Master Your Mindset

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This is the second chapter in the book by Dr John Day, ‘The Longevity Plan’. He states that a positive mindset isn’t just about feeling happy. He believes that the way we think about our lives is perhaps the biggest factor in how our bodies will respond to the conditions of our lives. If we are going to change our lives for the better, we must first change our minds for the better.

He gives us three statements to ponder:

Buddhism teaches that the root of all unhappiness is desire. This does not mean that we should desire nothing, but rather than we should focus our desires on that which is most important to us – family, health and safety – and leave all feelings of entitlement by the water’s edge.

When we’re burdened by trying to maintain the inessential things we have (let alone procure more) we have less time, space and energy to devote to making the real changes that are so vital to creating healthier and happier lives.

Somewhere along the way, many people in our society began associating happiness with ‘having more’.

Considering these wise words I feel that they could have been written for the FI/RE community or for those trying to live a more frugal and simple life. Isn’t that about deciding what is important to you? For each of us we make conscious decisions about what to spend our money on rather than just buying to keep up with the Joneses.

He suggests simplifying one’s life by asking yourself two basic questions:

  1. Do we have what we need?
  2. Do we need what we want?

These questions help us to begin the process of decluttering our lives which is a vital step towards stress relief. Marie Kondo is popular at the moment in the world of decluttering. Marie believes that each of your possessions should bring you joy and if it doesn’t you should thank it for the service that it has provided to you and discard it.

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Although our age is often a tremendously large part of our mindset about ‘where we’re at’ in life, it is a perfectly pointless measure of who we are. In Western culture getting old has negative connotations, but in the village where his study was based maturity was something to be respected. He states that the mere belief that growing older is a positive thing might be an influencer of good health. When you start to worry that you’re over the hill I suggest thinking about the alternative – being dead. I am sure that we would all choose the former!

We all have stressors in our lives. The key to living well with stress lies in how we perceive and manage it. For example, if you have a stressful commute try listening to the books or podcasts you never seem to have time for while driving. At the time that I made this note I didn’t act on it, but now I absolutely love podcasts and have discovered a whole new free world of learning. If you find podcasts you like you might actually look forward to the days when you have to drive for work in order to be able to listen to something. The miles will pass and you may not even notice them.

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Dr Day believes that at its best, exercise is something we should look forward to. Positive anticipation is a vital part of a healthy mindset. How to fit this into your day is probably something that you may still be struggling with. In our sedentary lives, mostly spent sitting at a computer, even thirty minutes a day may seem impossible. Laura Vanderkam, who has written several books about time management suggests that the most successful people, who she has spent time studying, exercise first thing in the morning, as they are least likely to be interrupted at this time. I am sure many of you will be saying, ‘But I don’t have time in the morning’. Check out her advice about time tracking and building a morning routine which may help you find the time in your week.

Linking back to the first chapter on healthy eating Dr Day goes on to suggest ways to change your thinking which will help you address your diet and improve your physical health. For example, when we have achieved something positive or had a difficult day at work we often ‘reward’ ourselves with unhealthy food. He suggests picking something healthier and ultimately more rewarding. For him that is doing something athletic with his family.

We need to challenge customs which are intrinsically unhealthy. For example, why is inviting someone over for alcohol, caffeine or sugar-packed pastries socially accepted while inviting them over for veggies might be considered weird? Why do we celebrate birthdays with cake instead of a complete healthy meal? I have to say that my manager now brings fruit to our team meeting, but it never seems quite as attractive as the biscuits and cake she also brings.

Little by little we can take actions that fly in the face of conventional wisdom especially if what we do conventionally isn’t particularly healthy. That’s not just limited to food. One of the most promising work-place trends over the past few years is the advent of the standing desk. I had thought about this, but it costs over £1000 to buy a desk that you can both sit at and stand at. One option, if you have the space, is to have a shelf at which you can stand to use your computer and then a desk at which to sit when you want a rest from standing.

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If you’re going to take actions that are better for your life and the lives of people you care about you’re probably going to have to endure a bit of ribbing. And if that’s going to happen the best thing you can do is to simply adapt the mind-set of not really caring what those people say. My colleagues call me the ‘food police’ as I tend to refuse the offer of sweets, biscuits and cakes and frequently Google what they are eating and tell them how many spoonfuls of sugar are in that iced Greggs doughnut that they are eating – eight in a ‘pink jammie’!

I think that much of the advice in this chapter is about reframing your life and experiences. You need to have the courage to be different and not just follow the crowd. Have confidence in the choices and changes that you want to make to improve your life. Maybe others might follow your example and join you on the road to improving their mindset as well.

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