We've all heard it before... "Mens sana in corpore sano" or "A healthy mind in a healthy body". But before you leave again, let me explain: I don't want to encourage anyone to work out more or go on a fast walk for 20 minutes three times a week (even though scientifically this radically improves your well-being).
I rather want to share my observations on how getting to my physical limits and triggering the biological process behind it regularly boosts my performance and motivation to do more, read more, write more, etc... and maybe you'll find some inspiration in the following paragraphs, too.
Physical Health + Mental Health + Social Health = A happier life...
In late 2019 I asked myself a lot what I wanted to do with my life. Do I want to keep working for my old company? Do I want to find a new Job here in Shanghai? Do I want to work for someone else at all or do I want to do my own thing? These are just some of the questions I asked myself. Other questions dealt with my physical well-being and my social life. I've approached these questions one at a time and tried to improve each are individually.
After a while I realized that only the combination of all three - physical, mental and social health - would lead to being a happier, more grateful, calm and collected me. I want to go into more detail regarding the physical part but before I do that let me share a few thoughts on mental and social health.
Mental health for me had a lot to do with realizing what I need and what I don't need and identifying and separating stupid little issues from real problems. Whenever I realized that I needed to be more grateful for what I have and complain less about a specific situation I always told myself "If you don't have problems, you create problems.". This is still true and happens a lot but I am much better at identifying what a real problem is, what I am able to solve and what I shouldn't give a f*ck about. Also, sorting out your stuff (materialistically speaking), trying to be honest to yourself and constantly ask "What do I need? How much of it do I need? Do I need this at all? What do I want? Why do I want this? ..." helped me to de-clutter my stuff. Getting rid of unnecessary things in your life helps clearingh the mind as well.
Regarding social health it's just about the same. Whom do I need in my life? What kind of social contact is required to discuss issues, problems, ideas? How much time do I want to invest in my social life and who do I want to share my time with? De-cluttering this part of my life also lead to much more clarity, more happiness, fewer problems and more time with the right people.
Losing track of physical health and it's effects on mood, motivation and mindfulness...
Writing about the topic of physical health, I don't want to create the impression that this is the most important of the three. As mentioned before, I think all three have to be in balance and the effort to improve in all three areas needs to be split in equal parts. But if you're in doubt what to start with - as I was - starting with improving physical health can be a good foundation to approach the rest.
Especially during the past couple of weeks I haven't felt good and I didn't seem to be in a good state physically and mentally. The reasons can partially be found in the current situation, the lock-down, the inability to roam freely and do what you want to do, but it was also caused by a lack of orientation and clarity of the mind regarding the steps I want to take next and the goals I want to achieve in 2020.
So, I asked myself why I lost focus. What went wrong and when did I stop being motivated and full of energy? Probably all of us have moments like that and if it gets really bad they might even last for a longer period of time. For some they even result in anxiety disorders and depression.
I've been in this state of mind before and it's quite tricky to get out of. I usually start being lazier than normal. I also lose track of some good habits and adopt new, bad ones - e.g. I eat more and lower quality food. Whenever these things happen my mind is cluttered with "problems" that I create for myself and ultimately I become someone I don't want to be. I lose track of what I should be grateful for, I become a bad listener and companion for my wife and others and I am constantly finding things to complain about. Also, I am much harsher and generally more negative regarding my physical and mental state, even calling myself "fat and stupid".
But how do these things happen? Well, on the one hand the cause can be found in certain triggers that effect my immediate surroundings and routines - for example a new project at work, new people to work with, being away from home for a couple of weeks, etc.. These are triggers that cause change in my behavior. With regards to the current situation, there were also a lot of limitations to my usual (sporting) activities for almost four months now.
On the other hand I sometimes get into a bad state of mind when things don't work out as planned. Not because I'm disappointed that things didn't work out. I usually get angry with myself some time later when I realize that I should've tried harder or pressed on. However, if there's nobody telling you to keep pushing and to try harder, sometimes giving up is just too easy and convenient. Giving up on one thing can trigger giving up on another. And one by one the system of good habits you've built for yourself falls apart...
The way out...
Luckily, my wife discovered a great gym near her workplace that had re-opened a couple of weeks ago and she really wanted to give it a try. We went there last Saturday. My wife took a course and I bought a week-pass for the Gym. I wasn't really feeling it at first but after working out for 90 minutes and trying to push as many muscle groups as possible to their limits I felt better and better. Usually I do a lot of cardio but I realized that the muscle workout had different effects.
To be frank, any kind of physical activity can make a difference to your mental state. Exercising releases endorphins that can drastically improve your mood. The chemicals that are generated from being active can help build up self-esteem and improve your self-image. When you begin to feel good about yourself, your self-worth escalates, thus alleviating depressive feelings which will have a positive effect on most of the other things you do.
Staying physically active can also reduce feelings of stress. When you exercise, norepinephrine, a stress hormone and neurotransmitter that can stabilize the brain and body's reaction to stress, forms. Norepinephrine allows you to calm down before you start to feel bad or even experience an anxiety attack.
The ultimate effect on me wasn't that I felt super exhausted and wanted to go home to chill on the couch for the rest of the day. It was the exact opposite. I felt super energized and wanted to do a hundred more things until the day was over...
The upward spiral...
You may ask: why even bother writing about something "everybody knows"? Well, since my blog is about self-reflection in the first place and I feel that this topic is really that important, I want to encourage others to think about it and figure out for themselves if they are at their best right now or if there are things that they could improve.
Maybe you've found yourself asking "How can a successful person manage to do this, that and that and in addition run a marathon and be super active?". Well, maybe it's not "in addition" but "because of"!
Realizing how much energy I got through pushing myself physically made me realize that ultimately people can do more because they do more. Sounds weird, doesn't it? But it's not that weird if you take a close look. The effect works like an upward spiral: Action - Inspiration - Motivation. Some think it's the other way round but it really isn't. Taking action will lead to more inspiration and motivation.
I've written about this before but since I rediscovered how important it is to me, I'll close this article with the same words I've used before: If you start acting - and if it's only five minutes of doing something you always wanted to do - then the chances are high that this tiny bit of action will inspire you. It will fire up your enthusiasm and motivate you to do more. And eventually you'll find yourself doing what you love, not only for five minutes but for hours and hours to come...
Here are a few more thoughts on taking action and being active: