Health, Self-Improvement and Self-Mastery: Survive to Thrive, by A.P.S.

This article intends to uncover mechanisms to assist the reader in self-help, self-mastery, and self- improvement.  The topics covered are meant to provide discovery of self- improvement ideas, identification of some techniques to improve your life, and give the reader further tools to pursue a deeper dive into the subject.  The reader will come out of this article with an awareness of the many topics to improve their thoughts, feelings, emotions, physiology, and performance.  The article pulls from sports medicine, psychology, martial arts, health and fitness, and self-help guides.  To really master some of these topics, it is highly encouraged to revisit this article from time to time, discuss these ideas with peers, relatives, friends, neighbors, and practice each day until the self-help tool is internalized into positive habits.  It is also recommended to take unfamiliar words and look them up throughout this article to understand the concept behind the idea.

So why discuss self-help and self-improvement?  At the core of this article is honing our natural ability to adapt and overcome any situation.  We are given both a naturally honed and God given gift to survive and adapt.  The current lingo of today’s expression of this idea is resiliency.  Call it what you like, but those that have adapted tend to survive longer, live healthier, and pass on to future generations a greater propensity to survive, adapt, and overcome.  I feel it is the single most defining mechanism, if highly developed, gives the best chance of living a meaningful, healthy, and thriving life.  It is my intent to introduce ideas about improving your body, mind, and psychology to not only survive, but to thrive. 

My background in these topics comes from 25 years of serving our great nation in combat and peace time for the Army and National Guard.  I also worked for a fortune 500 company for 10 years as a chemist (and sat on numerous panels that discussed root cause analysis, chemical disaster response, and Six Sigma), earned a black belt while teaching adults and children Tae Kwon Do, and being a leader throughout.  Recently I had the honor to attend the Master Resiliency Trainer’s Course for the Army that provided instructor level mastery of self-help.  Much of my experiences with self-help come from mentoring foreign armies and leaders on how to improve.  I have been a trainer for the Latvian Army, a combat advisor to the Afghan Army and Police, and worked with the Liberian Army to improve their post-conflict situation after the civil war.  Stateside I have trained American Service Members on counter terrorism, counter insurgency, and agribusiness best practices.   I have taken my natural propensity to help others and melded into my professional and personal life.

Last year I realized something was terribly wrong.  Mentally I was quickly snapping to conclusions and had a muddled brain, I couldn’t control my emotions and would snap, physically I was getting sick with colds and I looked like a balloon.  Spiritually I was lost and could not find center and was not at peace.  Professionally I was holding it together, but privately my family and I suffered.  I had spent years teaching people how to improve their lives, and yet my life was falling apart.  For years I had been a runner, weight lifter, martial artist, cyclist, rifleman, and led an active lifestyle.  This culminated with a bone break in my hand while playing ball with my daughter.  I asked myself, “Am I really this weak, that my bones are so fragile, that they break when throwing a ball around?”  That experience was an eye opener, and started my journey to improving my life beginning with diet and exercise.    

Nutrition, Diet, and Exercise
It would be irresponsible to not include a disclaimer before talking about life style changes and recommendations.  We must consider and critically analyze any serious endeavor such as nutrition, diet, and exercise, and determine if it’s right for you as an individual.  What works for some people may not work so well in others, and can potentially have unwanted consequences.  Consult with a doctor, physician, nutritionist, or medical professional before beginning a new program like this article suggests.  Get your blood work done to determine any deficiencies or problems, an annual physical, and seek regular advice from the professionals.   For some of the bad rap western medicine gets from over medication and big pharma business, there are numerous advantages to seeking traditional medical care.

I love fat, all kinds of fat from bacon fat, to pecans and walnuts, to creamers and cheese, and everything in-between.  As a kid I used to sneak my mom’s coffee creamer drinking it right out of the jug.  I loved fat so much my parents and friends thought I was strange.  Over time I was taught that fat was bad, especially animal fat.  My gym teacher in 8th grade introduced us to the food pyramid and why it was important to eat 6 helpings of grains and carbs a day.  These ideas of a high-carb, low to no fat, and small amounts of protein diet were reinforced daily in television ads, billboards, in teachers, parents, adults, and peers.  Maybe I was weird, and everybody else was right, so I changed. 

