I recently wrote a critique of Dr. Ken Cooper’s “12 Steps to Good Health.” One reader suggested that I offer my own 12 Steps to Good Health.
So I did. Enjoy.
1. The WELLNESS REPORT
Subscribe to the AWR and read a total of 12 editions. This should not be difficult. Subscriptions are free and all 763 previous editions are readily accessible, electronically. It won’t matter which twelve you choose – any combination will set you on the path toward a REAL wellness mindset. If you doubt this, look into the eyes of veteran readers, notice how they carry themselves, their ease and harmony, their effervescent vapors and comportment valves, their self-poise, independence, candor and free spirits. Don’t overlook their embrace of reason, love of exuberance, enthusiasm for athleticism and love of mental as well as physical freedoms.
2. Reassess Your Mindset
This is especially critical if said mindset is not an original.
No matter how comfortable you may be from having gone along to get along, it could be that your ideas really suck in the grander sense of things and, most vitally, do not enable the enlightenment or level of happiness you might otherwise enjoy. Of course, maybe your mindset, regardless of beliefs in impossible things and ludicrous rules, are just dandy per your way of seeing things. Either way, you still might be better off on the whole if you take a close look at what you were told about life’s persistent questions, to borrow a phrase from Guy Noir, Private Eye, the fellow who once inhabited the 12th floor of the Acme building on many a dark night in a city that knew how to keep its secrets.
(In case you’re puzzled by this reference, it’s a famous line from regular skits featured on Garrison Keillor’s much loved “Prairie Home Companion” radio show.)
3. Minimal Exercise
Beginning today or, if it’s late at night and you need your sleep, tomorrow, go out and exercise for at least 20 minutes with no fewer than five pace pickups, raising your heart rate for 30 seconds to a minute. Do this daily for the rest of your life. Doesn’t matter if you walk, run, bike, swim, row – whatever, just do it every day. Naturally, best if you mix it up, make it fun, dress appropriately for the activity and find others to join you, if socializing while exerting appeals – whatever it takes to keep a commitment to a daily exercise regimen.
4. The Best Diet
Experiment with and, if you can pull it off, become a vegan, or as much of one as you can manage. Only a relatively few (6% of Americans at present) so disposed can pull it off, myself not included. I’m a mostly-vegan who caves now and then to the lures of gruyere cheese, egg whites, shellfish and cream in coffee. Ecotopia is not the goal. A vegan diet is great for your health (e.g., weight control), there are unlimited yummy possibilities and, most important, it’s essential for a better environment. The extent of animal cruelty alone warrants giving veganism an earnest attempt; so does slowing global warning via reductions of emission-heavy animal agriculture. The appetite-whetting possibilities will excite and delight your taste buds.
5. Heroism, Your Style
Perform a heroic act. There is no official definition of a heroic act. I use the term to describe an epic and triumphant experience. In order to accomplish such an experience, that is, moments in time when, after a period of months of disciplined preparation, you complete that which was challenging, special and meaningful, in your eyes, and celebrate the fine-tuned state that you’ve managed, with a little bit (or a lot) of luck, and with support from special aiders and abettors and much hard work via energies wisely expended. The possibilities are rich and varied. A heroic act has only a few criteria and these are but suggestions – you of course can set your own standards. I recommend the heroic act be something physical, that it requires at least three months of preparation, that it’s difficult but possible and even enjoyable in some ways (besides when successfully completed) and that it not be a one and done deal. That is, once you have completed one heroic act meeting these criteria (or your own), follow up with another – once a year, every two years or whatever feels right.
Don’t be tempted by or lured into extreme quests, such as racing non-stop up the Empire State Building, finishing an Ironman triathlon, climbing Mt. Everest or playing in the NFL or NBA. For most of us, such quests would be unrealistic. Choose something possible, but arduous and demanding, yet within your range.
Just know that, to accomplish heroic acts, you’ll have to do a lot of what it takes to land a gig at Carnegie Hall. (Hint: practice, practice, practice.) Good luck.
