“I’m feeling pretty tired lately. Lol, maybe I’m getting old?”
I received this text from a friend today. I never asked how old she was but she’s definitely not even 30 yet.
I also spoke to a not-quite-as-young friend of mine today and told me she felt great. She had just started joining a hiking group last year and now she does it regularly. She’s 50.
Ah, youth. What is youth anyway? Is it the number the years you’ve been alive? The experience you’ve accumulated? The energy with which you live and love your life?
Sobering thought: for a lot of people, the modern lifestyle simply robs them of their energy. Of their vitality. Vitality comes from the Latin root ‘vita’ by the way, which means ‘life’. So the modern lifestyle is, in a way, robbing you of your life.
Look, the truth is, most of us work at least 8 hours a day for 5 days a week, not counting commute hours. If you work in a more hectic industry or city, you can bet that number goes up. By the time you get home, you just want to relax. Eat, shower, finish up whatever you need to finish up for tomorrow (if that), then settle down and watch Desperate Housewives or boot up Steam for a few hours of gaming. It’s not that we know that we should be doing something else (like, I don’t know, read a book? Try meditation? Write that novel you’ve been saying you wanted to write since forever?) but when someone tells us to do that, we wave them off.
Because no way am I giving up the only precious few hours a day for myself.
So then we wake up and repeat.
Does this sound like you?
If it does, I want to tell you the first steps you have to take to get your life back. Yes, ideally we should all find the time to hike in our holidays, but for some of us, we sleep that extra 5 minutes after the snooze button because in those morning hours, those 5 minutes are worth more to us than diamonds.
Let’s do quick check to see if this guide is for you. Do you:
- Want to work on a side project on your life but simply don’t have the energy.
- Feel like you’re just so tired that you can’t possibly work on anything extra, even if you know you should.
- Have tried and failed to follow through on some one-month beginner health plan?
If you said yes to any of the above, this guide is for you.
Why am I doing this? Because I used to be this person, and I see way too many people who seem to feel this way. It’s time to GET OUR LIVES BACK.
There are 3 things that are the most important for people who are starting out. They are, in this order:
Your mindset; your internal dialogue and scripts
So let’s get to it.
1. YOUR MINDSET
“Oh man, another one of these system things. I hope I can do it. But I’ve ‘committed’ to these things before and I never follow through”
This was something I used to say every time I told myself I’ll work towards a better me through some sort of system. It turns out that I’m not alone in this.
Everyone has invisible scripts in their head, and for most of us, these scripts are defeatist and pessimistic. If you haven’t seen Brené Brown’s TED talk on shame and vulnerability, you really should.
There is no outsmarting yourself or outdoing yourself to break that voice that tells us we’re “never gonna make it” or simply “not good enough”. What you must do, then, is work to cultivate a mindset for ‘non-zero days’. Full credits to this Reddit post which lays out the groundwork on how to think when you approach systematically improving your life.
The summary is this:
- If you’re starting from the bottom (i.e. an absolute beginner) you’re starting from zero. Aim for simply moving beyond zero. Non-zero. Whether this is sleeping 15 minutes earlier or making time to take a cold shower in the morning. Don’t ask your willpower to wake you up 1 hour earlier and go for a jog if you’re starting from nothing. Work your way up.
- Think of yourself as a past, present, and future self. If your past self chose some good decisions, be grateful because it is doing your present self a favour. If it chose some bad decisions, realize that those bad decisions have an impact on your present self. Similarly, if your present self is making a bad decision, it will affect your future self, and you don’t want that. However, if your present self is making a good decision, you thank it because it’s doing your future self a favour.
- The main point of this exercise is to pull yourself away from the sum of your actions. It helps you think objectively, rather like a mediator for all three versions of you, and not just your singular ‘present’ self who has all the responsibilities of fixing and preparing everything. This will exhaust you.
- Learn to forgive yourself and be grateful to yourself and your surroundings. The truth is, we’re probably a lot kinder we are to other people than we are to ourselves. So again, think objectively and distance yourself away from the situation. If you were not you, how would you judge the situation? How would you deal with it?
Basically, if you’re an absolute beginner, be forgiving to yourself. Would you laugh at a child for trying to learn how to walk but fell? No. Would you say that child could never, ever do it? No.
So don’t say that to yourself. Learn to remove yourself emotionally from a situation and realize you likely have a voice in your head that is actively trying to sabotage you from trying new things.
