4 Mindset Strategies for Long-Term Health and Performance Improvements
“The years teach much, which the days never know.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you want to ensure the long-term progress towards your health goals, improving your ability to manage stress is paramount. Stress comes in many forms but for today we are going to focus on mental stress, and how it’s associated with our perception of what’s in our control or not.
A lot of unnecessary stress stems from uncertainty. This uncertainty is often due to a lack of preparation. Once we have this perceived stress on our minds, it creates a state of unease in our mind and body. A lot of stress looks similar at a biological level, but the way it manifests in our lives can look quite complex — as if we have no idea what the root cause of our health issues are.
Carrying extra stress in our lives can lead to:
Poor sleep, and greater fatigue
Impaired immune functioning
Excess body fat, and reduced ability to burn fat
Imbalanced appetite, and hunger control
Lesser ability to absorb nutrients
Inability to build muscle and strength
It’s not all doom and gloom because we actually have the ability to alter our bodies stress response.
I believe that a lot of mental stress boils down to two things:
Our perception and preparation.
By working on our mindset and planning for future obstacles, we can greatly reduce anxiety - sparring us of all the negative consequences chronic stress leaves us.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
— from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’
To live a healthier life requires that we look at our situation as a whole. This means we need to look at our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states of well-being. From this place we must also see where we have come from, where we currently stand, and where we are going.
Often we get caught up in trivialities of life — fleeting thoughts, material possessions, short cuts, and anything that rewards us instantly. Think of the many people who yo-yo from diet to diet, and exercise program to program.
These moments of extreme emotion tend to cloud our overall judgement and decisions.
Thus, it’s wise to clarify the moment at hand, while zooming your lens outwards and looking at the entire landscape around you. That is to say — how far you’ve come, what you’ve accomplished, all of the amazing things you set out to do, your goals, why you are doing what you’re doing, and forecasting any obstacles that stand in your way.
Asking yourself, “What am I trying to express here?” and, “Will this serve my larger sense of purpose?” are two great questions to ask when feeling a lack of disconnect with your goals.
For the first question, you gain leverage over your situation as you begin to identify the mindset you are bringing forth everyday.
The latter question is a simple self-audit which puts you on the spot. Whether the answer is ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, you are left with the desired behaviour completely exposed in front of you. This gives you the power to decide what to do next.
I created a four-part checklist in order to improve perception and preparation. This will help you boost your long-term thinking tremendously — aiding in your focused quest to living a healthier life.
These are not one-n’-done exercises. You must constantly be going through these as part of an iterative process. Moving through life you will change, your environment will change, and you so must constantly adapt.
Complete a Pre-Mortem
A post-mortem is looking at what happen after the fact, whereas a pre-mortem is about looking ahead and strategizing what you might do if any obstacles arise.
Fitting with the concept of a pre-mortem is the term “death threats.” I stole this term from a Winnipeg-based innovation strategy company called InVision Edge. Once you make the unknowns, known, you give yourself a greater chance of success.
Do you have any of your “red” light foods in your house? For most people, these are the foods that tend to be processed, high in sugar, and low in fibre.
Are there any events coming up in the future that may pose difficult for you to stick to your plan?
Do the people you surround yourself with make health conscious choices daily?
Do you know how to safely, and effectively exercise?
Are you sitting most of the day?
With your pre-mortem complete, and all death threats listed, you can start to create an effective strategy of how to overcome each obstacle. You wouldn’t believe how simple this idea is, yet how few people refuse to take five minutes to go through an exercise like this.
Focus on The Essential Few
In his book, ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,’ author Greg McKeown puts forward a great quote:
“Focus on the essential few, not the trivial many.”
When it comes to living a healthy life in a world of abundant information, we have now complicated things more than we need to.
But often in the face of increased complexity, the shortest route to action and motivation is through simplicity.
Honestly ask yourself:
Am I sleeping a high quality 7–9 hours every night?
Am I really moving as much as I can throughout the day?
Am I eating slowly and mindfully?
Do I eat only when I’m hungry, and stop eating when I’m satisfied?
Am I eating mostly whole foods, ideally with lots of vegetables and some fruit?
Am I drinking two to three litres of pure, filtered water every day?
When examining one’s actions with a self-audit like this, usually hard truths are exposed. Even the most high level fitness enthusiasts over look the basics, performed insanely well, on a daily basis.
Pick Your Battles
Sometimes it’s not worth the mental anger to get caught up in past decisions, or current resistance. You get to decide where you pour your energy. Our perspective of situations greatly influences the amount of stress our minds and body experience.
Getting upset about something in the past is not a battle not being worth fought. It’s inescapable as it’s over and unchangeable. You can learn lessons from past mistakes. But don’t make a habit of reflecting on what was, what could have been, or what if.
Spend your time strategizing how you will get your daily exercise in, even if you feel like things are too hectic.
Making a time to plan and prep meals — no matter how busy your week.
Choose to go to bed a half hour earlier instead of watching another Netflix show.
Stretch your zone of competence by incorporating a daily meditation practice or increasing the length of your current meditations.
These are battles worth fighting. This is focusing on what will be, and what is.
Have Faith in Time
You will reach your goal. It’s just a matter of time.
I love the phrase amor fati, which means to love your fate. Digging in our heels, resisting, judging, and blaming things that are outside of our control put us into a downward spiral of negativity. There is no growth with these thought patterns.
Instead, it’s much more wise to follow Frank Ostaseski’s advice and welcome everything, as is. Push away nothing. So long as you are honestly doing the meaningful behaviours that make you a little bit healthier each day, all you can do is trust that time has your back.
Time has a funny way of smoothing everything out. From a perspective of days, weeks, and months things may look rocky. But when looking from the vantage point of years, we can see if we were really consistent on our path towards better health. Patterns and clues are left behind.
Love your fate. You will get there. Trust the process.
What to Do Next:
Complete a pre mortem. Write down all the potential “death threats” your health journey may face. What are the obstacles — both internally and externally — that may cause you to fall back on old habits? Now address each problem with a solution. Write everything down.
Focus on the essential few. Come up with a list of one to three things that you know you can easily be doing everyday that will make you healthier. e.g., Drinking two litres of water, eating a piece of fruit breakfast, or meditating before bed. Make sure that whatever it is that you do, you know you can do it without putting up an internal fight. The goal is simplicity. If you are thinking too much, it’s probably not the right habit to focus on.
Pick your battles. Spend your time figuring out how to make one percent better improvements in every are of your own life, opposed to worrying 100 percent of the time about the things you have 100 percent, zero control over.
Have faith in time. Set yourself some helpful reminders and mantras to reflect upon daily. Some of the best advice I was ever told was to just relax. Why go through life tense, worried, and fearful while trying to pursue a goal? When instead you can aim to show up everyday with gratitude, humility, and humour? Don’t take things so seriously. Time smooths everything out.
Thank you for reading my article. I hope you found it helpful or at least thought-provoking. If this post did help you, consider sharing it with someone you think it would help too.