You can only control today. Tomorrow is yet to happen. Yesterday is past. Each day we can shape our future by taking control of our actions. I have hope because I am still in control, despite how it may feel. We have the power to make choices, like choosing to be happy or to have a positive outlook every day, and I never want to lose sight of this important, empowering understanding that I still am able to decide how my day will go.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Kent Bradley.
Kent Bradley, M.D., MPH, MBA, is the Chief Health and Nutrition Officer at Herbalife Nutrition and chairman of the Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board. He is responsible for nutrition and product education and training for the Company’s international independent distributors.
He is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and medical professional, with a degree from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and is board-certified in Public Health and Preventive Medicine.
In addition to his medical career and education, Dr. Bradley serves on numerous boards, including CommonSpirit Health — one of the largest healthcare systems in the U.S., as well as Concentra Health — the largest occupational health provider in the U.S.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Isee my career path as promoting health and wellbeing. I suppose what got me here is a combination of genetics, environment, and specific life experiences. I have always cared deeply about others and wanted to make a difference, even as a young child. I was shaped by my time at West Point and then my career in the military, where the focus was on the importance of leadership and having a strong sense of ‘service before self.’ I believe leaders have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of others. Back then, my experiences in humanitarian type deployments and seeing the tremendous burden of disease that was preventable motivated me to focus my life’s work on understanding the critical drivers of human behavior, at both the individual and the community level, for the purpose of supporting health and wellbeing.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Funny you should ask this question — I have a t-shirt that states: ‘So many books, so little time!’ I love to read so to pick just one is tough but here you go…
When I was sixteen and in high school, I worked for a family as a helpmate. Almost every Saturday morning, I would show up to do odd jobs around the house. They became like grandparents to me and gifted me a book by Richard Bach called “Jonathan Livingston Seagull. “ This was the first of many books I would eventually read that caused me to learn and reflect about life and leadership. I was challenged to be okay with going against the flow, to not focus on materialism, to live a life of service before self and take hold of the power of education for personal growth…all packed in this simple book. There is one line I will never forget and that is when Jonathan, the seagull, is told by his mentor to “keep working on love.” This is a noble challenge, and one that I personally know will be lifelong.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
First, let me share with the readers that I understand these feelings. I have been on deployments with grave risk to one’s life and great uncertainty of the future. Having lived through those experiences, here are five reasons I feel we can all be hopeful:
- We have experienced worse and we have gotten through it. This is definitely true at a national and global level and likely to be true at an individual level. We often need to be reminded that this is not our “first rodeo” when it comes to adversity and we can weather this storm. It will require sacrifices and some hardships, but we will overcome — we always have, and we will again.
- The wisdom of the crowd. Knowledge sharing is happening faster than ever before. I am reminded of work done by David Snowden and Mary Boone in Harvard Business Review called “Leader’s Framework for Decision Making,” where they introduced a framework that I found to be helpful called the Cynefin Framework. Their key point was identifying when we are dealing with a chaotic, complex, complicated or simple decision at hand — clearly the current situation is complex; full of unknowns. What we are witnessing is the power of collective wisdom that is probing for answers and rapidly sharing and adjusting. I believe the collective wisdom, enhanced with our ability to share that information rapidly, will help us find solutions faster than ever before — which means, in turn, treatments and prevention measures will also happen faster.
- The goodness of humanity. In times of darkness, light shines all the brighter. I am touched by the spontaneous acts of kindness that are happening right now. I have seen Herbalife Nutrition independent distributors providing shakes to various public health servants, sewing groups kick into action to create face coverings, and whole cities standing on their porch to clap at 8:00 pm to show their gratitude to those who are working to ensure that our vital infrastructure remains functioning and the sick are cared for. I have hope because I believe in the goodness of humanity.
- Taking the long view. This is about perspective. My past not only tells me we will overcome, but it also has taught me that the present moment cannot predict the future impact. When I was a cadet at West Point, I wanted to attend a certain program called Crossroads Africa, a very selective program where two cadets were able to travel to Africa and work on a humanitarian-based project. I was selected as the first alternate. I did not go but instead went to airborne school. At the time, I was devastated. How could I not have been selected and what good will Airborne school do for this future doctor? Ten years later, I was selected to be part of new active duty unit in Civil Affairs, where you had to be a doctor in public health who also was airborne, and I was on the top of the short list. I soon found myself involved in one of the most important deployments of my life, Operation Support Hope, saving lives through our actions to provide support in the aftermath of the conflict in Rwanda. I found myself in Africa in a critically important mission partly because I had gone to airborne school 10 years prior! My point is that we have no idea what will eventually happen based on our experiences today or in the coming months. You may suddenly find that this was the catalyst for actions that result in something more beautiful than you would have ever imagined.
