I’m not quick on my feet like some people are. I marvel at how others can be so adept at conversation or think through complex subjects in real-time while speaking eloquently with no stumbles.
I can be slow to catch on to certain things. I need time to process. It’s probably why I enjoy reading and writing so much. Reading helps me to collect the dots; writing allows me to connect them. The solitary practice allows me to ingest information at a pace I’m more comfortable with.
Often, I don’t know how I feel about something until I sit down and write. The hand moving the pen or the fingers clicking at the keyboard somehow find a way to connect the dots for me.
As I look back on my journal entries from this year, there were a few things I knew inherently but didn’t quite go “A-HA!” until I wrote them out and clarified them for myself. Here are some of those mental reframes that changed my perspective.
Alcohol is poison
I know I’m being a Debbie Downer when I say it, but we all know it’s true. This doesn’t mean I’m going to quit drinking entirely, but I certainly am more cautious about my consumption habits.
It’s poison. There’s really no denying it at this point.
We all know it, yet we have a form of self-denial as soon as happy hour comes around.
But it’s fun! Of course, it is. It’s called social lubricant for a reason. As an introvert, I love how social alcohol makes me after a couple of drinks. I’m able to converse well, laugh more, and generally more pleasant to be around. But I also know the harmful effects it has on my body, state of mind, motivation, and gut.
The next day – even after only a couple of drinks – will be worse because of it. My sleep quality won’t be as good, my dietary choices will be compromised, and it will take me longer to do the things I want to do.
2. Every bite of food you take is either fighting disease or feeding it
I saw an image with this caption and it really clicked for me. Everything you put into your body is either positive or negative fuel. Your body is basically a filter for what goes in and what comes out. I always think of the scene from Back to the Future 2 where Doc dumps a bunch of garbage into the fuel tank of the DeLorean.
What if, instead of fueling our bodies with cereal, Subway sandwiches, chips, hot dogs, pizza, beer, and soda, we fueled ourselves with lean meat, dark leafy vegetables, salmon, blueberries, extra virgin olive oil, grass-fed butter, avocados, dark chocolate, and eggs? It’s obvious that we would feel 10x better.
I agree with this saying that every bite of food you take is either fighting disease or feeding it. Soda is feeding disease – diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. While dark leafy vegetables, ginger, garlic, and olive oil are fighting disease. Eat the foods that fight disease, and don’t feed it any more than it needs.
3. “This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” – Alan Watts
Life is play.
Despite how serious we want to pretend things are – your job, your bills, the traffic – it’s all just play. We’re literally making it all up.
There’s no central person or thing that’s governing us, instructing us how to behave and what to do each and every day.
We make it up as we go along, so you might as well have fun with it and make the most of your time. Do more things that make you forget to look at your phone. Don’t take life so seriously and have fun with it.
4. Daily exercise is mental hygiene. Would you skip brushing your teeth in the morning?
I recently switched from exercising 3-4x per week to 6 days per week. While it was difficult at first, I realized how quickly my body got used to it. When you force your body to get out of bed every day, it eventually starts to relent.
Hitting the gym or the exercise bike first thing in the morning made me feel healthier; more vibrant even. It was as if I went years without washing my face, and then suddenly started doing it twice a day. The effect was almost immediate. Ironically, my skin actually got clearer!
As a result, I now look at daily exercise (or daily sweat) as more of a mental need than a physical one. If I don’t exert myself or move my body, my mental state feels depleted – I don’t have as much energy, I’m not as happy, and I make poorer decisions about my diet. But when I’m working out every day, even if it’s just going for a 60-minute walk, I have more of a bounce in my step. I have momentum and I’m more motivated to do things I wouldn’t have otherwise had the energy to do.
Daily exercise should be a non-negotiable as much as brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or combing your hair. Without it, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice to your mental hygiene.
5. Systems are greater than goals
In the book, Atomic Habits, James Clear explains that setting goals don’t actually make a difference. It’s the systems that you put in place that actually get you closer to your goal.
For many years, I approached my habits with the goal in mind first. Each one was a goal to be reached. I set goals for the promotions I wanted, I set goals for the races I wanted to finish, or for the money I wanted to make in my career. I succeeded at a few, but I failed at a lot of them. After reading Atomic Habits I realized that my results had very little to do with the goals I set and nearly everything to do with the systems I followed.
- If you’re a coach, your goal might be to win a championship. Your system is the way you recruit players, manage your assistant coaches, and conduct practice.
- If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal might be to build a million-dollar business. Your system is how you test product ideas, hire employees and run marketing campaigns.
- If you’re a musician, your goal might be to play a new piece. Your system is how often you practice, how you break down and tackle difficult measures and your method for receiving feedback from your instructor.
Fall in love with systems
Committing to the process is what makes the difference. Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short term, but eventually, a well-designed system will always win.
As I said, journaling after reading a good book or listening to a good podcast really helped me to distill the information I was getting. When you’re constantly consuming books, TV shows, podcasts, music, TikTok videos, and youtube shorts, it gets more and more difficult to digest the information and to filter the stuff you want to stick from the things you’d rather discard.
Having a consistent writing practice, or just spending more time alone with your thoughts, is a critical step towards understanding yourself more. I hope to take more long walks without my phone in 2023, and I hope you can do the same.