Achieving a ten in your well-being scale: five practices
One of my mentors once taught me that our well-being can be measured on a scale. The scale goes from a negative 10 to a positive 10. Zero, being right in the middle, is the neutral state. Zero may be thought of as the absence of pain, and everything to the left is the presence of pain and/or discomfort. To the right is how wonderful we feel beyond the absence of pain itself. To the right is the measure of how much energy, focus, and joy we feel. Being a ten in that scale is the ultimate feeling of well-being.
What does it take to be a ten? And can we really aim for being a ten, at all times? Like any question, if I raise the standard of what I am looking for, I will find better answers to my problems. Looking to eliminate pain is a first step, but looking to live a life of a TEN is a whole different kind of commitment. And, like everything else in life, we can aim to be a 10 at all times, but we won’t always be on that track. Just like a rocket traveling to the moon, it is not a straight path. The rocket, like ourselves, will fall off the path, but the focus should be on getting back on track as quickly as possible. The more we wait, the harder it is to find ourselves in the TEN scale again, just like it is much harder to steer a boat back on track if it has steered off too far. So the key secret to a lifestyle that aims at and stays at a ten as often as possible, is to make incremental and consistent practices on a daily basis.
Here are my 5 tips for living a life of ten in the health and well-being scale:
Sleep is fundamental to a ten lifestyle. How much sleep each one of us needs is individual. Some people can be fully rested with 6 hours of sleep, while most people need at least 7 to feel that way. I actually need 8 hours to feel completely rested. The only way you can find out what that number is for you, is to try it out. If you do not set your alarm and you are able to sleep uninterruptedly, your natural circadian rhythm will kick in and help dictate when is time to wake-up. Sleep is so important that Arianna Huffington wrote a full chapter on this topic in her book Thrive. Success and confidence are affected by it. But the quantity of sleep is just one aspect of this equation; quality is just as important. For the first 14 months of my daughter’s life I was awaken by her cries at least twice, but often three or more times a night. Even though I would lay in bed for eight hours or more, I was always exhausted. Uninterrupted sleep is crucial so that you can go through all the waves and cycles of sleep, which brings the ultimate feeling of recovery. Finally, the practices before and after sleep are also important. Staring at a computer screen, phone, or any ‘blue light,’ greatly impact the quality of sleep. Electronic connections of any kind also emit waves that disrupt the quality of your sleep. And, the type of information that feeds our mind before we go to sleep, influences the quality of the dreams we will have. In sum, to get a full night of sleep you need:
- Find out your optimum number of hours for a restful night
- Eliminate all possible noises from your sleep environment. Using a white noise machine may be appropriate if you live in the city and have constant outside noises interrupting your sleep
- Do not play with or watch anything on your phone, computer or iPad for at least one hour before you go to sleep. Try reading a book instead!
- Eliminate all electronic connections from your bedroom. Let your phone charge elsewhere or at least leave it in airplane mode. I don’t even have a night lamp connected at night by my bed. The less electronics in the room, the better.
- Do not watch anything violent, or have upsetting conversations before going to sleep. I remember one of my clients having a completely different experience of sleep by just making this one shift. Instead of watching the news before sleep, he started reading a few great books and his long time insomnia disappeared!
- In many traditions, the day actually starts when you go to sleep, because the quality of the sleep will affect your entire next day. So think of the start of your next day as the time you lay your head to rest at the end of the day, and everything preceding it that will impact your night of sleep.
