Before you become amazing, there’s some groundwork to be done. A healthy lifestyle is part of that groundwork.
I was originally going to call this theme “foundations of amazingness”, but “seeds of greatness” is a much better phrase.
The difference is, foundations are (we hope) stable and static. But seeds germinate and grow, and keep on growing.
While I wouldn’t claim to have achieved greatness yet, when I do it will be because I planted these seeds.
Today I want to focus on the seeds of good health, because maximising your health (whatever that means in your particular situation) is a great place to start. There are three reasons for that:
- It gets you used to working on yourself. To make changes in your lifestyle that improve your health, you have to develop many of the same skills that you’ll use in making other personal changes and reaching other goals. This is why I often say “health is personal development“.
- It provides energy and vitality for the next phase. Being in the best health you can be provides you with the mental clarity, energy and positive outlook that you need to do amazing things.
- It amazes people. Most people don’t step up and take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. Doing so makes you a person to watch, someone others will respect.
We don’t just fuel ourselves with food.
We build ourselves out of what we take in from our environment. And there are a thousand processes in our bodies that only run at their best if we have a good supply of micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals found abundantly in fresh, unprocessed food.
If you’re eating a high-energy, low-nutrient diet (like many people do), it’s like you’re the head of a corporation (or, more likely, government department) that keeps giving its workers more to do, but won’t provide the right resources for them to do it with.
The result is massive waste, unavailing struggle, and eventual failure.
How you can start
If food is a struggle for you, here are some starting points towards adopting a healthier lifestyle.
- Check out my 12 Hacks to Reduce the Amount You Eat
- Eat your nutrients first. Start the day with a nutritious breakfast – minimally processed, high-fibre grains such as oatmeal; some fruit and/or fruit juice; and as little added sugar as you can manage (this probably means not using a commercial breakfast cereal, since they are mostly heavily sugared). Once this is going well, move on to lunch, and finally dinner.
- Treat yourself to fruit. Find one or more fruits you like and use them as treats instead of some of your high-sugar treats. Starting a meal with fruit is also a good way to increase your feeling of satiation (having had enough to eat) quickly, because fruit is high-fibre and also raises blood sugar – more gently than refined sugars do.
- Drink more water. Not only is drinking plenty of water a good health move in itself, but it fills your stomach without adding calories.
- Get hold of my Positive Eating track ($7 USD) to help you shift your thoughts and feelings in favour of nutritious foods.
If there’s one thing that has made me feel better than anything else I’m doing, it’s exercise.
I said to someone the other day, “I’ve become one of those people who used to annoy me – those energetic, cheerful people who exercise a lot. I used to think they exercised because they were energetic and cheerful. I kind of wish someone had told me it was the other way around.”
Exercise stimulates your body to be more energy-efficient, and increases the depth and penetration of blood vessels (and therefore oxygen) into your cells.
It also increases the production of new brain cells. Scientists used to think that we didn’t produce new brain cells as adults, but we do – and especially if we exercise.
And exercise is incredibly good for mood and mental health. It rebalances your neurochemistry and lifts the mood chemicals, in particular, to a new level. It’s an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.
How you can start
If you aren’t exercising much or at all, here’s how you can begin.
- Get inspired. I highly recommend John Ratey’s book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. It was a big influence on getting me moving.
- Set aside a time. I had to make a time to exercise. In the end, I decided to simply get up earlier – in the faith that the improvement in my sleep quality from exercise would offset the earlier wakeup time. It did.
- Pick a goal you can’t fail at. I’ve told the story before of the very overweight man who started with one minute on the treadmill. It seems like almost nothing. But it isn’t nothing. It’s a beginning.
- Take opportunities to move in daily life. I always choose the stairs over the elevator now if I can. Every little helps.
- Get a good exercise program. I suggested several in my post on What I’ve Worked Out by Working Out. Once you’ve built up a little momentum, pick one of these and go for it. They’re designed to help beginners succeed beyond what you think you’re capable of.
3. Stress Management
During the most stressful time of my life, I lost 7kg just by worrying. I was spending most of my time in bed and eating enormous meals, but by the time I finally got out of the situation I weighted less than my luggage.
Imagine trying to work in a building where the fire alarm is stuck on and rings continuously. That’s what you’re trying to do every day, when you live a life filled with unnecessary stress, anxiety, worry and irritation. You can’t focus, you can’t think clearly, everything is an effort, and as for grasping the big picture – forget about it.
How you can start
If stress is a problem for you, I have one single recommendation (which leads to every other recommendation I could make): take my free online course on simple stress management techniques.
Actually, the other six recommendations in this post will also help deal with stress. But take the course, because it will show you how to think differently about the challenges that come to you and deal with them more successfully.
Tired people don’t do much that’s amazing.
Being tired impairs your brain in much the same way as being drunk. After 18-24 hours without sleep, your brain is in a similar state to what would result from being over the legal alcohol limit.
We repair our bodies during deep sleep, so poor-quality sleep is not much use either. Sadly, our modern lifestyle is one of inadequate, poor-quality sleep. What can we do?
How you can start
I have a free download on my other website, The Sleeper’s Checklist, which gives two dozen tips for improving your sleep. Very few people will be practicing all 24.
