The simplest way to improve your life (and health)

In my clinic reception, we have a quote board. It’s a place to share little messages of positivity and philosophy to nudge and guide those who see it.

One of my favourite quotes of all time is one from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; 

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

It caused a little confusion in the clinic when I posted it, so I think this week’s quote by my habits buddy, James Clear, makes things easier to understand (he’s not really my buddy, but I feel like he should be!); 

“What is one thing you can remove from your life that would improve it?”

I like this quote for two reasons; firstly, as soon as you read it, if you’re anything like me, you will instantly be able to think of a myriad of things that you have or do that actively make your life worse and take you away from the things that bring you true happiness.

The second reason I like this quote is the ‘one thing’ element in it. The fact that he is only asking you to name one thing just begs you to take action.

The quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry sounds like a never-ending project, a life’s work of curation and refinement. James Clear’s quote makes me want to take action today to make something better for tomorrow.

I also feel these quotes relate perfectly to health. It’s easy to focus on what to add to our lives to get healthy. You need to add a workout, add a run, add a meditation, add a healthy diet, add an early night. But often the lowest hanging fruit in our quest for a healthier life is taking away the things that bring us down. 

On the blog, The Happy Philosopher, Jeff uses a metaphor to explain the fastest route to happiness. He asks us to imagine having kittens and alligators as pets.

Everyone loves a kitten, so they represent all the good things in your life. And I imagine alligators make pretty crappy pets, so they represent all the bad things. 

Most people, when trying to make their life better, just start adding kittens. They think a cute, cuddly kitten will solve all their problems. But the research is very clear when it comes to happiness modelling that we should first remove the alligators before we go and buy a kitten.

Again, this neatly applies to health too. Whilst you may want to pull out the yoga mat or don your running shoes for a quick 5k, do you rely on them to unwind from a hugely stressful life? If so, although yoga and running are good things to be doing, you may gain far more health and happiness from figuring out how to take away some of the stress.

With diet, I’ve been pretty good recently, but in the past I have had a habit of smashing family-size bars of Cadbury’s all to myself. When I used to do that regularly, there’s no point me patting myself on the back for the green smoothie I had at brunch when I go and blast my pancreas with 1000 calories of pure, unadulterated sugar later in the day. I had to take away the sugar alligator first, then I can focus on adding the kitten of a healthy diet.

So, this has turned into kind of a long story, and I hope it hasn’t detracted from James’ neat little quote;

What is one thing you can remove from your life that would improve it?

… and make you healthier.

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