I’ve provided about 3,500 hours of supervised psychotherapy. I’ve also had around 1,000 hours of psychotherapy myself. The conclusion I came to at the end of my pre-doctoral internship is that most people’s mental health issues would be resolved with daily meditation and exercise. I intend to make that a requirement for people I work with: I will not treat someone unless they exercise for at least 30 minutes per day, and meditate for at least 30 minutes per day.
Exercise and meditation are free. Psychotherapy is not.
In 2015, I went through a period of depression, and I realized that consistent meditation would resolve it. It quit with my therapist, and started doing two hours of vipassana meditation per day. I kept track of my practice by marking it every day on a grid. My depression and anxiety went away. About a year later, I started the Bulletproof Diet, and tracked that every day. I found that my mental clarity and energy increased dramatically. For the past five months, I have been living a healthy and balanced life, tracking my practices every day on a grid, to both inspire myself, and to ensure consistency.
Many professionals recommend changes in lifestyle to address physiological and psychological health conditions, but few seem to really mean it. Most don’t live healthy, balanced lifestyles themselves, or they don’t have a way of helping their patients stay on track. It’s as if they don’t really believe all the scientific research evidence that shows that lifestyle is the most powerful factor in health.
I developed the bootstrap your life system principally for myself. I have witnessed many other people start using it as well, and have transformations in their lives.
There are currently ten areas that I track in my life, and I’m going to tell you more about them below.
1. Sleep quality
Sleep is a foundation for mental and physical health. You body and mind need to recharge at night. Ideally you should go to sleep at the same time and get up at the same time every day. At the bare minimum, you need to sleep for a minimum amount every night. For most people, that’s between 8 and 9 hours. I have a goal to sleep eight or more hours per night, which I usually attain.
Meditation has now been conclusively shown to alleviate mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and actually leads to adaptive changes in the brain. Meditation also reduces stress, which is an underlying cause of many physical ailments, including high blood pressure. Meditation is a foundational life practice. There is no good reason not to do it. You should be meditating every day.
3. Intimate time
We have to spend time with our intimate partners or our the relationship will atrophy and die. If you’re in an intimate relationship, this is critical. Your relationship with your partner, whether you like to admit it or not, is a foundation of your physical and mental wellbeing. You need to spend time together every day, and you need to work on resolving any tensions between you.
4. Goal setting
Your life is defined by what you choose. It’s critical that you discover what you want, realize that you deserve to have it, and begin choosing that future. If you don’t choose how your life will be, then it will be chosen for you. Other people—your parents, your partner, your children, or your boss—will use you to get their needs met. You are responsible for your life. Stop complaining and start choosing.
5. Physical training
Our bodies are designed to work hard to survive. They are continually atrophying and are designed to continually re-build themselves. Our bodies only rebuild to the extent that they need to in order to survive. Resistance training, which includes the use of weights, has been shown to reduce systemic inflammation and increase length of healthy life. Do brief and intense workouts. Do some high intensity interval training. Use weights. Have fun. This is foundational. It’s not something you should be planning to do some day in the future. Physical activity is something to keep doing now. Resistance training also increases insulin sensitivity (see below).
6. Effective nutrition
What you eat significantly effects the way you feel, and how effectively you can function in life in general. The wrong kinds of food will leave you feeling foggy and lethargic. Most common wisdom about food is severely misguided. Find and follow a scientific-research-based food approach that makes logical sense. I have been using the Bulletproof Diet, and I recommend reading the book. Some key points: stop eating sugar, reduce carbs, and do everything you can to increase your sensitivity to the various hormones in your body, including insulin.
7. Creative expression
There’s a world of amazing stuff inside of you that’s trying to get out. You have to express yourself. Expressing your unique gifts creatively is a massively underrated activity. Do something every day to express yourself. I do Morning Pages as foundation for this, but writing articles, making videos, and taking/editing pictures are some other ways that I express myself.
8. No medication
If you have a healthy lifestyle, ultimately you should no longer need prescribed medications. I believe that the side-effects of medications usually far outweigh the benefits. Get off medications as quickly as possible, including alcohol and marijuana.
9. Lifelong learning
Learning is not just for school. Being human and having a brain involves learning. Instead of being buffeted around by life, learning only the minimal you need to get by, embrace learning. Specifically learn something new every day. Read books or take online courses.
10. Social connection
We really are social animals. We need to be around other people. Depression is often caused by isolation, and depression causes isolation. Pull yourself out of this cycle by specifically arranging to spend time with other people. I have a list of people that I want to spend more time with. I regularly use that list to schedule time with those people. Every time I meet with one of these people, it turns out amazingly well, even when I had barely known them before. This practice can turn acquaintances into lifelong friends. I feel increasingly surrounded by countless good friends.
This process has led to me being much more socially confident than I used to be. My social intelligence seems to have increased. I also now find that people approach me more to spend time with me. These are often different people from that ones I have already been spending time with. It seems like I have started a larger process in motion, a process that is self-sustaining.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have therapy, but most of what you think you’ll get from therapy will never come from therapy; it will come from lifestyle. All of my lifestyle practices above are free, and often they also save you time and money.
Once you have all of this in place, I recommend coaching or therapy that is focused on resolving trauma, challenging limiting beliefs, increasing the size of your menu, or increasing your self-awareness around relational issues. I have regular coaching in these areas.