It was my birthday yesterday, and it caused me to reflect on what I've learned about life as I've gotten older. In addition, I asked my community on my professional Facebook page what they appreciate most about aging. I got a wonderfully long list of wise and inspiring responses (to read them and be inspired, go to www.facebook.com/drsusanbiali ).
Here are my top tips for you, if you long to create a happier, healthier life:
1) If you move toward something, it will move toward you
As W.H. Murray famously said: "The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred." I've seen it time and again in my own life and in the lives of my coaching clients. Don't worry too much about how you're going to get from A to B, just start walking in the direction of your goal or dream. Get started by doing whatever you can, however small, and then do the next thing. Watch for it: Providence will show up and will come to your assistance. I've seen it happen so often that it seems to be a law of nature.
2) Manage your stress and you'll fix almost everything
Stress is the cause of a staggering number of health problems and worsens any medical condition. Stress causes us to age faster, throws our hormones out of whack, and makes us feel anxious, fearful and irritable. I recently attended at course at Harvard's Benson-Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine, and was staggered by the protean effects of stress and just how pervasive it is in our lives and our society. I discovered that I was way more stressed than I realized, and was living with a steady undercurrent of it. Learn to recognize the signs of stress in your own body and mind, and counteract them actively (yoga, breathing breaks, mini-meditations throughout the day, exercise, play, prayer, positive self-talk, etc.).
3) Sleep is ground zero
If you don't get enough sleep, everything else will suffer. Sleep deprivation (which most of us suffer from) puts you in a pre-diabetic state, messes with your metabolism, makes you dramatically more likely to be overweight, increases your appetite, decreases your productivity, hampers your immune system, and makes you tired, moody, anxious and likely to be depressed. If you're struggling with any of the things on this list and you're not getting enough sleep (less than 8 hours a night), aim for improved sleep first before trying any other life strategies.
4) If you respect your own boundaries, people will respect you
I wrote recently about the fact that people-pleasers are most likely to be targeted by bullies. Historically I have been a terrible people-pleaser and spent way too much time and effort trying to make everyone happy. Practice building self-awareness, discover what you are willing to do and what you don't want to do. Start putting this into practice by saying no when something doesn't resonate or align with who you really are. People might get mad at first, but eventually most will come to respect you. And you won't secretly (or not so secretly) resent them anymore. Oh the peace.
5) Be yourself, unapologetically
This expands on the people-pleasing piece. So many of us (myself included) grew up focusing on what other people or society thought we should do. So many people are in careers, places or situations that depress them or make them feel hopeless. Yes, sometimes you just have to work to put food on the table, but many people are in a position where they could transition into something much more suitable to who they are. Start checking in with yourself about who you really are, despite your circumstances and outside influences. What do you really love? What do you long to do? How would you love to live? In whatever way you can, start shifting your life towards living more authentically - and watch what happens (see Tip #1).
6) Be childlike
Who said you had to grow up and be so serious? Cultivate the very best of the child within you. Practice childlike awe for majestic things, childlike silliness (my husband loves silly cat videos on YouTube, for example), childlike faith, childlike hope, childlike play and creativity. When it comes to certain things, children do them way better than we do. Recapture it - it's still inside you.
7) Don't wait
Don't put off life, don't wait until things are perfect. Figure out how you can start now, start small. Just start. You'll be so glad you did.
8) Give your heart priority over your head
Much of my work with coaching clients is getting them to stop being logical and practical. Yes, it's important to have a realistic plan, and a back-up plan, but start the plan in your heart first. Ask yourself what you'd love to experience if anything were possible. Then use your head to figure out how you might get there. Don't let your head rule the show, it loves to make silly pronouncements like "you're too old", "that will never work" , "who do you think you are" and "what will people think". Your heart's much kinder and more optimistic.
9) Have faith
My spiritual practice and faith are the core of my personal and professional life. I believe (and have experienced) that there is something greater helping me out in life. There are endless studies that show the benefits of faith and spiritual practice on physical health, mental health and happiness. Everything just goes better.
10) When your body says stop, listen to it
Learning to listen to your body is a major ingredient for lasting success in life. Drink water when you're thirsty. Eat good food when you're hungry and stop when your body says it's full. Sleep when your body wants to. Stop pushing when you feel tired. Take a vacation when every cell in your body and mind is screaming for it. Take a break when your shoulders creep up around your ears or your neck starts aching. Take really good care of your body, and listen to it. In turn, it will take really good care of you.
Do you have any tips to add to the list? Let us know in the Comment section below.
Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, health and happiness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer, and the author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You, dedicated to helping people worldwide get healthy, find happiness and enjoy more meaningful lives that they love. Dr. Biali is available for keynote presentations, workshops/retreats, media commentary, and private life and health coaching—contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.susanbiali.com for more details.
Copyright Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. 2013