I invented a little game with myself called “The Perfect Day” many years ago. The premise is that if you had an entire day to indulge yourself, what would you do with it? When I was newly married, working two jobs to get my husband through school, along with all the other “stuff” of life, I thought the perfect day was to just lay by the pool, maybe swim a couple of laps then indulge in a number of decadent treats throughout the day. When we had young children, I thought my idyllic day would be to read books all day long (with NO NOISE), take a long walk and (again) eat rewarding treats. When the kids got older, my perfect day was again just centered around what I considered the most treasured time allotments and (AGAIN!) food rewards. I did try to follow the game rules for this day on my birthday each year, but each year I came away feeling a little “empty” on my perfect day. I now know why. My game lacked two key components, REALITY and BALANCE. I recently did have “The Perfect Day”, and no, it wasn’t my birthday. It was just an ordinary day with a dose of REALITY and a core of BALANCE. Just like the real “Game of Life” that we all play everyday.
I. Necessary Game Pieces:
A. Nutrition- Fueling your body in a healthy way so that you can be productive and feel good about what you are doing is key. If you believe you can only eat “diet” foods to stay healthy, you are really doing your gastronomic self a disservice. The vast array of healthy culinary treasures that are possible from the simple foods we buy is endless. We just have to make our menus doable with our fast-paced lifestyles. Case in point: I started out the day with a healthy breakfast bar, some blueberries and coffee (see “Will the Real Breakfast Bar Please Stand Up?“), eating my breakfast on the way in the car so I could swim at a local pool. This particular day I didn’t have time to make a hot meal in the morning and fit everything in. So that is my first concession: You might (make that probably will) have to make minor short-cuts to to achieve that realistic balance. For lunch I brought the leftovers from the night before to work. Dinner had all the components of a healthy but at the same time, tasty and filling meal:
I prepared Vietnamese Tilapia with Turmeric and Dill, wheatberries with pickled poblano peppers and pecans and finally green beans with sesame dressing. This meal did take a little forethought. I made sure the night before that I had all the ingredients in the house and if I was missing any, I made myself a grocery list the night before and stuck it in my purse to tickle my memory for the next day. Then….WHOOPS…Randy just called, he won’t be coming home for dinner, another baby is going to be entering this world soon. Well I’ll put his dinner in the fridge for him. Side note here; if you don’t know about wheatberries I’ll give you just a little teaser, it’s a very healthy grain that is packed with protein and fiber AND it has a nutty taste that gives it a mouthfeel that is unique and delicious. I’ll be talking about this superfood in a future blog.
B. Movement- There is absolutely no “one-size-fits-all” for exercise. Everyone is different in their likes and dislikes and everyone has very unique schedules. My choice to swim is strictly because I LOVE to be in the water and move. It’s a feeling that I can’t duplicate with any other exercise. I swim two days per week, mixing it up on the other days with either yoga, the stationary bicycle, the eliptical, pilates or selected non-impact DVD’s I have at home. The night before, I make a mental plan regarding the type of exercise I will do the next day, based on my time constraints. That insures that I habitually get a workout in. Usually I do a couple of warm-up exercises to start out then complete a mile of swimming in about an hour. Today, however, I have to cut my workout a little short. I’m substitute teaching at our high school this morning.
C. Being Productive (a/k/a Giving Back a/k/a Making a Difference)- If you work full- or part-time in the workforce, if you are a stay-at-home mom, if you are caring full-time for a loved one, a student or if you are a volunteer there is one common thread that we all must have. We all share that driving need to make a difference, no matter how large or how small. I personally have primarily been a stay-at-home mom for the last 25 years. I am currently going through that “empty nest” transition and I must admit, it’s been tough. I figured out that I love kids. Not just my kids, but all kids. So a necessary part of me personally “giving back” naturally means that I spend time with kids. I was a substitute teacher at Scotland County High School today for the 7th & 8th grade history class. I had a great time making positive connections with students based on my experiences with my own kids. Now that’s what it’s all about.
D. Recovery- Recovery has two very necessary components we all need to make part of our lives everyday, in the right time and quality amounts for our own individual needs:
1) De-Stress Time-Downtime is not something we should look at as strictly a luxury. In Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California argues that “when we are resting the brain is anything but idle and that, far from being purposeless or unproductive, downtime is in fact essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill an internal code of ethics.” We need downtime to reflect on what we’ve learned, identify any conflicts within ourselves with that knowledge, then process and apply new information meaningfully. Meditation, naps and nature walks are excellent downtime, de-stress modalities. Today’s serenity meant spending quiet time with my dog Zoe, a very Zoe-Zen 10 minutes, reflecting on what had transpired today.
2) Sleep- We all need it. It’s not something you can skimp on long-term and expect to live a long, disease-free, productive life. In an earlier post, “Lack of Sleep: Medical and Economic Consequences“, sleep experts recommend a minimum of 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night for physiologic reasons (giving your body a chance to recharge) and economic reasons (the complete cycle of sleep helps your brain lay down memories and then integrates those memories into thought processes necessary for optimum recall function). I go to bed at roughly the same time every night and get up at the same time. (It’s really funny, all three of our dogs go into our bedroom at night, usually a little before we actually get there ourselves.) We all have those sleepless nights though. For the occasional fit of insomnia, see “Fixing Broken Sleep”. It will give you some natural ideas for getting that needed shut-eye.
II. Basic Game Rules
A. Balance- All the pieces for the “Game of Life” are important for a healthy life: Nutrition, Movement, Making a Difference, and Recovery. The key is to balance those aspects of your life; all are like legs of a stool. Without one, you fall……hard.
B. Reality- Life happens. It can be totally unpredictable and sometimes too predictable (i.e. boring) with its necessary mundane tasks. Some days it might be impossible to get that perfect balance. I get it. I recounted this day as my “Perfect Day” which was tinged with a touch of realism that I didn’t understand in my younger years. I thought all aspects of the day had to go according to MY plans, but that’s wishful thinking. Some days it seems all I do are the mundane chores; the bills, laundry, cleaning, taxes (which by the way, I really need to get going on once I complete this blog), business books. Other days? The thrill of hearing someone’s health success after I counseled them or connecting with a child that needed some direction. But most days I have to react to totally unpredictable situations (i.e. cars breaking down, sewer backing up in the basement, novel health coaching problems.) I bet you totally connect with this chaos, right?
Bottom line: If you at least know the game rules for a healthy, balanced life, are slowly changing some of your old bad habits, AND you are actually either feeling better or are maintaining your healthy vigor, you too can also experience “The Perfect Day” in the “Game of Life”.