Have you ever been told by someone; ‘stop stressing,’‘don’t stress’ or ‘there’s nothing to be stressed about’? When someone says that to you, do you just want to slap them? I know I do! They talk as if it’s not a big deal, right? When actually, for you and for me, it is a big deal. If whatever it is wasn’t a big deal for us, we wouldn’t be stressing about it, so it’s important to validate our stress. Probably more important, however, is to understand why we have it, the damage it’s potentially causing and how we can break the stress cycle.
My latest podcast Feed the brain to be stress resilient, with Dr Delia McCabe has literally blown my mind and given me a totally new perspective on stress and how to manage it. It’s been a long-held belief of mine that we create our own stress with the thoughts we focus on and the perspective with which we look at things. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still believe that, but there is another very significant aspect at play here, which Delia explained to me on this podcast. You can try as hard as you like to have the right mindset, learn new things and deal with stress the best you can, but if your brain isn’t being fed to allow it to function optimally, all the strategies to manage stress, remain calm and stay in control will be much more difficult. She used the analogy of building a house, and that you can’t just build the roof, or even the walls, or even the floor. The most important part of any building is the foundation. Without it, you will end up with a pile of rubble. Many people’s lives are rubble because they haven’t been aware of the proper foundation to build to ensure they are fully able to cope with the demands of life.
Delia has spent many years researching the field of nutritional neuroscience and what she has discovered about the nutritional impact on brain function and hormone production is game-changing. I am going to do a terrible job trying to relay this information, so I strongly recommend you listen to the podcast to get it straight from Delia. However, she explains that stress is very greedy from a nutritional point of view. For the brain to produce the hormones adrenaline, cortisol, serotonin and melatonin it requires us to consume significant nutrient fuel to allow these hormones to be produced in the quantities we need.
The immediate effect of stress on the body is a release of adrenaline and cortisol, the fight or flight hormones. They are useful hormones, but in too much quantity can be damaging, and need to be balanced by more healing hormones. So, if we don’t have a good nutritional foundation, then these two hormones will gobble up all the available nutrients and leave nothing for the body to produce serotonin, which is the body’s calming hormone or melatonin which helps us sleep. Wow! This is mind-blowing information if you really understand it. The stress cycle you may be currently on, can be simply broken by ensuring that your foundation is strong and that your body has the stores of nutrients it needs to feed all hormone production.
If you needed another reason to start eating better, that’s a pretty powerful one. I am not going to bore you with what you should eat, because you already know it, and Delia goes into detail on the podcast and in her books and blogs. What I do want to ask you is, do you want to break the stress cycle you may be on? Do you want to have better moods and stronger relationships with the people you care about? Do you want to be more productive, make more money and live on a beach somewhere? Do you want to look and feel great? Do you want to live your best life, for as long as possible? I am pretty sure you answered yes to those questions. So, are you finally ready to feed your brain and break the stress cycle?
When you eat real foods, natural foods, like; all the colours of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and quality proteins, you will create a stable blood sugar level, which will keep your moods and energy stable so that you can better handle demanding situations. We already knew that, didn’t we? But, now to know that the food you are eating is either feeding or starving your brain and its ability to produce the key hormones that will lead to peace, love, happiness and sleep is the best news I could possibly share with you.
Whilst yes, your mindset is critical to the task of breaking the stress cycle, unless you feed your brain with the right foods, you are not going to be able to focus the mindset on the things that will help you diffuse and solve the issues at hand. This is so easy to do, so please make the decision today to really start eating the way you know you need to eat. Not just to look great, not just to help you maximise your energy and productivity, not just to help your body function optimally, but also to build the foundation that will allow you to break the stress cycle.
The idea of going to bed for a good night’s sleep for some people brings great joy, and for others it brings stress, anxiety and fear. If it brings you joy, and you get a quality 7-8 hours of sleep each night, then enjoy the wonderful rewards great sleep brings. If you are one of the people for whom sleep may seem elusive at times or on a regular basis, then this blog is for you. I want to help you reposition sleep, take the pressure off it and suggest that it is simply a reward for what you have done during your day.
