Friday, January 3, 2014

Ten Ways to Improve Your Life in 2014 from Word on Fire

The following comes from Jared Zimmer at Word on Fire:

Every year the temptation to better ourselves is apparent and flourishes within our minds. Whether to lose weight, save money, or pray more, the turning of the calendar ignites a need to improve somehow. Could this be a divine calling? Or perhaps our human nature knows that improvement is necessary for growth and purpose? Jared Zimmerer offers tens tips on improving your body and soul this year.

As created beings our lives must find balance in mind, body and soul in order to truly cultivate habits of well-being. Catholic self-improvement revolves around Luke 17:20-21, when Christ states that “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” We build ourselves into better tools for the mission to serve the Kingdom of God in the here and now all the while growing closer to the heart of Christ. I thought I might offer ten ways to help ourselves improve holistically on a daily basis.

1. Figure out what motivates you
Everyone has an aspect of their lives which reaches down to the very core and inspires us to become the best possible person we can be. As a husband and father, my motivation flows from my need and desire to best serve my wife and children. As a Catholic, my motivation is to serve God’s kingdom in the best possible manner, grow closer to Christ and to surrender to the will of God through these endeavors. Make a mental exploration into what motivates you to do that which is difficult and hold onto it throughout the year.

2. Make a checklist of your successes and failures from the past
Whether you break out the pen and pad or you continue that mental excavation think about this past year and the things you might have failed at but also the things you’ve excelled in. Self-awareness is a tool for excellence. We must know our strengths and weaknesses in order to thrive in the physical, mental or spiritual realm. For example: If you know that after dinner treats are your weakness, make the mental check and find a way to stay away from them. My advice would be to brush your teeth after dinner. For me, this makes my mind switch from eating mode to relaxing mode.

3. Build your day around improvement
As you plan out your day be sure to set aside time for self-improvement. Whether this takes the avenue of setting aside thirty minutes for a brisk walk or a trip to the gym, if we don’t make the area of improvement a vital part of our schedule, oftentimes it is disregarded. For example, if you struggle with enough prayer time, time to read or to get to daily Mass, this might require you to wake up earlier than before to get the extra time in. Brandon Vogt’s 5 Reasons Why You Should Wake Up Early is an excellent resource for some tips and tricks to meet this goal.

4. Find a program that works for you
There are numerous resources out there for workout and diet programs but they will never work if it is more of a strain than something you enjoy. One thing I always say when people ask what program to use I say, “One that you’ll continually do.” If you enjoy lifting weights in minimal time I might recommend High Intensity Training or HIT for short. If you enjoy running follow the LIFE Runners site and find a local chapter. If you have a hard time making it to the gym, there are excellent ways to burn calories and gain muscle from home (Dr. Kevin Vost’s Fit for Eternal Life has some awesome recommendations). The possibilities are endless. This also works for your prayer life and mental workouts as well. Find a prayer system that works for your schedule and stick to it. Find literature that you enjoy and read. Whatever choice you make, make it work for you.

5. Educate yourself on foundational nutrition
As a bodybuilder and a kinesiologist I would say that what we eat is at least 85% of any of our physical goals. Whether that means you want to lose weight, gain muscle or just tighten up a bit, what you eat is by far the most important aspect of your routine. Don’t think about ‘going on a diet’, a diet is simply what we eat. Instead consider eating for function rather than pleasure 100% of the time. This is where educating ourselves on basic nutrition can really come in handy. While the healthy choice may not be the easy choice, it is the effective choice. This is also an extremely operational way to battle the sin of gluttony, one of the least spoken of sins of our culture. An added bonus is that once we have our diet in check we can enjoy the triple chocolate cheesecake without much guilt!

6. Your new best friend: water
I often am asked about what supplements to take. Without a shadow of a doubt water is the best possible intake you could have. Water is anabolic, meaning that it sets the body’s system in motion to build muscle and burn fat. It is readily available. For myself, I carry around a gallon jug of water and sip it throughout the day. While this may not work for you, get a bottle of water and continually have it handy. This keeps the soda out of your hand and your taste buds eventually desire the cold, refreshing taste of God’s nectar. It is also cheap, so while you might be scrounging around to find ways to save money cut the soda and drink water.

7. Read daily
What you read is entirely up to you but the daily intake of knowledge has led to many saints. Reading has an endless list of benefits. To name a few: improves memory, improves creativity, improves vocabulary, builds self-esteem, improves your reasoning skills, reduces stress and can decrease boredom. This spills into the physical and spiritual side of your life quite easily. Less stress equals less cortisol (fat inducing hormone). Better memory and reasoning skills equals better arguments to defend the faith. For an excellent list of possible books to read this year go to theWord on Fire’s Best Books of 2013.

8. Commitment is key
Quite possibly the most difficult part of any goal, consistency must be attained or the goal will never be reached. If we do not stay on a specific way of life for a long period of time we will never create habits that will last a lifetime. One of the best quotes I could ever offer on the subject is found in Commitment: Key to Christian Maturity by Susan Muto and Adrian van Kaam: ‘In spite of uncertitude, the call to commitment continues to beckon us. It is inviting, appealing, intriguing. It is as if we realize that if we cannot commit our lives, we may peter out. We risk living a meaningless existence, scattered and inconsistent. We may become imprisoned in the passing whims of the age. Or we find ourselves absorbed in functions that have lost the spark, the poetry of human vitality…. Fear and fascination commingle in our hearts, for each call involves the whole of our baptized life as participating in the Trinity. Here we stand on sacred ground in awe, fascinated and fearful at the same time.’ Whatever might be holding you back from consistent growth continually remember that which motivates you, found in tip #1.

9. Pick a saint for the year and devote all of your improvement to their intercession
We all have our favorite saints, the holy men and women who fill our Catholic Hall of Fame and summon us to carry our crosses with dignity and charity. Choose one saint in particular who you’ve felt drawn towards and ask them to join in your quest for perfection in mind, body and soul. All of my fitness is devoted to Bl. Pier Giorgio, however this year I am taking a special interest and desire to know and love Bl. John Henry Newman all the more. This has begun by reading his Apologia Pro Vita Suaand a constant call on his guidance and intercession as I strive to fulfill my mission in the kingdom of God.

10. Have fun!
Bl. Pier Giorgio said it best when he said: "A Catholic cannot help but be happy; sadness should be banished from their souls!" While challenges will continually evade us, if we carry it with a smile, self-improvement is inevitable. Be sure to enjoy yourself. 

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