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Sunday, November 10, 2013

39 Life Lessons I've Learned In 39 Years

Team - 4:29 AM

Today is my 39th birthday. I've lived an incredible life and have had some incredible life experiences. I've gone from flat broke to having money to being broke again - and then back. I've been told by doctors that I had incurable conditions and then completely healed myself naturally. I've had loved ones in my life who were here one minute and dead the next. I've started businesses that have failed and others that succeeded. I've had my heart broken and then found my soulmate, my wife. It's been a pretty wild ride! Taking a page from Leo Babauta, I thought I'd share 39 things I've learned over my 39 years:

1. "You can't connect the dots going forward; you can only connect them looking backwards." Steve Jobs was right on the money with this one. So true. There have been so many times when a perceived opportunity didn't work out and then a year later it becomes very obvious that there was a much bigger opportunity around the corner.

2. Working hard doesn't always mean you're working smart. Just because you're working 16 hours a day doesn't mean you're being efficient with your time. You still have to work hard to succeed, but you have to be organized and efficient otherwise you're just wasting time.

3. Never walk away mad from a loved one. My father died unexpectedly from a heart attack when I was 19 years old. Just a few weeks before he died we had a fight because I overslept. A week later we made up. Then he died. Life is precious. One moment someone is here and the next moment they might be gone... so treat every last word with loved ones accordingly.

4. Don't let little things get to you. Does it really matter who is right about who did what chore in the house? You might win the fight but you lose the battle. Don't sweat the small stuff because little things don't matter.

5. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to wellness, let alone anything. If I'm a 6'7", 220 pound man who practices yoga three times a week, how could one diet, or one exercise, or pose work the same way it works for a 5'2", 90 pound woman who is a triathlete?

6. No one is perfect. This especially holds true to people we put on pedestals. People are human and no matter how great or enlightened they are, they're still human. Everyone make mistakes and nobody is perfect.

7. Only take advice from experts (and being an expert probably means you put in 10,000 hours of work). I see this all the time in the self-help and wellness world - people dolling out advice who have no expertise or life experience. Why is Charlie Knoles one of the best meditation teachers in the world? Because he's been meditating since he was 4 years old! Sometimes there's no substitute for hard work and experience. Only take advice from experts - and being an expert probably means you've put in at least 10,000 hours of hard work according to Malcolm Gladwell.

8. We're good at going fast and need to practice going slow. My friends Tara Stiles and Michael Taylor talk about this all the time. This one holds true for so many of us Type-A's who are always trying to jam one more thing in our already jam-packed day (myself included). This is why practices like yoga, mindfulness, and mediation are so important - they help us practice "slow" and connect us to our true selves.

9. Who you are on the mat (or at the office or wherever) is who you are everywhere. My former college basketball coach, Armond Hill, used to always tell us that we we couldn't coast in practice and expect to turn it on during a game. You had to practice at the same level of excellence all the time. This holds true to everything in life. Why do so many ex-professional football players have problems with violence? It's probably because they've spent their life practicing violence on the field.

10. Sometimes you have to put things in the "I don't know" folder. Awful stuff happens to everyone. Sometimes there's an immediate silver lining. Sometimes there isn't and at these times you have to put these things away in the "I don't know folder."

11. Karma is real. I've seen it happen way to much personally and with friends. If you give more, you'll get more.

12. You are a combination of the five people you spend the most time with. This isn't a cliche, it's totally true. If you really want to change your life you have to change the people you hang around with. Spend time with people who support you and believe in you.

13. Yoga really works. I had two extruded discs in my lower back that were pressing on my sciatic nerve. I was in excruciating pain and two doctors told me I needed surgery. I started practicing yoga and the rest is history:)

14. Balance and moderation are key. Sometimes we all need a cupcake. You probably shouldn't do this everyday but every once in a while isn't going to kill you. Life should be fun. Being obsessively healthy can be stressful and extremely unhealthy. Enter orthorexia.

15. Your gut is always right. Always, always, always listen to your gut. Whenever I've gone against my gut it's been a disaster. Listen to your gut, it's always right.

16. If you're not happy with yourself, you'll never be happy in a relationship. Every successful relationship starts with you. You can't rely on someone else to make you happy. Finding a great spouse or partner is just the icing on the cake, but you're responsible for the cake.

17. The future of medicine is a blend of Eastern and Western. I'm a huge fan of Eastern medicine - acupuncture, shiatsu, cupping, herbs, you name it, I've done it. But you know what? Eastern medicine isn't perfect - and I think we'd all agree that Western medicine is far from perfect. But I truly believe the future of medicine is about the combination of both.

18. Energy (both negative and positive) is palpable. We've all felt it at one time or another, there's that person who we always feel good around, or that person who is just simply draining. Energy is very real.