6. Conscious Meaning Re Life
Ponder and decide on the MOL, that is, the meaning of life or, alternately, the meaning and purposes of your life, at the present time, until new information and insights come along. There is value in bringing to conscious awareness what you believe about why you’re here, if indeed you decide there is anything more to your presence than improbable good fortune, or not such good fortune, depending on how you feel about living.
In “Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder,” Richard Dawkins writes that the fact that we are going to die makes us the lucky ones. Here’s an excerpt wherein he makes this case for this claim:
“Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia.”
So, buck up folks. Suppose you are too rational to accept the idea that a sky god put you here for a purpose. What then? Let reason be your guide – adopt a set of purposes for your life that will keep you going in good spirits. Maybe you’ll decide, like Ingersoll, that there is meaning and joy contributing to the happiness of others. Perhaps you will find ways to nurture and express your talents, thereby “reaping your greatest reward in being loved by those whose lives you have enriched.”
The possibilities for human flourishing via personally satisfying, challenging forms of meaning and purpose based upon your unique character, talents, personality and circumstances are nearly unlimited. It’s up to you.
7. Healthy Models
Surround yourself to the extent possible with others who seem to have embraced wellness mindsets, that is, people who take good care of themselves, are positive and kind, cheerful and realistic. Also favor those who are optimistic, embrace the common decencies and look after their families, friends and associates. Oh, and also be partial to making friends with people who carry on in ways consistent with reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty.
In the midst of such company, having and sustaining good intentions will be much easier.
8. Daily Learning
Invest time and energy, more so than ever, in learning and exploring. Pursue education and new activities that broaden your perspectives. Doing so is invaluable at all ages, but more important than ever in the later years. This is a time that too often invites slowing down as important body parts and organs become trouble spots, to put it mildly. Thus, renewed gusto should be summoned and directed at creative ways to sustain and even escalate the vitality that a REAL wellness mindset invites. Think of the possibilities out there as if the world were (for it actually is, sort of) a massive museum. Check out the vast collections on offer, and be a traveling dilettante experiencing the kaleidoscope of arts, history and culture, science and nature – so many choices.
Live it up – you can’t take it with you, since you’re not going anywhere when you die. Be courageous and don’t shy from looking realities in the eye. Keep in mind that you will soon enough become infirm, your mind will expire before the rest of you and you’ll become a burden on everybody, though few will let on. By putting the fact of death out of mind as much as possible, it becomes too easy to take life for granted, to get caught up in jejune concerns and waste precious moments.
Laugh more often, unless your days are already filled with more crackups than a roller derby. Ingersoll suggested that “no one should fail to pick up every jewel of joy that can be found in his path.” Instead of looking for trouble (or love in all the wrong places), look for ways to laugh more often throughout the day, every day! It’s good for your demeanor. By enjoying more of it, especially good old fashioned belly yuks – the kind that bring tears to your eyes. Humor will boost your health status and nearly everything else (social relations, work satisfaction and bodily functions) will improve, as well.
Opportunities for humor are everywhere – you can’t escape it. Humor is more popular than porn, and much more socially acceptable. Best-seller books and TED talks celebrate the power of laughter in business and personal relationships; humor conferences (CEU credits available!) address the science of comedy, as do learned medical journals.
Humor takes many forms, including satire, absurdity, mischief, incredulity, surprise, awkwardness, puns, mockery and affectation, to note a few. You can have a ball with more humor in your life. Make a conscious effort to look for it – you can’t wait for it to seek you out or opportunities will be missed.
However, exercise a measure of caution if you decide to be the one spreading humor. For starters, know your audience. Humor is subjective in the extreme and can be hazardous. While nearly everyone loves to laugh, what is experienced as funny is highly subjective. A gut-busting joke or situation explained with surprises and wit can crack one person up but make another want to crack a bottle over your head. For example, you would not want to make fun of certain people, like Kim Jong Un. What’s amusing to some is definitely offensive to others. Forget jokes about blonds, ethnic groups or even lawyers. (Why don’t sharks bite lawyers? Professional courtesy.)
