Four Simple Things You Can Do to Improve Your Health

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple[ of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Taking care of your body not only honors God, it is good leadership. It gives you more energy and enables you to think more clearly, so you can be at your best for God. Your body, which includes your brain, will either make you better or hold you back.

I’m a productivity geek. I’m always looking for ways I can make the most of my efforts. If I’m going to put time and energy into improving my life, I want to make sure the potential payoff is the highest possible.

Here are four things I have found that do that. They are working for me. They are the things that have taken the least amount of time and effort, but have made the biggest improvement in my health.

All that said, I’m not a doctor, so consult your physician first.

One: Get a good night’s sleep

This seems obvious. But, it wasn’t to me. For most of my life, I thought I could survive on five or six hours sleep. It wasn’t enough. A year ago I started getting seven to eight hours a night and I noticed a huge improvement in my personal effectiveness. I also noticed that I stopped nodding off while driving home from work.

As this WebMD article shows, getting enough sleep will improve your mood, memory, ability to think clearly, weight control and immune system. So why wouldn’t you?

Two: Cut out or cut back refined sugar consumption

I’m going to meddle. Sugar consumption is the American way. Most processed foods contain sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Then there’s candy, cookies, ice cream and other yummy desserts. But, other than the taste, there isn’t a lot of good to say about sugar. It’s a major contributing factor in belly fat and weight gain.

According to myfitnesspal.com, cutting out (or cutting back on) sugar can lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, decrease heart attack risk, improve cognitive function, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia and depression and lower the risk of diabetes and certain cancers. Talk about a high payoff for a simple thing.

Three: Practice Time-Restricted Feeding (TRF)

This one was a revelation to me. Also known as intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating, TRF is based on the idea that our bodies weren’t designed to eat continuously. Early hunter-gatherers didn’t get three meals a day. They ate when they had food and their bodies did without food for long stretches.

In TRF, it’s not about what you eat, it’s about when you eat. You consume all of your calories during a limited period of time, say eight to ten hours. A typical TRF or intermittent fast would be to eat during an eight-hour period and fast for 16 hours. So, for example, you might eat between 9am and 5pm, then fast from 5pm until 9am. You may get benefits from a fasting period as little as 10 hours, but the longer the fast, the better the results.

Studies show that even if you eat the same foods, with TRF you are likely to gain less weight or even lose it. This has been true in animal studies and early human studies. According to this article from the National Institutes of Health, TRF protects against weight gain and can even reduce weight for the same number of calories consumed. It can also reduce fat accumulation, the risk of Type II diabetes, as well as improve metabolism and cholesterol levels.

The good thing about TRF is you don’t have to change what you eat. It’s not a diet. And you don’t necessarily need to do it every day. Even occasional practice and have benefits. There are a variety of TRF approaches, so check out this article to see six different approaches.

TRF is working for me. But your results may be different. You should definitely consult your doctor on this one.

Four: Do High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

This is not new. When you think of HIIT you probably think of those insane Crossfit people. But, research by Martin Gibala at McMaster University has shown that interval training is incredibly effective, even in sedentary people. In one study, Gibala found that one 60-second period of intense exercise (think running for your life) was as effective in improving health as 45 minutes of steady, moderate exercise.  This one-minute period was embedded in a total exercise session of 10-minutes that included warm-up, recovery and cool-down.

The great thing about HIIT is that it can be done with just about any exercise including walking, running, biking (real or stationary), elliptical and isometric exercises, just to name a few.

Walking, you say? Yes…if you normally take a 30-minute walk, then try walking as fast as you can for one minute at some point during your walk. Better yet, do several intervals of intense walking interspersed by one-minute cooldowns. Start with one and work your way up. Consult your doctor first, but give it a try.

For me, HIIT means I get to do more for my health in less time. On non-running days, I’ll often do a very short workout on a stationary bike. I do 11 minutes and I get five one-minute intervals of intense pedaling interspersed with one-minute warm-up and cool down periods. Afterwards, I feel like I’ve been exercising for a half-hour or more. Again, your results may vary.

A word of caution.