I wanted to write a blog on sleep to follow up from my podcast this week with Dr Lillian Nejad, called, ‘Sleep, beautiful sleep,’ because I think it’s a critical part of living your best life. We all know the obvious horrible effects of little or no sleep, don’t we? It impacts our energy, our moods, our ability to focus, our relationships, our resilience, our wellbeing, our body’s ability to function and pretty much every important area of our life.
After some research, I found fifteen incredible benefits of getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis. They include; reducing stress, improving memory, lowering blood pressure, helping your body fight back, weight control, putting you in a better mood, reducing chance of diabetes, keeping your heart healthy, can be a painkiller, can make you smarter, helping fight germs, improving energy levels, improving athletic achievement, better concentration and improving gut health. Wow, I am sold on sleep.
Sometimes telling people the benefits of good sleep can have the reverse effect, because they are frustrated as they don’t feel like they will ever get to enjoy them. There is one person I know really well, and that person is me. In fact, I know me even better now after 2020 and many months of lockdown and isolation… an amazing blessing very heavily disguised. One thing about me is, I love my bed, and I sleep well. For me, when I get into bed, I feel safe, I feel calm, I feel relaxed and I feel ready for sleep. For me, going to bed and to sleep is my reward for the day I have just experienced, and the things I did during that day.
There are so many ideas about getting better sleep – and Dr Lillian goes into many of them in her podcast – from letting go of stress, to meditation, to reducing stimulants, to making sure the room environment is conducive, and many others. All are great, but I want to focus on just one idea, which is, I believe, sleep is the product and reward for doing the right things during the day. I will describe a typical day of mine, and that might explain what I am talking about. Please note, I am not telling you this stuff to try and impress you, rather to impress upon you what works for me, and I know will work for you also.
I get up between 5 and 5:15am each day, with a passion and purpose for the day ahead, and the first thing I do is exercise, whether I feel like it or not. I always feel amazing afterwards. From the time I finish training and up until about 10am I have; walked the dog, done my affirmations and goals, responded to emails, sent out connections and messages on Linked In, checked in with my mentor, done some writing on my next book, edited my next podcast, made phone calls and set up meetings. This is now my normal morning routine and I love it. The rest of the day is a little flexible, but includes some or all of; meetings (online or face-face), podcast interviews, presentations (online or face-face), walking my dog, meditation or a power-nap, eating yummy and healthy food and many other amazing things.
I get most of the productive and important stuff done by 4 or 5pm, and whilst I will often have evening meetings, I have had a day I am proud of and it’s still quite early. This means I can reward myself. A nice dinner, a bit of chill out time and then into my favourite place in the world… bed!
I am in bed early and 10pm is late for me. When I go to bed, I rejoice. I have done what needs to be done for the day, I have moved myself closer to fulfilling my purpose and I have made notes for what I didn’t finish but needs to get done the next day. It’s still early enough so that I can easily get my 7-8 hours of sleep and I smile to myself, as I snuggle in my wonderful bed and, feeling totally fulfilled (most days), drift off into restful and renewing sleep. It is my reward for what I have achieved that day. Bed is the prize for me and, if you struggle with sleep, I want to encourage you to look at bed and sleep the same way.
All you have to do is this; focus on your purpose, set your intention and make a list of what you want to get done during the day. Keep it manageable and achievable so it doesn’t overwhelm you. Then simply get to work completing tasks, ticking boxes and feeling great. Beware of the many distractions that may steal your attention and time away from these tasks and push completing them to later in the day or evening. Save the distractions until the important jobs are done and then enjoy them as a reward. Most of all, when you have done what needs to be done, and delegated your tasks for the next day, get in your bed and smile as the next 7-8 hours of blissful and rejuvenating sleep you are about to enjoy is a reward you have rightly earned.
Did you know that your outer world is simply a reflection of what’s happening on the inside of you? Bang! There’s a powerful opening statement for a blog. I know there will be people who disagree with it, maybe even you? How can the Coronavirus be a reflection of what’s happening on the inside? How can the way other people treat ‘me’ be a reflection of what’s happening on the inside? How can my health, finances and the undesirable circumstances I am experiencing, be a reflection of what’s happening on the inside?
I wish life was easier, don’t you? I wish people would all just respond and react the way I wanted them to. I wish that I just had optimal wellbeing without all the effort and discomfort. I wish I was paid more. I wish when I asked for things, people would just say yes. I wish there was no conflict. I wish we could all just love and respect each other and get along. Well, I can wish all I want, but that isn’t going to make things change or people behave the way I think they should. I guess, the good news is that every one of us is in the same situation, right?
That being the case, how come there are some people who thrive in life and other people who struggle? When the same circumstances confront us all and the same opportunities are there for us all, why are some people creating success, whilst others are spiralling into the pits? When we all have access to the same foods and exercise options, why are some people lean, fit and healthy, whilst others have failing health? Now, whilst there may, in some very extreme cases, be extenuating circumstances, I will tell you that the difference between these people is not result of their external circumstances, but very much because of their inner game.
As you may know, I am single again after another failed relationship. It’s not where I had planned to be at this stage of my life, and I have been very tempted to blame external circumstances and people, but instead, and as a result of COVID isolation, I have been forced, as uncomfortable as it has been, to go inside and do some self-evaluation. Wow, it was busy and messy place inside my head, until I went in there and did some spring cleaning. I have looked back at my past, my upbringing, my influences and my relationship history and I can now clearly see the problem. The one person in common with each of these relationships, is me! I can now also see what I need to do from a thinking, self-belief and behaviour point of view. I feel like I am starting to win the inner game, which I know will have a positive long-term impact on my next relationship, whenever that happens.
You have heard the saying, it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you respond, right? That’s your inner game. There are things that are out of your control; COVID, other people’s opinions, the weather, government directives, the economy and many other things, but what you are in control of is your inner game. The people who are successful, happy and healthy in life are not the people with less struggles and challenges, but the people who are winning the inner game. So, what does that mean?
It means that they are able to clear out the noise in their head, focus on what really matters and make decisions that empower them to move forward in life. It means they are able to focus on what they are grateful for, no matter what their circumstances may be. It means they find opportunity when many find problems. It means they can find a lesson in adversity that can help them move forward in life. In other words, it means they have chosen and developed an attitude independent of circumstances.
I have to acknowledge that this can be difficult when life continually throws challenges at us. One of the things I have found incredibly powerful in terms of clearing out the internal noise to help me focus on what’s really important and win the inner game is the ability to silence my mind through meditation. I am grateful to have reconnected with Sara Picken-Brown, who has definitely helped. In fact, in this week’s podcast called Meditation with Sara – Introduction, we discuss the benefits of meditation and she guides a short five minute meditation. But wait, there’s more! Sara will be offering regular guided meditation on my podcast to help us all win our inner game.
Your outer world will always be a reflection of what’s happening on your inside. So, maybe now is the time to start to work on filtering, recalibrating and strengthening your inner voice. When you can win the inner game, the outer successes, relationships and outcomes will take care of themselves. Enjoy the game.
If you haven’t listened to my podcast this week with Morgan Beard, the lady with the amazing singing voice, I recommend you do. Wow, what a powerful conversation I had with her about her fight with depression, suicidal tendencies, and, what she overcome to be inspiring people today. At one point in the conversation, she talked about the difference, as described to her, between illness and wellness.
In many ways she was referring to mental illness and wellness, but I believe this every much applies to physical illness and wellness also. She spoke about a doctor, who when asked what he believed was the difference between the two, described in a very simple, yet powerful way. As I highlight the following letters in the two words, you will see the obvious and very accurate difference between Illness and WEllness. Clever, right? And, so true. It has been highlighted to me so clearly in the time of isolation during COVID-19.