So, look on the bright side with a few more laughs daily than you otherwise might if not looking for such opportunities. There’s little danger of an overdose or adverse side effects.
10. Effective Thinking
Fine tune your decision-making skills at every opportunity. Not only is the media filled with fake news (and this is not a reference to media reports Trump doesn’t like) but con artists, bogus healers, Russian hackers, get-rich hucksters, slick prosperity gospel preachers, lonely hearts seeking long walks on the beach with generous soul mates, and other charlatans on the prowl as never before – and they all want your money! So, consider this: whatever they’re selling, it probably doesn’t work, you don’t need it anyway, the claims are likely untrue and you shouldn’t fall for any of it. Skepticism, doubt and wariness will stand you in good order until you’ve had time for due diligence.
Learn as much as possible about the three-pound wonder that constitutes the real you. Our brains are naturally attracted to simple explanations of complexity, therefore, we are easily seduced by pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, absurd dogmas and superstitions, quackery and other forms of deception. Religions are another reason for faulty thinking because they teach obedience, not critical thinking. Religions frown on skepticism, doubt and wariness, vital tools for functioning in rational ways that enable better choices.
Ingersoll, a promoter of effective decision-making regarding religions, acknowledged that “reason is a small and feeble flame, a flickering torch by stumblers carried in the starless night, blown and flared by passion’s storms -and yet it is the only light. Extinguish that, and naught remains.”
In the modern world (with our much-evolved but not entirely well-adapted two million year-old brains), reason is indeed a small and feeble flame, but still the only light. Guy Harrison, author of half a dozen books on reason, including “Good Thinking: What You Need to Know to be Smarter, Safer, Wealthier and Wiser,” recommends such skills “be elevated to a moral issue – because an epidemic of poor reasoning looms as humankind’s great unrecognized crisis.”
11. Service to Others
Expect nothing in return. Seek no credit. Do it for someone or many in need, to advance a great principle (e.g. separation of church and state), to help a community, promote animal welfare, save the bloody planet – possibilities for selfless service are inexhaustibly diverse.
While personal rewards are not the point or purpose, service to others invariably brings a bounty of healthful and satisfying returns. Doing good, over time, adds to your sense of worth, purpose and the like, even if nobody notices.
Studies sponsored by the folks who gave us International Good Deeds Day (April 15 this year) suggest that such endeavors decrease stress, increase life expectancy, promote happiness and feel good, due to the fact that such service sparks the release of endorphins, the brain’s pleasant mood chemicals.
A 2012 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that thinking about times you’ve helped others make you want to help again. Service to others is self-reinforcing. The research indicates that reflecting on your past good deeds makes you feel selfless and motivated to do more. What a deal – personal health gains for you and help for others – a good deal for all concerned.
12. Beyond the Pale Blue Dot
Keep ever-present in mind the ultimate, fastest-acting stress management technique – thoughts about the cosmos. Who cannot at least diminish for a spell the unpleasant emotions associated with grudges, worries, fears, jealousies and/or upsets after only a few minutes, even seconds, thinking about space and time? What’s the big deal about life’s spilled milk equivalents – if you remember this advice from the Monty Python classic, “The Meaning of Life:”
“Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown, and things seem hard or tough, and people are stupid, obnoxious or daft, and you feel that you’ve had quite eno-o-o-o-o-ough… “
(Thanks, Eric Idle, for the “Galaxy Song” – a wonderful stress release song.)
This reliable stress reliever involves shifting your mind, just briefly, to the fact that there are hundreds of billions of stars in our Milky Way galaxy – which is but one of hundreds of billions of galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars. And don’t get your hippocampus in a knot struggling to sort out how many planets are out there, each revolving around its own special star. Perhaps there are planets somewhere in the misty deep teeming with inhabitants, most of whom have also been led to believe that they are the center of the universe, and the highest purpose of some grand design.
All the best. Stay weller than well.