- You can only control today. Tomorrow is yet to happen. Yesterday is past. Each day we can shape our future by taking control of our actions. I have hope because I am still in control, despite how it may feel. We have the power to make choices, like choosing to be happy or to have a positive outlook every day, and I never want to lose sight of this important, empowering understanding that I still am able to decide how my day will go.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Before I begin sharing some ideas, I think it is important for me to state that it’s normal for us to have feelings of anxiousness. Clearly there is a spectrum when it relates to anxiety and if left unchecked, or our response causes an inability to effectively handle life’s obstacles, it can become a problem. However, anxiousness can also be a helpful signal for healthy actions. The feeling of anxiousness is rooted in our normal stress response. What is the stress response and why do we have it anyway? In a nutshell…for our own survival. We are naturally geared towards survival and are constantly on a threat alert; some have called this the “fight or flight” response. I think we all know how it feels — the sudden increase in heart rate, perhaps increased respirations — all meant to prepare the body with oxygen needed to suddenly move into action. We interpret these sensations as being “anxious,” but what if there is no “lion” about to eat us, but instead just the thought of a lion? Well, the stress alert still gets activated. So, with that background, let me now dive into some possible steps that might be helpful:
- Stop Speculating. That’s easier said than done — our minds race into all sorts of realities and ‘what ifs’ — we love to jump to conclusions. We can help others who are anxious by recognizing that they are likely reacting to an outcome in their mind. Understanding this allows us to help them consider stopping long enough to get to the next step…
- Get more data. Help others see different data or information that can frame current events through a different lens. Am I only seeing some of the information and missing other important points (filtering only the bad and ignoring the good)? Is there an alternate outcome than the one that is causing such anxiety?
- Take back control. With new data and a long enough pause, we can begin to take back control, including the specific actions we can take to minimize the perceived threat. Action is actually quite helpful and once we can perceive things in a new light, we can then channel that energy into constructive action.
- Shared experiences. When we’re anxious, we often feel alone. We also may feel embarrassed or even ashamed. It’s helpful to have a friend that is safe to share your feelings of anxiety in what I call a judgement-free zone. Sharing experiences can also be a part of relieving that anxiety.
- Watch what you eat. Although this is always true when it comes to what we put into our bodies, as we definitely need good nutrition and should address any nutrient gaps, we also should be careful what we feed our minds. For example, I’ve stopped watching news that constantly replays negative and fearful messaging. After returning from combat I saw no value in watching films that triggered certain emotions. What we feed our body, mind, and spirit is tremendously important.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
I would categorize the best resources into three specific groups:
- The biggest resource is simply yourself. There are concrete actions that you likely know you should take, but may often forget. For example, getting enough rest, physical as well as mental exercise, and making sure your body gets the nutrients it needs without excessive calories and unhealthy elements are very important. To that end, I am a big proponent of mental exercise, which is usually is described as “mindfulness practices” such ad meditation. This is still very foreign to individuals but there are plenty of books, articles, and videos on this topic — the key is that you do it.
- Our circle of trust — individuals who we can go to who will listen to us and care about our wellbeing. This resource is important because they can help us gain perspective as well as sense of when we are in need of more significant help.
- Trained Personnel. When in need of more significant help, an experienced coach, or depending on the severity, a professional counselor/mental health professional can be of great service. It’s ok and extremely healthy to seek more skilled support as we work through our anxiety.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I have many, but will share one I feel is specific to the topic of anxiety. It is actually a verse from the Bible, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” I don’t recall when I heard it or read it, but it stuck, and I have often thought about the wisdom in these words. What we fill our minds with impacts our whole being. We do have a choice to fill it with thoughts that are capable of bringing hope, health and happiness to our lives.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I was asked this question before by someone and I talked about the wonderful initiative by Dignity Health called “Hello Humankindness.” I still believe that kindness is a movement worth pursuing. As I respond to this, I am excited to see the applause happening on doorsteps and out of windows every day at 8 PM. This is, perhaps, viewed differently by folks but the genesis was a way to show appreciation and gratitude to the many healthcare workers and essential employees keeping the community infrastructure functioning. So, another movement would be a gratitude movement!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
I provide content on www.IAmHerbalifeNutrition.com, but you can also find me on Instagram at @drkentbradley.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!