In the same way that driving a car with no gas, or the wrong gas, or no tires, or the wrong tires, or whatever, won’t get you very far, trying to change your situation in life without taking proper care of yourself first won’t get you very far. Take care of yourself first. Drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating a vegetable from time to time will make you feel so much more awake and energetic. Feeling healthy and good about yourself also leads to quite a bit of happiness. I’ve gotta say, energy + happiness is a pretty surefire way to find the motivation and excitement to start making big changes in life. And it all starts with taking care of yourself, inside and out.
One of the absolute most important things in my life is my daily eight hours of sleep and I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it is. I will sacrifice time with friends or free time or Netflix time or work time or workout time or anything necessary to get a full eight hours as often as I can. I can think of exactly one night in the last three months where I got less than seven hours of sleep, and that was because I was woken up early by severe cramps and couldn’t get back to sleep afterward.
I used to be one of those people who functioned on like three hours of sleep every night. I thought I was fine. I thought I was functioning and going about life, and my nightly three hours of sleep wasn’t having much, if any, negative impact on my life. I thought everyone was tired. Lemme tell ya, I was wrong. I was so wrong. Turns out, you don’t have to be tired every day. There are lifestyle changes you can make that will result in you having a full fourteen to sixteen hours of energy in a day, and those lifestyle changes are so worth it.
Getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating properly are immeasurably beneficial to your journey of self improvement. Not only will they help you to have the energy to do the other things you need to do, but the mere act of taking care of your body will make you feel more inspired and excited to continue tackling other things you’d like to change in your life. Doing just a few small things each day to take care of your body gives you that quick feeling of accomplishment that can get the ball rolling on tackling other, bigger tasks.
Truly taking care of your body and feeling your best all the time makes it so, so, sooooooo much easier to do everything else you want to do. It’s honestly like magic. To help get you started, here’s my personal list of the most important ways you can take care of your body to start feeling better and more inspired. Deciding not to make these changes is deciding to learn discipline on hard mode. It is very difficult to love your life if you aren’t doing these things
This is THE. MOST. IMPORTANT. thing you can do for yourself. Throughout most of high school, I was one of those three hours of sleep a night type of people. I get it. It seems appealing. “Sleep is for the weak” or “you can sleep when you’re dead” get tossed around a lot. But there are countless studies that exist showing just how important sleep is.
Getting enough sleep improves your ability to do basically everything. And if you’re staying up late every night because you feel you won’t accomplish everything you have to do otherwise, get enough sleep instead and you’ll be faster and more efficient with everything you need to do, and won’t need to stay up late next time to do it.
Staying up late to get more done is a self perpetuating cycle. Sleep hygiene and actually figuring out the best way for you to get a solid eight hours starts with going to bed at a reasonable hour every night. Getting off your phone and attempting to sleep is another one of those moments where you’ve got to just do it. We both know that you know how late it is and keep scrolling anyway. There’s no secret, you’ve just got to hit the lock button and go to sleep. Even if it’s difficult for you to fall asleep, lying awake but resting is better for your body than staying up staring at your phone.
2. Drink enough water.
Now, that whole eight glasses a day thing may be a myth, but your body needs water to function. Water is the reason we can have life on this planet. Carry a water bottle with you all day. Literally all day. I take my water bottle to the grocery store with me. I never go anywhere without it. I personally use a Nalgene bottle because they’re tough and can take a lot of use, but many people prefer water bottles with straws. Find something that makes you excited to drink water.
Make it a habit to sip water when you’re hungry or tired or bored or have a headache. Upping your water intake will give you more energy, help you to stay focused, and make you feel better. If you don’t like the taste of water, add in some lemon, mint, or cucumbers. Try writing increments of time down the side of your water bottle to space out your water consumption throughout the day.
One easy way to up your water intake is to chug a glass of water as soon as you wake up. After eight hours asleep, you’re going to be pretty dehydrated when you wake up, and the water will help to wake you up and hydrate your body. Plus, then you’ve already gotten a big part of your daily water intake out of the way.