Don’t try to do all of these things at once. They are working for me and they have allowed me to get healthier for the same amount of time and energy (or less) than I was spending previously. However, I added each of these to my daily routines at separate times. If you saw my blog on developing habits, you know that we only have so much cognitive energy and developing a new habit uses a lot of it. So pick one thing and try it. Once it becomes a habit, you won’t have to think about it anymore and you can try something else. By adding one thing at a time, you can continually improve your health and feel great about it, too.

Questions for Reflection:

Which of these four changes gets you most excited?

How can you get started?

What will it feel like to succeed?

 

How to Take an Emotional Stand-Part 2

Photo by andresumida CCA 2.0


In Part 1
, I shared what I have learned about taking an emotional stand. I defined taking an emotional stand as being able to say what I feel and what I believe in a non-anxious way. That post was mostly about technique: using “I” statements, not blaming, giving others the freedom to disagree and keeping anxiety in check.

This post goes deeper.

According to family systems theory, if you find it difficult to take an emotional stand, it has its roots in your family of origin. Ask yourself, is there a relationship that makes you anxious? If so, it’s very likely that if you learn to take an emotional stand in that relationship, you will be able to do it in other situations.

Here’s my story.

I encountered family systems theory in seminary when I was 30. As I reflected on my family of origin, I realized that growing up I had difficulty taking an emotional stand with my mother. My mother is an amazing woman. She wasn’t mean or demanding. She was, and is, a strong, determined woman. If she asked or told me to do something, I would just go along, even if I disagreed or didn’t want to. Kids are supposed to listen to their parents. But not every kid just goes along without saying a word.

Recall that in the last post I shared that I had trouble expressing my feelings elsewhere, as well. I avoided conflict. I stuffed my feelings. I was unable to take an emotional stand. As I looked back on my childhood, I realized that this was not just related to my inability to take an emotional stand with my mother. It was because of it.

Here is what is important. It was MY problem. Not my mother’s. It wasn’t her fault that I couldn’t take an emotional stand with her. The problem was in me.

That changed in 1991. I sensed my call to ministry in 1989 and by 1990 I had made the decision to enter the pastorate. I delayed telling my mother until it looked pretty certain that I would receive an appointment to pastor a small church while I went to seminary. I could no longer delay the inevitable.

I called my mother to tell her that I felt called to the pastoral ministry and that I would likely begin serving a church, as well as attending seminary, that year. She didn’t yell. She didn’t scream. But she WAS concerned. And I could tell that she didn’t want me to do it.

We had several conversations over the course of the following month. She asked me about my beliefs, whether it was the right financial decision and whether it was the right decision for our family. It felt like a full-court press.

If this was any other topic, I would have folded on the first conversation. Instead, I remained calm and was able to remain firm in my conviction. I believe this came from outside of me. It came from God because I was being called to ministry. It’s only because of this, that I was able to remain firm in my emotional stand.

At the end of that month of conversations, she wrote me a letter. She said that if I really believed this was the right decision, she and my dad would support me fully. She eventually made me a quilted wall hanging with the nativity. That meant the world to me.

You see, my mom is not a Christian. But she kept her word. She has been supportive in everything that I have done in ministry. She told me a few years ago that she feels closer to God because of me. I’m so grateful for my mother.

Over the years I have gotten better at taking emotional stands. I believe this is because I learned to take an emotional stand with my mom. It’s also taken a lot of work over the years understanding myself and my relationships better. But it started with the emotional stand I took in 1991.

Questions for Reflection:

In what relationship in your family of origin is it most difficult to take an emotional stand?

What would it take for you to rework it?

What’s stopping you?

Three Ways to Meditate to Connect with God

I’ve included the following links to help you go deeper.

Here is a great explanation of Contemplation or Christian Meditation

This explains contemplating scripture in the Ignatian tradition.

Here is the transcript. Even though it is lightly edited, it will still read more like a discussion and less like formal writing.

I’m Jack Shitama. I’m going to share with you about meditation and how it can help us to connect with God. We know that even as little as 10 minutes a day of meditation can increase our ability to focus. It can reduce stress and anxiety. It can help us to better control our emotions and help us to think more creatively. In the Christian tradition, meditation, or what is often called contemplative prayer, is really a way that we deepen our connection to God.

Each of the three ways I’m going to share with you today has two common elements. One is deep breathing. Deep breathing is a practice that actually can be helpful throughout our daily lives. Any time that we might feel anxious or frustrated or angry, we can stop and breathe deeply for just a little while. It actually has a physical effect on us and helps us to release stress. So deep breathing is breathing deeply into the diaphragm, filling the belly and then exhaling fully. Meditation or contemplation includes deep breathing however you do it.

