The Five Foundations
of Vital Being

We live in a busy world, the demands of which can leave us exhausted and struggling to focus on what is fundamentally important to us as humans. As a coach committed to personal development there seems to be always another TED talk to watch, class to take or hack to implement in pursuit of an optimal life. Being determined to make the most of things can run you ragged!

In an effort to not be completely overwhelmed I’ve found it useful to lay out a manageable handful of basics that, when prioritized, allow me to feel calm, centered and energized no matter what comes my way.

Making mindful choices, setting goals and taking action toward them are all easier from a steady state, but mostly I focus on these five things for the pure sake of feeling good. Because the important thing is not what you achieve in life but whether or not you enjoy it!

All the best and thanks for reading

Ellen

Sleep

Are you getting enough? Everyone knows the recommended amount but how often are you telling yourself you can get by on less?  You wake up, grab a coffee, make it through the day. Say yes to one more thing, have a drink or two, get home late, scroll your Facebook or Instagram in bed just one more time. “Ugh, I really need to go to sleep, I gotta be up in five hours.”  Before you know it your alarm is going off, and it’s time to do it all over again.

If you want to focus, discipline yourself, and change your life, start by saying no to things that get in the way of a good night’s sleep. That includes late-night activities, alcohol, caffeine, screen time, and socializing.

If we want to change things up, making more conscious choices about how we spend our time is critical— and much easier to do with  a clear head.  Sleep will do this for you. Remember the last time you were super tired and finally collapsed for long enough to wake up saying “Wow, I feel human again”?  Imagine feeling human every day. What might be possible then?

If you’ve felt groggy from too little sleep, you’ve experienced the obvious impact of serious sleep deprivation on your mental alertness. New studies, however, suggest that mild chronic sleep deprivation can also have a serious impact on certain mental functions, especially in the areas of creativity and innovation.” – Gerson.org 6 tips for getting more sleep

I’ve always been a big fan of sleep. As a child I fantasized that if forced to flee a burning building I would make sure to rescue my pillow. I still remember the comforting depth of its softness and the ease with which I was able to reach nirvana once my head was laid on it. I’m still grateful every night for the chance to put any worries aside and be at ease, with no task ahead but passing out. Now my go-to sleep aids are a dark room, backed up by an eyeshade, an all-natural latex foam mattress topper, clean sheets and chamomile tea. I take whatever chance I get to stay in bed late dozing or to lie down for an afternoon nap. Getting enough sleep makes me feel more present, energetic and loving. I wouldn’t skimp on it for the world.

Greeting the day: Of all times, the morning is the first to be appreciated and is therefore  especially precious: the beginning of something new, filled with possibility. To see it with the sharpness of mind provided by satisfying rest is one of the life’s great pleasures. Do yourself a favor and follow these tips: How to Sleep Better                           

“Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”  – Shakespeare


Water

Imagine being well slept and also properly hydrated. Oh, the mountains you could climb! You can literally boost your brain function by drinking enough water. I chug a couple of pint glasses as soon as I wake up to make sure I’m off to a good start. Carry a water bottle with you or keep a carafe near you as you work. If you have a job that requires long seated periods, getting up to use the bathroom is also an excellent way to ensure you are stretching your legs at frequent intervals.

“Water makes up more than two thirds of human body weight, and without water, we would die in a few days. The human brain is made up of 95% water, blood is 82% and lungs 90%. A mere 2% drop in our body’s water supply can trigger signs of dehydration: fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on smaller print, such as a computer screen. 

Mild dehydration is also one of the most common causes of daytime fatigue. An estimated seventy-five percent of Americans have mild, chronic dehydration. Pretty scary statistic for a developed country where water is readily available through the tap or bottle water.” – freedrinkingwater.com The importance of water and your health

I’m a big fan of swimming for exercise and relaxation. A trip to the pool, beach, lake or river always provides a beautiful sense of peace and calm. Apparently it’s the antidepressant qualities of negative ions. Nature is such a genius!

Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes – WebMD

Moving and eating right are also vital—and highly responsive to your water intake. Being well-rested and hydrated enables greater energy and clearer signals regarding hunger and nutritional needs. You naturally make better food choices and feel the urge to be more active on proper sleep and water. Start with these and see your willpower shoot through the roof.

