We are coming to the middle of 2019 soon and as such it’s time to reevaluate all the dreams, goals and aspirations that we have. Those alluring hopes inside our hearts and souls that move us forward in life. And with those dreams come a need to make them a reality; a need to take action. Did we follow through on our new year’s resolutions this year? Or do we need to start taking action? Or simply start taking a different kind of action than we have already? Or maybe start setting some goals that will actually have an impact on your life?
Many people, when setting goals, set ones that are completely unrealistic. It’s not realistic to think you’ll keep up with an awful diet for the rest of your life, just because you want to be thin.
Having trained as a life coach I’ve spent a lot of time around coaches. I also got myself a coach last year — Marc — one of the best things I ever did. But even before that, quite by happenstance when my best friend and I shared a pad in the Hollywood Hills, we decided to start a monthly challenge. Ever so often we’ve started that up for a couple of months again. Why? Because it worked. By having one, very attainable, challenge a month, we were able to achieve it. And by having each other to hold each other accountable, we knew we’d do it.
What’s more, it was fun. It was fun to do challenges where you felt you grew as a person. You moved beyond your comfort zone and by doing so became comfortable with it. You became more of who you wanted to be. It was a wonderful sense of satisfaction.
Below are 12 challenges I believe will change your life. For some of you, it might work to do two challenges, instead of one per month. The idea though, is that with some of these challenges you keep building. You don’t stop after one month, you just add another challenge on.
Of course, you might want to add one challenge and subtract another. You might also have a dire goal that you need to achieve — that horrible diet you’ll never keep up that I mentioned? Well, it’s not like you’d keep up a juice fast for more than a month, most likely, but you might need that month for the sake of your health. If something is critical, then you have to go beyond your comfort zone in more drastic ways than you would normally. (As for fasting, do your research and consult with a doctor, preferably one that specializes in it, before you embark on it.)
You might also have completely different goals you want to incorporate, such as planning for a trip, or prepping to climb a mountain, or run a race. If so, use the same principle as below and set yourself daily tasks to carry out.
But without further ado, here are twelve goals that will change your life.
The Simple Exercise Goal
People always have these grand plans of spending an hour in the gym every day, running 10k a day and gaining enough muscle mass to make Schwarzenegger jealous. That’s great if you have the time for it and it’s the main priority in your life. Then, sign up to the gym with a personal trainer, or get a running/workout partner, to hold you accountable and get cracking. For most of us though, it’s a matter of exercising enough to stay fit and healthy.
Below you’ll find an easy exercise schedule that can help you reach your fitness goals without having to turn your entire schedule upside down and spend time you don’t have in the gym.
Every morning start the day by doing five minutes worth of stretching/warming up your body and doing breathing exercises. Do the same before heading to bed.
For the below schedule, remember to warm up for a couple of minutes before you start and after the workout, slow down and stretch.
Monday: spend 15-25 min doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) focusing on your legs.
Tuesday: spend 15-25 min doing cardio; whether an intense yoga session (like ashtanga), going for a jog, spinning, dancing around the living room till you’re about to topple over, or doing HIIT focusing on cardio.
Wednesday: spend 15-25 min doing HIIT focusing on your abs and core (personally I love P90X Ab Ripper X).
Thursday: spend 15-25 min doing cardio; whether an intense yoga session that focuses on cardio, going for a jog, spinning, swimming, dancing around the living room till you’re about to topple over, or doing HIE focusing on cardio.
Friday: spend 15-25 min doing HIIT focusing on your arms and upper body.
Saturday: spend 15-25 min doing stretches, whether you come up with your own program, do a yoga program, or find something online which suits you. Just be sure to focus on each part of the body and hold the stretches for a minimum of 30-60 seconds.
Sunday: go for a walk in nature.
When it comes to exercising the different muscle groups, you can use YouTube videos, find an online program that works for you, lift some iron at home/in the gym, or do your own thing.
A great way to keep yourself accountable is to have an exercise buddy — whether you meet in person to exercise, Skype each other when exercising, or simply check in with each other every day to log your results.
Don’t have time to exercise every day? Try doing the same thing as listed above, but every other day. You can also squeeze in exercising by biking to the shops when you need groceries, taking a walk around the park at lunch, or simply parking the car further from the places you need to go. Another great tip is to do three-minute exercises throughout the day, focusing on one muscle group, or another. I tend to do ballet exercises, squats, push ups and sit ups randomly throughout the day to get the blood flowing.
Ditch Refined Sugars and Unhealthy Sweeteners
You don’t have to give up all sugars, just the bad ones. That means instead of having white sugar, super refined sugars like glucose syrup, or unhealthy sweeteners, you use:
- honey (raw)
- stevia (has a weird aftertaste if used in coffee and certain cakes, but works well with other things, also bear in mind you can use a little bit of stevia, a little bit of honey and a little bit of xylitol, or just a little bit of stevia and a little bit of brown sugar when baking)
- xylitol (great taste and has some potential health benefits, but does not crystalize like sugar when baking and you cannot use too much, or you’ll get a runny tummy)
- dates (chop them up, or toss them in the blender if adding to cakes)
- fruit juice concentrates
- maple syrup
- banana/fruit purees
- erythritol (it doesn’t have the same health benefits xylitol have, so if you’re choosing between the two…)
There’s also palm sugar, but I find the taste very acidic.
Now, this might take a bit of restraint, if you are used to eating muffins, scones, cakes, ice cream and candy and drink soda. However, these days you’ll find so many great alternatives in the shops. Also, try to nail two to four recipes for treats that you can make when sugar cravings set in. I love a simple chocolate mousse — throw some avocado, vegan milk, cacao and honey into the VitaMix, press the button and voilà you have chocolate mousse. You need a fair amount of honey and cacao for this to taste great though. Certain fruits, like grapes (you can have them frozen in summer, just as you can with mango and melon), are also good for sugar cravings.
You could argue that all sugars are bad and you should ditch all sweets, but let’s face it: we all want to live a little.
Change Your Focus
Have you ever gotten upset thinking about the bills that need paying? The people you lost? The people who hurt you? How badly you screwed up a job? The things you don’t like about your body? How scared you are no one at a party will like you?
I’m sure you have. We all have. In one, way, shape, form, or another, we all obsess about what’s gone wrong, what’s currently wrong and what could go wrong.
Have you ever tried turning it around? Instead of thinking panicky thoughts about the bills that need paying, thinking that you will get through it and find a way? Instead of fearing what people will think of you at a party, assuming that you are welcome and the right people will connect with you?
I’m fairly certain you have patterns in your life — both good and bad. We all do. It’s like that one friend who always picks great jobs and the other one who always manages to make friends with ten people in an hour. Until we change what’s going on mentally, we will keep reliving the same patterns, because we will base our decisions on the same thinking patterns.
Think about it this way: when an architect goes into a room s/he will see one thing, an interior designer another thing and someone trained in feng shui a third. In a similar manner, when you walk into a room, a conversation, a party, an event, etc. you will see different things depending on what you know and what you’re looking for.
There is a similar example people tend to use: when driving down the street today, how many yellow cars did you see? You probably don’t know. You might not remember a single one. But if you keep a lookout tomorrow, chances are you’ll see one.
Likewise, imagine going to a party having spilled a glass of red wine all over yourself. Maybe you feel awkward — it’s a fancy party and you were so looking forward to being dressed to the nines. Instead, you feel totally misplaced among the airbrushed looking people around you. So you hide away, not wanting to bring attention to you.
Instead, you could laugh and use the ruined clothing as an excellent ice breaker, joking with people when they look at you. You might have more fun than you otherwise would, because now you have a reason to speak to people. A reason to laugh. Besides, if people are so shallow they don’t like you because you spilled wine over yourself, they aren’t the kind of people you want to know. It would be ridiculous wanting to know people like that.
My principal at drama school, Sam Kogan, used to say we’re all walking around with glasses that filter our experiences. Later, my friend, William Whitecloud, told me that focus creates reality. And right now my coach, Marc, is telling me to focus on what’s working.
