This is the third part of our post-lockdown wholistic health reset. We’re focusing on simple mindset and lifestyle shifts that will create significant results.
Last week we introduced the concept of ‘big rocks’ and the benefits associated with ‘crowding out’ unproductive or harmful habits with beneficial ones.
This week we’re applying it to mindset shifts and the small actions we can take in that area, to radically improve our health.
How long has it been since you experienced an irrepressible lust for life? When was the last time you had an outlook and accompanying energy levels that compelled you to jump out of bed and into your day?
I’d hazard a guess that it’s been a while.
Often, when life gets challenging or unpredictable, we can become trapped in the story that it’s our external circumstances that dictate where the needle lies on this barometer.
A gentle reminder, folks: it’s not!
We have the ability to actively generate this joyful, inspired state and we can develop this ability like a muscle – thankfully even during periods of grief, stress, uncertainty and upheaval!
There are certain behaviours that support this type of mental muscle building and repeatedly engaging in these, create structural changes in the brain through the process of neuroplasticity.
Essentially, the quickest way to change how we feel is to change the way we think.
Here are three simple practices that are powerful in their ability to radically improve our health.
If you’re rolling your eyes at how often this suggestion graces these types of lists, put your cynicism on hold for just a moment. There’s a reason why the world’s top high-performance experts unanimously rate it as one of the most effective strategies to create health and success.
The sheer volume of research supporting this strategy is staggering. Gratitude is now being recognised as one of the essential keys to human health and happiness.
It has the power to improve our resilience in the face of stress, reduce anxiety and depression, greatly improve sleep, immunity and numerous health markers, including blood pressure, while strengthening our social bonds and relationships (one of the most important predictors of longevity).
How does it work?
Whenever we cultivate a state of gratitude, there is a surge of the feel-good chemicals, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin in the brain. We instantly enhance our mood and induce feelings of pleasure and contentment – regardless of our external circumstances.
By practicing gratitude on a regular basis, we assist these neural pathways to strengthen and eventually we create a more permanent shift in outlook. We perceive our reality differently because our brains are primed to notice and recognise positive occurrences.
On the other hand, if you’re constantly ruminating over perceived negative events or allowing yourself to fall into a regular habit of complaining, then the pathways for gratitude and happiness will become weaker and less influential over time.
How to implement the practice
A great way to start is by keeping a gratitude journal and noting down a couple of unique things you are grateful for each day. If you have time – elaborate on why. If this is too much of a commitment to start with, even sitting quietly and focusing your full attention on one thing you deeply love and appreciate about your life, partner, work, kids or self each day.
As we’ve spoken about in previous weeks, integrating any new habit will be more successful if it’s added to another existing routine. Keeping a small notepad or journal on the bedside table and jotting something down at bedtime or prior to rising is a really easy way to make this a daily habit that sticks.
If you can rope your partner in to join you, it’s a great exercise to do verbally together at the end of each day. The research has shown profound impacts of gratitude in relationships – it is now being recognised as one of the biggest predictors of relationship longevity and success.
Another way to integrate this practice and have it simultaneously benefit your relationships is to regularly engage in the practice of writing thank you notes.
Practising altruism, either in the form of kindness, compassion, generosity volunteering or donating, is another evidence-based strategy to improve wellbeing.
Compelling research has shown that when we behave in an altruistic manner, we activate the pleasure and reward centres in the brain, much like when we indulge our food cravings or other niggling habits.
There have been numerous studies highlighting the fact that people volunteering experience greater benefits than those they are serving. The most common benefits include increased satisfaction, a greater sense of connection and community and a noticeable improvement in self-esteem and self-acceptance.
The essential thing to recognise is that it’s giving from a place of abundance that is associated with all the benefits – from a place of having enough time and energy to give. Sacrificial giving, on the other hand, involves overextending oneself to meet the needs of others and this has the opposite effect when it comes to our health.
In a practical sense, the habit of altruism of can be integrated in much the same way as a gratitude practice. Aim to include one small thing each day that you can do for someone else and build from there. Keep a list of simple ideas to inspire you if it doesn’t come naturally at first.
Cleanse your feed
Your diet doesn’t merely consist of what you take from your plate, it’s what you tune into on television and social media, what you read, listen to and absorb from other people around you.
Our ‘newsfeed’ for want of a better word, has the power to influence and redirect our thoughts – which we’ve established, greatly impacts how we feel.
Lately, our feeds are jampacked with fear-based messaging, which, if absorbed without discernment, create a mild stress response and subsequent emotional state of worry or outrage. The exact opposite of the aforementioned states we’re aiming to cultivate for optimal health!
A hugely beneficial practice in this day and age is to intentionally refine your mental input and load, either by having periods of ‘fasting’ or digital detox (life-changing, if you haven’t tried it), or simply being more discerning about the types and tone of information you regularly allow into your space.
Becoming more conscious of how much time we spend tuning into these time-sapping activities is also really important for wellbeing. Our nervous systems simply weren’t designed to be receiving as much excitatory stimuli as they are in the information age and one of the best antidotes is to clear some space in your day (or week) where you switch off all devices and allow good old fashioned silence, hobbies or heartfelt conversation to fill the gap.
So, ponder which of these strategies you might like to implement first and then take one tiny step in the direction of making it routine.
Step one: buy gratitude journal.
Georgia is a clinically trained nutritionist, wholefoods chef, columnist and mum. She’s been featured in Body & Soul and had TV appearances on ABC Breakfast and Studio 10 for her unique approach to food and health. She’s known for reinventing traditional foods for the modern kitchen and was instrumental in a radical new approach to sports nutrition with a program for the NRL Parramatta Eels, kickstarting their ascent on the ladder in recent years. Find out more at stirringchange.com.