I've done a ton of reading about life strategy, healthy living and the power of habits.
Having coaches in areas of health, finance and spirituality can be very beneficial, but if you cannot afford that at the moment, you can still make headway. This is because there are loads of free resources out there that can lead us in the right direction. I utilize those resources regularly.
Anyone can train themselves to be motivated even if they are doing it solo. And it takes practice. Some people have more of a natural tendency towards that. Some of us have to work at it.
Let's be honest. Some of the efforts it takes for us to live our best life are intuitive and clearly spelled out. We simply don't do what we know we should be doing for optimal life. Why is that?
Over the course of my journey, I have added simple habits that have snowballed into major game changers for my health, spirit, mind, relationships, finances and over-all well being.
All of these started with baby steps, just an idea to improve slightly. As those improvements became more habitual, I increased the intensity. The momentum eventually solidified into habits and now they are simply a way of life. I read a book years ago called The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. That gave me tons of motivation towards building daily habits for a lifetime of success.
My spiritual journey inspires me to be the best version of me possible. This is ever changing but it is a process towards being more wholistic. In His book , The Naked Now, Richard Rohr points out "Many seem to have some kind of genuine spiritual breakthrough but never get around to the intellectual, lifestyle and ethical implications that often take years to recognize and integrate."
Here are some of my most effective habits. Most of these I have done for 5 years or more. Some are newer and some have been with me for over two decades. I am still improving and tweaking where necessary and as life changes. Some are very basic, but their impact is mighty. Also, as my life becomes more cohesive, I find many of them overlap. Meaning, I can do several of them simultaneously and reap exponential benefits.
Several people make excuses for why they could never have these habits. From the get-go lets knock that out. It's all about priorities. When you value something, you will make it a priority. You are certainly worth it.
Just try it for 30 days and see the difference.
Not all of these may apply to you, and you will have other habits that may better enhance your life. This is one version of what a life of healthy habits looks like so that you can begin identifying your priorities and building your own, one day at a time.
1. 8 hours of sleep: The benefits of a good night's rest resound through our emotions, social interactions, cognitive ability, immune system, digestive system and other aspects of our life. Waking up refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of a new day is something I am not willing to sacrifice. This is a pillar of good health. I am convinced it contributes greatly to the fact that I rarely, if ever, get sick.
2. Morning Prayer/Meditation/Scripture: For more than a decade I have begun each day with this practice. In my twenties, I attempted it, and had seasons of success and failure. It wasn't until I firmly established it at thirty that it took root.
Giving thanks to God, meditating on goodness and setting my mind on love works miracles for my attitude and how I treat others.
I am more relaxed about this than I once was. For instance, if I don't do it first thing with my coffee/tea, I will now do it later in the day. I used to think that was blasphemous, now I am not so dogmatic. Sometimes the loving (or practical) thing is to rearrange it in my schedule. Either way, this is a practice that I fit in each day.
Even atheists and agnostics can benefit from this practice. An insightful book called How God Changes Your Brain (by Newberg, M.D. and Waldman) backs this claim with neuroscience. Meditating teaches us not to react in fear or anger (from lower parts of our brain) and instead to approach the world with kindness and courage (a superpower humans have thanks to our advanced brain parts).
3. Time in Nature: This benefits hormone levels, increases self-esteem, enhances the immune system, calms the nervous system, reduces stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, clears the mind and can connect us to God. Plus, it's awesome.
Typically my morning prayer is done outdoors so I get this in first thing. In addition, most days, I walk the garden, search for caterpillars, pet the cats, watch birds or read and relax by the nearest body of water I can find.
4. Grow: Reading and learning are very important. I am always devouring one or more books on topics such as health, nutrition, science, gardening, spirituality, finances, psychology, energy and more.
There are so many free courses available now through universities it is amazing. YouTube is another great source of information. Podcasts are excellent fountains of knowledge. I learn something new every day through reading, podcasts and videos.
Reading outdoors combines time in nature with growth and is doubly beneficial.
5. Salad: A few years ago I decided to intentionally increase my daily servings of fruits and vegetables. To help with this, I set my mind on eating a salad a day. Salad here is defined primarily by fresh produce, beans, nuts and herbs. Tuna salad, egg salad, pasta salad and chicken salad need not apply.
It ended up being an enjoyable challenge to find new and creative ingredients for my husband and family. We have kept this up every day with only a handful of exceptions.
6. Water: I drink at least half of my body weight in ounces daily. This is great for boosting metabolism, maximizing work-outs, detoxifying, digestion, eating less, reducing sugary drinks, sharpening mindfulness, boosting concentration and balancing emotions among many other benefits.
I drink a glass first thing in the morning, after my workout and with every meal. There is always a glass of water next to me as I am working outside in the garden, cooking, sitting at the computer or shootin' the breeze with a friend.
7. Give 10%: This is probably my oldest habit. I was doing this as a child with my birthday money. This started with my Judeo-Christian upbringing. The ancient Israelites were required to give a tenth (or a tithe) of their earnings to the temple. The correlation was that modern day believers were to give 10% of their income to their home church.
