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10 Common Mistakes That Prevent You From Being Happy and Healthy Today, Backed by Science

10 Common Mistakes That Prevent You From Being Happy and Healthy Today, Backed by Science

I’m fascinated by the link between the way we live our daily lives and the health and happiness we enjoy.

There are choices that you make every day, some of which seem completely unrelated to your health and happiness, that dramatically impact the way you feel mentally and physically.

With that said, here are 10 common mistakes that can prevent you from being happy and healthy, and the science to back them up.

1. Avoiding deep and meaningful connections (like marriage, close friendships, and staying in touch with family)

Ultimately, the human experience is about connecting with other people. Connection is what provides value and meaning to our lives. We’re wired for it and research proves just that.

For example, people with strong social ties were found to be healthier and have a lower risk of death. Additionally, it was found that as age increases, the people with stronger social ties tend to live longer. And it seems that friendships can even help you fight cancer.

The benefits of deep relationships extend to marriage as well. Being in a long-term relationship decreases the risk of depression, suicide, and substance abuse. And one study of almost 6,000 people found that marriage led to increased longevity while never marrying was the strongest predictor of premature death.

Finally, multiple studies (herehere, and here) show that strong family ties are one of the primary reasons the people of Okinawa, Japan have incredible longevity despite being one of the poorest prefectures in the country.

What do all of these different studies tell us?

Connection and belonging are essential for a healthy and happy life. Whether it’s friendship, marriage, or family — humans need close connections to be healthy.

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For more about the connection between loneliness and health, I suggest reading the New York Times best-seller Mind Over Medicine, which was written by Dr. Lissa Rankin.

2. Sitting all day.

You might want to stand up for this. The internet has gone crazy over this infographicthat describes the harmful effects of sitting all day.

The short version is that “recreational sitting” like sitting in front of a TV screen increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and death, regardless of your physical activity. Obviously, sitting at a desk for work isn’t too good either.

This troubling data doesn’t come from small sample sizes either. These trends held true in one study with 4,500 peopleanother with 8,800 people, and a final one with over 240,000 participants. If you’re looking for more details on the health risks of sitting,this New York Times article covers some of the basics.

3. Never stopping to just breathe.

A few years ago, I was speaking with a yoga instructor who told me, “I think people love my class because it’s the only time in their entire day when they just sit and breathe.”

That provides some interesting food for thought. From the time you wake up until the time you go to bed, do you ever take 15 minutes to just sit and breathe? I rarely do. And that’s a shame because the benefits of mindfulness and meditation are huge. Meditationreduces stress and anxiety. Meditation improves your quality of life and boost your immune system. Meditation has been shown to decrease anger and improve sleep, even among prison inmates.

4. Not joining a religion — or otherwise becoming part of a community.

There is an interesting and growing body of medical research that has discovered the positive health effects of religion and spirituality. The science doesn’t necessarily say that there is anything inherently healthy about religion, but it’s all the by-products that come from practicing religion that can make a big difference.

For example, people with strong faith often release control of their struggles and worries to a higher power, which can help to relieve anxiety and stress. Religious groups also offer a strong source of community and friendships, which is critical for health and happiness. In many cases, the strength of friendships formed with fellow believers can last for decades, and those strong personal ties are crucial for long-term health.

If you don’t consider yourself to be a religious person, then the lesson to takeaway from this body of research is that we all need a sense of belonging and community in our lives. It’s important to share your beliefs (whatever they happen to be about) with a community of people. People who have a community like that to lean on find themselves happier and healthier than those who lack that type of support.

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As a starting point, you can read studies on the religion-health connection herehere, and here.

5. Ignoring your creative abilities.

Expressing yourself creatively reduces the risk of disease and illness while simultaneously strengthening your health and wellness. For example, this study from the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that art helps to reduce stress and anxiety, increase positive emotions, and reduce the likelihood of depression, along with many other benefits.

Another study, which was published in the Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, discovered that creative writing improved the immune system response of HIV patients. For more ideas on why creating art is healthy, read this: The Health Benefits of Creativity.

6. Spending all day indoors.

Exploring the world around you — whether that means traveling to faraway lands or hiking through the woods in your area — provides a wide range of mental and physical benefits. For starters, the benefits of sunlight (and the negative effects of artificial light) are well-documented in research.

Additionally, researchers have begun to discover that wilderness excursions — known as “adventure therapy” — can promote weight lossimprove the self-esteem of people with mental illness, and even reduce the rearrest rates of sex offenders.