19. No one knows your body better than you. In dealing with a parasite this past year, I enlisted every doctor and healer out there. In addition to learning that medicine knows very little about parasites, I learned that no one knew my body better than me. Some people would tell me things that were flat out wrong, while others would tell me things that made sense. It was up to me to choose what to listen to and decide what course of action to take.

20. Friends come and go. Just because you were close with someone ten years ago, doesn't mean you're going to be close to them today - and that's OK. People change and so do relationships. Sometimes people come into your lives at very specific times to help you get from point A to B, and then they somehow fade away. That's the magic of life and relationships - they are aways evolving.

21. Dark green vegetables are good for everyone. I don't think there's a diet out there that says green veggies are bad. Bring on the spinach!

22. Everyone deals with death differently - and every death is different. By age 30 I had given three eulogies (and that doesn't even include my father). Death is never easy and it's always different. How I felt when my father died when I was 19 was completely different from losing my best friend when I was 26, and losing my grandmother from cancer when I was 37.

23. Most disease (and death) is preventable. Cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are diseases based on lifestyle that really shouldn't exist. That's why I do what I do.

24. The universe/God /whatever you want to call it, tends to know where your breaking point is. I've often found that whenever I get very close to my breaking point, something magical tends to happen. Whether it's a profound encounter from a stranger or a big break, something always seems to happen whenever I get to a point where I've just had enough.

25. Gratitude is the key to happiness. The common theme behind every religion is gratitude. Gratitude is powerful and gratitude works! Always be grateful for what you have - no matter how bad things seem there's always someone who has it worse. When I was a kid my mom would tell me, "The boy with no shoes cried until he met the boy with no feet." And as my friend, Peter Tunney says, "Grattitude is an attitude!"

26. Don't compare yourself or try to be someone else. There's always someone out there who has more money, a more (perceived to be) perfect relationship, or a flatter stomach. Comparing yourself or trying to be someone else is a game you'll never win. As Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself; everyone else is taken."

27. Money doesn't buy happiness. I didn't grow up with a lot of money so all I wanted to do was make money. So when I was 27 years old and had made enough money to pay off all my college debt, was I happy? No. I learned very quickly that money doesn't buy happiness. And what's also interesting is that most successful people are successful because they do what they love to do. So focus on happiness and the money will come, not the other way around.

28. Vacations are good! I was never a fan of vacations. And although I've never taken a 7-day vacation, I've become a fan of the 3 and 4 day vacations. Vacations work! They help you relax and recharge. Now I understand why people take them!

29. Being fit doesn't mean you're healthy. The story that Lissa Rankin tells in Mind Over Medicine about how the fittest people in the world were some of the unhealthiest is spot on. Your thoughts, your mind, your environment - they all play a huge role in your overall health and well-being.

30. The gut is the key to so much of our health (yet we know so little about it). Boy did I learn way too much about this one in the past year with my parasite troubles. I felt things in my body that had some doctors looking at me like I was crazy! The gut is critical to our overall health and science is developing rapidly here. We're about to enter the age of the microbiome and you'd better fasten your seat belts!

31. There's something to be said about being in nature. I'm a New Yorker and prefer urban walking in a city over hiking. But lately I've found it really refreshing to walk barefoot in the sand or on grass. It just feels good.

32. Don't take yourself too seriously. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. Being wound too tight isn't good for you or the people around you.

33. There's only one proper way to accept a compliment. The words, "thank you" will suffice.

34. Gluten, sugar, and processed foods aren't good for you. I think my doctor friends, Frank Lipman, Amy Myers, Joel Kahn, David Perlmutter, and Ronald Hoffman all would agree on this one. Plus, as Kris Carr once told me, "You can't expect to live a vibrant life when you live on twinkie consciousness."

35. Everyone has stress and it manifests in different ways. Putting food on the table while working at a back-breaking job to make ends meet or taking care of loved one who is dying is extremely stressful. But just because you have money and perfect health doesn't mean you don't have stress. Stress follows you everywhere, it just changes. And stress manifests itself in different ways and tends to hit you where you are most vulnerable - it doesn't have to manifest itself externally, it can manifest itself internally in the form of a weak part of your body. Stress will always be in your life so you have to figure out how to deal with it. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf."

36. Goals and deadlines are important, but sometimes you just have to say, "I don't know when, I don't know how, but I know it's gonna happen." This can be tricky as sometimes we only see what we want to see so I refer back to number 15 on this list about listening to your gut :)

37. You create your own luck. Jim Carrey once said, "Visualization works if you work hard. That's the thing. You can't just visualize and go eat a sandwich."

38. When you've found your calling, magical things happen. Since I founded MindBodyGreen with Tim and Carver back in 2009, magical things began to happen. Even though it took over three years for us to get any traction (see point #7 above about putting in 10,000 hours of work) and there are still some sleepless nights, whenever things tend to get tough for us, something always seems to happen and things end up working out for the better. That's the thing - when you've found your calling, magical things really do happen.

39. Everything is connected - mind, body, and green. I know I might be preaching to the choir here but it's totally true :)


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