BACK TO BASICS

In our quest to discover as many secrets to an amazing life as we can, there are many things that can get in our way. One of them is overwhelm. There are so many things to incorporate into our lives that it may prevent us from even beginning. There is meditation, visualization, positive self-talk, getting into the right mindset and a million other secrets and tools we can use. Much like my motivation for writing A Happy Life for Busy People, today I want to take it down to the basic principles that we can use to begin our life transformation. Sure you can deliberate over how to create the perfect vision board or what affirmations will bring about the biggest positive change. Before getting hung up on these details, we should just start with the basics. Oh, and if you are already on your self-improvement journey, trust me, you will benefit from going back to basics.

We are going to use the picture above for our guide. The four principles listed are not only good basics to start with, but they play off each other just like it shows in the picture. Let us start on top with Positive Thinking. If we approach life with the right mindset it can make all of the difference. There are so many ways to develop that mindset feel free to explore what works for you. One of the ways that has helped me the most is having more gratitude in my life. It is very hard to feel grateful and not be positive. No matter what is going on in our lives, there is always, always something to be grateful for. What if your life is a total mess right now and you are just deciding you have to do something because you find yourself on rock bottom? That your journey is just beginning and you will be improving your life a little each day (even though it is important to remember there will still be ups and downs) that is something to be not only grateful for, but excited about. Another great way to start to develop a positive mindset is to try and find the beauty in everything. As you drive to work you can notice the flowers growing in your neighbors yard. Have a coworker who really gets on your last nerve? Be grateful there is someone to help you strengthen your patience and positivity. Not to mention, they help you be grateful for all of the nice people in your life.

Starting to think positively brings us to our next basic tool – Feel Good. When you begin to think good thoughts, you begin to have good feelings. Nothing too tricky there. What is important to think about is what does feeling good do for us? On the most basic level, that kind of is the whole purpose of life. Think about why we do anything in our lives, it is either to feel good or avoid feeling bad. You may be thinking, “If that is true Neil, how come I go to work every day at a job that doesn’t feel good?” because the feeling of not paying your bills and living on the street would feel a lot worse. Even altruistic activities we do fit into this category. I used to help at a meal program once a month. The main reason I did so was because I wanted to give back. Why did I want to give back? I felt it was the right thing to do. Guess what? Doing the right thing had me feeling good. When we feel good we are also far more likely to try new things. This can lead to an expanding of our life. Which can, in turn, lead to more things to have us feeling good. To me, the most important reason to feel good is because it makes it easier to take actions that lead to a healthier and more productive lifestyle. Think about your own life, when are you most likely to stray from your healthier eating or exercise routine? When you are stressed? When you find yourself feeling down?

That leads us to the third step in our basic life improvement series – Regular Exercise. While some of you might be cringing or debating about concluding your reading here, rest assured this may not be as tough as you think. Especially if we have focused on developing Positive Thinking and Feeling Good, this will be a little easier. Regular exercise does not mean going to the gym everyday, unless of course that works for you. No, regular exercise, especially in the beginning, can be any physical activity you enjoy. Do you like basketball? Head to the playground and shoot around for an hour a day. Perhaps walking in nature and looking for different kinds of birds is your thing? Then make a trip to different parks several times a week. Maybe you would much rather be shopping than doing any kind of exercise? How about a walk around the mall? You could even get a little resistance training depending on how much you buy. Just make sure to avoid laps around the food court as it may undo all of your hard work. You can even mix a couple of these together in a week. The secret here is to find something that is fun for you, yet requires some physical activity. Another great tool to use here is an activity tracker. You don’t necessarily need to purchase an expensive Fitbit. Most smart phones have free apps that allow you to track much of your activity as well as other healthy aspects. Even a simple step counter can be fun. Set a daily and weekly goal for yourself and then find fun ways to reach it.