A student of Ayuverdic medicine, the most ancient form of medicine, learns first that ‘every disease starts and ends in the mind.’ Health and well-being is a feedback loop between mind and body, each informing the other of their state. A well taken care body in a mind that is polluted with negative thoughts that lead to states of anxiety and stress, will undoubtedly affect the body from inside out. A body that is not well taken care of in a mind that is clean will slowly decay. Of the two scenarios, I would say that taking care of the mind comes before taking care of the body, or along side it. That’s why yoga is such a phenomenal practice. While it certainly strengthens the body and improves flexibility, yoga calms the mind and quiets the incessant chatter that goes unattended inside our heads. Yoga has a meditative quality to it and so it works on both domains. In my 20s and even through my mid-30s I exercised with a rigor that was somewhat good for my cardio but definitely unhealthy for my mind, and even, long term, for my body. I learned that to be kind to myself and my true needs is as much a practice for my well-being as sitting on a spinning bike for an hour every day. Mindset is a big topic, but start out by just simply learning to be kinder to yourself. Would you let anyone speak to you in the way you talk to yourself? If the answer is no, then it’s time to change that and find some compassion to you and your body. Cleaner thoughts lead to a cleaner, healthier body.
Have you heard the saying that ‘we are what we eat’?’ I will start out by stating that creating a healthy relationship to food is imperative for the long-term feeling of well-being we are speaking about here in this blog. If food becomes a science lab and all you think about is calories, quantity, and ‘type,’ you will lose the joy of simply eating and fueling your body. I am not here to declare that there is a special diet that will make your body feel a ten, but I will say that there is a diet that works best for you. The tricky part is getting to know what that is because you have, like most people, lost the intuitive connection to this information by suppressing your needs with foods that are simply filling up a ‘hole’ in your heart, not in your body. In the same way I suggested you experiment with the number of hours of sleep you need, here I suggest you start out by doing a cleanse so that you can eliminate, at least temporarily, some of the bad habits you have accumulated over the years, to find out what actually feels good to you. I love a cleanse called ‘Clean Diet’ but there are a hundreds of options out there that you can research. The point is, a cleanse will reset your system to neutral so you can re-learn what feels best for your body. It is needless to say that too much of anything, specially sugar, alcohol and caffeine, will have a negative impact in the body. Balance is key! Along with the mindset practice, think before eating – am I eating out of habit or out of a true need in my body? And, again learn that splurging a bit here and there is ok. Do not punish yourself with negative and reprimanding thoughts because it will make the ‘bad’ food you ate even worst in your body!
There is an essay called “The Secrets of Long Life,” which studied small cities around the world where the majority of the inhabitants live to be 100 years old or more. One of the factors that played in them living such long lives is walking or physical movement. The study did not show that weight lifting, or even yoga was central to these people’s well-being – walking was the predominant mode of exercise and the primary mode of transportation. And, what I love about this is that walking can be something we include in our day-to-day without having to allocate large chunks of time to it. I walk 3 miles every morning with my dog and my daughter and I have been doing this beach walk for the last 5 years. When I miss a day I am instantly less alert and I feel more lethargic. Walking helps to circulate the blood in our legs, and can be quite meditative. Walking is also something we can do throughout the day. There is not much else to say about this, other than: start walking more!
Finally, the fifth practice for a ten in your well-being scale is to maintain a strong community of support. This is critical because we are wired to be tribal, community beings. No one can achieve a lasting sense of well-being living in isolation. Loneliness is a factor in depression, anxiety and an overall sense of loss. When we have a community to support us we are more likely to take risks (knowing we will be accepted and loved whether we win or lose), we have ways to process our emotions, and we learn more quickly (about the world and ourselves). Napoleon Hill actually described masterminds as a factor that attributed to increased wealth and success. A mastermind is a group of individuals that are like minded and who are aiming for something greater than just themselves. He listed very successful individuals like Hemingway, Henry Ford, and Edison who participated in masterminds, sometimes taking ten days a time to be with their like minded peers. When we are away from our families we must focus our energy in creating and sustaining a group of friends who we know have our backs, no matter what (BUT that will also compassionately call us on our bad behavior so we can have feedback on our blind spots). This is a practice, and not just a one time thing, because relationships take sustained effort and focus, like watering a plant everyday.
Your sleep, your mindset, what you eat, your daily walks and a strong community will help you sustain a ten in your well-being scale. Start now!