The pursuit of success, which we imagine will result in abundance in all things, often leads to the opposite -- depletion of our most vital resource, our energy, and our life force. As a physician, I have the privilege of bearing witness to the stories behind the veil of success. And the most elusive aspect of success is well-being, which encompasses physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wealth. The pursuit of money and power too often result in a sacrifice of the self, an abandonment of simple principles of self-care.
The care and feeding of our human bodies and souls is not part of our education or values or even our daily planning. Yet, these basic skills are at the root of happiness, at the root of true success. My practice focuses on the poorest among us -- not in money or power, because my practice includes some of the most powerful and wealthiest men and women in the world -- but poor in health, poor in connection, poor in vitality, poor in energy.
Energy is the ultimate currency. Energy to be present in your life, to engage fully with each human being you touch, with your senses, your body, your work and your family. Having energy to connect to what is important creates joy and fulfillment. Why is it that the second best-selling class of drugs are those to alter our mood or energy? Why are drugs for reflux or heartburn the third most commonly prescribed class of medication? Could it be because our life is coming back up and getting stuck in our throats? We are choking on our over-consumption of stuff, unable to digest our lives.
One of my patients, a highly successful government leader, rich in power and money, was poor in health, 60 pounds overweight, fatigued, falling asleep in meetings, barely able to walk with knee pain, and suffering from a strained relationships and depressed mood. Surviving on Diet Coke, coffee, sugar and bread, he had an energy crisis. His intelligence and success focused outward, not inward. The simple notion of self-care was absent from his lexicon. He could turn a nation around but not his own health.
With a few simple tools, a simple plan for self-care and through integrating a few simple patterns into his life, he was able to lose 45 pounds, he no longer needed afternoon naps, his mood lifted and his personality brightened and his knee pain went away, allowing him to get back to the tennis he loved.
The path to energy, to well-being is not far for most of us -- it is a few bites of food, a few steps, a few moments of rest away. It is disarmingly simple, yet even the best and the brightest among us often fail to make the connection between how we treat our bodies and how we feel. We simply never learned the art of the care and feeding of our body and soul. A few simple acts planned and designed into your daily life change everything.
The Third Metric is ultimately about energy, about vitality, about the capacity to engage fully with life, to be present to yourself and those you love, to be able to connect to our collective humanity through service and community.
This past week, I attended the annual conference of the Institute for Functional Medicine on "Illuminating the Energy Spectrum," focusing on perhaps the most important energy crisis -- the loss of human capital through the depletion of our physical and spiritual energy.
The science of achieving the Third Metric is not an abstract idea, but a method that can be learned by anyone willing to learn a few simple skills -- skills that help you design your life for true success. Initially, it involves a reboot of body and soul, but once you learn and practice this method, it becomes increasingly habitual.
I am convinced that, if we spent one-tenth the energy planning for success in the Third Metric as we do striving for money and power, we could solve our energy crisis. In fact, I am a little embarrassed that I make a living teaching people how to create energy and manage their energy using extreme common sense. But as Mark Twain once said, "The problem with common sense is that is it not too common."
The primary virtue of self-care is not just that it enriches your own pleasure and satisfaction (although that is a nice side effect), it is that it empowers you to show up, be present and engage fully in your life -- with those you love, your community, your work.
It endows you with the greatest power of all -- the power to manifest your humanity without restriction or limitation. It gives you the power to access the most reliable and direct doorway to happiness, which is compassion and love.
If our energy is diminished, so is our capacity to love. Why do we admire figures such as the Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa? Because they are the embodiment of compassion, love and service. These traits are the highest expressions of our humanity -- and not coincidentally, also the states of consciousness most strongly associated with happiness and fulfillment.
The Ingredients for Success in the Third Metric
The cultivation of energy and vitality, and subsequent nurturing of true abundance, starts with design. It starts with creating an artful, well-designed life, one that respects the sacred trust we have been given, one that honors this body and soul that we have been given for our journey.
The design process need not be complicated or time-consuming, but it does need to be intentional, because without planning, failure is guaranteed.
When we set out on a long car ride, most of us take time to ensure there is gas in the tank and air in the tires. Why would we give ourselves any less attention?
It turns out that the formula for creating and sustaining a healthy human (and sustainable human energy) is quite simple. It just requires removing (or minimizing) the bad stuff and putting in the good stuff.
Yes, this requires some attention, some planning and organization. It requires building habits into your daily life that make these changes automatic, but once you do, you'll find that you are thriving rather than just surviving. And the most important metrics of your life -- happiness, energy, vitality, connection and love -- will all multiply.
Step One: Take out the bad stuff.