I saved this one for last because for many of us, myself included, it can be the most difficult. Eat Better. That sounds simple enough, and it really is. Think about what eating better entails. No crazy diets. No skipping this and having to eat that. It is just eating better in general. Less pizza, more vegetables. I know, writing that line was even a little painful for me. Still, eating healthier is not that tricky and like regular exercise, does not have to be that painful. Let us take the example of eating more vegetables. What is your favorite? Margie’s is corn. I rather enjoy green beans. We try to work in a vegetable with each meal at home. If they are ones we like, we are far more likely to eat them. The more vegetables we consume, the less room we have for stuff that is not so good for us. Think of snacks too. This is a place where a lot of damage can be done to our diets. Try to find a healthy snack you enjoy and make it convenient. Do you enjoy snacking on carrots or cucumbers? Have some washed, sliced and ready to be enjoyed. This is where a little meal prep can make a big difference. The same trick can be used for healthy meals. Think of a healthy dish and prepare it ahead of time.

From my experience, the greatest challenge to Eating Better is time. We are running around with a million different things to do and our diets are the sacrifice. We often settle for fast food because…well…it is fast. Plan accordingly. Perhaps on a board in your kitchen write down meals that are quick to prepare but still healthy. If you don’t even have time for that, make note of some of the ‘healthiest’ meals you can order out. Here is another GREAT way to motivate yourself to eat healthy. Note how many calories you burn doing certain activities. For example, on an elliptical machine I know I can burn 700 calories (give or take) in an hour. If you run a mile you burn, on average, 150 calories. These numbers vary depending on the individuals, but serve as a good example. Next, look at what you eat. There are 563 calories in a Big Mac. Doing the math, you would 3.5 miles to burn off one Big Mac. When you are sweating and near hyperventilating at the end of your workout and find that you burned 700 calories, are you really that keen to replace 563 of them with one greasy sandwich? Now, there are roughly 3500 calories in a pound of fat. Multiply that by how many pounds you care to lose. This is how many more calories you will have to burn than you consume. This may seem like an insurmountable number. A mere 10 pounds is 35,000 calories. This is why it is important to understand that weight loss takes time. You can also understand why losing 2 to 3 pounds a week is a great accomplishment.

Working on these 4 basic principles can transform your life in big ways. It can also be easy and fun. Looking for things to be grateful for and finding the beauty in everything? That’s fun. Finding different things that make us feel good? Also a fun check mark there. Regular exercise fun? Yes! If it is an activity that we enjoy. Eating healthy can be fun when we understand it does not have to involve restrictive diets and starvation. We need to incorporate more of the healthy foods we enjoy and even experiment with new healthy recipes to dazzle our taste buds while at the same time helping our waistlines. These 4 areas are broad categories and leave plenty of room for customizing it to fit our individual liking.

WORK ON YOUR DIET AND CHANGE THE WORLD

Here is one of those fabulous things I happen across on my social media viewing. I was blessed to have many friends who shared this exact picture. More importantly, I believe they also genuinely feel that way. Once again, I must mention how grateful I am to have people in my life that feel and act this way.

In a world where many people may feel confused or concerned how to speak to and treat one another, there is one guiding principle that can make things a little easier and a lot less stressful. That principle is to have a genuine love and appreciation for all of us sharing this planet. It can be a hard thing to do at times, but if you can show love to everyone, including those who may seem not to deserve it, you will have a truly amazing life.

I know you might be thinking, “That sounds great Neil, but how can I learn to do that?” A first great step would be to watch your diet. You might be wondering how watching what you eat can help you to become a more loving and compassionate individual. Your diet is not only the food you consume. Your diet also consists of the music you listen to, the books you read, the people you hang out with and everything you consume not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. At the end of this post I will give you a little healthy treat for your diet. Make sure you read on for that.

If you spend your time in fear of what words or phrases may be acceptable these days, or you just are concerned with saying the wrong thing, there is a simple solution to that as well – become an encouraging. This world that can seem crazy and chaotic is woefully short on reasons to be encouraged. Help someone heal. Help them believe in themselves. If this is your intentions, your heart will guide you to the right words.

By having and more importantly showing love for each other, we do something wonderfully important – we help people believe in themselves. There are many great agents of change, spiritual and cultural leaders that have doubted themselves at some point. Without their contribution, the world would have been a darker place. The great thing about this is that there is always opportunities to help someone believe in themselves and in turn help them change the world.

Don’t believe it? Think of some of these examples. You encourage a young lady who is learning the art of cake decorating. Instead of giving up when her wedding cake looks more like abstract art than a culinary masterpiece, she tries again. She remains confident and goes on to create edible works of art. How does this change the world? Imagine the joy that adds to every special occasion her cakes are a part of. They will add something special to every event. A heart-melting sigh when the bride and groom see their cake on their wedding day. The ear to ear grin on the young child when they see their favorite character sitting right on top of their birthday cake.