3. Eat healthy.
You really have no idea how bad your shitty diet is making you feel until you clean it up. What you eat has a massive impact on your energy levels and overall day to day health. If you’ve been eating tons of sugary, fatty, carby food your entire life, the way you feel may seem normal to you, but I guarantee if you clean up your diet for a few weeks, going back to your current diet will be out of the question.
Start by cutting the sugar. It doesn’t have to be completely, even just removing sweet drinks and excessive desserts will make a substantial difference. Add in more vegetables. No, more than that. Even more than that. If you think you don’t like vegetables, experiment with different preparations of them. Roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes are amazing. Google is full of delicious vegetable recipes.
One of my best tips for eating healthier is to not buy unhealthy food in the first place. If you’re like me, a bag of chips gets inhaled pretty quickly once it’s in my house, but saying no at the store is much easier. Only buy healthy food and you’ll have no choice but to eat it. Keep snacks like guac, hummus, and baby carrots on hand. Fruit makes a quick and easy snack as well.
Learning a few simple recipes that you love and can pull together in twenty minutes makes this easier. If you don’t mind eating similar food for a few days in a row, meal prepping may also be helpful. I often meal prep beans and rice for lunch throughout the week. It’s easy to top it with things like avocado and salsa, or put it on lettuce for a salad. Knowing what I’m having for lunch prevents me from running out for whatever unhealthy thing I may be craving at noon.
4. Consume less caffeine.
I’m not sure why our culture has normalized being addicted to a drug in order to function daily, but that’s exactly what your daily coffee fix is. Consuming caffeine may help you stay awake in the morning, but it also is the reason your mind races at night, keeping you from sleeping.
Caffeine consumption is a vicious cycle and the more you consume, the worse your sleep will be (whether you realize it or not), and the more you’ll need the next time. I recommend this podcast if you’d like to learn more of the exact details.
Caffeine can cause anxiety and insomnia, among other issues. It doesn’t cause issues for everyone, but I strongly recommend taking a caffeine break for a few weeks to see how you feel. Obviously, breaking a true addiction won’t be pleasant at first, but the benefits may be worth it. Personally, I find I function at my best when I don’t consume caffeine regularly, and have no more than one cup of regular tea in a day if I do choose to have caffeine.
I want to emphasis that, at least for myself, caffeine consumption was the cause of my mind racing at night. If you often feel unable to sleep because you can’t quiet your mind, and it’s always off thinking about something, look at your caffeine intake. Even if you’re only drinking caffeine in the morning, that may still be enough to prevent your mind from calming down.
You knew this was coming. Exercising was one of the last self improvement habits that I picked up, but it’s been one of the most beneficial. There’s a reason exercise is recommended as a treatment for depression. The feel good endorphins that come from exercising really are incredible.
Personally, cardio (primarily running) picks me up and does the most for my mood, while lifting increases my confidence and makes me feel more powerful in all aspects of my life. If hitting the gym isn’t for you, try rock climbing, soccer, kayaking, skiing, dog walking, pole dancing, hiking or any number of other activities that get your body moving. Exercise doesn’t have to be something you hate. Like with everything else I recommend, exercise is the general concept. Experiment until you find what works for you specifically. If nothing else, fit five minutes of stretching into the beginning and end of each day - you can even do it in bed.
Don't get overwhelmed and think that all of these changes need to be made at once. I've been incorporating them each into my life slowly, over the course of more than three years. Even now, my diet isn't always healthy, and I didn't start working out regularly until just eight months ago. Choose just one small thing that seems manageable to you, like going for a walk three times per week, or going to bed half an hour earlier, and start there. As you become comfortable with that change, add in other small changes. It is important to start small. Don't feel like you have to be perfect in all of these areas immediately. Perfection is one of the greatest enemies of progress.
Making positive strides in these areas of my life has improved my mental health, my confidence, my energy levels, my physical health, my alertness, my focus… everything, really. Put yourself first. We often don’t realize how much we’ve neglected our health until we take steps to improve it. Treating your body well will help to give you the energy and excitement for life that you need to go after a life you love. Taking care of your physical body can even help to improve your mental health. You only have one body and taking care of it needs to be your first priority, because taking care of yourself allows you do a much better job of everything else that you need to get done.