The Life-Changing Magic of Meditation: 6 Reasons Why You Should Start Today

“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are.” — Pema Chödrön

The Life-Changing Magic of Meditation: 6 Reasons Why You Should Start Today

Diets of the week, micro-managing calories, obsession with the most optimal workouts, and other minutiae garners the majority of the attention in the health and wellness world. However, it’s stress that is often times the culprit for people’s health issues.

The thing that makes stress so difficult is that it manifests through multiple identities such as relationships, diet, exercise, emotional, mental, and financial among many others.

Stress in the right amounts is beneficial, but when there’s too much of it, recovery lowers due to the autonomic system being off-balanced.

In fact, in a Yale study in 2012, researchers found that psychological stress was associated with poor muscle recovery. And in another separate study, researchers found that excessive stress disrupts the architecture of the developing brain.

Why is this important?

Because the future of our society and world depends on the ability to create a conducive environment for people to thrive. If we (this present generation) are highly stressed and fail to control stress, this will spill over into the next generation. If we’re stressed, then our children have a higher likelihood as well because of the prolonged activation of the stress response systems in the body and the brain from cortisol.

Ok, the brief philosophical rant is over.

With all of this said, unmanaged stress and overwhelm combined with unhealthy thought patterns lead to a near-impossible chance of succeeding with your fitness goals.

But, combatting this can be executed through a simple meditation practice.

This doesn’t mean the fancy type where you have to sit in silence for a long time or chant mantras. This simply means scheduling designated times during the day to find silence and take a breather from the hectic world.

If you’re struggling with your fitness, perhaps it’s not the workout or the nutritional regimen that needs addressing. Perhaps it’s the stress management that needs addressing.

Here’s is how meditation helps your fitness and life.

1. Increases your focus and productivity

Cal Newport, author of ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’ describes deep work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.”

With that said, meditation helps you fall into deep work quicker due to meditation increasing your ability to focus and maintain attention for longer durations.

Meditation also leads to improved cognitive functioning through traits such as creativity and increased problem-solving skills.

As you meditate over time, you’ll become less prone to distracting thoughts and environments while simultaneously increasing your input.

2. Reduces your stress and anxiety

Stress is the giant elephant in the room that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Often overlooked in the stress department is its impact on your emotional and mental health. When those two worlds aren’t operating at their peak, you’re going to be less likely to make rationale food decisions.

Uncontrolled levels of stress and anxiety leave you prone to illnesses while slowing down your rate of weight loss along with recovery due to increased cortisol levels.

But the key to dealing with stress isn’t attempting to erase it completely, that’s a fairy tale. The key instead is to learn how to dance with it gracefully. And a great way to learn how to dance with stress starts with developing a practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness helps with stress because it plays a positive role in your overall recovery which can be analyzed through your heart-rate variability (HRV).

Think of your heart beating and the delays in between those beats are your HRV and this exposes how your nervous system is firing. If you’re favoring toward a sympathetic system default, then your heart rate is speeding up. If it’s parasympathetic, then it’s going to be slower.

HRV –meditation

Each has their positives, but for daily living, being in a parasympathetic state is a little better since it’ll reflect the ability to better able handle stress.

Meditation helps with boosting parasympathetic activity (thus increasing HRV) and decreasing cardiovascular disease risk.

In as little as five weeks of daily practice, meditation helps with anxiety, depression, and stress. Brief mindfulness meditation is also beneficial when it comes to lowering blood pressure.

3. Helps with the quality of your sleep

How many times have you laid down and can’t sleep because you’re having racing thoughts?

This describes a large population of people who haven’t found a way to control their internal world.

But through developing a meditation practice, you’ll improve your sleep quality due to slowing your thoughts which leads to fewer feelings of overwhelm.

As described in a study that appeared in the JAMA Internal Medicine, meditation helps with managing daily levels of stress along with improving sleep through helping you focus on the “moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, and emotions.”

And in another study published in the Journal of Behavior Research and Therapy, visualizing your ideal environment and life was proven to be a beneficial aid in improving your sleep. This is something that has tremendously helped me. In fact, I read over my one-year vision nightly along with traits about the person I want to be, the people who are in my life, where I’m living, and how I’m contributing to the world.