Perhaps it is a young writer? Maybe pondering if the words he shares truly impact the lives of others. How would an encouraging word help this young fellow and how would it then change the world? Perhaps it would encourage him to continue to develop his craft and keep sharing his words knowing someone is listening. Then those words could reach a lost and lonely soul halfway across the world and bring them joy. Those words could then be shared from Armenia to Zimbabwe. Changing the day for many.

These are totally random and hypothetical examples, but they hold true just the same. We never know what someone is facing in life or where their heart and mind may be at. Maybe it is encouraging someone singing on a microphone for the first time, or the lonely kid sitting by themselves at lunch. Just letting these people know that you have love for them will make their world brighter, the world as a whole brighter and just might save their life.

As promised I am going to give you a little something good to add to your diet and will help you to remember to encourage and have love for people of all kinds. If you click the link below you will be treated to a great performance by the artist Michael Franti. Not only is Michael a great ambassador for love and peace, he represents a lot of us. He was adopted as a young child. His mother was European and his father a mix of African and Native American. He has a sister who is a lesbian and a brother who is a police officer. Well-rounded you might say. I strongly encourage you to click on the link below to listen to this song for yourself. Feel free to leave your comments and suggestions for encouraging and having love for each other below.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW AND LISTEN TO THE GREAT MICHAEL FRANTI SONG

DIET VS. HEALTH

This is a great comparison in different thinking. Although this is obviously written for physical health and weight-loss, the same can be said for going on a mental diet. Changing from a life filled with stress and pleasing others to one of inner peace and spreading love can be just like the diet verses health comparison.

The circled part of the two words is an important element to think about as well. When you go on a diet, what you are doing to both your body and your mind is stressful. You focus on things like ‘cheating’ on your diet. You think of all the food you are restricted and forbidden from eating. It becomes about suffering through this period so you can go back to eating the terrible way that got you this way in the first place. Focused on more healthy eating is entirely different. You don’t restrict yourself as much, you just think, “would this help my body or hurt my body?” If you have a day where you do not eat as healthy as you should, you focus on reducing them while increasing the amount of healthy meals. This in turn lowers your stress which can help you lose weight anyway.

When embarking on any lifestyle change, whether that is diet, exercise, attitude, gratitude or a host of others there is one thing you should keep in mind. It is not so much about a specific process as it is about progress. Working on being a little better than you were the day before. Print this picture out if you like or even just print out the two words circled as they are for a powerful reminder. 

YOU WON’T BE INJURED

Here is a point to ponder – what does it hurt to be positive? I hear all of you pessimists out there screaming that you will constantly be disappointed, and to some extent that may be true. Really disappointment is tied to expectations. If you maintain a positive attitude and strive to find the best in everything it is very hard to have a bad day.

When you first start out it is a little rocky and you could be tempted to give up when life starts to go sideways. We all can feel that way at times. Once you develop positivity as a lifestyle it becomes easier to maintain. It is like anything we start. Take diets and working out for example. If you decide you are going to “Start working out” or “go on a diet” that is a lot different than “Committing to living a healthy and active lifestyle. A diet is not the same as “committing to eating healthier”.

There are two very distinct and important differences. One is a trial. I am going to go on this diet or go to the gym and there really is no long term commitment. As a matter of fact, most diets advise you not to follow them for a prolonged period of time. That should tell you that they may not be the best for your health. Committing to a healthy eating program or a more active lifestyle also gives you a little more freedom. From a psychological standpoint diets usually involve you ‘giving up’ something. A workout program entails you ‘having’ to go to the gym. One leaves you feeling deprived, one leaves you feeling forced. When you commit to a more active lifestyle that can start with parking far away and walking to the store. Eating healthier can start by adding more vegetables to dinner. These are things you are adding to your life. This will give you a much better chance of sticking with it in the long term.