The other element is having an objective of reaching a deeper state of consciousness that goes outside of ourselves. It helps us, ultimately, to see things as they are, not through our own biases. It’s trying to see things as God sees them. It doesn’t necessarily happen in the meditation time. It may, but the more that we meditate in this way, the more that we are focused on God and able to see things outside our own biased viewpoint.

The first type of meditation is called centering prayer. It’s sometimes called breath prayer because as we’re breathing out we’re uttering a phrase. So you chose a short phrase that’s focused on God. It might be, “Lord, have mercy” or “Not my will, but yours.” As you’re breathing in, you’re breathing in God. As you’re exhaling out, you’re exhaling out yourself and you’re uttering the phrase. You do that over and over and again. You breathe in and then as you’re breathing out you utter your phrase. You can do that silently or you can do it audibly. Depending on where you are, you may feel comfortable with doing it audibly or you might just do it in your mind.

Either way, you are focused on God. And you’re saying that phrase in an intentional way that’s really connecting you more deeply to God. If your mind wanders it’s okay. That happens often in meditation. The idea is that when your mind wanders you bring it back to your phrase, to focusing on God. This is actually a form of meditation called mindfulness. It’s designed to help you focus more effectively.

The second form of contemplation or meditation is called contemplating scripture. When I did the last post about intercessory prayer and meditation, my wife said “What about scripture? Scripture is also a foundation of leadership.” This is where scripture is included in meditation.

One of the more well-known ways to do this is called Lectio Divina. It’s contemplating the word of God. The way you do it is to start by reading a passage of scripture. You sit silently breathing deeply and you contemplate that phrase, looking for a word or even a sentence that jumps out at you. You contemplate the passage and you’re looking for that word or phrase that jumps out at you. You don’t have to interpret it; it’s just what stands out.

After you do that, you read the passage again. This time as you’re listening to it you are asking, “What does this mean to me now? What am I hearing God say to me?” You can stop there or you can read it a third time and you can ask the question, “What will I do with this now? But in either case, however you do it, you’re focusing on the scripture and, as you’re breathing deeply, you’re asking God to enlighten you, to help interpret the scripture for you.

Another way of contemplating scripture is called Gospel contemplation. This is a little different in that you’re trying to really enter or engage the passage. I actually did this practice at a retreat that I was leading a few weeks ago. Another pastor led the exercise. We started with five minutes of silence, then we read the passage. We listened to the passage and then spent 20 minutes of silence entering into or engaging the passage. Depending on who you are, you may view the passage like a movie. We were doing a passage with Jesus and Peter in the boat with Peter’s fishing nets. I was picturing it like I was watching a movie. Or you might actually enter into the story and be in the boat with them. You might be in the passage with them. In either case, you’re engaging the scripture in a way that invites you to really experience it and then take away meaning from it.

Finally, the third form of meditation or contemplation is called practicing the presence of God. The idea is not to focus in on a particular thing but to really open up and just let the presence of God be with you. It’s really about surrender. It’s about surrendering yourself to God. Hopefully, you are creating a deeper awareness of the greatness of God and the presence of God in your life. Instead of avoiding thoughts, you’re allowing thoughts to come into your mind. When they do you offer them to God.

This is actually the form that I practice most often. When something comes into my mind that enlightens or illuminates me I say “Thank you, God.” When something comes into my mind and I realize maybe I messed up or something that I need to do but I’m not sure, I say “Help me, God.” And so in those ways, I’m offering those things back to God. It really helps me in discernment. It helps me to have my deepest and most creative thoughts in a way that helps me to attribute them to God and to help me follow God.

In all of these ways, even though people practice in a certain way, you need to find a way that will work for you best. I’ll confess to you that I actually do the third one, but I do it while I’m running. My eyes aren’t closed, but I’m breathing deeply. I am focused on my breath. It’s  the time that works best for me. We’re all busy. This happens to work best for me. My wife, Jodi, does it while she’s in her car. She has an hour commute each way to and from work. She doesn’t close her eyes but she does allow God to enter into her thoughts.