Visualizing your ideal environment and life is a great mind-body technique because it helps connect your conscious and unconscious minds, which leads to more desirable scenarios while decreasing stressful thoughts.

4. Helps with weight loss

Often times, when we think of weight loss, we’re quick to direct our attention to the workouts and diets. Yet, many people will have their macros and workout dialed in but the weight still isn’t falling off.

Despite the work that you’re seemingly putting forth toward losing weight, not managing your environmental and relational stressors can undo your efforts.

By meditating, you actively address your stress levels and most importantly, strengthen up your mental fitness. When you display strong levels of mental fitness, you’re going to be in a better state to make daily decisions.

5. Increases gratitude

Through meditating, you’re lowering your blood pressure along with your overall levels of calmness. And as a by-product of this, you’re increasing your levels of gratitude because you’re able to focus and appreciate what you have in the present moment.

grateful — meditation

A study conducted by UCLA & the University of Miami found that when people who wrote down what they were grateful for on a weekly basis ended up being more optimistic and cheerful about the upcoming week than those who didn’t.

In addition to that, gratitude has been associated to improve longevity due to more optimism, ability to handle setbacks, sleep, empathy, and decision making.

6. Improves your emotional intelligence & changes your brain

In this particular study, after eight weeks of meditation, participants ended up with denser brain tissue in areas connected to emotional regulation, memory, and learning which suggests that mindfulness training alters intrinsic functional connectivity in our brain. This leads to better focus along with higher reflective awarenesses of experiences.

Another factor among this is the decreased grey matter in parts of the amygdala, which is part of the brain that is connected to stress and fear (think fight or flight response).

While under stress, our amygdala is taking charge, leading us to make rash decisions based on emotions. But through meditation, your amygdala relaxes and activity in your prefrontal cortex increases which is much slower to respond to situations. Therefore, you have to stop and think about a situation leading to more rational decisions.

If you would like to try starting a meditation practice and would like some guidance, my friends over at Simple Habit have graciously sent me a code for 20 free days of premium guided meditations. Simple Habit is like the Spotify of meditation since there are different times and topics of all sorts to meditate on. I’ve been using a handful of these for the past few months. Click here for your free 20 days.

The Health And Fitness Audit: 15 Questions You Must Know in Order to Succeed in Fitness

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” — Malcolm X

The Health And Fitness Audit: 15 Questions You Must Know in Order to Succeed in Fitness

When you think of the word audit, you’re probably directing your attention to the world of accounting and finance. However, audits exist outside of accounting and finance.

Audits exist in sports and politics to name a few among many.

Sports teams routinely assess the state of their organization and individual players by analyzing various key metrics. They investigate these metrics and based on the numbers, they make adjustments to give themselves a better chance of winning.

In politics (a sometimes interesting but unfortunate subject that divides people), auditing is used on the campaign trail among many other areas to effectively improve the specific parties mission.

It’s safe to say that auditing is a powerful force that deserves a spot at each of our tables. When it comes to fitness, auditing is critical since it’ll provide more clarity and awareness to your current endeavors.

Here’s an example of some fitness auditing: we all have 168 hours in a week. At the extreme end, work and the commute are costing you 14 hours a day Monday-Friday. There’s weekly sleep which costs you 56 hours (8 hours a night).

From these two things, you’re paying 126 hours. Plenty of time for family, exercise, errands, and other extracurricular activities. By auditing your time, you’ll discover that you have 42 hours to play with. With this approach, squeezing in three to four hours at the gym doesn’t seem impossible now.

This is just one example of auditing. There’s a deeper level you can go with your auditing that will help you develop clarity about your true commitment to health and fitness. Below is a health and fitness audit, consisting of 15 questions that you must know in order to succeed long term.

Take some time to answer the questions and below the questions are a print off with the 15 questions as well.

1. Do you know why you want to change?

You must know yourself and how you personally operate. What makes you tick? What truly motivates you to want to change your health and fitness?

What are the benefits to swinging the health paradigm in your life?

I want to lose weight isn’t good enough. Why do you want to lose this weight?

Discovering your “why” is your most powerful weapon to staying the course with your commitment to fitness. Be specific and have zero judgment for whatever your answer is.

