Saying 2020 did not pan out as expected may be the understatement of the century. How many of us would have predicted how it all went down? To be fair, in the scheme of the entire world and of history, there is and has been worse. But everything is relative and relatively speaking, 2020 was a disaster on many fronts. My heart goes out to those who have battled illness, lost loved ones, lost a job or business, struggled with addictions or mental health and other challenges.
Some believe the mental health and economic fallout have been underestimated. And whatever you may think about the effectiveness of masks, “social distancing” or the lockdowns, it’s unnerving how much attention has been focused on avoiding the virus with little to none of the other aspects of human well-being taken into account. Friendly reminder: we are not just physical beings. We are made with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. To be fully healthy, we need to be mindful of the entire picture – the whole person.
To illustrate the importance of a complete focus on the whole person, in Scripture, Jesus Christ’s life between the age of 12 and 30 is summed up as follows:
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”Luke 2:52 NKJV
It shows in just a few words the well-rounded nature of his growth and development.
- Wisdom = knowledge/education/understanding
- Stature = physical development
- Favor with God = spiritual development
- Favor with man = social development
So, how can we ensure we are optimizing our entire well-being? How can we best shore up our defenses against the struggles facing us? It’s not “New Year’s Resolutions” it’s more about using goals for the year to help make well-rounded health a priority to the point that it becomes a habit and a way of life. Let’s focus on three main areas of health: Spiritual, Physical, and Mental/Emotional/Social.
2021 Healthy Habits for the Whole Person:
1) Spiritual Health
When thinking about growing “in favor with God” – in spiritual matters, a few things come to mind. Prayer is a big part of spiritual life and well-being. Perhaps a prayer life that includes fasting is something to work on this year. Spending time doing good works, helping the poor and others in need are other areas of possible focus. Some people I know commit to handwriting certain scripture passages every day as a tool for study and reflection.
Would you consider making scripture reading a priority?
While a Bible reading goal may resonate most with Christians, it’s actually a sound recommendation for others to consider as well. Reading the Bible is foundational in my opinion. Regardless of whether or not you believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, in my humble opinion, reading it (at least once in your life) is necessary to call oneself well-educated. Maybe for you, this falls into the “growing in wisdom” category.
“ALL SCRIPTURE IS GOD-BREATHED AND IS USEFUL FOR TEACHING, REBUKING, CORRECTING, AND TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, SO THAT THE SERVANT OF GOD MAY BE THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED FOR EVERY GOOD WORK”2 Timothy 3:16-17
Regardless of how you choose to pursue spiritual health, try to incorporate it into your daily life and be consistent.
My personal goal: Daily Bible Reading in a Chronological Plan.
This year I will be using the YouVersion Bible App and a “chronological plan” which is reading through the Bible in the order the events occurred chronologically. It’s helpful to have an app for this one, especially. But you can pick any number of plans. Some people pick “One Year Bible with Daily Psalm”, the Old Testament only, or the “Canonical” plan which is reading straight through the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. This particular Bible app (and probably others too) will allow you to connect with friends. That’s a good way to help one another stay on track and provide encouragement!
Regardless of the plan type, if you follow one that includes commentary, be sure and do your own studying and digging. And that goes for ANYONE teaching you about God and His word – always do your own study like the Bereans (Acts 17:11))
Now the Bereans were more noble-minded than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if these teachings were true.Acts 17:11
2) Physical Health
There are a few key ways in which we can focus on our physical health. The two most important ones are diet and exercise. There are many others, including getting adequate sleep and taking targeted supplements. This blog has focused on the paleo way of eating and the rationale for eating a nutrient-dense, balanced diet that is mindful of allergies, food sensitivities, and inflammatory foods and makes losing weight easier. For more information, you can read this post. If you need to be more mindful of your own eating, learn more about healthy ways of eating and consider trying a Whole30 or the Primal Eating Plan. And while what you eat is important for far more than just your weight, keep in mind that about 80% of weight loss is based on what you are eating. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet!
What about a physical fitness goal? It’s the classic, isn’t it? Every January 1st people hit the gyms or otherwise set out to get physically fit. With all the gym closings and concerns for catching an illness, things may look different now. But the biggest obstacle is the same one we face every year – sticking with it long enough for new habits to be ingrained.