Shift your focus, change your life. So, for a month, whenever you notice yourself having a negative thought (and you’ll have to start paying attention, because many thoughts we’ve thought so many times we don’t even notice they’re there — just as we don’t see the yellow cars unless we start to look for them), reframe it. Turn it around. If you can’t find a positive angle, or solution, simply shift your thoughts to what’s great in your life right now, so if it’s only the fact that you own a toothbrush.
If you like, you can keep a diary of what thoughts you’ve shifted that day. You can also wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it every time you have a negative thought. Or set an alarm to go off a few times a day to check in on your state of mind. Do whatever it takes to stay aware. And trust me: it takes practice. You need to review your progress every day.
Add Some Herbs and Spices
Many herbs and spices are filled with antioxidants, as well as a number of anti-inflammatory substances. Ginger, turmeric and black cumin seed, are good examples of this, but if you start looking around on PubMed you’ll find a gazillion studies that prove that various herbs and spices have incredible properties (though some studies are, notably, done on rats, not humans).
While a trained herbalist will be able to guide you as to what herbs have specific traits, if you’re looking to ingest them in larger doses, it’s not rocket science to add some spice to your life, quite literally.
Have a roster of herbal teas that you drink. Something as simple as drinking two cups of herbal tea a day can improve your health. Even simple rooibos tea is great for your health. And regular chai tea (the kind that’s made of real spices), contain a whole bunch load of different spices that have a number of different health benefits (you can blend your own: take some roughly ground black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and allspice and boil it with milk, or water, then drain and add honey if you like). “Yellow coffee” made with turmeric has become popular too and I, personally, enjoy adding chai spices to my coffee together with the turmeric.
Good old fashioned garden herbs — ranging from mint to basil — are filled with greatness too. It doesn’t take much to chop some up for your next meal, or buy dried (non-irradiated) ones and sprinkle on top of a meal, or in a salad. You can also make fresh teas from chamomile, mint, lemon verbena, lemon balm, lavender, etc.
Goal: find different herbal teas (incl. rooibos which is filled with goodness) you enjoy and drink two cups a day and be sure to sprinkle herbs and spices in your salads and on your meals, at least once a day. Try to stick to organic teas where possible.
Week One: do some research into the benefits of various herbs and spices and find three different teas you like and ensure they don’t contain any ingredients that may negatively affect your health (licorice tea, for example, shouldn’t be drunk if you suffer from hypertension, but licorice is a great way of sweetening herbal teas otherwise — try licorice and mint combined, or putting licorice in your chai). Buy a bunch of herbs and spices and try at least two recipes using them.
Week Two: find another three teas and try another two meals.
Week Three: find another three teas and try another two meals.
Week Four: drink two cups of herbal tea a day and add herbs and spices to one meal, or drink, a day.
Do a Chemical Detox
They put a lot of chemicals in cleaning products these days. Some even go in body products. We’ve created a pretty toxic environment for ourselves. To save yourself and the planet, take steps to change this around.
Week One: spend fifteen minutes doing research as to which chemicals are harmful for you, then ditch the cleaning detergents (incl. laundry liquid) that are filled with them and either buy all-natural brands, or make your own. Beware that what claims to be natural/organic sometimes just has one natural/organic ingredient in there. Read the label.
Week Two: spend fifteen minutes doing research as to which chemicals are harmful for you, then ditch the body products that contain these. Sodium laureth sulphate and parabens are right up there. Synthetic fragrances often aren’t a hit either. Beware that products that what claim to be natural often aren’t. Read the label.
Week Three and Four: enjoy a chemical free household and body. You can also look into perfumes made of essential oils and how to make your own body and cleaning products, if interested. If you own a home, you might also want to start looking into the materials it’s made of — some older buildings are toxic.
Bear in mind that pseudoscience is all over the place these days thanks to the internet. There’s a “natural” remedy for everything, that’s often as good as snake oil. On top of it, there’s misinformation about a lot of things. Just because something contains a fragment of a substance that’s poisonous in large doses, doesn’t mean it’s poisonous in small ones. Going natural and going fanatic are two different things.
Dare to Love
We all love, right? But have you ever read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman? In it, he explains we all need love in different ways. We all speak different love languages. For some of us, we feel loved when we receive gifts. For others, when someone helps us around the house. For yet others, we need to spend quality time with someone, enjoy physical touch, or hear it in words — be told we are loved. If, within a relationship, one person needs quality time to feel loved, the other needs compliments, it can cause problems.