2. Do you know exactly what you need to be, and do, in order to achieve your desired fitness goal?

What type of traits and identity must you adapt to achieve the fitness goal that you want? For me, I had to become the person who didn’t feel guilty for saying “no” to friends and family when offered food that didn’t fit with my goals.

I had to become the guy who took action (small steps often times) despite how I felt in that current moment or when the inner chatter of self-doubt made an appearance.

Look at your habits and think what kind of person and actions are needed to reach that goal that you want?

What will you give up, everything has a cost attached to it. To really create my desired body, I prioritized sleep over partying and aiming for perfect attendance at every social extravaganza.

Know your costs and be okay with it and you won’t have any unforeseen friction down the line.

3. Do you have a health and fitness mission statement?

For me, I have the mission of the AFL, which is to help busy individuals and companies maximize their performance and impact in this world through simple changes in their health routines.

Working out and feeding my body quality nutrients isn’t just about me and my outside appearance. It’s now a deeper purpose, which is to help me stay cognitively sharp and to help bring out the best in my capabilities so I can serve others to the best of my abilities.

What about you? Write your health and fitness mission statement out on a card and keep it with you at all times. When indulgences arrive, it’s a simple perspective of assessing whether this action expands or constricts your mission.

4. Do you have a crystal clear one-year goal that you can clearly explain?

Let’s take a brief trip down “woo woo land” for a minute. You can’t expect the universe to open doors and create opportunities for you if don’t even know what you want.

When you aren’t specific with your goals, you leave room for uncertainty and for other miscellaneous “things” to occupy space in your vision. Don’t fall into the trap of achieving and doing only to find yourself down a road you don’t even want to be on.

biking down the road—health and fitness audit
Make sure you’re riding down a path that you want to be on.

5. Have you broken that one-year goal into quarterly goals?

One year is a long time for now. It’s better and more soothing to your mental state to break that macro goal down into micro goals so you can build up momentum. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds over the next year, then setting goals in 5-pound increments is a great approach.

6. Have you broken your goals into small and manageable daily actions that lead to your end-goal?

Setting goals can bring a rush of blood to your head that leaves you feeling great, but taking action is the only way to make those goals a reality. I recommend aiming to complete a few critical tasks each day that places you closer to your one-year goal as well as moving you to complete your quarterly goal.

For example, you want to lose 20 pounds in a year. Five pounds is the quarterly goal. Your daily goals could be some form of exercising for 45-60 minutes daily, in bed before 11 pm, eating four complete meals each day, and add something socially to balance you out.

7. Do you have a morning routine suited specifically to your needs?

How you start the day plays a pivotal role in dictating the flow of your day from both an energy and performance standpoint.

8. Do you have a weekly plan for how you’re going to eat that fits with work?

Many of us are “time-crunched” during the week due to work demands and other various responsibilities. With that said, it’s highly important that you have a game plan for your nutrition during the week because when you’re caught off-guard,  impulsive decisions follow along with other areas of compliance dropping.

The weekends are a little easier for nutrition. Therefore, on each Sunday, plan for the work week. Where will you eat your meals? Are you meal prepping, using a meal delivery service, or developing a uniform style of eating throughout the week where you relatively eat the same thing each day.

9. Do you know your workout days and what you’re doing each session?

It’s important to treat and schedule your workouts just as you would a doctors appointment and important business meetings. This is psychologically signaling that this event is the highest of priority along with decreasing the chances of you making excuses for why you can’t work out due to time among many other excuses.

Schedule your workout days at the beginning of the week and also know what you’re going to do each session to maximize time and effectiveness.

10. What are you doing to ensure you get optimal sleep nightly?

Sleep is the most important element to maximizing your performance and impact in the world along with transforming your body.

The majority of people know that sleep is important, but through overwhelm, lack of time management and distractions, people fall short with consistent high-quality sleep.

Your goal is to develop a routine 60 minutes out from bed to help signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Some of the essential habits include placing a curfew on electronics.

11. Whats your biggest obstacle to succeeding?

Knowing your chock holds is critical because it lets you plan for them in advance.

In recent years, my biggest chock hold was properly allowing space for rest and recovery. I didn’t set boundaries and would let others slide into my recharging time.