It also gives you options. Maybe the gym is not your thing? All of the sweaty people and the occasional grunting individual can be a bit much for me at times. That is why I enjoy taking my bike out and going for a ride. I also enjoy walks around the neighborhood. Not only does it allow me to be active, but get to know some neighbors as well. When it comes to eating healthy I enjoy trying new dishes, learning about exciting meal prep options and a host of other things. I still have my occasional pizza or nacho night because I enjoy those things and feel it is good to enjoy them in moderation.

My main point I would like to make is living a more positive and rewarding life is the same. You do not have to start by walking on rainbows and sprinkling glitter everywhere you go. Start with whatever feels right for you. Maybe smile at one stranger a day? Perhaps mail out one thank you card a week? There are a million different options. Once you add one you may choose to add another because it feels so good. Do it at your own pace and when you feel it is right.

WHY WE ARE WARRIORS

A lot of us are struggling to keep up with resolutions we made a little over a week ago. Some of my friends I know have already broken theirs. This can leave you feeling like a failure. I am here to remind you it is ok to try and fail as long as you do not fail to try. Being a warrior is a daily battle. Life is about the daily battles. Some you will win, some you may lose. The goal in life is to do our best to win more than we lose.

Whether that battle is staying true to your fitness plan or even to your faith, it is a daily challenge. Even though we do our best, we may not win every day. A true warrior dusts themselves off every day and begins with a fresh and positive attitude no matter what yesterday has delivered. It is important to remember the war itself will never be won. Everyday we must face our demons and overcome the challenges not only from without, but even harder from within.

When we fail to keep a resolution or goal we have set, we must use that to fuel our motivation to do better next time. Winston Churchill defined success as “Going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” That is exactly what we must do to become successful. If your cheat day on your new healthy eating plan was taco Tuesday and that turned into burger Wednesday and pizza Friday, just start even more determined on Saturday. We all try and fail, just make sure you never fail to try. 

TRANSFORM TOGETHER

There are many good places to meet friends for social reasons.Here is one that not only accomplishes that, but has an added bonus of science. The science behind making good friends? Before we get ahead of ourselves, let me back up and talk a little more about the social pluses of today’s place to make friends. Today’s place to make friends and generally improving your life is the gym. Before you start rolling your eyes and clicking off this website, let me assure you I can relate to your doubts.

At the gym I am usually in a state close to hyperventilating, dripping with sweat, smelling less than ideal and in short, not my ideal self. Why on earth would this be a good place to meet someone? First of all, chances are most people there are in a similar state. Second, all of you already have one thing in common, you are chasing the goal of being healthier. Sure, your goals may be different. It may be you are facing a serious health condition, maybe you are trying to get in shape for your Jamaican vacation or you just want to fit into the clothes in your closet better. That gives enough variety to start some interesting discussions.

Here comes the science. The first one has to do more with working out than making friends, but it good to know just the same. It would fit under the category of psychological science. When working to obtain our fitness goals having a workout partner dramatically increases our chances of success. We find it easy to make excuses to ourselves, but most of us tend to feel a lot worse if we let someone else down. Having a partner that can not only talk us into the gym when we don’t feel like going, but hold us accountable when we don’t make it, will have our butts cursing on the treadmill far more often than when we try to go it alone. Adding to the fact two heads are always better than one when it comes to figuring out how to use that complex machine you never see anyone on but looks like it could really help your fitness.

The second half of the science as to why the gym is such a good place to make friends is even more impressive. When we exercise the brain releases ‘feel good chemicals’. These chemicals are called endorphins. No, they are not the cute animals that swim around the ocean. Those are dolphins. They do, however, cause very similar reactions in our bodies and brains. Endorphins, again the chemical not the aquatic animal, interact with receptors in your to reduce your perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling in the body. They have been compared to a natural form of morphine.

Imagine everyone you meet being on morphine. There would be a lot less conflict and a lot more mellow happy people. That is exactly what happens after we work out. It is also something I recommend couples try working into their routine. Spending time around someone who has just experienced the rush of chemicals compared to natural morphine should be pretty easy. If both parties are experiencing that feeling such as a workout partner or your loving spouse, great feeling are bound to occur. As the new year approaches lots of your friends will join gyms and those gyms usually run specials to get people to join. Why not find a friend to make that commitment with you? Can’t find a friend who is looking to get healthy? Join yourself and begin to talk to people there. Trust me when I tell you most people would be more than happy to talk about their workouts, diet and fitness routine. I don’t know if this is due to endorphins or just the fact they love to have people working with them.

