Was your 2011 a year characterized by stress, poor body image, too little exercise, overwork and worry? Well, it's time to sweep out your negative attitudes, emotions and behaviors and make room for positive ones. Get out of your funk and choose to ring in health and happiness in 2012.
The good news is that health and happiness can be your natural state, and it's not difficult to achieve them. All you need is the willingness to try and the commitment to work at it step-by-step.
We travel all around the country teaching people how to manage stress, get reacquainted with nature and become energetic and healthy. Our big message to them and to you is this: It's not hard to change your body, your mood and your relationship to life, work and others.
Here are nine keys to a healthier, happier you in 2012:
Key #1: Pursue a balanced response to the six types of stress.
Chronic stress produces high cortisol levels that gnaw away at your health. Chronically high cortisol will make you sick, physically and emotionally. Stress is linked to multiple factors including these six: negative emotions, too little sleep, poor diet, overwork, toxic chemicals and inflammation. The antidote for stress is balance. Look at each of these six areas individually and work on finding small ways to reduce excesses and achieve more balance in each area. Seek more laughter, calmness and clarity in your life.
Key #2: Seek to quiet your mind.
Ignore the internal chatter that runs through your mind and practice focusing on one thought or a single repetition. This is an extremely effective tool for dissipating emotional stress and helping shift negative thoughts. Learning to quiet your mind also helps to reduce cortisol levels in your body and increase DHEA, a feel-good hormone that promotes a feeling of serenity. Quieting your mind can help you sleep better, eat more healthfully and keep work and life pressures in perspective. One of the best ways to quiet your mind is to exercise, especially outside.
Key #3: Meet fear, anger and jealousy head on.
Good thoughts lead us to incredible awareness and experiences. Olympic athletes know this, which is why they psyche themselves up before a big event. Each day brings personal "Olympic moments" -- for instance, an important meeting, a big workout, a tough but necessary talk with a friend or a commitment to a daily spiritual practice. Fear, anger and jealousy hinder our optimal performance. Bite off a smaller chunk of tasks that seem overwhelming. Get perspective on the real significance of your troubles and reactions by being out in nature. Accept the fact that challenge is normal and life is not controllable.
Key #4: Become one with the spiritual world of nature.
Who hasn't been touched by a rose in bloom or trees coming to life in the springtime? Having a sense that you and Mother Earth share a special relationship lets you know that everything is as it should be, which makes our souls happy. The more you reconnect with nature this year, the more open you will be to its wisdom and calming influence.
Key #5: Use the powerful tool of self-love.
Self-love is the best way to honor yourself and the most immediate tool you can use to fortify yourself against negative emotions like fear or self-doubt. Learning to honor and love yourself instantly transforms "need" into "peace." One of the factors that eats away at self-love is boredom -- boredom with work, boredom with your own repetitious behaviors, boredom with life. Try to find what's new in the old; seek out new ways of thinking and behaving. Draw strength, support and affirmation from community.
Key #6: Know where you want to go.
To get somewhere, you first have to know where you want to go. What physical goals are you striving toward? What kind of person do you want to become? Having these answers sets your intentions, helps focus your efforts and provides you with tangible ways to measure the results. Set small goals. Set yourself up for success; for example, schedule your workouts at a time when you'll be most likely to do them. Turn your attention away from negative thoughts.
Key #7: Whatever you want, learn to live it.
Asking for a healthy soul but choosing unsupportive friends will only prevent you from finding peace. Asking for a fit body but eating junk foods will only sabotage your own success. Surround yourself with actions, thoughts and people who will empower you and allow you to achieve your personal success. In other words, seek to keep your goals and actions in alignment this year.
Key #8: Slow and steady wins the race.
Slow down to be faster, more efficient and more productive. In the modern world, most people feel they must push their bodies and souls to the limit to make any gains in fitness or in life. Slowing down allows your body to run more efficiently. Apply small, focused changes that are gradual versus intense.
Key #9: Eat more like your caveman ancestors.
As scientists learn more about nutrition, it has become evident that our bodies weren't built to withstand the rapid changes we've witnessed in our food industry. The hunting and gathering we once did has turned into drive-throughs, super-sized meals and chemically-laden foods our organs don't have the ability to use or process. Eating the right amounts of carbohydrates, fats and protein based on ancient genetics keeps you from eating either too little or too much, both of which cause us to hold onto unwanted and unnecessary body fat. Drink lots of water and eat whole, unprocessed foods.