The central theme that runs through all of these studies is that exploring the outdoors and spending time in nature can increase the confidence you have in yourself and improve your ability to interact with others.

7. Spending your time consuming instead of contributing.

When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.
—Eleanor Roosevelt

Contribution is an essential part of living a life that is happy, healthy, and meaningful. Too often we spend our lives consuming the world around us instead of creating it. We overdose on low quality information. We live sedentary lives and passively eat, watch, and soak up information rather than creating, contributing, and building our own things.

As I wrote in this article

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“You can’t control the amount of time you spend on this planet, but you can control what you contribute while you’re here. These contributions don’t have to be major endeavors. Cook a meal instead of buying one. Play a game instead of watching one. Write a paragraph instead of reading one. You don’t have to create big contributions, you just need to live out small ones each day.”

8. Working in a job that you don’t love.

As you might expect, it’s dangerous to work too much. In Japan, the overtime and workplace stress has become so bad that they actually have a label for the people who die because of it: karoshi, which literally means “death by overwork.”

Basically any way in which your job makes you feel stressed is bad for your health — unpredictable commutes, tension and disagreement with your boss or coworkers, feeling undervalued or unappreciated. Even working overtime increases the risk for coronary heart disease, independent of outside factors.

What can you do about it? No one strategy will work for everyone, of course, but the principles in The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor offer a great place to start.

9. Eating alone.

Brian Wansink, a Cornell professor and author of Mindless Eating, has written that when people eat alone they are more likely to have a large binge feeding. Additionally, diets suffer when people eat alone. Lonely diners tend to eat fewer vegetables and less healthy meals. It seems that we make less of an effort to eat well when we are by ourselves than when someone else is involved.

Given that an estimated one out of three people eat lunch at their desk, it’s easy to see how these little choices add up to big health problems over the long-term.

10. Believing that you are unworthy of health, happiness, and love.

Brene Brown is a researcher at the University of Houston and she has spent 10 years studying vulnerability. In recent years, her work has exploded with popularity as she delivered one of the most popular TED Talks of all-time and has written multiple best-selling books including Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection.

As Brown studied fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability, she discovered one key insight…

There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who struggle for it. And that was that people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.

That’s it. They believe they’re worthy. The one thing that keeps us out of connection is the fear that we’re not worthy of connection.
—Brene Brown

If you allow your fear or vulnerability or shame to prevent you from showcasing your true self, then you will be preventing yourself from connecting fully with others. If you want to be able to move past fear, judgement, and uncertainty and into a healthier and happier life, then you have to give yourself permission first. You have to decide that you’re worthy.

For much deeper and more useful discussion of vulnerability, I suggest reading Brown’s books: Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection.

What Do You Need to Be Healthy?

Living a healthy life is about much more than just diet and exercise. Don’t forget about the 10 areas above because they play a significant role in your health and happiness.

As Lissa Rankin often says, “What does your body need to heal?”

In many cases it’s not a better diet or a new workout program, it’s one of these areas that might be impacting your health and happiness without you even realizing it.

Featured photo credit: Dawn Ashley via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on July 3, 2020

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life. To control your thoughts means to influence the way you live your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affects your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive, and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Be someone who can control your thoughts—become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have a few thoughts that are not of my choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in control of your thoughts.

If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create unhealthy and unproductive thoughts.

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words—many times your parents
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples’ expectations
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance, and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is youwhy else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future—in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear, which is often irrational and has no basis. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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3. The Reactor or Troublemaker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration, and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

This person can be set off by words or feelings and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control. He is run by past programming that no longer serves you—if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity, and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You can control your thoughts, but you must pay attention to them so you can identify “who” is running the show—this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind.

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go-to” thoughts in applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

1. For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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You can also have a dialogue with yourself to discredit the ‘voice’ that created the thought—if you know whose voice it is:

“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready.

This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

2. For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally, and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind, and creates anxiety in the body. This may make it more difficult for you to control your thoughts effectively.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above-stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time, you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense. Both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

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Now, take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like! Do it until you feel that you’re close to being in control of your thoughts.

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

For example: If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place.

Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

3. For the Troublemaker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers. But until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain.

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds—just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize. Now, you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior, and you’ll be more in control of your thoughts.

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One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

4. For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher, and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with a replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and thoughts, and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method, I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (closed, of course). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon
  • Shut down your thinking
  • Calm your feelings
  • Simply focus on the present moment

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable, and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. You can be in control of your thoughts. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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