As a software engineer responsible for the long-term accessibility of computer servers and software applications, a term that I often use is preventive maintenance. The definitions on Wikipedia encapsulate its meaning well:
- The care and servicing by personnel for the purpose of maintaining equipment in satisfactory operating condition by providing for systematic inspection, detection, and correction of incipient failures either before they occur or before they develop into major defects.
- The work carried out on equipment in order to avoid its breakdown or malfunction. It is a regular and routine action taken on equipment in order to prevent its breakdown.
- Maintenance, including tests, measurements, adjustments, parts replacement, and cleaning, performed specifically to prevent faults from occurring.
My short definition of preventive maintenance is taking something that's working and taking steps before disaster strikes to make sure things continue working. In the software world, it's handy for the longevity of the systems we have to maintain. Servers are kept up-to-date with the latest security patches so no one can hack into the systems using common exploits. Computer code is kept organized and well-tested in order to continue building upon it and helping new developers jump into work quickly without introducing too critical bugs.
While the term is used mostly for mechanical objects, I believe that we should start using it for ourselves. We should take some time to make sure that we continue working well in many ways - physically, mentally, spiritually, or any other form that ensures that you're in optimal condition.
Face your issues as soon as you spot them
More often than not, we tend to deal with problems only when it's inevitable, and there are few or no options left. It's not uncommon for people to start to diet and exercise when health issues appear, like being diagnosed with diabetes or suffering a heart attack. There are cases where people seek therapy or a Higher Power when they hit rock bottom - events like causing a divorce or having a drug addiction apply here.
Most issues like these are easily preventable if you take care of things before they take a turn for the worst. Usually, there will be signs that can be the catalyst to start taking better care of ourselves. We can easily find out if we're overweight or have early signs of health troubles by visiting a doctor or we're not feeling as energetic as we used to. A divorce never happens overnight - it's usually something that builds up for weeks or months. Addictions are also something that builds throughout an extended period. We can spot these signs and do something about them before our problems spiral out of control.
Once you spot these signs, only you can decide to take action by performing some preventive maintenance for yourself. Let's continue using the above examples again. If your doctor tells you that you're a bit overweight and it may lead to other problems, take a look at your diet and activity levels and think of how you'll eat better or exercise more to avoid getting worse. If you're noticing that you and your spouse are always arguing, think about how to try to work through any issues together. If you have a growing addiction, seek therapy in person or find out if your country has a national hotline you can call to talk to someone. By taking the first steps, you'll stop the negative momentum from snowballing into something much bigger and more challenging to deal with later in life.
That's not to say that everything is preventable. Just like a component inside of a computer server might fail overnight with no warning, there will be cases where no amount of prevention can fully get you prepared to avoid disaster. For example, someone might get in a car accident due to a drunk driver. But these cases are usually the exception. Most of our physical and mental health issues are built over time, dropping hints along the way that we can choose to act upon or ignore.
How ignoring the signs affected me personally
I have a personal story that I can share to demonstrate how avoiding preventive maintenance affected me. Last year, I set a goal for myself to lose a specific amount of weight every month. The first month of the year went well, but I stalled a bit in the second month, which led me to push myself to do more. I began to eat less than my body needed to keep my energy levels up. Also, I incorporated more strenuous exercises into my workouts.
My body did not seem to like the combination of things I was doing to lose a couple of pounds, so it started to shut down on me. A few weeks after those changes, I caught a minor cold. That was the very first sign that something was up. But because I was dead-set on achieving my weight loss goals, I chose to ignore it. I felt like I would lose any momentum I gained if I took a break to recover from a minor illness.
I continued exercising as best as I could, disregarding the sniffling and sneezing. A few days later, the next signs appeared. The cold evolved into a severe sore throat, and eventually, it included a high fever. I was forced to put my new routine on hold, but I was still ignoring my body's signs that were apparently telling me that I needed to stop pushing myself too much. I was trying to convince myself and my wife that I was okay and that I could get back to my exercises soon.
On the third day of having the sore throat and high fever, I began to get a bit desperate to return to my exercise routine. As my wife was heading off to work one morning, I got out of bed to tell her that I wanted to go to the gym to sweat the fever off a little bit. Being the smart woman that she is, she protested and told me that I need to get back to bed and rest before thinking about leaving the house. My body sent its most potent sign yet as she was saying that - I completely blacked out and fell to the floor.
That was the first time in my life I'd ever been in an ambulance and stayed overnight in a hospital. Thankfully, nothing serious came out of it. I had fainted because I had been eating little in the previous few days, mostly due to my sore throat but also because I was too focused on losing weight. I was also a bit dehydrated from not drinking enough water. After being in observation for the night, the hospital allowed me to leave the following day. I've recovered with no adverse effects stemming from that whole ordeal, but it taught me a valuable lesson in never ignoring these kinds of signs again.
Focus on you first so you can focus on others
When I was obsessed with my weight loss goals, I was focusing on myself. Focusing on yourself is not a bad thing. If you spend time taking good care of yourself, you'll be in good shape to take on your personal goals and dreams. You'll have the physical and mental energy to power through the tasks to get you where you want to go.
After my brief stint in the hospital, it also put in perspective that I needed to take care of myself not just for me, but for those that I want to take care of too, like my wife. If you're taking care of yourself, you'll be in a prime position to take care of others. If you're not in good condition either physically or mentally, it'll be tough to provide support to those who are depending on you. That was one of my main takeaways.
You may sometimes feel selfish by focusing on yourself when you have others like a family, friends, or coworkers all relying on you. I've seen many people sacrifice their well-being to please others. This is not the right thing for you. To take care of others, you need to take of yourself first. By being in peak condition in your body and your mind, your ability to be of service will increase and make the world around you a much better place. Focusing on yourself is not a selfish act - it's one of the most unselfish steps you can take to serve others the best way you can.
Small steps for your Practical Good
Start avoiding a potential collapse in your life by taking preventive maintenance in a couple of small steps:
- Are there any signs in your life that might be pointing to something breaking down in your life? If something is happening that has the potential to snowball into a much bigger problem in the future, inevitable there will be signs that will tell you that danger is imminent. Even if you decide to not act upon on it immediately, don't discard these signs. They appear for a reason.
- Once you spotted a warning, take one tiny step towards preventing that issue from growing. You don't need to make massive, significant actions to avoid a future breakdown. Small steps can go a long way in preventive maintenance. Figure out what's one thing you can do as soon as possible to stop your issue from becoming something more prominent and try to incorporate it into your life as soon as you can.
- Continue to apply small steps and form long-term habits to prevent these signs from appearing again. The core message of preventive maintenance is to do something to avoid bad things from happening, so make sure that you keep taking action and forming habits to keep yourself in optimal condition.