Living isn’t easy. It’s hard work. But you can make that hard work easier by increasing your inner strength. For the sake of this piece, we’re going to call these activities “inputs.” These are little investments you can make in yourself can go a long way toward helping you be something special. I’ll list them here for free.
1. Exercise as often as you can. Because your mood, long-term physical and mental health, immune system, strength, and stress levels depend on it. 60 minutes a day. Walk, cycle, run, climb, lift, yoga, kickbox, basketball, soccer, crossfit. Go outside if you can. No excuses.
2. Eat well. The common diets indigenous to all those areas of the world where people live to 100 and seem inconceivably happy all the time? Yeah, they’re all pretty similar. Here’s your cheat sheet:
- Fresh fruit
- Fresh vegetables
- Gluten-free whole grains
- Fresh fish and lean poultry
- Nuts and seeds
- Low-fat dairy
- Raw olive oil
- Occasional wine, beer, liquor and dark chocolate
It isn’t more complicated than that. There’s like a gazillion studies that all suggest the same thing. That’s your meal plan. Turn it into your culinary masterpiece!
3. Sleep regularly and sleep enough. Go to bed early, around the same time every day, and wake up 8 hours later. 10-6 and 11-7 are hours that work pretty well in the Western World.
4. Spend 5-10 minutes every day doing belly breathing exercises. Eyes closed. Thinking of nothing. Here’s a video from the American Lung Association to help you out. You can pray and/or meditate while you do that, if that’s your thing. Clears the mind and oxygenates the body. I hear that also helps.
5. Spend another 5-10 minutes every day stretching. I like to use a stability ball, as well. Costs like $25. Totally worth it and beats a gym membership or a weight set. It loosens and strengthens muscles. It eases stress. It doesn’t take a long time.
Those are your inputs. The total amount of time it will take you to do all that is an hour and a half a day, plus the sleep time (which doesn’t count since you’re sleeping!) and maybe an hour at the grocery store every week. Worth every bit of it.
By doing all those things you’ll have greater energy, mood and mental clarity to focus on your outputs. I’ve listed them here for you, as well.
6. Get things done. Don’t procrastinate. Make a chart of what you want to accomplish that week and let the chart be your guide. Plus, leave juuuuuust enough free time where if you think of something you need to do, do it that instant so you don’t forget and still accomplish your objectives.
7. Go out. Make plans with friends and family. Explore. Mix it up. Home can be soothing but it can also lull you into a false sense of security. Inactivity leads to atrophy. Keep moving and find your circle.
8. Listen. This is your circle. Strengthen it. Call your mom, your dad, your family and friends, your peers, colleagues, mentors and contemporaries. Schedule informational interviews. And just let them talk. Ask questions. Be curious. And be helpful if you can. Few things in life are as rewarding as helping those you care about achieve their dreams or solve their problems.
9. Stand for something. Advocate. Give. Follow your passions. Volunteer. Be gracious and principled. Be determined and don’t back down from challenges. But do it all with a smile and humility.
10. Live in the moment. Don’t just eat, taste. Don’t just lie down, rest. Don’t just hear, listen. Feel the warm sun when you walk in the summer. Play in the rain. Don’t just scale the mountain, admire the view. Hold the door open for the next person. Smile at strangers. Laugh at jokes. Complement others. Be present. Be peace.
I share all these with you not because they are the magic bullet to success or wealth or happiness. No such things exist – if they did, I sure as shit wouldn’t be sitting here in the condition in which I currently find myself* and I’m sure a lot of you wouldn’t be, either. But the above can be used as a basis for a successful existence by just about anybody. Hopefully, even you.
Life is like Jazz. Miles Davis didn’t sit down with his quintet during the “Kind of Blue” sessions and dictate which notes should be played when and how. He simply charted a few scales and tempos (the “inputs”) and his musicians vamped through the rest (the “outputs”). In the end, they created magic, and this is why the outputs are vague while the inputs are specific. Life is what you make of it. Make it a work of art.
*That condition being 30 years old, living in a 1-bdrm apartment, 20 lbs. overweight, suffering from chronic moderate-to-severe asthma, crippling anxiety, adult-onset hypochondria, debilitating shooting pains throughout my nervous system, dull aches and nagging regret, and being unable to do a pullup or contribute the max into my 401k, and being deathly afraid of tough conversations, born-again Christians and ketchup. But I digress.