Disclaimer: we cannot avoid dying. Death is universal. However, we do have control over how colorfully we live.
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
I have so many clients who live with this very challenge…both in personal training and in life coaching. I don’t judge them for the challenge, but it seems to be more and more widespread. What can we do to change our lives and priorities around so that regardless of how long we get to live, we are able to live fully?
When I have had success with my clients in changing this scenario, it has always started with very small changes that accumulate into new, healthier habits. This is almost always the best way to effect long-standing, real change. So, we start at the beginning.
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money.” Ok, most people are not willing to change careers and jump off the hamster wheel, and that is fine. However, if you are already tired when you wake up in the morning, you won’t be more tired if you get up 30 minutes earlier and walk or run before work. However, your heart, lungs, and muscles will thank you all day long. This early morning cardio is also an amazing time to connect with nature and the outdoors…but even if you are on a treadmill in your basement or living room, most people start clearing their minds and problem solving while they exercise. They don’t even do it on purpose! There is often a clarity of mind, a living in the present, that comes automatically by putting one foot in front of the other. I get some of my very best ideas in this way…or I get a new perspective on a problem that was stumping me. Feelings of stress can diminish too. Running for 30 minutes does not change your cranky boss or the long commute…external factors…but it can change the way that you respond to these factors, and that can make all the difference in your day.
The other thing that you have control over so that you do not sacrifice your health in order to make money is the food that you put into your mouth. From the time that you take the spoon out of your mother’s hand when you are about 12 months old until you die, you have a lot of control over this. Before this time, when you are being spoon-fed nasty mashed peas, I agree, you have no say. Just open your mouth. But once you are the one paying for the food, choosing the food, and putting it into your body, you have to take responsibility for your actions and decisions. These decisions are crucial!!! First of all, don’t skip breakfast. What you are telling yourself is that you are not worth the 30 seconds it takes to eat an apple, make a smoothie, consume a previously cooked hard-boiled egg. Something. If you can recognize that it came from the earth and not from an astronaut lab, even better. Then, about 3 -5 times during the day, seek food that you recognize. Salads, vegetables, fruit…egg whites, chicken, tuna, tofu, chickpeas, cottage cheese. There are so many choices. In general, if it comes in crinkly wrapping, it is not food and not your friend and your body and heart do not know what to do with these. If it grew, walked, swam, or flew, there is a good chance that you can digest it. But, do make the time to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and ideally a healthy snack of almonds, an apple, something easy…in the afternoon. Your blood sugar will thank you. Your waistline will thank you. Your co-workers will thank you.
“Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.” True. It is so much less expensive to stay healthy than to get healthy. Keep working yourself into the ground. See how it feels to try to come back from a stroke, a heart attack, or a chronic fatigue syndrome. Or add exercise, good nutrition, and a little more sleep to your life and avoid all of that. I know I said to get up a little earlier to exercise…with that will hopefully come the realization that one more hour of tv at the end of the day is not adding that much quality to your life. Cut it out. Go to bed. Have some herbal tea instead of that beer or glass of wine. You will sleep better and wake up with more energy.
“And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” To me, this sounds the worst of all!! Life does not come with a dress rehearsal. This is it. This is as good as it gets. It doesn’t get better later or tomorrow or soon. It gets better right now when you start paying attention to it, when you take a deep breath, when you let yourself laugh loudly and love fully. If you have concerns about the future, write them down. Look at them. Are they based on reality? If so, make a plan to offset the fears or risks and follow the plan. If the fears are not based on fact, let them go. Once you are following your plans (financial, life, being organized, eating well, etc), you really can let many of those worries fly out the window. Now, open your eyes. Look around. Take out a pen and paper and write a gratitude list. This may seem awkward at first, but give it a shot. I do this every morning as soon as I wake up. I write the date and “I am grateful for” with 1-5 right after that and quickly fill it in. Some days I have to add more lines! You’ll be surprised at how this makes you pay attention to your day. There are so many amazing things that happen every single day. When you feel yourself worrying about the future, see if there is something you can do about it, take the action, tell the truth, and let it go. When you feel yourself regretting the past, see if there is a wrong you must right, do it, and move on. If you can learn a lesson from your mistake, it was worth making, but not if you then get stuck thinking about it forever.
Don’t die never having lived. What a waste of a gift. Live right now. Live well. Be happy. Be kind. Live with your heart wide open and see what happens. It is a great adventure, after all.
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