The phrase “healthy living” brings to mind thoughts of clean dieting, ample sleep and a regular exercise regimen. However, a key ingredient is absent from this equation—emotional well-being is paramount in a balanced, health-focused lifestyle.
How do we put the mind first when the day-to-day is peppered with various stressors and roadblocks to achieving thought positivity? Jane Wilkens Michael, radio host and author of Long Live You! A Step-By-Step Plan to Look and Feel Better Than Before, explains her simple nine-Rung approach to help you ascend to optimum health and healing.
“What is the secret to finding inner peace?” I recently asked a very wise, spiritual woman. A Shaman, in fact. She said she would consult with her “Guides” and get back to me shortly. I waited—and waited! Finally, she called.
“Stuff happens,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Move on!”
“Seriously? That’s the answer?” I was incredulous.
“Yes!” she insisted. “Don’t dwell on what went wrong,” she explained. “Let it go! Focus instead on what to do next. After all,” she added with a laugh, “you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”
Truth be told, the Shaman made perfect sense. (Although she did use a decidedly un-angelic word for “stuff!”) Life, alas, is not always about unicorns and rainbows. Indeed, we are constantly thrown curveballs. And just when we think we know what’s coming next, a change-up. Oftentimes, those concerns and conflicts have left us feeling despondent and hinder our progress going forward. But despite the fact that much of what we worry about never even happens, we still tend to allow minor events to morph into major issues in our minds. And long-term stress can do more damage than eating fried baloney balls. Need I say more?
In a perfect world, we should be able to consider all negative events “teachable moments,” to learn from and become stronger because of. But how many of us, in reality, can turn our “messes” into “messages?” Achieving the emotional balance for which we all strive is by no means an easy task. Granted, we all have bad days when we want to tear out our hair – or better yet, somebody else’s – but it is possible to overcome most challenges so we can indeed “move on!”
Unfortunately, there are no instant fixes or magic bullets. The secret to success is to start slowly and improve incrementally. The Japanese have a term for just that: Kaizen. It’s actually two words, Kai, meaning change, and Zen—for the good. It’s all about advancing in small steps to get us from where we are to where we want to be. Think progress, not perfection.
Know, too, that it takes more than thinking happy thoughts and eating kale. (Good news for my dark-leafy-greens-hating husband, The Lawyer, who would rather starve than eat anything that tastes even remotely like arugula.) Optimizing mental health and well-being takes a multifaceted approach. Yet, many of us spend so much time devoted to diet and exercise that we tend to forget that, in addition, it is essential to keep our minds fit. That is the core of all that we do and all of who we are. Consider it Pilates for your psyche.
With the aim to help you live a longer, happier, healthier, and less stressful life, I created a series of complementary steps, what I call “Lifestyle Disciplines,” and put them in the form of a metaphysical ladder. Each “Rung” offers another coping mechanism for you to use on your daily “climb” to looking and feeling Better Than Before.
The idea is to take a tip from each of the nine Rungs each day as you visualize yourself slowly climbing out of any lifestyle issue—large or small. The following is a sample of a start-up ladder:
Says Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic and consultant to the Dr. Oz show: “We simply have two choices each day: Make excuses, or make something happen—the choice is ours.” So when you wake up in the morning, think that it’s going to be the best day ever!
“Slow down and focus,” contends Dr. John McGrail, author of The Synthesis Effect: “That feeling of being overwhelmed is often caused by looking at situations in their entirety. It’s like standing at the bottom of a tall, steep mountain and trying to imagine climbing it all at once. But if you start by walking one step at a time and only focus on the next, pretty soon you’re at the top looking down. The same can be said for the situations we deal with in life. We can slow down and commit to taking it one step, one choice, one thought at a time.”
Today, the connection between diet and depression is both universally accepted and much better understood. Your health is what you put in your mouth. Again, start small. Go through your cabinets and conduct a “junk hunt.” Little by little get rid of the food you know you shouldn’t be eating. After all, you can’t eat what you can’t see. And make sure to read labels when you shop. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it. (Except maybe for quinoa!)
No need to “train insane or remain the same!” Exercise enhances feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. And it doesn’t have to be arduous like (horrors!) boot camp class. Simply choose an exercise or sport that you like to do—even if it’s just walking—and make a point to do it every day.
Being too hard on ourselves can singlehandedly destroy our self-esteem. Therefore, instead of agonizing over that one pimple on your left cheek that nobody will ever notice (until you point it out) make a habit of looking in the mirror each day and saying one thing positive about yourself. Realize, too, that beauty is an attitude. A happy person has a glow to her skin that’s undeniable. And constant stress wrinkles the soul. (Of course, it never hurts to add a killer coral lipstick!)
The practice of “mindfulness” seems like it should come with a side order of mung beans. But it simply means bringing awareness to any aspect of your life. “And awareness,” says Deepak Chopra, “tells you how you are doing. It’s an infallible kind of radar.” In moments of stress and anxiety—present or anticipated—mediation will help center your thoughts and calm you down: Sit comfortably in a quiet spot. Close your eyes and begin to relax all your muscles, head to toe. Become aware of your breathing. Now simply say the word “Relax!” with each breath.
Try this spiritual exercise to soothe the soul: Breathe deeply and visualize your entire being surrounded and bathed in a bright white light. Now imagine this light letting only positive thoughts penetrate while it protects and regenerates the nerves, the mind, and the heart.
“Happiness never decreases by being shared,” Buddha once said. And while we all may take our friends and family for granted at times, the truth is that they’re a big reason we’re going to succeed on our climb. Researchers at Brigham Young University discovered that social isolation and loneliness can be as life threatening as obesity. A more optimistic attitude not only brightens up your own life, but will inspire those around you to brighten up theirs as well.
Research shows that giving to others can trigger feel-good endorphin responses similar to high-intensity exercise. The emotional, physical and spiritual energy we achieve on our Kaizen climb reaches its peak if we share information, challenges and successes with others.
At the end of the day, being Better Than Before doesn’t mean we have to change the world. All we need to do is direct a little more positive energy each day toward improving our lives—plus the lives of all those we touch. (Now if The Lawyer would only learn to like kale. Sigh!)