The point is we have been conditioned psychologically to believe carbs and sugars are actually good for you.  We all intuitively know the opposite is true, that fats and protein should be our core diet.  The Paleolithic man lived for thousands of years on a diet consisting of animal meat and fat.  Our brains are encased in roughly 6 pounds of fat.  Every major organ in our body has a layer of fat.  Your nerves are encased in goo.  There is a layer of fat under your skin.  You have fat everywhere on your body, and guess what; it’s actually good for you.  People have stigmatized fat so much that I feel I have to say it over and over to get the point across. Fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat!  Increase the amount of fat and protein in our diets, and leave that highly processed garbage food on the shelf. 

Ever notice in a grocery store that the stuff actually good for you tends to be on the outer wall?  The natural, fatty, and protein stuff is usually on the outer wall, (and in coolers).  All the garbage food that contains sugars, starches, carbs, and chemicals tend to be in the middle  I don’t know if grocery stores design it that way because of the electricity outlets for the coolers, or if there is something more nefarious going on with marketing-it doesn’t matter. Did you know that soda contains phosphoric acid, the same acid used in car batteries?  The point is the bases for improving your life come from eating the correct nutrition that our common ancestors ate; God didn’t give us bicuspid teeth to gnaw on tofu, so bite into some bacon and be happy.  For further study see Atkins diet, the Paleo diet, or similar diets that preach meat and fat.

We are awash in chemical toxicity.  There are synthetic chemicals in our soaps we wash our babies in, sweet smelling shampoo that contains petroleum products that makes our Suzy’s and Sally’s go bald, optical brighteners and synthetic chemicals in our laundry soap, MSG in our food, fluoride in our toothpaste, petroleum in our vitamins, and even synthetic additives in our ice cream.  We are so awash in chemicals from big business it’s hard to find a product that does not contain synthetic chemicals of one sort or another.  Our household cleaners contain so much toxicity it warns the user not to mix it with other chemicals, and to use in well ventilated rooms.  Does that sound like something you should touch in the first place?  

Reduce our toxicity by realizing anything derived from petroleum products that touch our skin or we swallow is potentially harmful in the long run.  Be very picky about your bar soap, shampoo, deodorant, and read the labels before you buy.  It’s too easy in this day and age to look at a product’s label, pull out your smart phone, and look up a particular additive or ingredient on the internet.  Why own a smart phone if you don’t use it to get smarter?  Decrease toxicity by using modern tools such as smart phones to increase awareness of harmful additives and ingredients.  Look for natural remedies and ingredients and choose the healthier of two products as much as possible.  Sodium Bi-carbonate and white vinegar do wonders for cleaning up the house, as well as Pine Oil.  Borax and Sodium Bi-carbonate gets your whites whiter.  Use Johnson’s Bar Soap or similar natural soap that touches your skin and get rid of the synthesized fragrances.  I’m sorry, I’ll admit it; I still use the nice smelling deodorant that contains aluminum (and toxic over long periods of time), but we’re all not perfect right?  Along with reducing toxicity, increase the ability to fight off toxicity, infection, sickness, and the like by increasing our vitamin, herbs, and supplement intake. 

One way to reduce your personal toxicity is to increase the amount of cilantro intake.  Besides tasting good in pesto and Mexican dishes, this natural herb has reportedly the ability to remove Mercury and heavy metals from the body.  Next time your tomato crop comes in, think about making a pesto of tomato, peppers, onion, garlic, and cilantro.  I put cilantro in my morning protein milk shakes from time to time for that extra zip and benefit all day long. 

I have to admit my diet of meats and fats leaves missing components out of a healthy food lifestyle.  I also fall off the wagon from time to time and eat stuff that contains the synthesized chemicals because it tastes so good.  To combat these slides into chemical oblivion, I started taking vitamins, herbs, and supplements.  There are a core group of vitamins that really ramp up our body’s natural healing, buffers our body from bad chemicals, and potentially increase our ability to survive and thrive. 

The first is plain old Vitamin C.  I’m not going to get into why our government only recommends 75-90 milligrams a day, but will pitch the idea of dramatically increasing your amount to 500 milligrams a day.  The potential upside of taking the increased amount of C more than offsets the negative effects it has by taking such large quantities, (some people get stomach irritation from taking large amounts).  Some of the time it’s plain not practical to eat 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, so consuming this pill takes care of part of that. 

