by Kirk Johnson, MA, LPC, LAC

The other day I was sitting down having lunch with my colleagues, and they asked me how I was doing. I thought about it for a few moments and then replied, “I’m doing fantastic.” Of course, they wanted to know what was going on and what was different. I told them that I was sleeping well, eating right, exercising, and meditating on a daily basis. Then it occurred to me that if most of my clients had a really good night’s sleep, ate nutritionally throughout the day, had some sort of exercise, and incorporated a daily practice of meditation, I would probably be out of business.

Chris Lewis, an avid blogger on our website, said to me, “There’s your new blog, Kirk–four ways to lose your therapist.” So at the risk of truly losing all of my clients, here’s what’s working for me.

At the start of 2014, I wanted to start embracing more healthy habits.  I already knew that for me, it began and ended with sleep. When I get less than seven hours of sleep, I am just not firing on all eight cylinders and pretty much feel lousy and not motivated throughout the day. Conversely, when I get eight or more hours of sleep, I have the energy and motivation to get much more done and enjoy doing it. The benefits and rewards of good sleep are too numerous to mention here, but visit the National Sleep Foundation’s website for more information.

Part of my 2014 wellness plan was going to be around what and how I ate. In the past, my breakfast consisted of three cups of coffee, nothing else. I would power though the day priding myself on the fact that I didn’t need anything to eat. When I got home late at night, I was short-tempered, not present for my family, and ravenous. I would then sit down and eat a meal that could fill up a basketball. Not good.

I am now working with a doctor on proper nutrition, wellness, and exercise. In a nutshell, here’s how I am learning to eat: six small meals a day, starting as soon as I wake up. Not rocket science, just a small protein, healthy carb, and healthy fat at every meal. My metabolism is going strong throughout the day and I feel great. I feel full all of the time, and eating nutritiously feels a lot better than eating junk. Your body is pretty wise, and it knows when you are treating it right and rewards you with so many benefits. My family has noticed that my presence and mood have improved…and so have I. For more information on this wellness plan, read Dr. Holly Wyatt’s book State of Slim.

My exercise program started off small and involves doing something nearly every day. The first week of the New Year, I did five minutes of exercise every day except for one. That exercise could be walking, climbing the stairs, lifting some weights, shooting baskets with my daughters, etc. In weekly increments, I have added on five more minutes each day and am now up to 45 minutes of daily exercise. The final outcome for me will be 70 minutes each day. I had to decide what my priorities were, and now I make an appointment with myself and schedule the exercise time or I know it won’t get done. It isalmost” becoming a habit.

Better sleep, nutrition, and exercise are all part of my life now.  But there’s still one more habit that is working for me. All my adult life I had heard how beneficial meditation was, and I tried it numerous times. I would sit down and try to clear and quiet my mind like I thought I was supposed to do. In reality, what would happen is my mind would never quiet down, and I just noticed how many damn distracting thoughts I had and just give up. So a few years ago, I went to a training put on by the Chopra Center to learn about meditation. Here is what I learned: when we sit in meditation we burn up stress and anxiety. The byproducts of that stress and anxiety getting burned up are the thoughts that come into our heads when we meditate. We were taught to come up with a mantra, a saying, or simply to focus on breath. When we recognized a thought in our head, we just went back to our saying or our breath. There is no way to screw this up, except for not doing it. Whether it was five minutes twice a day or 20, we were promised that if we committed to doing this for 60 days, it would be life changing. For me, it was. I am going on 2 years of sitting daily in meditation, and I even have some spaces where there are no thoughts coming in for a minute or two.

I have good days and bad days, but if I stay the course I know the rewards will continue to materialize. In just eight weeks, my weight, mood, happiness, energy, and serenity have all changed so much for the better. If I can start doing these four things daily, anyone can. I wish you all success and happiness.

Kirk Johnson is a licensed professional counselor and addictions counselor at Maria Droste Counseling Center. He also has a treatment center in Black Hawk, CO, and teaches at Regis University. His passion is helping people realize their full potential.