Cliff Harvey, clinical nutritionist, researcher and author, talks about how setting up some good habits and taking ownership of our own mental wellbeing can make us feel better.
We’ve all gone through hard times and stuff has happened to us. I’m not going to go into the traumas that I’ve had, because I wouldn’t necessarily want to talk about them with everybody, but they’ve affected who I am, how my mood is and how that’s all going to play out over my life. Now, that’s the reason behind something, but it’s not my excuse for doing things or not doing things or behaving in a certain way. Because all of the things that happen in our lives, while it might not be our fault, we’re still responsible for what we are and who we are. And I don’t see that as being a self-victimisation at all. It’s empowering. Because now you can start to do things to feel better.
Doing ‘the one thing’ can create change
There’s a raft of things that we can do, and they’re going to differ depending on where we’re at. If we’re at the lowest ebb, when people say, ‘You should just be positive, or maybe you should think in this particular way or do this’, you’re going to say, ‘Bugger off’. ‘I’m feeling like crap. I’m going to lie in bed.’
[Going outside] was harder for me that time than running a marathon, but it was ‘the one thing’.
But there might be one thing you can do. I remember years ago, when I was living in Takapuna in Auckland, a beautiful place on the beach, but I was lying in bed in the dark because I didn’t want to get up. One of my mates messaged me and said, ‘Just change your environment once today’. I thought, I can probably do that. And so I walked outside. That was harder for me that time than running a marathon, but it was ‘the one thing’. You start to do the one thing and then the next thing follows.
Once we get past that point and we start to feel better again […] that’s when we can start developing our mental strength and resilience.
One of the best things I’ve ever done was getting a dog. I wouldn’t get a dog if I was really low, because I don’t think that would be fair, but I’d already bought this puppy and I fell into a depression. But having the responsibility of the dog took some of the focus from just being about me to being about this little animal that needs things. I couldn’t just stay I bed because I had to feed the puppy. It wouldn’t be fair for the puppy to just be around at home all day – so I had to take him for a walk. Those little actions would then build to the next thing and I felt better.
Build up your strength when you’re feeling well
Once we get past that point and we start to feel better again, I think that’s when the rubber really hits the road, because that’s when we can start developing our mental strength and resilience. The only time we can really develop those is when we’re feeling well. Building up that overall strength means that we tend to not dip quite so much. And when we do have those big dips, we tend to bounce out a lot better.
To have a happy life, we need to develop some habits.
So, what are some of the things you can do to build up your mental strength and resilience?
- Making sure we are exercising and having a variety of exercise
- Making sure some of that exercise is pretty freaking hard
- Eating well
- Creating some habits
Habits are absolutely critical for a happy life, irrespective of mental wellbeing challenges or not.
We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that we are a result of the things that have happened to us, but we’re actually a co-creation with our environment.
We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that we are a result of the things that have happened to us, but we’re actually a co-creation with our environment. And we’re continually co-creating, moment by moment. So, while things may have happened to us which cause us to be a particular way, we can start to take ownership of that.
Linchpin actions for a good start
One of the ways that we start to really make that work is to exercise willpower. We all know that willpower is limited, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless. We can’t ride over everything with willpower alone. We need to set the foundation through other things and we need to make the pattern of habit-forming is easy as possible.
It’s about doing the simplest thing that is most impactful. One of the concepts I really like in that respect is linchpin actions. One example is the navy commander who talks about the importance of making his bed every morning. That’s what they learn in the forces – make your bed. He said when he makes his bed, it sets the day up right and everything else falls into place.
Another good example is the amazing teacher Tessa Bielecki, a Catholic nun. Her linchpin action is flossing her teeth. She says, “If I floss my teeth, then through the day I eat better. I feel better. I go to sleep at an appropriate time and all these things fall in line from there”.
I think that developing some of those linchpin actions is critical to good mental wellbeing. For me, the linchpin actions are about having a very simple morning routine. If I can get that done – get up, drink some water, have my coffee, train, write – I’m good. Everything else follows.
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