Whatever works for you is what’s going to make the difference. Because if it works for you, that means you’re going to be able to do it regularly. And when you do it regularly that’s when it’s going to be most effective.

This is a hint about the next post, which is going to be on synergy. Synergy is when you’re able to do two different things that have two different purposes and bring them together at the same time. For me, running has the purpose of helping me physically and emotionally. But, because I’m meditating it’s helping me spiritually, as well. Until next time, I hope you can take the time to meditate daily. I know you’ll find it makes a difference. Go with God and be with God.

The Spiritual Foundation for Leadership

I mentioned a blog post in the video about developing habits. Here’s the link.

So I’m doing more video, but I realize that some of you may prefer to read the post. So here is the transcript. Please keep in mind that it is verbatim, so it won’t read like a term paper. Thanks!

Hey, it’s Jack Shitama. Today I want to talk to you about the spiritual foundation for leadership. I’m going to read to you from Luke, Chapter 5 verses 15-16.

“But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad. Many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases but he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.”

So here is Jesus, his ministry is expanding, people are flocking to him to hear him preach and to be healed. And what does he do? He takes off to pray. So if Jesus decides that he’s not going to try to do it all, what makes us think that we should? What makes us think that we can do it all? If we’re honest with ourselves we can’t. When you get up in the morning and your feet hit the floor are you go, go, go, go, go because there is so much to do and you’re trying to get it all done? Well that’s a natural feeling that we just have to move faster to accomplish everything.

Martin Luther, the reformer, famously said “I’m so busy that I’m going to have to pray for three hours to get it all accomplished.” See prayer is counter-intuitive. Stopping and connecting with God doesn’t make sense to us because we have so much to do. So when we get up in the morning we’re just drawn to get going, when really we should be stopping to connect with God.

I want to talk to you about two specific kinds of prayer today that I believe are the foundation for spiritual leadership. The first is intercessory prayer. Now most of us pray and when we pray we often are asking for things for ourselves. And that’s okay, but intercessory prayer is lifting others up, is asking on behalf of others, it’s interceding for others.

Picture Jesus when he’s gone off to pray. Do you think he’s saying, “Lord please take these people away from me, I just can’t handle it.” Or is he saying, “Lord, I feel for these people who are hurting and broken?” You see that’s what intercessory prayer does. When we lift others up, it gives us the heart of God. It takes us outside of ourselves and makes us less absorbed. It makes us more grateful for the people in our lives and puts our own situations in perspective. Intercessory prayer gives us the heart of God.

Another form of prayer that I think is practiced less by Christians is meditation. And if intercessory prayer gives us the heart of God, meditation gives us the mind of God. There are many different ways to do meditation but essentially meditation is about listening to God. It’s about opening ourselves up and allowing the Holy Spirit to overtake us, to work in us and to guide us. So that we know, we can discern what we should be doing, what God what’s us to do.

Podcaster Tim Ferriss’ most recent book is Tools of Titans and over the last couple years he’s interviewed over 200 top performers from all over the world. And what he says is that almost without exception each of these top performers meditates daily. The Harvard Business Review has an article that helps us to understand actually what goes on within us and how meditation can actually help us. This article tells us that meditation reduces anxiety and increases our ability to handle stressful situations. It increases our ability to control our own emotions, so that when something frustrates us or angers us we are better able to cope and instead of responding with our own anxiety and anger we can respond with grace and with love. Meditation actually encourage what’s called divergent thinking, where we are considering multiple opportunities, multiple possibilities and it opens up the possibility for the, “Aha!” moment. And meditation increase our ability to focus, so that during the rest of the day when we’re actually trying to accomplish task we’re actually more effective, we’re more focused. And most importantly when we meditate daily, because we’re more able to focus, we’re better able to be present in our relationships.

You see, I believe that God created us in this way. God created us so that when we stop and take time to connect with God we get the heart and the mind of God. And if these top performers, many who are not Christians, have figured out this spiritual practice shouldn’t we who are Christian leaders be doing the same?

So if you are interested in figuring out how to incorporate these practices into your daily routine you’ll find a link in this blog post, about a blog that I did, on developing habits and incorporating them so that you can be more consistent.

And if you want to know more about actually how to do it, how to pray or how to meditate leave me a comment in this post and I’ll do something in a later blog post.

Thanks a lot. And go with God. And be with God.