Something I’ve recently done to improve my sleep has given me a lot more mental clarity and energy. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, get hold of the application Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock. It’s whatever the minimum app price is where you are (59p, 99c US, $1.29 NZ or whatever), and I find it much better designed than the free alternative, Smart Alarm Clock, which I’ve also used. (Smart Alarm Clock will tell you that you’ve positioned the device wrong and so it didn’t work last night, without ever having told you how to do it right. That’s a basic usability failure right there.)
The idea is that the Sleep Cycle alarm uses the phone’s accelerometer to detect how much you’re moving, and therefore what sleep phase you’re in. You set the latest time that you want to wake up and a tolerance (usually half an hour), and within that tolerance it will wake you up when you’re closest to being awake anyway – rather than when you’re deeply asleep, like a normal alarm will sometimes do.
A friend put me onto it, and it really seems to work.
The guy who created it realised that the iPhone contained all the necessary hardware that you’d otherwise pay about $200 for, and coded up a very good application which you can buy for pocket change. Nice.
5. Time in Nature
You may always have suspected it, but now we have Science: walking around in a natural environment boosts your self-esteem and mood. Even if you only do it for a few minutes. And extra points if there’s water as well as the trees.
I have to say that when I go kayaking on a sunny day, in a beautiful bay 20 minutes from my house, surrounded by trees and towering rocky hills and populated with seabirds, I come back in the best mood.
But even a quick walk in the park will do something for you. And you’re getting the benefits of exercise as well.
Also, sunshine. Natural light is important to the balance of your brain’s mood chemistry, for some people more than others. Our eyes adapt, so we don’t really notice it, but the amount of light we get from electric lights is far, far less than even an overcast day outside.
How you can start
Most city planners have been smart enough to include green spaces, so even if you live in the city you should be able to find somewhere to be in semi-natural surroundings.
If all else fails, get some potted plants. If you’re afraid you’ll kill them, silk ones are getting more and more natural. Even pictures of trees are better than nothing.
6. Good Relationships
Relationships are a huge topic, of course, and I can’t do it justice in one-seventh of a blog post (even one as long as this is getting). It’s a significant thread in its own right here at How to Be Amazing, under the tag Connection is Power.
But good relationships are vital to our health and happiness, and to our success in all areas of life. They needn’t be sexual relationships, by the way. There are some very healthy, happy monks and nuns around. But significant connection with other human beings feeds our inner being and helps keep us in good mental health.
My friends in general, and my wife in particular, are responsible for so much of my personal growth that I can’t even estimate it. Having someone around with a different perspective on the world is essential if I’m going to change my life.
And yes, being connected to others also affects your health. Having a strong network of friends and relatives boosts your survival chances by 50% at any given age.
Not only that: happiness spreads through social networks. And the more connected you are, the greater your likelihood of becoming happier (perhaps because, with more connections, there’s more good news coming to you?)
How you can start
If you’re feeling a bit socially isolated, lacking in confidence or have few friends, there are a few ways you can start to change that.
- Join an interest group. Finding people you have things in common with is easier than it’s ever been, thanks to the Internet. Bonus points, though, for joining a group that meets in real life.
- Fulfil your own prophecy. The “acceptance prophecy” states that whether you expect to be accepted or expect to be rejected, you’re probably right. If you go in assuming that people are probably nervous about meeting you too, and will be basically accepting of you, your chances of a good experience are increased.
- Overcome self-sabotage. I have an audio track for this – it’s a free download. You just have to publicise it on Facebook or Twitter to get the link.
- Stay focussed on others. Most social awkwardness disappears if we forget about ourselves and pay attention to the people around us. Most people are genuinely interesting if you can get them talking about something they’re passionate about. And everyone likes to be listened to.
- Increase your confidence. Build your circle of confidence gradually by doing things that are just a little challenging – just like building your muscles up with exercise. Soon, what used to be challenging will be easy. (And if you want a truly fine resource for increasing your confidence, my colleague Vlad Dolezal has an excellent ebook.)
Most of the wisdom traditions of the world, whether Greek philosophers or Buddhist monks or Christian mystics, have something to say about living a balanced life.
- Balancing eating what makes us feel good in the moment with what will make us feel good long-term.
- Paying attention to what you eat and what you do, but not obsessing about it.
- Drinking alcohol in moderation, if at all.
- Being active, but also taking time to rest, to sit, to reflect, to contemplate, to meditate, to sleep.
- Managing your stress, but seeking out challenges to keep you at the edge of your comfort zone – because that’s where the growth happens.
- Getting enough time in nature, connected to the world around you.
- Spending time with friends, and time alone.
- Looking after the needs of others, and your own needs.
- Enjoying the creativity of others, and expressing your own creativity.
Health is partly about our bodies being in balance – taking in and using a balanced amount of energy, having the internal processes in equilibrium. That’s what makes the difference between a few isolated healthy actions and a truly healthy lifestyle.
How you can start
If your life is lacking balance, it’s time to step in and impose some.
Take inventory. What are you doing too much of?
What are you not doing enough? In particular, what would nurture your body and soul if you did it, but you never find the time?
Find the time. Cut out something that is doing you no good or doing you harm, and give that time and energy and maybe money to something that will restore you, to a seed of greatness, to setting yourself up for success.
Plant that seed and water it. Create a new habit. Weed out an old one if you need to make space, just as you sometimes need to remove a weed from a garden in order to plant something new.
Breathe a little.
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