If you look up the words overworked, overstressed, uninspired, or plagued by negative emotions in the dictionary, do they have your picture next to them? We all should probably be there—in a group photo. But not to worry! Anyone can improve their health and happiness by trying out some new behaviors and attitudes and working at them step-by-step. As for me, to assist with the task of helping the world become Better Than Before, both through my Spry Living columns and live CBS radio show—after all, I’m only one woman! Sigh!—I personally start by seeking the advice and inspiration from the best experts anywhere. For this column, that would be Shaman-healer Brant Secunda and six-time Hawaii Ironman World Champion Mark Allen, who teaches seminars worldwide on fitness, health, and well-being. Together they authored the bestselling book Fit Soul, Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You, which is based on the unique approach they developed over the years.
“Even though I was recently voted ESPN’s Greatest Endurance Athlete of All Time,” says Mark Allen, “it wasn’t always that way. In fact, when I met my teacher, Brant Secunda, I was about to give up my career as a triathlete. He taught me that true fitness means developing a healthy body and a healthy soul. His teachings helped me become a six-time Hawaiian World Champion Ironman.”
Brant took it from there: “When Mark and I started working together, he was training harder, longer, and faster than one could imagine, yet he was losing races. I could see that his mind and body and spirit were out of balance.” To that end, Brant showed him how to incorporate the lessons he had learned from the Huichol people in Mexico, who he claims are the happiest people he’s ever met. “They are also exceptionally healthy—many of them living past the age of 100—and able to walk up mountains and carry heavy loads into old age. They live lives that are in balance.”
I hereby share with you the end result of all their efforts—the basic nine keys to feeling Better Than Before:
Key #1: Change your response to six stressors. Pay attention to these six stressors: negative emotions, lack of sleep, poor diet, overwork, toxic chemicals and inflammation. The antidote for stress is balance. Work on finding small ways to reduce excesses, make healthful changes, and achieve more balance in each of these areas. Seek more laughter and calmness in your life.
Key #2: Quiet your mind. Practice ignoring external stimuli and internal chatter as you focus on one single thought or task. Learning to quiet your mind makes you more productive and also helps to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and increase DHEA, a hormone that helps you feel serene. Quieting your mind helps you sleep, control your appetite, and put work and life pressures in perspective.
Key #3: Transform fear, anger, and jealousy. Negative emotions hinder performance. Bite off a smaller chunk of tasks that seem overwhelming. Get perspective on the real significance of your troubles and reactions by observing a natural event, such as a sunrise. Accept the fact that challenge is normal and life is not controllable.
Key #4: Reconnect with nature. Try to get outside once a day and experience the beauty of nature. Having a sense that you and the earth have a special relationship lets you know that everything is as it should be, which makes the soul happy. The more you connect to nature, the more open you will be to its wisdom and calming influence.
Key #5: Love yourself and your life. Self-love is the most immediate tool you can use to fortify yourself against negative emotions like fear or self-doubt. One of the factors that eats away at self-love is boredom—boredom with work, boredom with your own repetitious behaviors, boredom with life. Look at old things with fresh eyes. Seek out new ways of thinking and behaving. Be with people who love you.
Key #6: Know your destination. What physical goals are you striving toward? What kind of person do you want to become? Having these answers sets your intentions, helps focus your efforts, and provides you with tangible ways to measure the results. Set small goals. Set yourself up for success; for example, schedule your workouts at a time when you’re most likely to do them.
Key #7: Live what you ask for. Asking for a healthy soul but choosing unsupportive friends will only prevent you from finding peace. Asking for a fit body but eating junk foods will only sabotage your own success. Surround yourself with actions, thoughts, and people who will empower you and allow you to achieve your personal success.
Key #8: Slow down to get faster. In the modern world, most people feel they must push their bodies and souls to the limit to make any gains in fitness, or in life. Slowing down allows your body to run more efficiently. Exercise just below your target heart rate. Apply small focused changes that are gradual versus intense.
Key #9: Invite your inner cave man to the table. Our bodies weren’t built to withstand the rapid changes we’ve witnessed in our food industry— drive-throughs, super-sized meals, and chemically laden foods our organs don’t have the ability to use or process. Eat the right amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and protein based on ancient genetics; this will keep you from eating either too little or too much, both of which cause us to pack on body fat. Eat whole, unprocessed foods and drink lots of water.