If you want to pitch a tent, you don’t need to think about a foundation. But if you want to build a lasting structure, you need a solid foundation. Do you want your life to be like a tent or a tower? 
Sharpen The Saw
Imagine you are walking in the woods and you come upon a woodcutter busily sawing at a tree. As you watch, you can see he isn’t making much progress. It’s obvious that his saw is dull.
“Why don’t you take some time to sharpen your saw?” you ask.
He glares at you. “Sharpen the saw!? Can’t you see I’m too busy sawing?!?” [Covey]
Stephen Covey shares this story in his book, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, to illustrate the 7th habit, which he calls “sharpen the saw”. This habit encircles the other six habits and enhances them. It is a focus on the fundamentals of self care.
Tom Rath identifies the 3 basic fundamentals of self care in his book, Eat Move Sleep. As you might guess, the title gives us a clue as to what they are.
We might think of these as three columns supporting our lives. But research shows that one of these is even more basic than the others. Instead of being one of three columns, it is the foundation upon which the other two columns stand. [Walker]
It is sleep.
Here’s a statistic that dramatically illustrates the importance of sleep. There is a certain day in March when we all lose one hour of sleep. It’s known as Daylight Savings Time, when we “spring forward” our clocks one hour.
Reviewing millions of hospital records, researches have found an alarming spike in heart attacks following this 1-hour reduction in sleep. Interestingly, the rate drops sharply in the fall, when we gain an hour of sleep. A similar rise and fall is seen in traffic accidents during the same periods. [Walker]
But losing an hour of sleep each March is a tiny fraction of the real problem. “According to a recent Gallup poll, 40 percent of all American adults are sleep-deprived, clocking significantly less than the recommended minimum seven hours of sleep per night. Getting enough sleep, says Dr. Judith Owens, the director for the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, is ‘just as important as good nutrition, physical activity, and wearing your seat belt.’” [Huffington]
There is a small number of people who are capable of getting by with only a few hours of sleep each night. You are probably not one of them. I definitely am not. So for us, seven hours, minimum. Eight is better. How much sleep do you get on a typical night? Here are some ideas to consider to help you improve on this foundational practice.
Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day – even on week ends.
Decide when you want to get up and count backwards from there. And realize that 8 hours in bed is not the same as sleeping eight hours. If you want to get 8 hours of sleep, you need to be in bed for about 9 hours.
Keep the room dark.
Keep the room cool – between 60 and 68 degrees F.
Limit your exposure to blue light in the evening. Blue light comes from electronics – computers, cell phones, TVs. Turn them off at least 1 hour before you go to bed.
Limit caffeine to the mornings and early afternoon – none after about 2 PM.
Resting on the foundation of sleep are the other two fundamentals of self care – eating and moving.
The typical American diet isn’t working for most of us. In 2018, the last year for which statistics are available, 40% of adults over 20 – more than 93 million people – were obese, a medical condition where a person has excessive body fat. [Newman] There are a number of health problems related to obesity, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke to name only a few. [Newman]
And there are many more of us who are overweight although not obese, as defined by our Body Mass Index or BMI. You can calculate your BMI here.
It is said that we exercise for fitness but we eat for weight control. In other words, you can’t control your weight if you don’t control what and how much you eat.
A good first step is to eliminate highly processed foods, particularly sugar and white flour. Think about this. Cocaine is a white powder that is produced by refining the coca leaf to it’s essence. Heroin is a white or brown powder that is made by refining the poppy plant to it’s essence. Sugar is a white powder that is produced by refining the sugar cane plant to it’s essence. Flour is a white or brown powder that is made by refining the inner part of a number of grains into it’s essence. [Thompson] Are you seeing a pattern?
Not only do they resemble each other, they react similarly in our brains. Whole, unprocessed foods “interact in the brain the way nature intended. In contrast, ‘edible food-like substances’ made out of sugar and flour release an unnatural flood of dopamine that hijacks the pleasure centers in the brain”, similar to the way cocaine and heroin do. [Thompson]
Of course, nobody ever robbed a grocery store to get a fix of doughnuts or a piece of white bread, but you get the idea. Sugar and white flour have some addictive properties we need to be aware of.
This sounds a bit dramatic, but it highlights the improvements we can make in our diets. Of course, weight control is just one of the important reasons for eating a healthful diet. Eating more whole foods and fewer processed “food-like substances” is a simple change that has health benefits for most of us.
Here are some suggestions to help you eat a healthier diet.
If it doesn’t need a label, eat as much as you want. If it requires a label, eat as little as possible.
Start your day with the largest meal and progressively decrease your meal size as the day goes on.
Stop eating before you are completely full. It takes your brain about 20 minutes to catch up to your stomach to know when you are full.
Don’t eat anything with more than 5 ingredients or with ingredients you can’t pronounce.
