The other day I was sitting down having lunch with some colleagues. They asked me how I was doing, I thought about it for a few moments, and then replied, “I'm doing fantastic.” Of course, they wanted to know what was going on and what was different. I told them that I was sleeping well, eating right, exercising, and meditating daily. Then it occurred to me that if most of my clients had a good night’s sleep, ate nutritionally throughout the day, had some sort of exercise, and incorporated a daily practice of meditation, I probably would be out of business.
At the start of 2016, I wanted to start embracing more healthy habits. I already knew that for me, it began and ended with sleep. When I get less than seven hours of sleep, I am just not firing on all eight cylinders and pretty much feel lousy and not motivated throughout my day. Conversely, when I get eight or more hours of sleep, I have the energy and motivation to get much more done and enjoy doing it. The benefits and rewards to good sleep are too numerous to mention here, but visit the National Sleep Foundation’s website for more information.
Part of my 2016 wellness plan was going to be around what and how I ate. In the past, my breakfast consisted of three cups of coffee, nothing else. I would power though the day priding myself on the fact that I didn’t need anything to eat. When I got home late at night, I was short-tempered, not present for my family, and ravenous. I would then sit down and eat a meal that could fill up a basketball. Not good.
I am now working with a doctor on proper nutrition, wellness, and exercise. In a nutshell, here’s how I am learning to eat: six small meals a day, starting as soon as I wake up. Not rocket science, just a small protein, healthy carb, and healthy fat at every meal. My metabolism is going strong throughout the day and I feel great. I feel full all the time, and eating nutritiously feels a lot better than eating junk. Your body is wise, and it knows when you are treating it right and rewards you with so many benefits. My family has noticed that my presence and mood have improved…and so have I.
My exercise program started off small and involves doing something nearly every day. The first week of the New Year, I did five minutes of exercise every day except one. That exercise could be walking, climbing the stairs, lifting some weights, shooting baskets with my daughters, etc. In weekly increments, I have added on five more minutes each day and am now up to 70 minutes of daily exercise. I now have to make an appointment with myself and schedule the exercise time or I know it won’t get done. I had to decide what my priorities were. It is “almost” becoming a habit.
Better sleep, nutrition, and exercise are all part of my life now.
But there’s still one more habit that is working for me. All my adult life I had heard how beneficial meditation was, and I tried it numerous times. I would sit down and try to clear and quiet my mind like I thought I was supposed to do. What would happen is my mind would never quiet down, and I just noticed how many damn distracting thoughts I would have and just give up. So, a few years ago, I went to a training put on by the Chopra Center to learn about meditation. Here is what I learned: when we sit in meditation we burn up stress and anxiety. The byproducts of that stress and anxiety getting burned up are the thoughts that come into our heads when we meditate. We were taught to come up with a mantra, a saying, or simply to focus on breath. When we recognized a thought in our head, we just went back to our saying or our breath. There is no way to screw this up, except for not doing it. Whether it was five minutes twice a day or 20, we were promised that if we committed to doing this for 60 days, it would be life changing. For me, it was. I am going on 5 years of sitting daily in meditation, and I even have some spaces where there are no thoughts coming in for a few minutes.
I have good days and bad days, but if I stay the course I know the rewards will continue to materialize. In just a few months, my weight, mood, happiness, energy, and serenity have all changed so much for the better. If I can start doing these four things daily, anyone can. I wish you all success and happiness.
Kirk Johnson is a licensed professional counselor and addictions counselor at South Platte Counseling Center. He teaches at Regis University. His passion is helping people realize their full potential.