What’s the next step to getting your life back? Why, getting some energy back of course, and for that you need sleep.
2. YOUR SLEEP
Look, this should be a really short section. The short story is, if you sleep less than 8 hours regularly, you have to sleep more.
The numbers vary, but you’ve probably heard that the average adult needs around 8 hours per night to be in a rested state, while many people can function on 6 hours. We’re not aiming for ‘functioning’ here, people. To reclaim your life, you need to have energy, and to have energy, you need to sleep.
Not sleeping enough can cause death, stupidity (okay, we mean: lower cognitive abilities, slower reaction time, inability to concentrate), and higher vulnerability to diseases and illnesses. See here for a full list.
Many successful people have morning routines. They work towards the important things in their life before the day saps their energy and willpower away, so they give the best of themselves to their life projects. You probably know this.
So why are you not sleeping earlier?
Maybe it’s because our culture actually celebrates how little we sleep, we love to brag about it at work, as if we’re really working into those late hours after work. Some of us feel like after work hours is the only time we have for ourselves and want to spend more time doing things that ‘relaxes’ us.
But seriously, what’s more relaxing than sleep?
Listen to me, sleep is the first step you should take to reclaim your life. Not exercise, not your diet. Sleep affects your willpower, your physical and mental energy to tackle your day. Even your phone gets charged to full battery throughout the night before you take it out the day after.
And good luck telling you’ll stick to any new routine if you’re not having enough sleep. Your body simply will reject trying any new activity until it feels like you can actually handle it physically. You can’t trick your own body in how much energy it has, not for the long term anyway.
So start sleeping earlier.
How to Start Sleeping Earlier
For the absolute beginner, for those who loves to do things into the dead of the night, just tell yourself you can do those things in the morning. For example, if you like to watch YouTube until 1AM in the morning and you have to wake up at 7AM, tell yourself you’ll wake up at 6AM to watch it, and get to sleep by midnight.
Give yourself a timeline to do this. Be patient with yourself. I suggest at least 1-2 weeks.
Remember to bring your objective mindset with you. Be kind, you’ll fail, try again.
As for whether you’ll actually wake up at 6AM to watch YouTube? Feel free to do that. But don’t be surprised if the morning you rather take that extra hour in bed, because you’ll probably need it.
The point is to get yourself to sleep earlier for a few days so you actually get enough hours of sleep on a normal day. That is, you’re working from your full capacity.
What to Do Once You Actually Start Sleeping Earlier
First of all, congratulations! Hopefully you can feel an actual dramatic difference in your energy and attention levels. If not, try to find your optimal necessary sleep time. Some adults need up to 9 hours or more of sleep.
The next level to take with your sleeping earlier is eventually you might want to try waking up earlier.
According to Laura Vanderkam’s What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, the most successful people in our society wake up, latest, at 6AM. Why? Because these people also want their personal time.
Except this personal time is put at the beginning of the day, not at the end. The difference? The priority they put themselves over their ‘daily work’ routine. This means these successful people choose to do their own things when they’re the most refreshed, in the beginning of the day when they have the most willpower and mental clarity.
The top 3 things these people focus on in the morning?
- Their Careers. Strategizing and focused work.
- Their Relationships. Giving their families and friends their best.
- Exercise or spiritual and creative practices.
If you’ve always wanted to be a jogger, do it in the morning. If you’ve always wanted to try meditating, do it in the morning. If you want to move up in your career, think about it in the morning. Your top priorities are rarely things that have to happen at a set time. But they are thing that needs your utmost attention, and you’re at your utmost attention in the morning before your working day begins.
Once again, come back to this step only after you’ve begun sleeping earlier and can wake up earlier more comfortably. No one wants to think about their career when they’re still groggy from only 6 hours of sleep.
Once you have your sleeping schedule sorted, it’s time to move on to the next step.
3. YOUR FOOD
Ever heard of that phrase “You are what you eat”?
Of course people don’t mean that you’ll be a tomato if you eat a tomato. But this should be no surprise: if you eat crappy food, you won’t get the energy you need to actually do what you want to do.
Like sleep, there’s too much information out there on food for a beginner. If you read that much contradictory information (supplements or not? Many small meals or intermittent fasting?) you probably just won’t take any action.
