Welcome to #practices4life—practical tips for living a happier, healthier, and more peaceful life from Jim Blake, CEO of Unity World Headquarters at Unity Village.
“Here I share techniques I have learned for living a more balanced life. Some of these can be mastered, while some we will “practice” for the rest of our lives. The important thing is to keep trying because with every effort, we get better. And improvement is the goal—to make this life experience better for ourselves and those around us.”—Jim
Hello, friends. With summer wrapping up and school starting and vacation schedules falling to the wayside, you may now be busier than ever as a permanent road warrior traveling between work, practices, games, events, and more. Whether you are an overscheduled parent or just plain overscheduled, this month’s column is for you.
We are going to take a break from the mental aspects of our practice and work on self-care. I can hear it already: “Jim, when do I possibly have time for something like that?” More important, what happens to us if we don’t make the time to nurture our well-being? Here’s a hint, it’s not good for us or anyone in our orbit. So first, let’s define what the different aspects of self-care look like.
There are four pillars to ensure we are functioning at our absolute best. By the way, everything I am about to share with you is scientifically proven at this point in our human evolution; there are countless articles on each of these individual health elements. Due to limited space, I won’t cite the research here, but Google can help you find it.
The first pillar, and maybe the most critical, is sleep. Adults require seven to eight hours of sleep a night. No book, television show, news show, social media stream, or work (especially) should interfere with our sleep. Sleep contributes to better brain function, weight loss, mood enhancement, and immune system function. If your argument is that you are working late at night because it absolutely must be done, my rebuttal is that you are not doing your best work late at night, AND you are setting yourself up for lackluster performance tomorrow! Lack of sleep contributes to lesser overall mind and body function and dramatic mood swings as well as poor decision-making. Read that last part again. Prolonged lack of sleep leads to bad moods, bad decisions, and bad health. Need I say more?
The next pillar is food. A healthy diet is not one-size-fits-all. What works for one is not necessarily the right choice for someone else. But I will say, please eat real food at least three times daily—lots of fruits and vegetables as well as enough protein, especially if you are exercising regularly. The “real food” part is the most important. Foods that are manmade/highly processed contain chemicals that mess with our moods and impact our brain function, decision-making, and sleep patterns. Be mindful of what you put in your body. It really does make a difference.
The third pillar is exercise, any kind (I can hear you booing me). Walking, yoga, dancing around the house, anything to get your heart rate up. Exercise has many positive long-term benefits, not the least of which is that it releases endorphins, the powerful mood enhancers that contribute to a feeling of well-being and stress relief!
The final pillar is hydration. The rule for maximum hydration and ideal system function is a half-ounce of water for every pound of bodyweight. We are 80 percent water, so it is important to stay hydrated to keep our systems functioning at their highest level.
We tend to ignore these pillars because they seem too basic, but in making these four changes, you will not believe how much better you will feel every day. Consider what happens without the first two. Lack of sleep causes poor mental function and altered mood, which usually manifests as crankiness/short temper and poor decision-making. The same holds true with lack of food or poor diet. In fact, a diet lacking in proper nutrition has been proven to have the same or even worse side effects as not eating! So please, get your rest, take your diet seriously, stay hydrated, and exercise a few times a week. This will provide a good foundation, ensure your mood and biological systems are stable and consistent, and help your mental function.
Finally, even with a solid foundation in place, consistently doing the basics described above, we must go further to ensure our overall health and wellness. We must identify something beyond our day-to-day routines that brings us rejuvenation and a sense of renewal. It may be a round of golf, a spa day, a fishing trip. Identify it for yourself and make an intentional effort to schedule it on a regular basis. My personal rule is every six weeks; that is about the maximum amount of time I can go in full-on execution mode before I need a day to just let go and exhale and take a break. Our sense of well-being depends on our commitment to self-care.
So what happens if we don’t do this part? We begin to take on more stress and even resentment. Overwhelming feelings of burn-out, depression, lack of appreciation build up, and that can lead to neglecting the four pillars. Which leads to a snowball effect of poor self-care. And then we don’t treat those around us very well either. All because we didn’t take care of ourselves.
To be the best version of ourselves, in doing whatever we need to do, we need to make ourselves a priority and take time for physical and mental care. First, do it daily with the four pillars and then allow the time needed for a well-deserved break from the routine. There is a powerful connection between rest, diet, mental, and physical health and how we show up in the world. Do yourself and those around you a big favor; practice great self-care! You won’t regret it and neither will they.
This is our practice, and practice makes progress.