I hope this doesn’t sound bad, but, for the most part, I have actually really enjoyed the period of isolation over the last few months. It has afforded me; time to reflect, time to grow as a person, time to create, the necessity to try new things and opened the door to amazing opportunities that have come my way. On the other and, however, living alone in some ways has been hard, really hard. I have, as previously mentioned, struggled with loneliness and dealing with certain things on my own. It resulted in some anxiety, periods of sadness, and whilst I don’t think I would describe it as depression, it was really tough at times.
The easing of COVID restrictions coincided with my niece, Tess’s 21st birthday, and so I went to spend a couple of hours with my brother, Matt, sister-in-law, Fiona, nephew, Jake and Tess, to help her celebrate. I arrived at their front door, pressed the doorbell and Tess came to answer it. She opened the door, looked at me with an unsure look on her face and asked, ‘are we hugging?’ ‘Heck, yeah!’ I said as I grabbed her and gave her a big and loving uncle/niece hug. It felt so good. For the next couple of hours, to be in the company of people that I love; talking, touching, hugging and laughing was just what I needed to leave feeling refreshed, renewed and ready to get back to happy me.
In last week’s blog, I explained that you are not alone in this world. This week, I want to encourage you to discover, find and spend time with your peeps, your tribe, your community and the people who care about you. This, my friend is the best antidote for illness there is. Get away from the ‘I’ mentality and get into ‘We’ mode. Many mental health issues begin because a person feels alone in the world, un-loved and un-heard. Morgan, in this week’s podcast, describes this heartbreaking feeling in her life as she spiralled into depression and many suicidal thoughts and actions. It was her connection with other people, which kept her alive, just one day at a time, until the WE-factor allowed her to fully recover and go on to be a person who is there for and impacting so many lives in a positive way.
When we are ‘I’ and feel alone, we often dwell in our brain on the things that are not good in life and the insecurities we have about ourselves. This can lead to unhealthy and damaging thoughts, emotions and actions that will destroy our mental and physical wellbeing. When we find ‘We’, in the way of the community of people who care, support, encourage and want to help us, then we feel strong, positive, confident and the thoughts, emotions and actions that follow will help us to be strong, healthy and happy; mentally and physically. If you want to live and amazing life of joyful longevity, then please move away from Illness and towards WEllness.
Let’s face it and be honest; we are all addicted or going to be addicted to things in our lives, right? From a self-help perspective, it may seem appropriate for me to tell you to avoid anything addictive, break all addictions and be a good boy or girl, but it’s not very reasonable. We are human and the human condition leads us into addictive behaviours. I know this because I have an addictive personality, for good, and not so good. What about you? If, in fact, we are going to get addicted to things in our life, then I want to suggest that we deliberately choose addictions that will help us, not harm us.
Every one of us is moved by one of two motivating factors; the gaining of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. We either go to work because it brings pleasure and we love what we do, or we want to avoid the pain of losing our job and having no income. We exercise because we either want the pleasure of that euphoric feeling, or we want to avoid the pain of ill-health. We save our money for the pleasure it brings knowing that we are building financial security, of avoiding the pain of poverty. When you think about all of the choices you make on a day to day basis, I’m sure you can identify the reason for it as either; gaining pleasure or the avoiding pain.
How this can be a massive consideration and influence on the formation of addictions (or habits) is; when and why you choose your motivating factor. You see, we can go for short-term pleasure, which often lead to devastating long-term pain. On the other hand, some short-term pain can, with patience, often lead to amazing long-term joy and abundance. It all depends on whether we can wait for the long-term benefits, or, our impulse control is not strong enough for us to resist this short-term and quick-fix need for pleasure. It is really this desire for a quick hit of pleasure that most readily leads to destructive addiction.
