If you have read any of my other articles, you will know that I am a big fan of developing frameworks. I have done this for interviewing, networking and even parenting. It is an effort for me to set the rules of the game I am about to engage in. Frameworks are helpful, but only when they address your particular circumstances and trajectory of growth. To develop one that works for me, I usually need to be exposed to a bunch of frameworks from books, blogs or video but ultimately come to the point of developing the one that works for me.
Recently I have been trying to form a more holistic view of my health. I have been deep into meditation and spirituality for over fifteen years. My physical training has developed very well over the last eight years and more recently, I have been putting a lot of effort into my relationships. How do you decide what needs attention with the limited time you have available?
You guessed it. A framework.
A good framework supports good decision making by outlining the steps or questions to be addressed so you can focus on action rather than creation. It helps you orient yourself and know where you are so you can put your energy into where you are going.
I have never started such a process from scratch but take inspiration from the good ideas of the past. This is where being widely read becomes a super power in your life. No matter how much I read, usually the oldest stuff is the best. It has stood the test of time, which is why a lot of my inspirations come from Greek philosophy, Buddhism an even Native American wisdom.
In Buddhism there is a framework called the Eightfold Path. It is introduced as the path out of suffering which is first introduced with the Four Noble Truths (the cornerstone of the philosophy). The Eightfold path shows a list of areas in your life that require attention and effort in order to maintain virtue and escape suffering. I will try not to go down the rabbit hole on the immense depth of buddhist philosophy but at the very least you should know that the Eightfold Path consists of:
- Right View
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
By reviewing and aligning your life to these focus areas you can lead a virtuous life. It is effective because all of these areas are largely separate but when we view them as a list here we can quickly scan and assess each one. The important part is that the “Right” part of each focus area informs the action that one needs to take to progress that area. In regards to Right Speech, verbal expression and communication need to match Right Thoughts. If you are cursing and swearing, or being harsh and abusive, your thoughts will certainly match your speech, and vice versa. So don’t use your speech to be harsh of abusive.
This has worked for billions of people around the world as a way to remember, engage and take action on the virtue in their life. The tool has worked for me and it has worked for others.
I have wanted the same ability to review and take action on my own health so started to write out my own areas of attention with a particular focus on the “Right” way to live them.
The Ten Fold Path
The focus of this framework is to create holistic view to health so all remain in balance with the right amount of attention. If we do this then we should have two major outcomes. First we should know the next most important action to take in our health journey. Second we should be able to know when we have done enough in order to get on with other projects. If we are attending to these areas on a regular basis we can be sure we are in a healthy state to live our lives in a sustainable way. This is the foundation by which hard work lives upon.
I was originally going to call this one Right Body until i thought about it and realised diet was separate and just as important. So i broke these out. We need to use and move our bodies regularly. This is becoming increasingly hard in an office based environment. The office is an environment that isn’t optimised for movement. It is optimised for work. It is up to you to feed back into that environment to create the outcomes that you want. Get up and walk around. Take the stairs. Stand up when taking phone calls. The same applies for home. I optimise movement with my family by doing yoga in the living room and taking the kids for a walk around the block before dinner. Any little thing is the next step to making sure you have movement in your life.
- Are you using and moving your body every day?
- Do you have a regular exercise practice you enjoy?
- Where in your day can you squeeze in a little more movement?
The sad part of exercise that a lot of people find hard to grasp is that you can’t outtrain a bad diet. Whatever diet you choose to follow they are all aiming for virtually the same outcome and that is for you to put good, nourishing food into your body. I believe Michael Pollon’s guide in his book “Food Rules” is a good place to start for anyone. The rules are simple.
- Eat Food — Real raw foods. Avoid packaged and processed foods as much as possible.
- Mostly Vegetables — No matter if you are Paleo, Keto or whatever. Everyone agrees. You need to eat a lot of vegetables.
- Not Too Much — Is mainly about portion control and frequency. If you are an office worker you probably don’t need as many calories as a laborer to get through the day.
You will know if you are eating too much, eating the wrong kinds of foods. When in doubt eat more vegetables.
For a long time sleep has been one of the most overlooked parts of a healthy lifestyle because we were so busy with everything else in our lives. Turns out that rest is just as important as diet and exercise. At same time technology and a wealth of entertainment options have spread out of our living rooms and into our beds. Netflix and mobile phones have invaded the bedroom, putting us in a stimulated state that leads to poor quality sleep.
You need to ask yourself whether you are getting the best sleep you can. Is your bedroom and environment designed to that end. For example, I have started installing blinds in my bedroom to limit the light in. I also turn off my phone at eight thirty and try to begin wind down activities at eight so my mind is in a calm and relaxed state.
- Is your room free of light from external sources but also electronic devices and chargers?
- Are you stopping to use electronic devices and other stimulating activities before bed?
- Are you limiting stimulants like alcohol and coffee before bed?
The business and stimulation of modern life can often have us in a state of constant reaction. We have so many obligations, requirements and messages to respond to that our day can turn into a ball of anxiety. This is not the way to spend your life as it will rush by in an instant without you having the ability experience the things and people around you. If we are in a constant state of “doing” then we are not spending our time “being”. The answer to this is to have a practice of stillness where we reflect upon what comes up in our mind and rise above the constant habitual loops that make up our day. There are many ways to do this. Breathing, meditation and prayer are needed daily to reconnect with the true part of you that exists in your most conscious intent.