The Vitamin C pill should not be considered a first choice, because the pill lacks the live enzymes and phytochemicals you get from fresh fruit and vegetables.  But taking Vitamin C at 500 milligrams may provide protection from cardiovascular disease, immune system deficiencies, eye disease, and skin wrinkling.   The natural way to get Vitamin C is to take in 1 cup of Orange juice (and not Orange sugar drink), red/green/black peppers at ½ cup each (my momma always said eat the rainbow son), 1 cup of Tomato juice, Red Cabbage, Kiwi, and Cantaloupe. These fresh fruits and vegetables put not only the Vitamin C in your diet, but also put positive enzymes in your gut as well.

The sun is evil, and you should stay out of the sun or your skin will burst with cancer.  We have been conditioned to think that sunshine and its benefits are actually bad for us.  Ever wonder why grandma and grandpa break their hips when they attempt to stand up?  Is it a sign of old age, or does living in a cave turn them into withering hobbits and dwarfs?  Get out in the sun, people!  As with anything in life, moderation is the key.  Sunshine is the preferred way to get Vitamin D barring any skin problems. 

Vitamin D3 is the most beneficial of the D Vitamins that provides a natural hormone to control phosphorus, calcium, and bone metabolism.  Vitamin D3 is considered a natural hormone that if the body is deficient, can lead to depression, back pain, cancer, impaired immunity, and macular degeneration.  If your skin is too sensitive for the sun, or you’re stuck in your cubicle working for the man 12 hours a day, consider taking natural D3.  The government recommends from 200-600 International Units (IU’s) per day.  My personal choice was to take much more than that due to my once weak bones.  The doctor can pull a blood test and determine where you are sitting with Vitamin D, so get the test before considering taking extra doses.  I strongly urge the reader to look up the benefits and potential harmful effects of taking several thousand IU’s a day.  I found for my health and body 6,000-10,000 IU’s a day works (10X or more than the government recommends).  There are so many benefits to this Vitamin that this article would be too long if explained.  Vitamin D is fat soluble, and goes into your body where it matters; brain cells, liver cells, and your eyeball cells. 

Recently I have been taking a pill called Astaxanthin (Ass-Ta-Zax-An-Thin).  This natural chemical is found in Salmon and gives them the ability to swim hundreds of miles.  I have taken 4-12 MGs a day for two months and have noticed a dramatic increase in my cardiovascular system, resistance to sunburn, and a restoration of my night vision (it’s like being a teenager again).  Consider taking Astaxanthin with fish oil and Vitamin D3 in conjunction with each other. 

My technique is to wash it all down with a heavy dose of milk, to ensure my body uptakes the calcium as well.  Milk also helps line the stomach and makes the pills easier to digest.  With all pills, do your research and find out what the filler ingredients are before taking them.  Some low end manufacturers fill their pills with petrol synthesized mineral oil.  Look for brands that are all natural, organic, and have been rated positively by other customers.  Taking the combination of 4-12 MGs of Astaxanthin, 2400 MGs of fish oil pills, and 6,000-10,000 IU’s daily of Vitamin D3 has restored my night vision and increased my ability to run.  I have also noticed after 2 months of taking them daily is an increase in my body’s ability to heal after heavy workouts. 

Working out physically not only increases your ability to perform the act, but also reduces stress, gives you a greater self-image, and releases positive feeling chemicals (endorphins) in the brain and body.  The principles of working out I use comes from the Army.  The principles are Progression, Variety, and Precision. 

You should start slow and advance slowly through a Progression of harder workouts over time.  Consider Variety in your workouts to fight the body’s natural ability to adapt and the brain’s ability to wander off and get bored.  Conduct all your workouts with Precision, and focus on correct posture and execution of the task.  In other words, make it real by setting goals and surpassing them, mix it up and conduct physical fitness such as running, dancing, rowing, cycling, lifting, jumping, swimming, playing, etc… you get the idea.  Make each workout count by doing it correctly with skill and precision.  Do new things, work out with a buddy or a group, and most importantly have fun with it.  My fun is combining workouts with rifle drills.

I have started doing dry fire drills with my rifle as part of a workout routine.  Basically I run 3-4 miles, then come inside and start doing ready up drills focusing on the little screws on the electrical wall outlet.  I do a mix of 40-50 of these ready up drills with an unloaded rifle, or just stand with the rifle up to my shoulder as long as I can stand being uncomfortable.  Either way my body is being conditioned, and this confirms my natural point of aim.  Consider combining skills such as hunting, shooting, knife throwing, and axe tossing with traditional workouts.  I find running and rifle drills give my workouts meaning.