For the absolute beginner trying to get their life back, we eat for one reason: to feel energized. People eat differently for 3 reasons. One is to lose weight. The second is to gain weight. The third is to feel energized. We want the third option. This means there are only a few rules for us to follow:
- Eat when you’re hungry. Don’t eat when you’re not.
- Be mindful when you eat. Chew at least 20 times. This helps you taste what you’re eating in its fullness. Let yourself actually digest. Your body is not designed to finish a meal in 15 minutes or less. Food used to be hard to come by. You savoured that stuff.
- Following the previous point: Your body is also not designed to be sitting in front of a computer doing 3 things at once while eating. In a meditation retreat I went to once, we weren’t allowed to do anything during eating times except to eat our food. We were encouraged to chew. You’ll be surprised at how much more delicious this makes your food.
- Preferably, eat ‘real’ food. The general rule of thumb here is to eat food that your great-grandmother would realize as food.
The Problems We Face With Food
In general, there are two barriers that discourage people from eating healthily. They are:
- Generally, healthier options are more expensive.
- Healthy food has a reputation for being less tasty.
How to Tackle ‘Food being Expensive’
Yes, healthy food options are generally more expensive if you’re eating out. But if you’re eating at home or alone that is a different matter entirely.
I highly recommend you to check out this article from Nerd Fitness that talks about eating cheap and healthy food. In addition to an actual list of food that are affordable (and revealing the truth that frozen vegetables are actually good for you too) it talks about the important shift from thinking of groceries and food in terms of $/calories to $/nutrient. That is, thinking in terms of spending money to get you an actual healthy body to sustain you.
Moreover, if you follow the above advice to actually take the time to enjoy your food, chewing at least 20 times, it will help your body digest and allow your body to actually let your brain know it’s full.
And if you still don’t feel full, try eating more oatmeal or cereals containing oat and barley bran. These healthy breakfast foods contain a soluble fibre called beta-glucan that can help you feel full.
How to Tackle ‘Healthy Food Not Tasting Good’
This is an actual point of confusion for me, because given a chance, if the price was the same, for me to choose between a cuisine of my choice or a McDonald’s, I’ll always choose a proper meal.
Real food has a taste that will appear when you actually chew it, there are nuances to even the blandest vegetables that are only enhanced with adding something simple such as chicken broth. These nuances are enhanced after a few chews. Junk food doesn’t have the same. It’s an immediate taste that overwhelms the mouth.
But even if we don’t appreciate food in the same way, the fact remains there are a bunch of people who made cookbooks for the cheap and healthy. Take a look at the experts who teach you how to survive on $4/day! And look here for a list of 88 recipes that are healthy and delicious. Deep down, we all know this is an excuse.
No one is telling you to eat raw broccoli (though if that’s your thing, go for it), but things can go a long way if you learn to season your food. And by seasoning, I don’t mean anything beyond the good ol’ salt and pepper. Be liberal with your salt and pepper, do taste tests while you’re cooking. The general rule is that you can rarely overuse pepper compared to salt, but use your own discretion.
To recap: there are way too many people out there who are acting or feeling older than they are. If you’re sick of feeling older than you know you are, then it’s time to re-examine your daily life choices. The first step to regaining control of your life is being energized so you can actually prioritize and control your time and tasks.
- Are you kind to yourself? Do you look objectively at what you’re doing? Do you encourage yourself when you’re trying new things or are you constantly afraid of doing new things? You do not have to be a merciless slave-driver to yourself. Being rude and disrespectful of yourself only begets other people to do the same to you.
- Do you sleep well? On a schedule that at least accommodates 8 hours of sleep? Sleep to you is like recharging for your phone. If you don’t sleep enough regularly, you’re depriving your body of the ability to think fast and clearly, your willpower supply, and general health. It’s only after you sleep you can think about adding things to your life.
- Do you eat well? Do you actually chew and taste your food long enough for your brain and tongue to register everything? There are SO many resources teaching you how to cook cheaply and deliciously. Mindset shift: go from counting your money’s worth for calories to your money’s worth for nutrition. Quickest actionable takeaway: get your frozen vegetables, and use your salt and pepper to bring out the taste.
There are so many times that people read an article, let it tickle their fancy, and then move along with their day. Don’t do this to yourself. I’ve made this guide for the absolute beginner who wants to get back control of their life and health, but just doesn’t know how. Start with being kind but objective with yourself and, for goodness’s sakes, just more sleep. Just start.