Try taking and making friends at the gym. You won’t be disappointed. As an added bonus, you will become healthier and happier yourself.

HOW TO BEAT YOUR COMPETITION

 

Competition. Everyone has someone they are competing against. A coworker for a job. A person on the team for a position. Maybe even the violin player next to you so you can get first chair. There are even healthier forms of completion. Competing with your lover to see who can be more romantic. Competing with a friend to see who can eat healthy for the longest and who can make it to the gym more days this week.

While all of those may indeed be examples of competition, I think the real competition can be found within ourselves. There is an old Cherokee tale of the two wolves inside each one of us. In short, there are two wolves inside each one of us, a good wolf and a bad wolf. Each one wants to be in control and they will fight to gain control over our mind and body. The simple way to figure out which one will win? The one you feed the most. That is the real competition. It happens inside each and every one of us. The picture above gives plenty of examples.

Let me put a few more out there and see if they sound familiar. You know you should get up early and go to the gym before work but you hit snooze because it is cold out and you are tired. You just fed the bad wolf. You finally go the gym and put in a good workout. You fed the good wolf. On the way home from the gym you stop at the all-you-can-eat pizza place and have…well…all you can eat. You fed the bad wolf. You know you should apologize for something you said to a friend, but you don’t because your ego convinces you that you will look weak or bad. You fed the bad wolf. You talk about your neighbor/coworker/friend behind their back. You fed the bad wolf. You helped a complete stranger just because they needed it. You fed the good wolf.

Our lives are filled with examples of this over and over everyday. It is a never-ending…competition. The competition you must win is on the inside. This is a competition we will be in for the rest of our lives. Some days we may win, some days we may lose. Like any other competition, the more we practice, the more we train, the more we learn from our loses as well as our victories the better chance we stand in winning tomorrow.

WATCHING YOUR DIET

People are so careful about their diets today. Gluten-free, Paleo, low-carb, high-fat. It seems every day there is another healthy way that we should all be eating. Then there are the new allergies that people have to look out for. Some are allergic to nuts. Some people cannot consume dairy products or shellfish. In other words, these days people are being far more discerning as to what they put in their bodies. All this is good. It is good that we are eating with the idea of helping our bodies function at peak efficiency.

Ironically, and somewhat tragic to me, is that is where the discernment stops. We spend our days listening to music that is sometimes filled with violence and a total lack of respect. We watch television shows where characters try to get laughs by putting each other down with sarcastic barbs. We read stories in the newspaper, online and social media (more about that tomorrow) that are filled with harsh judgments, political rancor and other drama. Then at the end of the day we wonder why our energy is drained and we feel stressed out.

Like the picture above mentions, we need to mindful of the things we put into our body emotionally, spiritually, and physically. We will do our best to avoid that sweet treat that will only end up giving us cavities and some extra pounds to carry around with us. We should take the same approach on deciding if what we are going to consume with our eyes, ears, mind and spirit will serve us or contribute to our daily downfall. Will reading that article about the latest mass shooting really bring anything good into our lives? Does being inundated with the latest chapters of what is wrong with the world give us anything but a sinking feeling of depression and a sense of hopelessness?

Am I saying we have to be worried about every little thing we watch, read, listen to or even people we hang around? Not at all. That will only cause you to be stressed out about the things that can be unconsciously stressing you out. That would be…well…very stressful. What I am asking you is to be more aware of what is going into your body. In the beginning especially it can be hard to think of I have to get rid of that or I have to stop doing that. That can leave you feeling like your brain is fighting you and with a feeling of deprivation. As I do in all of my practices, here I advocate increasing the positive to decrease the negative.

How do we do that? Do your best to include reading a few pages of something inspirational. Those Chicken Soup for the Soul books work well. Filled with short inspiring stories that fill you with joy, they can add a little something special to your day. On this site and in my book we talk about creating a Happy Playlist of songs that bring cheer to your day. Spend time with people who make you laugh, smile and bring your spirit to life. As far as social media, we will delve into that tomorrow. If you have any other suggestions for things to add to your Diet feel free to leave them in the comments below.