- Do you have a daily practice to be with your present self without reacting to stimulation?
- Do you take take regular breaks to properly breath and connect with the moment?
Most people will agree that a successful career will benefit all areas of your life when undertaken with balance. A good career will provide the resources, purpose and learning opportunities to thrive and grow. While some of this is up to the place we work, there are plenty of ways that we are responsible for the direction and speed of our own career.
- Are you prioritising high value activities at work?
- Are you focussing on the key indicators that will make you stand out?
- Do you have a good understanding of the demand of your skills in the market and their worth?
- Do you understand what the next two steps in your career are and the requirements to achieve them?
Just like we need to feed and grow a strong body we need to feed and grow a strong mind. We need to be challenging our mind with difficult and new concepts to learn about the world around us. It is through this growth that we best all of the challenges and adventures that come our way through life. The body may grow old and weary but a strong mind can be yours for much longer.
- Are you making the time to read regularly?
- Are you exposing yourself to new and complex ideas?
- Are you taking the time to think about how such ideas can be integrated into your life?
The best way we can live for today is not having to worry so much about the future. We can tackle this at a very mind based level but for the average person out there they still need to pay the bills. As such we need to make sure that we are creating a sound financial future for ourselves. There are a million different answer to this one question which i will not go into here. My personal approach is to invest in low cost index funds so i can invest and not look at them for another twenty years. The point is that you will know that you are doing something about it. No one can control the market but if you don’t even try you are sure to lose.
- Are you doing your best to remove necessary wants from your life?
- Are you using that to make a gap between your income and expense to create savings?
- Are you locking away those savings in dependable investments that you can set and forget?
Your family will be one of longest and possibly closest relationships you will have in your life. Even if they are not in touch now, you are linked to them forever. As we get older though we tend to lose touch as we go about our personal growth. Even though you may not see each other much, family relationships can be high quality if they are treated with love and good intention. They are especially good at providing intergenerational perspective for you and your kids.
- Have you called your mum ;P (no seriously, call her)
- Do you take time to see your family on a regular occasion?
- Do you take time to spend with your kids (hint: Read to them. A lot)
- Have you forgiven any petty squabbles from your childhood and meet your family with love as the people they are right now?
I worked at a hospice for a few years and what i never heard anyone talking about was anything to do with money or work. One of the only things that matter when you are on your deathbed is the quality of your relationships. As we get older it can be hard to stay in touch with friends but again we need to make the time as the longer we leave between contact, the harder it is to pick things up. It is also important to find people you truly can express yourself with. This will require a bit of “Go wide, Go deep” thinking by meeting new people but making time for those besties but be sure to recognise how big a part this will play in your overall happiness.
- Have you made time to regularly talk to your friends (even if its by phone, not texting)?
- Have your tried spending time with new people you find interesting?
- Do you know the people who make you happy to be around?
This might not be for everyone, but as a married man this focus area is the foundation by which many parts of my home and life are built on. Whatever it is for you, there is likely someone who holds a special place in your life. You probably see this person every day. The key here is to not take this person for granted. Take a step back and treat them with the care, love and respect that you would give anyone else. Often we can get so close to a person with the day to day that we forget to see them with the individual focus that they deserve. With this kind of relationship, you are there because you honestly feel like you are better together. That leaves you in a unique responsibility to challenge them, have their back and drive them towards an amazing life.
- Have you given up your anger? It doesn’t help anyone
- What are the goals and needs of this person? How are you helping them?
- Are you taking the time to see this person as the beautiful part of your life that they are? They may not be around forever.
For each of these areas, it is important balance any effort with the energy available. You don’t need to change each straight away nor does each focus area need to be perfect. It is ok to just be good enough. Honestly ask yourself. “Do i need to do better here? Does this need energy more than the other areas in my life?” If so then do it, If not continue reading through the list. The interesting thing here is the more you work on these areas, the more energy you should have to reinvest. Once you have found an area you think needs your attention put your focus there. As alluded to above you have limited time and energy so make sure you are getting the best result you can by bringing focus and attention.
Go Wide and Go Deep
Doing the same things for each of these areas every day will at some point make you bored and complacent. Our minds and bodies need variety but also mastery so i use a method called “Go Wide, Go Deep” to create variety but also challenge. This is somewhat pro level stuff but once you are comfortable with the model above look at each section. Identify the habit you are using to strengthen that area and ask yourself. Two questions.
- What could i be doing to take this habit to the next level?
- What else could i try that interests me?
The first question is based around building your strength. For example in the area of diet you may be doing good at cooking healthy meals. The next step to strengthen that habit may be to meal prep for the week, thereby eliminating temptation for takeout. The “What else?” question is more based around things you have never done before. Habits which aren’t a part of your routine but you could try out and see if they fit. This could be “Drink a green juice” or “Try brewing kombucha”. These are little bets that you can try out without commitment but if they spark your interest then they may become part of your go deep method.
This is the framework that I put together to create a balanced view of my overall health so i could make sure that the health, wealth and relationships in my life were getting the attention that they need. The final point i want to make here is to put as much time and effort into your relationships as you can. From my own personal experience of dealing with the terminally ill. At that point nothing else matters.
Remove your anger. Live with love.