- Our SAD diet (the Standard American Diet -- industrial, hyper-processed, hyper-palatable, salt, sugar and fat-laden food-like substances)
- Chronic stress both psychological (our thoughts and ways of relating to our experience) and physical (any type of trauma)
- Allergies (including food sensitivities, which is why I often recommend a two-week trial of eliminating common triggers, such as gluten and dairy)
- Microbes (including imbalances in the 100 trillion bugs in our gut. Eating fiber-rich foods, avoiding antibiotics and taking probiotics can help, but sometimes the help of a trained functional medicine physician is necessary)
- Toxins (the ubiquitous chemical and metals found in our food, water, air, household cleaners and even makeup and skin care products).
Step Two: Add the good stuff.
- Real whole fresh simple food that has the shortest distance from field to fork, that is cooked from real ingredients by you, or by a human near you. It's stuff your great-grandmother would recognize as food. Everything she ate was organic, local, seasonal, heirloom and grass-fed! Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, eggs, olive oil, non-factory farmed animal products and sustainably raised or harvested seafood. Forget obsessing about Paleo, vegan, low fat, high fat, low carb and high carb. Just be a "foodist" or a "qualitarian."
- Nutrients, the vitamins and minerals that run all the biochemistry and regulate one third of our gene function. Low levels are very common. A recent study found that patients with early memory loss who did NOT take vitamin B12, folate and B6 had nearly ten times the amount of brain atrophy over two years compared to the group that took the vitamins. Optimizing omega 3 fats and vitamins D, C, and E can also prevent your brain from shrinking. Keeping your brain healthy is a key part of any measure of the Third Metric.
- Movement. Our bodies were designed to move and when they don't, they atrophy and break down. Small changes lead to big rewards. It's the obvious things: walking where you can, playing outside more, scheduling active fun. Or, if you are time-strapped or traveling, try the scientific 7-minute workout. It's my new favorite quick fix. If you don't have seven minutes a day to move your body, then you have bigger issues to face about the priorities in your life.
- Sleep. This life-sustaining tool is underrated and under-utilized. When we short change ourselves on sleep, our lives are poorer for it. Our bodies cannot repair and heal; they store more fat, our brains age faster and suffer cognitive impairment equivalent to being drunk. Many of our damaged relationships, damaged organs and half-lived lives are the result of our hyper-caffeinated, sleep-deprived strategies to achieve more. Yet, when we skimp on sleep, we wind up with less in every way. Less energy, less happiness, less health. Try these 19 strategies for better sleep.
- Air, water, light. The biological effects of clean air, deep breathing, adequate hydration and natural light are profoundly health-promoting. We all hold our breaths from chronic stress, often don't drink enough water (our body weight in ounces every day) and many of us go for months never venturing further than required to go from our home to car to work and back, missing out on the power of the sun to balance our natural biological rhythms.
- Relaxation. I'm not talking about the sitting-on-the-couch-with-a-beer-or-glass-of-wine relaxation, but the profound, deep and rare relaxation that occurs in meditation, through deep breathing or yoga, making love or being in the rapture of dance or music or prayer. This type of relaxation takes a lot of intention and a surprising amount of work. Just try shutting down your mind or doing nothing for five minutes. Not as easy as it seems, but it is central to our bodies' healing system. Stress will find you, but deep, blissful relaxation is something you have to go looking for.
- Love and connection. The need for human connection, touch and love is one of our most profound needs. Deprive animals of maternal affection and they become sick and their neural networks don't develop normally. In little children, we call it "failure to thrive," and it often results from the simple loss of human connection (otherwise known as neglect). The highest expression of who we are is love, and yet we spend little time cultivating our capacity and skill at loving well, at being present and attentive to those we love. Our biology responds immediately to love -- our heart and brain rhythms immediately reset with love. And the good news is that it works even if you are the only one giving the love. It turns out that our social connections and our social networks are more powerful than genes in determining our health outcomes. Most of our ills are social diseases and require a social cure.
- Meaning and purpose. While I was in Haiti after the earthquake, I visited Paul Farmer's clinic in the mountains. Engraved in stone at the entrance to the hospital was a simple phrase, "The happiest man is one who makes others happy." Making a difference, connecting to a larger purpose, living your life on purpose is a powerful driver of happiness and well-being. The absence of meaning and purpose is one of the scourges of our modern age. Cultivating acts of service, acts of contribution, of making the world a better place is profoundly healing for the giver and receiver. Try making everyone you meet today smile, feel loved and attended to as if they were the most important person in the world. See how much better you feel.
These are things we all know, but often neglect. By releasing the things that don't work in our lives -- the impediments to thriving -- and slowly including those things that create abundance and well-being, you will -- day by day, gradually, perhaps without even noticing at first -- find yourself achieving a whole new level of true and lasting success.
Now, let me know what you have found takes away you energy and what gives you energy?
What is one thing you can let go of that drains your energy and what is one thing you can add to your life that gives you energy?
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below -- but remember, we can't offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.