What about you?

Identify two–three obstacles that could stop you from succeeding?

12. Once you know your obstacles, what’s your plan to attack and defeat those obstacles?

Knowing is one thing, but actively taking action is another thing. Clearly, define a few measures that you’re going to use to defeat and prevent those obstacles and chock holds from sabotaging your goals.

strategy — health and fitness audit
All victories start with a plan.

13. What are you doing to mentally & emotionally prepare to change?

We all most likely want to change and improve certain areas of our life. But, are you really committed to undergoing change? And, do you understand the price and pain required to change?

Changing and transforming starts with leveling up your mental and emotional fitness. Neglecting to only change the external world without the internal is setting yourself up for self-sabotaging at some point down the road.

Take some time to think and realize what you will need to change in your core existing identity to become the type of person who achieves the goals that you’re striving for.

Are you okay with the necessary sacrifices and are you willing to do it?

14. Do you have some form of accountability and support?

No one succeeds in this world on their own. I have to remind myself of this at times because I still have difficulty in adhering to this principle.

It’s tough to ask for help and support, but we all need it. Assess your circle and community, do you have a few people you can rely on for help toward those new goals of yours?

15. If yes to number 14, then who is it and how are they helping?

Be specific with how you want them to help contribute to your mission. Will you have workout partners, accountability partners to check in with you weekly, or someone to routinely provide the necessary tough love to keep you going?

If you rather have a print off of the questions to answer on your own time or refer back to, download this free infographic below.

The Health & Fitness Audit

Which Pain Do You Want in Fitness? The One of Struggle or Growth?

“There are always two choices. Two paths to take. One is easy. And its only reward is that it’s easy.” —Unknown

Which Pain Do You Want in Fitness? The One of Struggle or Growth?— cost to our health

Ralph Waldo Emerson explains in the law of compensation that “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”

Also in his journal dated back to the ancient times of 1826, he wrote that “the whole of what we know is a system compensation. Every defect in one manner is made up in another. Every suffering is rewarded; every sacrifice is made up; every debt is paid.”

There’s a domino effect taking place that alters the trajectory of your life, based upon the next immediate decision you make.

Whoa…that’s a little deep…but it’s the truth and a fact that needs to stay top of mind as we navigate the waters of life.

The more we put off decisions that we know is enriching for our lives, the more pain we’re causing ourselves and to some extent, the more pain we are causing to those in our lives and in the world who could use our gifts and help if we weren’t procrastinating.

This leads me into the world of health and fitness.

Often times, health is preached in simplistic terms such as losing body fat, seeing your abs, and other superficial metrics. Those are certainly motivating factors, but it’s important to realize that health is a much deeper and an expensive investment than is portrayed on a mainstream surface.

There’s a cost to our health. There’s also an accompanying pain with our health. It can be the pain of struggle or the pain of growth. Which direction that pain heads in is determined by the quality of your decisions.

In today’s microwave generation society, we often choose the immediate payout option. Taking $100 now instead of holding off for the big payout down the road. Taking the so-so relationship to avoid being alone instead of holding off for the mind-blowing-enriching relationships. And lastly, taking the get-quick fit option instead of holding off for the sustainable and long-lasting solution down the road.

And of course, there’s a cost to pay for those decisions. Instead of having some money developed in the long run from being patient, there’s debt, worry, and struggle with finances. The so-so relationship causes pain and agony down the road while having you potentially miss out on someone who was perfect for you had you just waited. Instead of having a healthy metabolism and body weight, weight gained returned along with a dip in confidence due to opting for the dietary shortcut.

There’s always an associated pain. Choose the pain that provides a positive and more beneficial ROI to your life.

If you don’t workout and eat nutrient rich foods, you’ll still experience soreness through disease, inflammation, lack of movement (gravity won’t be kind to you), obesity, and other metabolic issues from not treating your body properly.

Keep this in mind, you’re never avoiding pain, you’re swapping it out for another type of pain that doesn’t serve you in the long run.

On the contrary, if you do workout and eat nutrient rich foods, you’ll still experience a soreness and level of discomfort through muscle fibers tearing down from workout sessions that will be strengthened through committing to sleep and making healthy food decisions instead of opting for convenient junk foods. By treating your body like a premium investment, you’re going to have a stronger and richer asset down the road.

