“Health is not everything, but without health everything is nothing.” This famous quote by Arthur Schopenhauer has been in the back of my mind since my dad wrote it into my autograph book when I was about 8 years old. At the time, I resented it because it was so mature and reasonable and didn’t sound very fun to me. But it ultimately led me to study Psychology to understand what let’s people flourish in life. And the foundation of that is health – of our body and our mind.
If you want to be a stronger self-leader to achieve your goals or realise your dreams, understanding how to take good care of your body and mind is a prerequisite. Here are 7 lifestyle habits that will achieve exactly that.
1) Sleep and rest
Growth and development of any kind (e.g. muscle growth or personal growth) has two key ingredients: stress and rest. With stress, I mean a good challenge or eustress (i.e. the good type of stress), which means any stress that is manageable. Think of the optimal level of competence needed to be fully engaged or in flow. However, if we’re just constantly ‘on’ or exposing ourselves to stress, even if manageable, we will likely end up feeling burnt out. Therefore, we require rest breaks in between our stress phases.
Rest breaks happen as part of our circadian, 24-hour rhythm in the form of sleep at night (more on this in the next paragraph) or in the form of relaxation during the day. So, ensure that you give yourself rest breaks in between tasks and that you get sufficient and good quality sleep at night.
The importance of regular exercise for overall health is well documented. Most health departments recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate or 15 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per day for adults (or a combination of the two). In addition, it is advised that adults do strength training of all the major muscle groups twice a week. If you’re currently not meeting the guidelines, don’t feel disheartened. A lot of people don’t do anything because they’re overwhelmed and think they will never reach the guidelines anyway. If there’s one thing I’d like you to remember about physical activity guidelines it’s that some is better than none. Taking the stairs instead of the lift does count.
Another important aspect of movement is to sit less. High volumes of sitting, especially when done so in prolonged, unbroken bouts, is linked to many adverse health outcomes, independent from physical activity levels. Sitting itself is not a problem. It’s that we do so much of it these days and often without getting up for hours on end. Too much of anything isn’t good and the same is true for posture. So, try to reduce your overall sitting time throughout the day and break up prolonged bouts of sitting that are 30 minutes or longer. Just get up, have a quick stretch, maybe even see if you can continue what you are doing while standing or moving around for a bit. Just change your posture a little more regularly throughout the day than you usually would.
It’s hard to grasp all the #nutribollocks that is floating the cloud these days. When it comes to diet, there are 3 things that I would recommend:
First of all it’s important how much you eat: it should be enough for you to have enough energy throughout the day, but not too much. That means that, unless you are temporarily trying to put on or lose weight, your caloric intake should roughly equal the amount of energy you expend.
Secondly, it’s important what you eat. It’s best if you look to your health official’s dietary guidelines, as they can vary between countries. A lot of health authorities now recommend the so-called Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is plant-based, which means that it promotes the majority of caloric intake coming from fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts, beans and whole grains, rather than meats. Specifically, it contains daily consumption of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats (e.g. olive oil, or those from avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish); weekly consumption of fish, poultry, beans, eggs and moderate intake of dairy. Variety, i.e. eating lots of different foods, and drinking water to stay hydrated, are also important.
Thirdly, there are a few foods that should be limited or not consumed, including less salt, sugars and saturated and industrially-produced trans-fats, red meats and too much alcohol.
Having said all this, one other problem that is linked to all the diet fads mentioned above is that diet seems to have become somewhat synonymous with religion, an expression of personal beliefs and style, as well as ethical and political opinion. Often, what is overlooked among all this noise is that for us social human folk, food has more than nutritional or caloric purpose. It’s a means for people to get together and celebrate, to comfort, to connect. So by all means, eat well – just also have fun. And for any major dietary changes, please see a qualified dietitian for real diagnosis and guidance, rather than Insta.
4) Don’t do drugs
Duh. And yes, a glass of red at night is completely fine (you're welcome).
5) Manage your stress and practice mind hygiene
Mental health issues are becoming increasingly prevalent in more countries than not. Chronic stress is major contributor, leading to emotional exhaustion or burnout. Unfortunately in developed countries, more people than not consider their lives as stressful. While the causes are as many as they are complex, there are a number of practices that have been shown to counteract stress.
Meditation and mindfulness are two of them. They can be considered under a broader umbrella of relaxation techniques, of which there are several others you can try, such as yoga, tai-chi, or just deep breathing. Slightly related to this is positivity practice, including hope, optimism, gratitude, savouring and negative visualisation. Regular exercise, sufficient sleep and a good diet are also key. But my favourite technique of all is this: performing random acts of kindness.
Random acts of kindness include small gestures like holding a door open for the person behind you, visibly forgiving a mistake made by another driver on the road or writing a note of appreciation for the cleaning staff in your hotel room. Gestures like these have been shown increase happiness of both the recipient happy and the giver – and make them feel less stressed. Win-win. Performing random acts of kindness also has the potential to deepen your connections to others. This is important, because chronic stress is particularly prevalent in people who have little to no social support - which brings us to the next point.
6) Surround yourself with people who value you
People who value you make you feel good when you’re around them. They cheer you on when you’re winning and pick you up when you’re down or stuff up. Too often, we spend time with people who are negative, take advantage of us and leave us feel drained. Often, it’s because we’re used to it, because we’ve been in the relationship or friendship with them for a long time. But the quality of our social network and support have a huge mental and emotional impact on us. So, ask yourself which relationships in your life are good and healthy and which ones aren’t. And then re-distribute your time and energy accordingly.
7) Stay safe
Last but not least is safety. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety forms part of the utmost fundament of all human needs. Today, we know that the feeling of being safe is tightly linked to subjective wellbeing and health. So what does it mean to practice safety?
Safety is typically interpreted as physical safety. This includes wearing protective gear to reduce risk of injury during risky physical activities (such as when snowboarding or riding a motorcycle), being sun smart (such as by minimising direct sun exposure and applying sun cream), practicing hygiene and safe sex to prevent disease infection.
But it also includes emotional and mental safety. This applies to the interaction with other people, where establishing and mutually respecting boundaries are key to providing safety. Possibly one of the most vulnerable places for personal attack is the virtual world of social media.
Cyberbullying is a major concern not just for millennials but for anyone who uses social media. It seems like social media platforms are home to many who like to point fingers, force their opinions on others and do so in ways that can only be described as malicious. This can quickly lead to emotional and mental struggles. But also the exhaustion and other negative impacts that are associated with social media use in general, such as constant social comparison or feelings of loneliness, require establishment of personal boundaries around exposure in order to be avoided.
Personal emotional and mental safety is also important irrespective of other people. This involves monitoring and acknowledging feelings like exhaustion or general disinterest, anxiousness, feelings of overwhelm or absence of feelings altogether. And if there is something that does not seem right, the number one thing to do it to ask for help.
When we’re (physically) sick, many of us would never hesitate to go to the doctor’s. Yet when it comes to emotional or mental struggles, we often fail to seek help. The reasons for this are complex and involve many variables, such as stigma. But the first point of asking for help doesn’t always have to be going straight to the doctor’s or psychologist (also there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that!). If you’re not sure, telling a person you trust, such as a friend or family member, and asking them for support can be a perfect first step. Asking for help when we’re struggling is one of the most important habits we can establish to stay safe.
There you go. I hope you enjoyed this (rather lengthy) post on lifestyle habits for self-leaders. If you did, you can leave me some love in the form of a like or comment, share the post with your faves or connect with me on my socials.
What is one thing you can do for your health today?
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