Simply becoming aware of how much sleep you are getting and how much water you drink will start you on the road to getting an optimal amount of each. I invite you to just keep track for one week by noting your hours of sleep and glasses of water consumed.


Connection

“Humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling… As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked together.   No one is an island.” – (Frederick Buechner, 1926 – )

Relationships are the foundation of your foundation, the greater part of our existence and how we get by in the world. I don’t just mean relationships  with family and friends but also with coworkers, clients and those who provide us with services as we go about our day. Practicing kindness and showing up with the intention of improving the experience of others builds trust. Knowing that we are supported by our community,  we feel safer taking creative risks.

I have found that a big part of freeing up the mental space to create and be happy is in letting go of the need to be the one who is right. Being conscious of our learned patterns of judgment, the mental comparisons that we make between ourselves and those we relate to help us to see the distance that this creates.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but when we accept that we are all doing the best we can with the hand we’ve been dealt, and when we seek  to understand our own part in any discord before blaming others, we empower ourselves to find solutions, connect more deeply and allow more joy in our lives. Most of what we perceive as personal injustice has nothing to do with us at all. In other words, it’s not personal.

These two books have helped me the most in improving the quality of my connections.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz         The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh

Listening to understand the experience of others without coming up with solutions to their  problems is a huge part of my training as a coach. We are taught that for people to think clearly and feel truly supported we must suspend any urge to step in and fix them. We can respect the journeys of our friends and loved ones by giving them the same space. Allowing others to be as they are paves the way for empathy, compassion and greater feelings of solidarity with our human network.

Which relationship in your life would be served by your letting go of the need to be right?


Play

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” Alan W. Watts

What if you never had to worry about money? What if success or failure did not exist as a concept? What would you do all day? Releasing expectation of the outcome of our actions can provide a feeling of freedom that allows our minds to roam and alight spontaneously, making way for new ideas.

Unstructured play time fosters an open mind, free of judgment and an attitude of experimentation. Treat yourself to your favorite hobbies, whatever they are. Indulge yourself. If guilt rears its slimy nose, merely register and get back to playing. Thoughts can really be a buzz kill but there is no need to entertain them for longer than the moment it takes for them to pass by. Enjoy yourself. Your favorite time-wasting activities hold the keys to your passions, your creativity and your happiness.

“Play is the gateway to vitality.  By its nature it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. It generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community.”                       From the National Institute for Play

You might think your creative outlet or whatever art you practice is play enough, but it pays to be conscious of the need to feel productive in these areas and try letting your foot off the gas occasionally. Changing direction just to see what is around another corner can lead you to an unexpected place, injecting your experience with the spark of invention that makes your output truly original. Court the muse by allowing it to show up for you as it wants to instead of being wrestled into submission. I have recently started taking classes in improvisation again for the freedom that comes from saying “yes, and…” to my team members. Letting go of control is a powerful practice that informs the most surprising and joyous elements of life.

If this feels unfamiliar see if you can take just 20 minutes today to do something pointless like walking around the block or cutting pictures from a magazine just because you like them.

“Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.” ― Tom Robbins


Stillness

I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room. – (May Sarton, 1912 – 1995)

In the absence of activity there is a chance to reflect and be exactly where you are. Stillness is an excellent opportunity to observe your mind at work and gain

perspective on yourself and your circumstances. The truth is we all have this inbuilt urge to check out or take a break once in awhile, but in our culture of do and do there is a tendency to feel guilty about it.

Instead, build stillness into your life with the intention to nurture your inner self with compassionate energy. There are various practices that enable this, from meditation to walking in nature. Find a way that works for you and schedule it or grab it when you can, wherever you are, and rest in the intimate hub of your awareness.

How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain – NYTimes

The ability to change our lives is directly proportionate to how openly we are able to accept the present and love what already is. Silent contemplation strengthens our capacity to tolerate the fluctuations of our mind without reacting. Over time, greater awareness of the ever-changing nature of ourselves helps us to take uncertainty in our stride, opening the doors to risk taking. Pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone in this way is an essential practice as we create the lives we yearn for instead of accepting the paths of least resistance.

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change” – Carl Rogers