Resiliency, Mental Toughness, Character Strengths, and Strong Relationships

Resiliency is basically defined as your ability to bounce back from adversity, deal effectively with stressors in daily living, and adapt to ever changing personal and professional relationships with other people.  Realize that building resiliency takes time, patience, practice, and effort to accomplish.  This is not a quick fix topic that you can simply read and incorporate into your life; it takes real effort and inner reflection to hone this skill.  People aren’t born with a greater natural propensity for resiliency (or survival) over another, they become good because they practice and have internalized self-improvement.  There are preconditions that exist we should identify before moving on to discuss what we can do about them.

Back in the Stone Age people lived daily with life and death situations.  They always had to look out for larger animals like the Saber-Toothed Tiger that could eat them, the other tribe that could raid their camp and spear them, and the like.  Those that were always looking around for these dangers, and reacted quickly enough, tended to survive longer.  The generations that followed these original people continued to hone their fight or flight mechanism until humans as a whole got really good at surviving. 

What happens when you get mad at your buddy at work, your wife or husband, or your neighbor?  Usually voices get raised, arms and legs start pacing, you lose the ability to think, and it becomes like two animals getting ready to dual.  Ever think about why this happens?  In a nutshell the brain has a hard time determining when a threat is real or imaginary (or in your head) over something your partner did.  It’s basically a throw-back to the Saber-Toothed Tiger days of fight or flight. 

When the fight or flight mechanism kicks in adrenaline and cortisol gets pumped into the body.  You get jittery and anxious as a result.  Blood starts pumping to your arms and legs, hence pacing.  The frontal lobes of your brain, you know the “smart” higher reasoning part, slows down, and base brain activity picks up (or the “reptilian” part of the brain).  Your eyes focus on the threat.  You start sweating like a fat baby in a candy store.  This is all well and good if the threat is real and you have to high tail it away from the threat.  But is this mechanism very helpful during an argument with your spouse or co-worker? 

You see we are chemically hardwired to fail in heated conversations with our spouses or co-workers because the fight or flight mechanism was never designed to assist us in that way.  During crucial talking points, or during critical negotiations, we have chemicals coursing through our veins that make us look like maniacal clowns at the circus show.  The strongest-willed among us have this fight or flight mechanism even stronger.  As I stated before, recognizing when a threat is real or imaginary is critical if we are to carry on effectively in our personal relationships with each other.  Recognition is the first step that this propensity exists in every one of us to a degree is the first step at being effective in our relationships with other people. 

What can we do to calm down, reengage the conversation, and prevent our partners from permanently hating us to death?  The first step is to never get to the point that the fight or flight mechanism starts in the first place.  Calm down, separate yourself from the problem and emotions related to the problem, and attempt to see the problem through the other actor’s eyes.  Frame the problem to very specific talking points, and avoid using, “you always are late,” “you never come through for me,” or absolute judgments about the other actor.  Keep the problem in perspective, and keep the conversation on track.  If the conversation does ramp up, and you find yourself starting to exhibit the fight or flight mechanism, politely tell the other actor you are stepping out to make a quick phone call.  As a side note, sometimes during critical negotiations or anticipated messy meetings, I will have a friend call 15 minutes into the meeting, to allow me an out to cool down and leave the room.  In any case, once the fight or flight mechanism kicks in, and chemicals get dumped into the body, it takes practice to keep it under wraps.  Basically the best husband, wives, bosses, whatever has displayed high emotional self-regulation. 

Another technique is start doing deep diaphragmatic breathing to come back to center.  Deep breathing combined with focusing on an object above or to the side of the other actor’s head helps to come back to center.  Sometimes I will start counting backwards, or do simple math in my head while the conversation is going on.  This all aides in re-energizing the frontal lobes, and keeps the adrenaline at bay.  

There are volumes that speak to the topics of building resiliency, mental toughness, character strengths, and strong relationships.  If I may persuade you to look up The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, and 25 Ways to Win with People by John C. Maxwell. Also look up “Resiliency” on the web and do some more research. 

In summary you are what you eat and touch, use nutrition as a base for fitness, we live in a toxic world and avoid becoming a toxic avenger, work out and fight complacency, and control your fight or flight mechanism to build stronger relationships and improve emotional temperament.  I hope this article compels the reader to seek out a better life, to not only survive but thrive, and to improve your station in life by dealing effectively with yourself and others.

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