THE PATH TO ETERNAL BEAUTY

Look in any magazine or watch any reality show and you will run across the same thing, everyone is trying to find the key to eternal youth and beauty. There are ads for creams, lotions, even cosmetic surgery has been refined to an in and out process. There is a new cool laser that can make your fat cells disappear. People spend millions of dollars a year on both hair removal and hair restoration. No matter how many advances or your financial ability to obtain them, one thing is for certain, eventually they will fade.

Do not misunderstand me. I believe there is plenty of physical improvements that make sense to do from not only an appearance stand point, but from a health stand point as well. Having dental work done will not only increase your chances of smiling, adding beauty right there, but help your health in many ways. Engaging in physical exercise will not only have your figure looking fit and trim, but help your heart and circulatory system run efficiently as well. Choosing a healthier way of eating over a crash fad diet will pay dividends for years to come.

Considering the amount of money we spend on items in the first category that serve only as a temporary cover up at best, we certainly could do better. Even the time, energy and effort we spend on items in the second category will only take us so far if we continue to ignore the single most important category to increase our physical appeal. The area of our life we should address first is often relegated to an after thought.

What is the area of our life that will bring us the greatest return on investment in regards to our beauty? It is our spirit, our heart, our inner peace. This may sound a bit cliché to many of you, but it is true. How many times have you come across someone who may not be your normal physical ‘cup of tea’ as it were, but something just attracted you to them? We all like to be around people who make us laugh, smile and enjoy life more. On the flip side, even if the person we are with has graced the cover of a million magazines, if they suck our spirit dry and leave us feeling emotionally drained there is no way we would want to be around them.

How do we invest in this portion of our lives? The answer is simple. Invest in ourselves. When we work to become better as individuals, we have more to offer each other and the world at large. Do something to refresh your spirit. Discover new ways to cultivate joy, engage in activities that make you smile. Foster an attitude of gratitude. Always look for the best in others. If you do these simple things and any others that will lead to an improved you, before long you will become more beautiful from the inside out. The upside here is the more you do this, the greater the beauty becomes. Keep it up and this beauty will never fade. No pills, lotions, fad diets or insane workouts needed.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE 4-MINUTE MILE

Let me start by letting you all in on a few secrets. First, I do not, nor have I ever run a 4-minute mile. After eating all of the delicious meals Margie makes, I would be lucky to run a 40-minute mile. Also this post is not about running, it is about the power of belief.

You may have heard how powerful your beliefs are. You may have even heard they have a large influence in your life. You may have even scoffed at these two ideas. I am here to take this one step further and tell you that your beliefs can not only influence your life, but influence the entire world! Sound a little crazy and far-fetched?  Let us look at the history of the 4-minute mile and I will let you decide for yourself.

Humans have existed on this planet for a very long time in some form for fashion. Depending on your belief the length varies, but at the very least it has been many thousands of years. In that time, prior to the above date in 1954, no human had ever run a 4-minute mile. In fact, until that date, it was believed (there is that word again) that is was physically impossible for a human to run that fast. We were told our heart would explode, lungs could not handle it and that the physical make-up would not allow it. After much pizza and rum that still holds true for me, but I digress.

Enter Roger Bannister, a British athlete set to compete in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki where he finished fourth in the 1500 meters. This strengthened his resolve to break the 4-minute mile which he did at Oxford on May 6th, 1954, running 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. He proved what many had said was impossible.

That is not the coolest part of the story. As we discussed the amount of people who ran that fast prior to that day in May were zero. Roger Bannister’s record, however, fell after only 46 days! Since then over 1000 people have raced at less than a 4-minute mile. How is this possible? Did human genetics suddenly change? Did the world suddenly get faster? How do we go from zero people doing it for thousands of years, to over a thousand in a little over 50? What changed?

The only thing that changed was the belief that it was possible. This was first done by Roger Bannister visualizing himself doing it so much that it became believable to him. After he accomplished it people everywhere now could believe it was possible for them as well. If this is true about an athletic accomplishment that has stood since the evolution of man, isn’t it true about your own life as well?  That business you want to start is not impossible. The weight loss you want to achieve, it is possible. You want to beat that addiction? It is possible! When others, or maybe even the person in the mirror, tell you something is impossible for you to do remember the story of the 4-minute mile.If you see me at the gym, forget all about a 4-minute mile.