By treating your body like a premium investment, you’re going to have a stronger and richer asset down the road.

Why do we often choose the wrong type of pain

No one deliberately chooses the option that leads to more struggle, disease, and pain down the road. I know there is the masochist in this world, but deliberately choosing this would bring that to an entirely different level.

Instead, people choose this type of pain because it’s far easier than choosing the alternate path of pain. It’s easier to choose this type of pain because you’re familiar with that type of pain that leads to struggle because that’s most likely the narrative and stories that you’ve told yourself over and over throughout the years (along with the environment conditioning you as well).

Attempting to choose the unfamiliar over the familiar is tough because our brain is conditioned to keep us safe and comfortable.

With nutrition, attempting to change your eating could be tough. Not because you don’t know the difference between choosing broccoli over wings and cakes, but because of the stories attached to those wings and cakes.

Those wings could be the weekend activities that you have with friends while socializing over the sports game. Those cakes could be bonding time between family and friends and you don’t want to be rude or break tradition.

The stories you have over various situations in life will keep you unhealthy and in “struggle mode” if you don’t actively make the effort and choice to endure the pain by rewriting those narratives.

Cakes, wings, inactivity and not saying “no” more often brings a negligence to your well-being which you have to pay later down the road—nothing is free in this world.

You can pay now for some minor pain of saying “no” and not succumbing to peer pressure. Or you can wait and pay later with compounding interest down the road.

cost to our health
Which path will you follow?

Here are 3 popular scenarios to reframe from the pain of struggle to the pain of growth

1. The pain of playing the victim — It’s easy to fall into this type by default. This could be a financial struggle, a relationship struggle, a fitness struggle, and you don’t even know you’re doing it because you’re choosing to play the victim and let setbacks define you presently.

Bad things, uncomfortable things, and obstacles happen to us all. The key lies within your resiliency and how you choose to respond.

Narratives such as “it’s not fair”, “they have this advantage”, “my genetics hold me back”, and “I don’t have time” are excuses and narratives that allow you to get off from taking responsibility. Worst of all, playing the victim transfers all the power to the external sources which dampen your potential.

Counter-attack to the pain of playing the victim — What if you quit letting the inner critic reign free in your mind without questioning those thoughts? What if you stop giving your power away to external sources and instead took responsibility from making things happen while letting go of scarcity thinking?

This counter-attack brings the pain of accepting responsibility and realizing that your health is one-hundred percent in your control. There’s pain with this because if you fall short and don’t follow through, it’s no one’s fault but yours.

Will you accept the pain of total ownership?

2. The pain of not reaching your potential — You know you’re capable of losing weight, building muscle, and running that marathon. But, you never seem to do it. Close but no cigar is the theme running rampant inside your head. You start, achieve a little, but never seem to follow through for the entirety of the project and goal.

Counter-attack to the pain of not reaching your potential — What if you choose to endure no matter what and be willing to suck for however long until you flipped the switch and became more skillful? What if you committed to having the pain of discomfort and not give up so soon?

Meal prepping, learning how to eat healthy while at restaurants, hitting your macros, not letting your emotions dictate your nutritional decisions are all acquired skills that only develop through commitment and repetition. Weight lifting, losing body fat, running marathons are acquired skills that only develop through commitment and repetition through continual practice.

It will be uncomfortable and not pleasant often times, but the ROI of sticking with developing those much-needed skills for a healthy life sound much better than the ROI of diseases, illnesses, and other issues that decrease your quality of life.

3. The pain of self-judging — You know you can do more and even deserve better. But it’s not panning out that way in your life. Therefore, you get down on yourself and start to beat yourself up more about your lack of success.

Counter attack to the pain of self-judging — Trade the pain of self-judging for more compassion and stepping outside of your comfort zone while stepping into your power. Have the compassion to realize you’re not perfect and small daily improvements are all that’s needed. But also have the courage and awareness to realize that without stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new things, you’ll always judge yourself for not reaching your goals.

Today, not tomorrow is a great day to start making your daily decisions count more and bring a better ROI to your life.