When we feel bad and want to feel better, drugs or alcohol can help us immediately feel some pleasure and comfort. We know, however, the long-term potential for addictive pain here, don’t we? When we try to fast track weight loss, and become addicted to diets, tablets and shakes, the long-term pain will impact many lives. One of my unhealthy addictions was for the immediate attention I got to my athletic body. I was insecure and needed external validation that I was good enough. I gained short-term pleasure through people telling me how good I looked, but let me tell you, it took me down a very unhealthy path. I overtrained, I ate extremely, I was stressed, and I was continually chasing recognition, more and more. I was chasing a tail I could never catch. You see, the greatest problem with addiction is that, with each addictive behaviour, what it takes to receive the same pleasure diminishes over time, meaning the behaviour can, if not checked, grow out of control. We are seeing evidence of this all over the world.
Get addicted to waiting for pleasure
So, my thinking is this; if we are going to end up addicted to certain things, why not focus on and get addicted to the things that are going to enhance and improve your life? The only difference between positive addiction and negative addiction is deliberate attention. You will know that when an impulse strikes, without deliberate attention, it’s very easy to just go down that path of gaining immediate short-term pleasure. With attention and focus, and knowing what’s truly important in your life, it’s easier – not easy – to resist the short-term pleasure, experience some short-term discomfort and bask in the amazing joy and wonder that comes through delayed gratification.
When I decided to become an author, I was working over 100 hours, seven days per week and desperate to get out of my personal training career. Do you think I really wanted to wait two years before I could hold that published book in my hands? No way! I wanted it the next day, but that’s not how success works. It takes time; planning, working, falling and getting back up again, persisting and waiting until the planting of the seed bears fruit. So, this was definitely the case of short-term pain for long-term gain. I have been experiencing the joy and fulfillment of being a full-time author, speaker and difference-maker for over 15 years, as I write this. I am living a life of abundant joy, and I will tell you, it was well worth the wait.
So, what should you get addicted to? Great question. I was in a crazy period of my life; spending 80 hours per week in my personal training business, another 20-30 hours per week in a café business that was losing money every day, and, trying to squeeze time into writing a book. So, I became addicted to the dream of being free. That gave me daily pleasure. Every day as I sat down to find a small pocket of time to write a few words, I knew I was getting closer and closer to that dream of holding my book in my hands, and, impacting lives all around the world. I was addicted to each word I wrote. I was addicted to feeling that my life was changing one word at a time. I was addicted to the belief that I would be living a better life. Every word was getting me closer to that reality. Even today, more than fifteen years later, I am still addicted to writing every day.
What about you? What could you start focussing on, and getting addicted to, that will actually bring you, over time, to the place of success and joy you are aspiring to? The key here is focus and deliberate attention. Without it, you and I will fall for the short-term pleasure attraction that comes with; procrastination, blame, victim-thinking, alcohol, food, diets, gambling, smoking and the other addictions you know you should be avoiding but are stuck in the middle of. Could you get addicted to the feeling of strength and courage it takes to say no to that extra drink? What about getting addicted to the feeling of wellbeing every time you consume some fresh and natural food? Can you get addicted to the feeling of growing financial strength each time you save rather than spend? I encourage you to get addicted to the feeling that you are in control of your life every time you make a choice to do something that, may not give you short-term pleasure but, will absolutely bring long-term joy and abundance.
Addiction is depicted as a bad thing. Well, doesn’t that depend on what you are addicted to? My mother, in her fight against cancer and striving for the desire to be around for her family, became addicted to each new day and the hope of a breakthrough. I believe this was one of the things that helped her outlive the doctor’s terminal prediction by fifteen years. You may think addiction is out of your control, but that’s only if you let it happen without thought or attention. When you are focused on what’s most important in your life, and, when you’re emotionally and powerfully attached to its achievement, you will more likely deliberately focus on the right things and choose addictions that will move you towards it. Deliberately choose your addiction today.