Master Your Mindset

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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.

Lessons from ‘The Longevity Plan’

This book was the one which started my note-taking habit. There was just so much interesting and useful information that I wanted to be able to remember it. I read it, then I read it again and took notes.

The main author is Dr John D. Day, who is a cardiologist and speaker of Mandarin, along with his wife Jane Ann Day and Matthew LaPlante.

He went to study a village in China where a disproportionate amount of people live to one hundred or more.

General message: if we apply the principles they live by/their way of life to our lives we will be healthier and happier.

Seven principles:

  1. Eat Good Food
  2. Master Your Mindset
  3. Build Your Place in a Positive Community
  4. Be in Motion
  5. Find Your Rhythm
  6. Make the Most of Your Environment
  7. Proceed with Purpose

So here’s the first one:

Eat Good Food

Surround yourself with food that is good for you

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

As you are reading this I would guess that you have more than likely surrounded yourself with food that is not good for you. We all do it, those bars of chocolate and packets of crisps and biscuits stashed in the cupboard ready for the post-lunch dip. Unless you have a great level of willpower then at some point you will eat them. In order to surround yourself with food that is good for you then you need to clear your cupboards of junk food. Maybe it feels wasteful to throw food out. You could give it to a food bank instead. Then, fill the cupboards with healthy food. When you are peckish and bored at three o’clock in the afternoon you won’t be able to munch through that packet of biscuits as they won’t be there anymore.  You just have a handful of nuts or an apple with some peanut butter to eat.

Eat unrefined grains

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

We all know this – brown rice, bread, pasta, etc. The low carb movement has increased in popularity recently and many people try to reduce the amount of grains they are consuming as a route to weight loss. On the BBC Food Programme in 2018 the issue of fibre was discussed and the view that without these carbohydrates we wouldn’t consume enough fibre. Apparently, there are many types of fibre and just eating vegetables does not provide the full range. If you do choose to each grains, and Dr Day says that we should, they should be whole grains.  An alternative is the recent ‘pasta’ products that have appeared on the shelf in some supermarkets which are made of red lentils or green split peas.

Eat one portion of fruit and two portions of vegetables at every meal

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the UK we are advised to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but Dr Day recommends two portions of vegetables and one portion of fruit with every meal. If, like many people, you’re struggling with this it may be because for most people breakfast rarely features vegetables. That’s where everyone goes wrong. We have moved away from the unhealthy fry up to ‘healthier’ cereals, but in fact we are eating dessert for breakfast. Muesli, followed by toast with jam, washed down with a glass of juice is just sugar, then sugar with sugar on top, accompanied by liquid sugar. What we should be eating and what would make getting those veggies in before midday easier is having some eggs to start the day. My accompanying veggies of choice are mushrooms, avocado and sweet potato. You may be thinking that you don’t have time to made a cooked breakfast, but how long does it really take to scramble some eggs? Cooking the mushrooms may take a little longer and I would suggest steaming the sweet potato on a day when you have plenty of time and then reheating the leftovers on subsequent days. You should be able to cook and eat your breakfast within 20-30 minutes.

Eat nuts and pumpkin seeds                           

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

According to Dr Day nuts help to maintain a healthy weight, prevent cardiovascular disease and fight back premature death – lofty claims!  Pumpkin seeds are even better – a superfood no less! Historically nuts were avoided, and still are by some, due to being high in fat. Their promotion now is because is it recognised that we need fat and apparently nuts are full of ‘good fats’ – not sure exactly what this means, but eating a handful a day is considered good for us. The fat also keeps you full, as opposed to a biscuit which lasts a couple of seconds and makes you feel hungrier in the long run rather than satiated. Buying five cute plastic containers and filling them with a daily portion of pumpkin seeds and nuts on a Sunday will make sticking to this easy. You won’t have to think about it each morning, just put the pot in your bag before you go out of the door and you’re all set.

