Making Smarter Choices

You’ve heard the adage: work smarter, not harder. One interpretation is that it’s about using your brain and not just your body or brute force to get the job done. As we all know, this is important for people living with rheumatoid arthritis. We don’t always have the physical strength and energy, so we need to use our brain to get the job done in smarter ways that don’t exhaust our reduced physical resources.

Working smarter includes making smarter choices

I feel like I’ve had to work smarter, not harder, all my life to get things done. I’ve found or made tools that help me with all kinds of tasks — like my grabber for picking up objects, my gripper for opening jars, or my hook for reaching.

How to better spend my energy

But I realized recently that an advanced level of practice involves making smarter choices about where I spend my physical energy. One example is laundry. I used to do my own laundry and it would take me an entire day to do maybe two loads. It was so physically taxing I would need the next day for rest. It quickly became apparent that I was not making the smarter choice in how to spend my energy.

More on this topic

So, I went online to place an ad for a laundry helper who could do the job in a tenth of the time. It was a small amount of money that was very well spent because it made a huge difference in how I was spending my small amount of physical exertion.

Being smart may also mean being safer

Making smarter choices is not only about saving physical resources for the activities that we enjoy or are better at. I feel that it is also about safety. For example, stairs are very difficult and dangerous for me to climb. It’s a strength issue and a balance issue. No amount of practice improves my ability to do stairs and it makes no sense or me to get hurt badly doing something that I don’t absolutely have to do.

Knowing when to use my physical resources

My home doesn’t have stairs (actually, I haven’t lived with stairs for more than 20 years) and everywhere I go usually has ramps or elevators. So, if I am going to maintain a skill, the best thing for me is walking. I have limited range, but I can walk with assistance on flat surfaces. In the pool, I do a lot of walking exercise (with pool noodles for safety) to build my walking strength. My continuing practice has resulted in improvements in my strength and balance while walking.

So, in the place (a family home) where I do have to manage two steps and manage certain areas by walking because my wheelchair does not fit, I prioritize the walking and minimize the stairs. For me, this is a very smart choice because I need to save my energy for the walking. If I can get down and up one step in my wheelchair, that means I’m saving my legs for all the walking throughout the day.

Making smarter choices despite others’ (wrong) judgments

To someone else, this may look like I am getting weaker or giving in to my RA. But for me, this choice is me prioritizing something that I can do (like walking) over something that I cannot do safely and risks serious injury (like stairs). From this perspective, it is a no-brainer. Make the smarter choice and not the one that risks physical injury to myself or the person trying to help me.

Sometimes living with RA feels like a constant effort, like a never-ending marathon while being beaten with sticks. It is always work to get up in the morning and go about my day. Nothing truly comes easy. So, making the best choices about how to spend my physical resources makes the most sense and becomes very important for maintaining longevity.

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