I realized, years ago, that the way I was raised and my childhood, in general, didn’t lend itself to me becoming a person who gave love freely. I was scared of telling someone I loved them. I was scared of complimenting people. And I certainly wouldn’t walk up to a stranger in the street and give them a random compliment! My fear of rejection was way too big for that.
When I read The 4-Hour Work Week and understood Tim Ferriss’ idea that to live a free life, you have to live beyond your comfort zone, I started pondering various things holding me back. So when I did my monthly challenges with my best friend, we started giving each other daily compliments and we ran around telling lots of people we loved them. I would also challenge myself to compliment people I didn’t know; overcoming my fear of speaking to strangers. Once you do something enough times, it stops being frightening. You don’t have to define yourself by other people’s reaction to what you say and do. However, people tend to react favorably when you compliment them. My fear of rejection, of course, only led to more rejection. By not reaching out to people, I could keep my sense of rejection intact. When you reach out to people, you do sometimes get rejected and right in your face, but you also end up connecting with a lot more people.
Whether you're in a relationship, or not, start trying out the five love languages on friends and family and challenge yourself to compliment a different person every day. At the beginning of the month, write down exactly what your goals are every day/week.
If possible, have a compliments buddy like I did and send each other compliments every day too. And write down a compliment for yourself every day. If you get one compliment from yourself and one from your friend every day, you have about 60 compliments by the end of the month. Your perspective of self might just change in the process. Remember the above exercise about changing your focus? That includes how you look upon yourself.
Spend Time in the Great Outdoors
Having written a lot of health articles over the years, I’ve learned that great health isn’t just about the food you eat, or the exercising you do. Health is related to things like stress, sleep and time spent in nature as well. In fact, in Japan, they have done research on what they call forest bathing — i.e. spending time in the forest. The results they got were astounding — the number of killer cells (i.e. cells that kill off things like bacteria and viruses) go up, while blood pressure and mental stress go down when you spend a few days in the forest. And spending just a couple of days in nature can have a positive effect on your body for over a month.
Now, all of us can’t go and spend three days in the forest every month, but we can spend ten minutes walking around the block during lunch break every day, or go for a country walk, or a walk in the park, every weekend.
The reason you should spend time outdoors is also because vitamin D gets produced by the skin when you’re exposed to sunlight (and even on a cloudy day you're exposed to sunlight). Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and can cause havoc with your mood and health, so do yourself a favor and set a schedule where you spend a few minutes out of doors every day. You could just park your car further from your office, bike to the shops once a week, ensure you go to the park once a week and take a five-minute walk during lunchtime.
For this month, set goals a) get daily doses of sunlight b) get weekly doses of greenery (i.e. get yourself to a park, or go for a country walk/bike ride at least once a week).
As always, be realistic when setting your goals. If you only have five minutes a day to spend outdoors, then don’t aim for fifteen. And if you can only go for a walk/bike/hike in nature twice a month, then stick to that instead of trying to do it every week.
Get Your Sleep
Just like sunlight and spending time n nature is important for your health, so is getting enough sleep at regular hours.
Sleep is affected by something called the circadian rhythm, just as the circadian rhythm is affected by sleep. This, in turn, affects your immune system.
If you are constantly changing the hours you go to sleep/get up, you are constantly jet lagged. This can affect your health negatively. Likewise, if you get too little sleep, it can affect your health negatively. Too little sleep is also linked to poor concentration, metabolism and eating more to try to stay awake.
To ensure you go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, set your alarm both for when going to sleep and for when you need to wake up. Avoid starting activities you know will prevent you from going to bed, such as starting a two-hour movie one hour before bedtime. Discipline.
If you have problems going to sleep, try setting your alarm for an hour before bedtime every day. At that point, turn off your phone/tablet/TV/laptop, lower the volume on your music, dim all your lights, or use a candle (that’s fireproof). Have a hot bath and a cup of hot tea (heat can help you feel drowsy, as can various herbal teas for relaxation), then meditate and go to bed.