Making Fitness a Habit
To ensure you’re on track to a new habit, it’s as simple as just beginning. Then take it one day at a time, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Move your body in some way, every day. Some days may be more intense than others. And everyone is different – different health status, age, fitness levels, etc… For some, it may be as simple as getting off the couch and walking on a treadmill or around the block a few times a week and doing some full body stretches on other days. For others, it may involve more intensity. In any case, focus on starting slow and being consistent. If possible, find another person to work out with or keep each other accountable. The goal is to make it a habit, not just something you start and quit every year.
You can check out what I’ve written on PaleoSpirit.com about exercise. While my fundamental views haven’t changed much, I know there are many different options to help work toward physical fitness goals. There are plenty of free or inexpensive resources – particularly with more and more online resources becoming available. The important thing is to prioritize physical health in your life.
“An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”― Henry David Thoreau
My personal goals: Hydrow (rower)
I have been fortunate enough to obtain a Hydrow rowing machine. It’s a similar idea to the Peloton but for rowing which is considered a more full-body workout. It’s easy to sneak in a workout at home and avoid the gym or the elements – it came in particularly in handy during the pandemic lockdowns. So far I’ve rowed a little over 260,000 meters. My goal for 2021 is to reach one million meters by the end of 2021.
3) Mental and Emotional Health
If you are taking care of your Spiritual and Physical Health, you can be certain your mental and emotional health will improve as well. And several suggestions overlap with other categories. But it’s still important to focus specifically on this aspect of yourself to better round out your well-being. This past year, in particular, has been devastating to many people in terms of mental health. Even those of us who have faired relatively well are not immune to the stress of our current world. To combat the negative effects of stress and to improve your mental health, try to do something proactive and intentional on a daily basis. Below are some examples of ways to improve mental, emotional, and social health along with specific examples:
- Meditation – there are several apps to help you: The Mindfulness App; Headspace, Calm, and others (Prayer can be a form of meditation)
- Nature encounters – go for a walk outside, spend time with a pet, watch a nature documentary
- Social media breaks – get off Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram for a week or more; put limits on the amount of time you will spend on social media
- Avoid negativity – when possible, try to reduce or eliminate the things you expose yourself to that are toxic in the sense that they are negative, discouraging, violent or abusive. It could take the form of reducing or eliminating consumption of certain types of media and “entertainment” – but it also might include setting certain boundaries with other people.
- Focus on gratitude/positivity – keep a daily gratitude journal (see below for recommendations)
- Get adequate sleep – critical for health in general – try for at least 7-8 hours per night
- Socialize – spend time with friends in person or via a call. In addition to helping you stay connected, you might be helping someone else who is feeling lonely, isolated, and depressed)
- Laugh – watch a funny movie or show; read a humorous book
- Read – read something purely for enjoyment
- Learn – read a non-fiction book, focus on learning a new skill
- Music – listen to relaxing music
- Play – take a few minutes every day to play a game or and instrument or enjoy a hobby
- Art/Beauty – take time to enjoy art that is made with skill and reflects beauty
- Other forms of “self-care” like getting a massage, a manicure/pedicure
- Therapy – make an appointment with a therapist or trusted minister who can help you with more serious mental and emotional health matters
My personal goal: Gratitude Journal
One year a friend had a goal of posting a thankful sentiment on Facebook every day for a year. Sometimes it was something big and important and other days it was very simple. She recently had experienced great tragedy in her life but determined to focus on gratitude to ensure her mind prioritized recognizing blessings.
Studies show that focusing on gratitude changes your brain. When we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters enhance our mood, making us experience feelings of happiness. A study funded by Greater Goods Science Center of UC Berkeley produced MRI results on subjects that indicated “simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain…this finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.”
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”Zig Ziglar
You can use a physical journal for writing daily gratitude thoughts and observations. But there are also myriad apps for this as well. A few suggestions:
Hold Yourself Accountable
At the end of every day, reflect on whether or not you can “check the box” of all three categories in some way for that day. Don’t be discouraged if you miss some days or miss a category. Just use the reflection time to remind yourself to prioritize working on each of the three categories every day. Also, don’t feel like if you didn’t start on January 1st you have missed it. This is about making new habits, not necessarily the goals in and of themselves. Commit to moving toward your goals every day to see a positive impact on your spiritual, physical, and mental well-being.
Do you have health goals for this year? What are they? What will you do to keep yourself accountable? Drop a comment and let me know!