Most people these days can reel off a list of things we need to do to stay healthy - exercise, nutrition, water, sleep etc. The elements of what I call the Outer Game of Health. But how often do we follow our own good advice?
The chatter in our head says: "I'm too tired". "It doesn't matter." "I can't be bothered". "I'll start tomorrow." These inner thoughts, what I call the chattering monkeys, can often be our harshest critic.
What goes on inside us, our thoughts and feelings, colours everything. I call learning to take care of our inner world the Inner Game of Health, and this is the seat of Mental and Emotional Wellbeing, MEWB.
The main reason we get stuck in damaging habits in the first place, and fail to stick with good ones, is how we feel on the inside. All too often, we feel tense, upset, exhausted or wired. Or there's some distant background hum of discontent. We jack ourselves up first thing with a double espresso, get edgy and eat a sugary substance when our energy slumps around 3pm, or crash out in front of a box set with a bottle at the end of the day, then end up going to sleep too late.
How can we feel better about ourselves, our life and the people in it, so we can choose to do the things that we know work for us? To not even want to over-indulge in food, drink, sex, digital devices, in the first place? How can we improve our relationship to that endless chatter in our heads and feel more comfortable in our own skin? Indeed, is that even possible?
The answer is a resounding Yes. Get the Inner Game right, and the stuff that makes up the Outer Game will fall into place. Because we feel more at peace with ourselves, more genuinely motivated to care for ourselves in the same way we want to take care of the people that we love. Here's an interesting question. If you were to write a list of the people you love, would you be on it?
Let's look at some proven ways you can try out to maintain and improve your MEWB in 2017.
1. One x One
For one minute once an hour, take time out to Unplug, Slow Down and Breathe - U.S.B. Dial down the stress regularly throughout the day to be more productive, creative and focussed, more peaceful and refreshed. Use your USB whenever you feel frazzled, upset or off kilter inside yourself.
2. The Mind Gym
Set aside 10-15 minutes every day to sit in a quiet, comfy place. Focus your attention on your breathing, slowing and deepening it a little. When you notice your attention has wandered off, focus it back on your breath. By doing this, you are changing your brain and building up important mental muscles that leave you feeling calmer, happier and clearer, more present.
3. Follow your passion
Do things you love. Schedule them in on a regular basis. Things that leave you feeling inspired and energised. Things that give you a chance to be you and express who you are, without judgement, comparison or "shoulds".
4. Fabulous friendships
Nurture relationships with people you trust and who genuinely care for you. Do some pruning in your social circle if necessary. Quality beats quantity every time.
Make a list of things past that have upset you and that you are still carrying around with you, like boulders in a rucksack. Ask yourself what it would take to let go, move on, and forgive. Include yourself in this exercise.
This Japanese word describes a concept we don't have in English. Every morning, create a big-picture purpose for your day, your Ikagai. Write it down. Like smiling no matter how you feel (which, by the way, is proven to elevate your mood). Or listening more. Or having more self-compassion.
7. Say "No" More
Be honest about what you can, can't, and don't want to take on and have in your life. Have healthy boundaries and be realistic, rather than trying to be something that you're not. Be true to yourself.
8. Doing good does you good
Find ways to give your time, energy, care, and consideration to the people around you. Chemical changes take place in your brain and body that benefit your own wellbeing, as well as the recipients of your kindness and generosity.
9. Keep learning
Whether it's a new activity, language, or life skill, cultivate a mindset of open curiosity. Be curious about what is possible, about yourself. We are all learning, healing and growing.
10. The art of living
Don't expect to iron out the ups and downs, or remove any prospect of challenge or adversity in your life. The Art of Living is not to control it but to meet it with equanimity, perspective and compassion.
"To identify what really matters in our life, to acknowledge the potential we all have within ourselves and to apply joyful effort in actualising it are some of the essentials keys to human flourishing." - Matthieu Ricard
"The Mindfulness Playbook" is out now:https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01ERV0WBE/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1