For a month, have a sleep diary where you record what time you went to bed and woke up every day.
Meditate Your Way to Happiness
Being healthy also has a lot to do with relaxation. Exercising, spending time in nature and sleeping right will help you relax. What can also help is meditation.
Frankly, I’m not one who ever fell in love with meditation. I like to think. But then I discovered chanting. If I chant, I can focus on the word I’m chanting. And while I don’t feel like sitting chanting for an hour, for five minutes, it can give me a much needed break, help me relax and help me refocus my brain. Particularly on days when I am on the brink of being swept away by a negative thinking pattern. Instead of starting to react to my thoughts and acting in ways to resolve the tension (such as talking to a friend for an hour, or having a glass of wine) I can spend five minutes meditating and then I’m looking upon life relaxed and choose the right actions to move forward, doing things that actually take me closer to my goals.
Take five minutes out of your day when you sit in stillness, focusing on your breathing, or on chanting something. I like the words peace, love and understanding, as I believe they encompass much of what is needed to keep a calm mind and happy heart.
For a month, meditate for five minutes a day and see what happens.
Do What You Love
Goals are great — they give us purpose and make us move forward in life. They help us grow and develop. Sometimes goals can also trick us into living in the future though.
To make sure you make the most out of this life, you need to live now as well, not just in an imaginary future. So what can you do this week to make sure you’re living?
For a month, set aside five to thirty minutes a day to do something you truly love, be it learning new recipes, or writing on a book. Also, set aside a couple of hours (as a chunk of time) every week, when you do something you love. Start the month by writing down what you’d love to do once a week and once a day. Also, allow for spontaneity — maybe you were planning to spend your five to thirty minutes reading a book, but happened to end up by a park you can walk around instead.
Achieve Your Goals
We all have some lofty goal, or other, that we’d like to achieve, be it launching a business, writing a book, or moving to Maui. If you’re serious about one goal, or another, then set aside ten to thirty minutes a day working on it.
At the beginning of the month, plan out what you’re going to do every day. At the end of each week, evaluate how far you have gotten and celebrate your success. Also, take stock of where you want to go the following week. Even if you set your goals for the month, things will change as you get started. Some things will take longer than you thought, others will get completed much quicker.
Dreams only come alive if we take the steps to make them do so. This is your shot at doing just that.
Eat More Fruit and Veg
There are a lot of debates these days about what diet is the healthiest, but one thing everyone seems to agree upon is that fruits and veg are good for you. Particularly vegetables.
A lot of foods get a bad rep — depending on whom you speak to either meat or bread is the devil in the shape of food. However, if you eat a lot of vegetables and a little bit of meat, or bread, you’ll be fine most likely. It’s just, vegetables (so long as you vary what vegetables you eat) contain a LOT of different nutrients. If you eat just bread, you get very few nutrients and in the end, your body might end up starved even though you aren’t underweight.
Instead of just counting calories, think about the nutritional value of your meal. Is it a lot of the same, or are you getting a ton of different nutrients?
To get more vegetables into your diet, a great way is simply having different salads (including hot ones in winter) for lunch and always having different steamed/boiled/stir-fried vegetables and a small side salad for dinner. If you want to lose weight, eating a salad (without lots of dressing — try using some herbal salt instead) before a meal, will help you feel full faster.
Of course, the point with these monthly exercises is to create habits. Once you’ve formed one habit that’s supporting your life, you move onto the next. Another way of looking upon it, is having daily rituals. Get up, meditate for five minutes, stretch for five minutes, do strength exercises for five minutes. At lunch, go for a ten-minute walk outdoors. Incorporate healthy sweeteners, herbs and spices and vegetables in your diet. Do a loving action every day, or give a compliment. In the evening, spend thirty minutes working towards a goal and thirty minutes doing something you love, meditate for five minutes, stretch for five minutes and switch all harsh lights off in the house an hour before going to bed.
If you try doing all this in one go, you might end up overwhelmed. If you form one new habit a month, a habit that takes up 5-30 minutes of your day, it becomes a lot easier. And once something’s easy, it’s easy to stick to.
Changing your life is not as hard as it may seem, particularly if you break it down into manageable chunks of change. It will bring big rewards.