Matter?

If we’re getting the same results from healthy behaviors, does it really matter what’s motivating us to embrace them? I would say yes. As we talked about above, if we’re more focused on what we can’t control, such as medical issues, we can start to feel we can’t control anything.

As Dr. Caroline Leaf says in her book, Switch On Your Brain,

Neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change in response to thinking) can operate for you as well as against you because whatever you think about the most will grow. This applies to both the positive and negative ends of the spectrum.

Caroline Leaf, Switch On Your Brain

When we focus on wellness rather than focusing solely on trying to prevent disease or “beat” our illnesses, we can move toward a happy, fulfilling life no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.

Do you think it makes a difference whether you have a wellness or illness focus? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!



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Fingers holding a camera lens looking out over a city, with text overlay: Where's Your Focus? Wellness or Illness?


(1) https://shcs.ucdavis.edu/wellness/what-is-wellness

(2) https://www.nationalwellness.org/page/Six_Dimensions

(3) https://makeitultrapsychology.wordpress.com/2018/08/03/are-you-in-control-of-your-life/ (Website has been removed by author)

(4) Switch On Your Brain, 2013, Dr. Caroline Leaf, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI

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  1. Great post. You really break it down to the brass tacks as the older generation would say. I hope you’re doing great. You have come so far in your journey since I met you. It takes determination, education and implementation to accomplish what you have and I’m so proud of you. Maybe that sounds corny but in life we just don’t get or give enough positive feedback. I am reblogging to my site, it’s a great fit for my readers. Hugs, 🙂

    1. Oh Melinda, thank you so much! You just made my day! I really appreciate your kind words more than you know. You’re always such an encouragement to me. Even though you’re struggling with your health, you always take the time to lift up other bloggers. You are truly a gift to all of us who know you. Thank you for the reblog too – I hope your readers find it useful. Sending hugs your way sweet friend!

      1. You’re to kind! There were bloggers who helped me when I started and I want to do the same. You are a joy to talk with and your posts are so informative, I’ve learned so much about healthy living from you. I hope the reblog brings you more traffic. Have a great day. Hugs. 🙂

  2. A very educational post Terri. I would’ve thought that wellness focus and illness focus were one and the same but thanks for clearing that up. It makes total sense that illness focus is results-centered. I always learn something new from your posts.

    1. Thanks so much Mark! I have to say, I never really thought about the difference in focus until after I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. As you know, my first blog was about fibro, and the more I thought about it and wrote about it, the more my focus was on my illness. As my symptoms got worse, I started to feel hopeless that I would ever feel any better. It was only after I started focusing on my overall wellness that I actually started feeling better physically as well. As I was able to do small things to improve my wellness, my pain started to lessen. It’s not gone, but it doesn’t impact me as much now. Hope you and your family are doing well. Blessings to you!

      1. Because of what you experienced on your journey, I’m glad that you learned something and shared it with your readers. It helps to get an insight into another person’s plight and see how that relates to your own. Always educational reading your posts.

  3. Great question Terri! Very thought provoking 🤔
    I think when we have chronic health conditions we can vacillate between the two depending on where we’re at eg, FM flares.

    But keeping your statement in focus; ‘that we can still have a fulfilling life in spite of our illness’ is important in whatever cycle we’re in & one I’ve tried hard to do over the last 17 years. 😊
    Blessings, Jennifer

    1. I agree with you about vacillating between the two Jennifer. Sometimes we don’t have much choice except to figure out what we can do to reduce symptoms when we live with chronic pain. Unfortunately, it’s easy for people to focus so much on the physical symptoms that they forget they can have a fulfilling life — it just may look different than expected. Hope your pain is starting to subside; I know you’ve been dealing with increased pain these last months. Blessings to you sweet friend!

  4. Such a good point, Terri. I think living with chronic illness can turn you more towards illness, and at some point, you start to look at the small things and towards wellness, too. The little things you can do to better manage your condition(s) as well as the little things you can do to boost your wellness and wellbeing generally. Taking a moment to think about your perspective and to consider if your energy is best spent in that direction or elsewhere, is important. And so is recognising the element of control and taking back a bit of that power to look at the things you can do to help yourself. Fabulous post as always my friend!

    Caz xx

    1. Thank you so much Caz! You make some great points about determining where your energy is best spent, and about taking back control. Sometimes when our bodies are being jerks we don’t feel we have much control, so taking back that power is so important! Sending hugs your way sweet friend!

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