A common theme with these writings is “Fundamentals First,” that is, make sure your foundation is solid (not necessarily perfect) before taking further action. This post is about the most fundamental of fundamentals: your mind and body.
Is your life going off the rails? Or maybe you’re doing okay but want to find the next cool “hack” or “trick” to make you better. Take a look at these two areas first: Am I keeping my mind sharp? Is my body healthy?
A healthy mind and body give you a solid base to work from. Remember, only with a strong foundation can you take proper action.
- What will make you more productive, 10 cups of coffee OR 8 hours of sleep?
- What is better for your body, “fat burners” and frozen pizza OR steak and salad?
Tend to the foundation before applying quick fixes.
6 Actions to get your health in order:
A healthy mind means you can make better decisions, be more productive, form stronger relationships with others, and be happier.
Block out 8 hours a day. You get exceptions for emergencies and really crazy life experiences, not for dinking around on the internet.
Lack of sleep leads to impaired cognitive function (but you didn’t really need a study to tell you that did you?) . Make it a priority.
Sit zazen, pray, mindfulness meditation, zone out while exercising, whatever. Schedule time everyday to clear your thoughts and be present. For some reason I have difficulty convincing people to meditate. I’m not talking about hippy-dippy spiritual woo-woo, meditation has benefits which are well documented by scientific research. Amongst others: decreased stress, increased social intelligence, increased emotional regulation, increased ability to focus. Links to research. Unfortunately, meditation can take time (weeks or months) to really feel tangible benefits. Initially it can be very boring or frustrating. The benefits are very much worth it. If you have no idea where to start, try headspace.
3. Embrace Continual Learning
Keep your mind sharp. Just because school bored you to death doesn’t mean you can’t keep learning. Play. The world is full of fascinating stuff and a lot of it is accessible online or at a class near you. Find something you might like and explore. Talk to people about topics that interest you. Read, watch lectures, listen to podcasts, make art, work on a side-project. If you get bored of a topic, move on to something else. This isn’t school.
When you pick something to learn, you’re going to fail and that’s okay. No one berates a 2 year old for pronouncing words wrong, don’t beat yourself up for mis-conjugating a verb in
Not only is continual learning interesting, as you expand your worldview you’ll find connections and analogous situations between fields you never thought possible.
You’ll notice there is significant overlap between mind and body. Like it or not, your body is the vessel which carries your mind. Good physical health provides the brain with a stable hormonal environment and provides more energy for you to accomplish more.
Yes I said sleep again. It’s that important. Check out all these fun health markers that go haywire when you don’t get adequate sleep: Examine.com on sleep.
I suggest the combination of walking and weight training. Yes, women should lift too (no you won’t get bulky). Strength training increases bone density, muscular mass, and metabolism. If you’re looking to lose fat you’ll get more bang-for-your-buck from lifting than from hours on the treadmill (when paired with proper nutrition). Beginners should check out this guide from reddit. You can even double up your exercise time as meditation or podcast time.
6. Eat real food
Learn how to cook, start simple, you don’t need to be a master chef. It’s cheaper, better for you, and more rewarding than chucking something in the microwave.
Eat plants and animals that your great-great-grandmother would have recognized as food. Nutritionists can debate and theorize all day about what constitutes an ‘ideal’ diet; all I know is that cultures which eat primarily unrefined foods have better health markers than people on the Standard American Diet. If nothing else, drop the soda.
I could never do all of that! No one has time for this stuff
Yes you can, yes you do. (I am terrible at motivating people)
Pick one thing on this list and try it for a month (I would pick sleep). Take note of how you feel during your little experiment. Don’t get discouraged if you fall off the wagon, recognize it and start again.
Health of the mind, Health of the body. Get these in order before focusing elsewhere. I’ve provided a short list here but cultivating all of these could take months depending on where you’re starting from. When I’m stressed or a feeling off-kilter, it’s often because I’m neglecting one of these items.
It’s not an exciting quick-fix, but focusing on your mental and physical health first will bring you high quality, long-term results. With the fundamentals in place you can feel free to chase the next productivity “hack” or fad diet. You’ll probably find that you don’t feel the need to anymore.