Do the majority of your grocery shopping around the perimeter of the store — this is where the fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh meats are found. Avoid the snack food and soda aisles. If you don’t bring it home, you won’t be tempted to have it.
Increase proteins and decrease carbs and sugars. You don’t have to go on a no-carb diet, but be sure that you have sufficient protein and complex carbs (fruits & vegetables) and fewer simple carbs (bread, chips, pasta) which quickly turn to sugar in the body.
Add raw foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts) to your diet. Put simply, foods that are cooked are dead and foods that are raw are alive. The more live food we eat the more alive we feel.
Give you body healthy fats and oils. These include extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, grape seed and almond oil.
Fiber not only fills you up but it has naturally occurring phytonutrients that help fight inflammation. Fiber helps to clean out the intestines for a healthier digestive system. To avoid bloating and discomfort, increase fiber intake slowly, aiming for 30 to 38 grams a day for men and 21 to 25 grams a day for women (21 grams a day if you are over 51).
A popular saying from a couple of years ago is that “sitting is the new smoking”. While the risks from smoking continue to far outweigh the risks of sitting, there is evidence that a sedentary lifestyle (sitting 8 or more hours per day) can have adverse health effects. It can double the risk of Type 2 diabetes, while increasing the chances of some other chronic diseases by up to 20%. [Vallance]
The good news is that you don’t have to work out for an hour or more each day – unrealistic for many of us. NEAT – non-exercise activity thermogenesis is “the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise.” [Levine] This includes most of our daily activities, such as standing, walking, doing yard work or housework, typing, cooking, even fidgeting. Keeping this in mind, you can easily see ways to increase your NEAT expenditure. Easy to see, not necessarily easy to do unless you make a specific effort to add to your activity.
It is better to add small amounts of movement throughout the day than to add 30 or 60 minutes once per day and remain sedentary the rest of the time. Remember, start small. You can add more activity as you develop the habit of movement. Look for ways to tie a new habit to an existing one and let the old habit trigger the new movement.
You can find more ideas for adding movement to your day in this article, “Move!”
In his book, Eat Move Sleep, Tom Rath tells us that if we focus on the basics of taking care of ourselves — proper nutrition, adequate activity, and plenty of sleep — a synergy develops and we begin an upward spiral. Don’t focus only on diet, or exercise, or even sleep — look for ways you can make small, daily, incremental improvements in all 3 areas together.
Rath says: “Every bite of food either increases or decreases my odds of spending a few more years with my wife and two young children. Half an hour of exercise in the morning makes for better interactions all day. Then a sound night of sleep gives me energy to tackle the next day. I am a more active parent, a better spouse, and more engaged in my work when I eat, move, and sleep well.” [Rath]
- Make a small improvement in one of the foundational practices. Perhaps get an extra 30 – 60 minutes of sleep. Or replace sugary snacks and desserts with a piece of fruit that is in season. Maybe take a 10 minute walk during your lunch break.
- Begin the practice you selected in step 1. Observe how this affects your performance in the other two areas.
- Measure your progress using your journal, or calendar, or a checklist.
- Do you see improvements from your practice? If so, continue and increase over time. If not, select a new practice to try.
- Gradually add other improvements by repeating steps 1 – 4.
Rise Above Average
More than 93 million people – about 40% of Americans – are obese. One in 3 has cardiovascular disease. [Verma] 30% of adults get less than 6 hours of sleep per night. [“This Is Your Body On No Sleep.”] “Clearly, an average person is a not a healthy person,” says Prakhar Verma, writing in “The Mission” at Medium.com. “Your health and fitness have to rise above an average person if you want to live well and feel good in your body.”
Raise your standards above “average”. Consider the fundamentals of eating, moving and sleeping. What standard(s) could you raise to see improvements in your health? Focus on the fundamentals to build a strong foundation for your life. In fact, that is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Excelerated fundamentals™ — perfecting basic self-care practices — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
 I credit Tom Morris for this analogy.
Huffington, Arianna. The Sleep Revolution – Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. New York: Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. 2016, 2017.
JA Levine, “Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT),” Dec. 2002, Nov 12, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12468415
Newman, Katelyn. “Obesity in America: A Public Health Crisis.” U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report L.P., 19 September 2019. Web. 12 November 2019.
Rath, Tom. Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes. Arlington, VA: Missionday, 2013
“This Is Your Body On No Sleep.” National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation, . Web. 13 November 2019.
Thompson, PhD, Susan Pierce. The 3 Huge Mistakes. PDF file. (2016)
Vallance, Jeff K. and others. “Evaluating the Evidence on Sitting, Smoking, and Health: Is Sitting Really the New Smoking?” PMC US National Library of Medicine. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. 1 July 2018. Web. 12 November 2019.
Verma, Prakhar. “Upgrade Your Standards, Change Your Life.” Mission.org. A Medium Corporation, Dec 18, 2017. Web. Nov 12, 2019.
Walker, Phd, Matthew. Why We Sleep. New York: Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2017