Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Cost-Reward Ratio

This isn't a new concept; lots of people use it in various areas of life. However, this post is to explain how those of us with chronic illness continuously live by the cost-reward ratio.

Healthy people make plans and fill their schedules with little to no thought about if they'll have energy for such things. They may factor in other considerations, but they naturally assume they'll be able to do whatever they plan to do. Not so with chronic illness. 

For those with chronic illness, we must weigh the cost to our bodies if we do certain things (sometimes even just getting out of bed). The cost is then compared with the reward. Which is higher? That determines what we choose to do or not do.

When I was severely ill, everything I wanted to do was extremely high on the "cost" side, with almost nothing on the "reward" side. Thus, I rarely did anything or went anywhere. Physically it just wasn't possible. Staying alive was my main goal, with no strength left for anything else.

Thankfully, as I've gotten better, I've been able to do more again. Still, I'm continually assessing, what is the cost of this activity compared to the reward?

Right now I have some pretty good days and some not so good days. So on the good days, I can handle a little more "cost" for the reward. Other days I know my body isn't strong enough for the cost of certain activities. 

Examples: On a good day, the cost of going to church (exposure to perfume, output of energy, etc.) is medium, while the reward is high (being with friends, worshipping God, etc.). So on a good day, I choose to go to church. 

On a bad day, say, a friend invites me out to lunch. The cost (eating not very healthy food, exposure to chemicals in the restaurant, etc.) is weighed against the reward (sweet fellowship with my friend). But since it's a bad day physically, the cost comes out higher than the reward.  

Whatever activities or opportunities come up, they are considered in this way. (The recovery period is also factored into the "cost" long will it take my body to recover from doing ___?) Sometimes it's an unconscious factoring, and I immediately know what I should do. Other times it's a prayerful deliberation about what is best for me in the overall picture.  

The reason I explain this cost-reward concept is because I'm sure for healthy people, it's often confusing why those with chronic illness choose to do certain things while turning down other invitations. It's not that we're fickle, unloving, or crazy. We live with a constant measuring of what our bodies can handle and what is too much. That's why patience, grace, and understanding from others mean so much to us. 

On a positive note, it's not a bad idea for healthy people to use this concept as well. Consider the toxic factors in the activities you choose to do. 

*Is there mold in a certain movie theatre? Then don't go there (or at least not often). The experience of seeing a movie is not a high enough reward to expose yourself to poisonous mold. 

*How often do you eat out a month? Eating fast food or even restaurant food is a toxic weight on your body. Measure the cost to your health against whatever reward it gives you (not having to cook, visiting with friends, etc.). 

These are just a couple of quick examples. If you consider your weekly activities you'll probably find more things you might want to evaluate in light of the cost and reward.

The world is not the same as it used to be. More and more chemicals are invading every area of life, making it essential for us to live differently than we did 20 years ago. Those with chronic illness are basically forced to change how we live and carefully guard our bodies. But even "healthy" people need to be aware of the cost-reward ratio and be proactive about protecting their health.

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