There was a time that I thought this was some type of rule that still God held over our heads. Thankfully, those days of attempting to keep ancient Israelite law are long gone for me. Now I see this simply as a way to joyfully give back a small portion of the surplus I have received. When we attend a church, we give to them, but we give to numerous other charities as well.
Ten percent is just a baseline, it can be more than that.
Even when I was going through serious financial hardships I stayed true to this habit. A close friend told me I was crazy and this was not the way to get my finances back in order. It seems counter intuitive. She meant well, yet, I believe it is an important habit that teaches us to continue to give to others regardless of our situation. There is always someone else hurting and it is good for our souls to stand in solidarity with them.
That said, I don't think God will smite you if you don't do it. It is simply an exercise in generosity.
8. Pay off Debt: Every month, we pay off all of our credit cards and stay up to date with our bills. If we can't afford it, we don't charge it.
There are some financial experts who say you shouldn't have any credit cards. They conclude that people spend less when using a debit card than a credit card. Consumers spend even less with cold cash because it is painful to see it slip through our fingers.
I don't deny it, I sometimes spend more using a credit card. However, we don't ever buy anything without cash in the bank to pay it off. And we pay it off every month. Always.
We sleep easier knowing we don't owe anything and never pay finance fees.
9. Plant Based Diet: Over the years I have waffled on this. I was a vegetarian for years, then I went back to eating meat. For a while we ate only one meat meal a week. Today I am one and a quarter year into total vegetarianism and this is where I plan to stay.
Eating whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes and other plant based foods fuels our bodies. There is evidence that vegan diets can reverse all sorts of diseases, or at least lessen their symptoms.
Some people enjoy eating meat. I do not. But I am not fanatical about it. If I go to someone's home and they serve meat, I will eat it without a fuss.
Yet, I feel healthier, vomit less (gross but true) and sleep better on a plant based diet. It helps me build immunity, lower-blood pressure, maintain healthy weight, and be at my best. I would love to one day be vegan, but I am not there yet.
Finally, I ignored how animals are inhumanely treated for years. There are certainly exceptions, but without knowing how animals are raised, I rest easier knowing that I passed on consuming them. I can't stand the thought of an abused chicken.
10. Hour of Exercise: This habit started small. It was just 20 minutes a day at first. Something is better than nothing.
These days I aim for a minimum of 40 minutes of high intensity exercise and an additional 50 minutes of stretching or light exercise daily. Most days I complete it. Some days I don't. Yet, it is much better than the 20 minutes I used to do. If success is "the progressive realization of a worthy goal" (Earl Nightingale's quote), I am on my way.
To keep it interesting, I mix up running, weight training, yoga, Pilates, jump rope, intervals and online videos. I do this at home, not at a gym. On days I am dragging and not wanting to exercise, I first put on my work-out clothes. I just start somewhere and more often than not, I eventually get in the groove and then get a great work-out in.
The point is, I almost never FEEL like doing it, but after I begin, it is easier to work through it and complete it. It is a daily battle, but I am determined to do this.
11. Soda-Free: It didn't occur to me to include this as a healthy habit. It's just a way of life. But I recently read that the average American drinks soda regularly. A gallop poll from 2012 indicated that half of Americans drink a soda or more a day.
If you haven't heard, sodas are filled with sugar and all sorts of crap. Any sugary beverage habit is unhealthy.
An occasional splurge is understandable but for my body-temple, soda will not be a daily habit.
12. Caffeine-Free: Speaking of freedom! Three years ago I attended a weekly personal development class. One week the topic was on caffeine and its detrimental affects on our bodies and minds.
This is naive, but I had no idea that it can cause anxiety, nervousness, dehydration, high-blood pressure, insomnia, brittle bones, weight-gain, breast tissue cysts, headaches and many more negative side-effects.
At the time, drinking multiple cups of regular coffee a day was a natural and automatic way of life. Everyone does it. I had never given it much thought. It was mindless.
But that week I began mixing decaffeinated coffee in with my regular. In two weeks I had fully weaned myself from regular. I never suffered headaches because I did it gradually.
The positive results came immediately! I am passionate about this. I am so much calmer, kinder and less irritable. Jitters have vanished. I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow and I sleep like a champ often without awakening until dawn. No more waking up at 3 a.m. and worrying about every single problem I have ever encountered.
There may be other benefits too that I cannot detect, but the ones I am aware of have made such an enormous impact on my serenity that I will never go back to my caffeinated life.
Each month I set aside time to review what I consider the 9 main areas of life. They are: Spirituality, Health, Relationships, Personal Growth, Work, Finance, Giving, Recreation and Physical Environment.
For each one I look where I have progressed and what's working. I also question what isn't working and look for areas of improvement.
It is often in these sessions that I discover something that needs to be adjusted. From this I create small, seemingly inconsequential daily habits that compound over time to bring amazing health, joy and freedom.
What's your next baby step?