One portion of lentils/beans, every day

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

In Britain we have the famous ‘baked beans’ which most people eat and I think are regarded as a good source of fibre, but unfortunately also contain a lot of sugar. A couple of years ago I saw a display in a chemist shop’s window which showed the amount of sugar in several products. One of them was a tin of baked beans and there were five sugar cubes sitting in front of it. Instead we need to eat the beans without all of that sugary sauce. It’s as easy as emptying a tin of kidney beans or a handful of dried red lentils into your stew or curry. Red lentils cook really quickly. They’re particularly good if you’ve added a bit too much stock. Dried lentils and tinned beans keep in the cupboard for years.

Fish – particularly mackerel, salmon and sardines

Photo by Oscar Mikols on Pexels.com

I have recently discovered how easy it is to make your own fishcakes. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a great recipe using tinned mackerel. You coat the fish cakes in polenta which gives them a crisp coating when fried. As he aptly says this is a good store cupboard recipe which can use up some old potatoes. Polenta is not something that everyone will have, but once you buy a bag it lasts for ages, like other grains.

Drinking water

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Drinking two litres of water a day can burn as many as 96 calories. He advises drinking when you’re feeling thirsty, when you’re feeling hungry and 30 minutes before every meal. Please don’t buy bottled water. Hopefully the focus on plastic recently will make you reluctant to increase the rubbish we create which ends up in landfill or our oceans. It is also a complete waste of money – just buy a pretty reusable bottle that you enjoy using and fill it from the tap. It’s free and it’s good for you. If you don’t like the taste of plain water just add a slice of lemon or a few crushed mint leaves to the bottle. Please don’t add squash as that is just sugar.

Eat sweet potatoes several times a week

Photo by Ela Haney on Pexels.com

Apparently these are one of the best sources in the world for beta-carotene, which helps maintain healthy skin. Sweet potato fries have become trendy recently.  I often choose these as an alternative to regular fries, but apparently they can be covered in unhealthy oils, sugar and salt and therefore should be avoided if this is the case. You might want to try making your own sweet potato wedges at home, but if you can get them crispy in the oven I’d be interested to know how you do it.

No snacking before bed – twelve hour fasting window

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

Once you’ve eaten your dinner, that’s it, no more food until breakfast. Satchin Panda, who writes about circadian rhythms, says that your body needs time to repair and if you are still digesting food during the night it is like trying to patch tarmac on the motorway with cars still driving up and down the road. A great analogy I thought.

So that’s it for the moment. I am sure that you are familiar with some of these suggestions, but maybe not all of them. A few things to try maybe before next time when I will be looking at ‘Master Your Mindset’.

Habits Not Resolutions

My advice for today is to be the tortoise rather than the hare – small steps, not big leaps. In this way you are more likely to arrive at your chosen destination.

This is the time of year when many people are making New Year’s resolutions – get fit, lose weight, give up smoking, save money – but as we all know many people fail to see these through despite all of their good intentions. Now if you have made some resolutions, that’s great, you have some long-term goals to work towards in 2019. The next step is to translate each resolution into something that you are going to do at least several times a week, if not every day, in order to achieve that goal. The key is to start small. If at the moment you don’t do any exercise at all don’t commit yourself to going to the gym for an hour five mornings a week. Start with say a fifteen-minute walk three times a week and if you achieve that and can keep it up for six weeks, then increase it.

In order to monitor your progress a habit tracker may be useful. These are a popular tool with those in the bullet journaling community. Basically, it is a star chart for adults. Draw out a table with the days of the month across the top and the habits that you want to cultivate down the side. At the end of each day look at which habits you have achieved and put a tick (or a star!) in the box. Then, at the end of the month you can assess your progress and adjust next month’s habit tracker accordingly.

One of my trackers from last year – it can be as simple or as fancy as you want to make it

The good thing about a habit tracker is that you can see your progress and hopefully, if there are lots of ticks, you will be spurred on by your positive progress. Even though the initial changes may be small, you have to start somewhere and over time they can grow and help you move towards your big goal. As the saying goes, ‘Every journey begins with a single step’. Every day you will take one step and eventually you will arrive at your destination. Good luck on your journey!