How To Live an Aligned Life

Over the last year I have been recording a weekly podcast with my cohost Rachel Freeman, interviewing people from all different specialties within healthcare.  We have developed five principles that I want share with you that have changed my life.  The key, and the challenge associated with these five principles, is attempting to implement and balance all five of these at the same time. When you are able to do so, we call this living an Aligned Life.  Shea Family Chiropractic’s theme of the month is “balance” so I thought this would be a great time to unveil this concept!  That being said, the name is not important.  You can call this state of being anything you like.  Some people have called it having their mojo, or being in a flow state, being in a sweet spot, being on purpose or having their chakras aligned.  What is important however, are the steps associated with getting to that place as often as possible and attempting to stay in that space for as long as you can.

I want you to know that living an Aligned Life is not a destination.  In fact, it is rare to being completely aligned. It is fleeting.  It is much more about the journey because what I have found is that what will help me feel alignedat one point in my life will not get me there later on because I have evolved and often my goals have changed.

1.  The first principle of living an Aligned Life is you must Know Yourself.  You must understand who you are at a very deep level.  The reason why this is the first principle is because the only person who can determine if your current actions are balanced is who?  You.  For some people, taking a nap in the middle of the day is a way to find balance and for others it is an avoidance tactic.   For some people working out super hard 6 days a week is great exercise in work life balance and for others it is a recipe for disaster.  For something to be seen as balancing, it must be viewed as such by the person doing the activity at that time.  Knowing yourself also helps you establish balance-based practices through creating 2 things; boundaries and self-worth. Boundaries are standards of living that we set up for ourselves and uphold even in the presence of others.  Examples of boundaries are saying no to things you don’t like doing.  Not taking work calls after business hours, not drinking sodas, etc.  The one key that I have found that will decide whether someone is willing to speak up and advocate for themselves to do the things necessary to keep them well, (i.e. finding balance in life), is self worth.  If you feel worthy of taking care of yourself, you will.  Even if you have to inconvenience other people, even it you have to speak up, even if it is awkward or your peers will make fun of you.  If you feel worthy, you will do what your body is telling you and you will be better because of it.  If you have been told your whole life you are a nobody, that you don’t matter, that you are not special, if you have been told, “who do you think you are?” then you will see attempting to find balance as an indulgence or a luxury or something that is great for other people, but, ” just not for you.”  And accordingly you will suffer the consequences.  That being said, the number one group of people who willingly forgo finding balance are the people who take care of everyone else, Moms.  Moms are willing to put everyone else first.  They would rather buy little Johnny a new backpack for school, even though he already has one from the previous year, instead of paying to get a massage which they absolutely need because by the end of the day their shoulders are up to their ears, their back is in spasm and they can barely move.  If you are a mom, please do not fall into this trap.  A family can only be as successful as the health of the primary nurturer and supporter!

2.  The second principle of living an Aligned Life is you must take Full Responsibility for everything in your life.  I am just going to let that bomb sink in- the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The good things include actually taking time to celebrate your wins when things go well.   The bad things mean owning up when things don’t go according to plan.  And the ugly things- these are the things we don’t talk about, the things that were done to us, or the things that we only share with a few close individuals.  These are the things that we really have to take full responsibility for because until we do, these things rule our lives.  To take control back from these people or events, taking full responsibility for them is essential.   Even if you have had terrible things happen to you in your life, you are the only person who has control of how you think about it and what you will do about it.  Without this first step, the concept of finding balance will never stick.  Taking responsibility, despite the initial physical and emotional pain, is the only way to take control.

To reinforce this concept of taking full responsibility, about 6 months ago I read a book called “Extreme Ownership” (which is just another way of saying Full Responsibility) by Jocko Wilnick.  Jocko is a Navy Seal. You may have heard of him because he has a great podcast and a cool Instagram feed.  In his book, Jocko talks about how during BUDs, which is the initial training for Navy Seals where they stay up for almost a week straight and get the crap kicked out them, mentally and physically. The personality trait that separated the individuals who worked well as a team and helped their boat win time after time during extremely grueling races where anything could happen, were the people who took Extreme Ownership for their team and the outcome, no matter the circumstances.  These boat races are a HUGE metaphor for life!  We have all heard of the person who comes from nothing and defies the odds to become successful.  How do they do this?  Do they blame other people or their circumstances?  No!  They realize that life is an inside job.  They take full responsibility and chose to change their future.  So the first question is, are you willing to take full responsibility for your health and look to create balance?  If you are, then the next principle will be something that you will need to master.

3.  The third principle of living an Aligned Life is you must maintain a long-term focus.  I was just recently told by one of my mentors when I asked him what was the one trait that separated people who are successful versus those that are wildly successful and he told me, without hesitation, that it was laser focus for the long term.  When it comes to the world of athletics of our professional lives, I have often found that because of competition or ego, I was willing to sacrifice my long-term health in order to gain short-term success. Have any of you ever done this?  I think if you search your past you will find that we are all guilty of this in one way or another.  That being said, if you are willing to keep your focus on your long-term vision of your future, then two things immediately happen.  Number one, making decisions in your day-to-day life become much easier, because you know where you are headed.  You have established your north star.  After a ton of soul searching, I would suggest that your north star should be something like joy, happiness, longevity, optimal wellness or something similar.  The second thing that happens when you focus on the long-term view of your life is it becomes easier for you to deal with the day-to-day challenges you will face along that path.  For example, if your long term goal was to run the Boston Marathon and cross the finish line with your arms raised, sun shining and thousands of people clapping but all you focused on was every single training run you had to do and every single mile you had to run and the whether you had to run them in, then it would be very unlikely for you to complete your goal.  Similarly, if you decided that your north star was optimal wellness, and you stayed focused on how amazing it would feel to be really strong, flexible, and capable of achieving all of your physical goals, it would be much easier for you to tolerate the self-care action steps that are necessary for you to achieve it.

4. The fourth principle of living an Aligned Life is listening to your body and as a secondary piece of that, acting upon what it is telling you.   Your body is designed to alert you to when something is going right or wrong.  We typically call these body signals symptoms.  Examples are pain, tightness, soreness, numbness, tingling, burning, weakness, etc.  In the typical professional environment, much like a gym environment, the stereotype is the tougher you are the cooler you are, the more macho you are. In this world we often attempt to silence the body’s communication to appear as if nothing is wrong.  To give you a sad, but very true example of how strong this suppression of symptoms can be, I will give you a snapshot from my life.

I played quarterback for University City high school back in the late 90’s.  During practice one day, I was calling the play in the huddle when all of a sudden I couldn’t breath.  Not willing to show “weakness” I ran the play that I called and then went over to the sidelines.  Still not willing to show any pain or express my concern for fear of my buddies making fun of me, I sat there for over an hour unable to breathe.  After practice was over I made it down to the locker room where I was ghost white, sweating like crazy and still not breathing and finally, still not telling anyone about my problem, my coach finally took one look at me and called an ambulance that came and took me to the hospital.  I came to find out later that I had actually collapsed my lung and that if I hadn’t gotten treatment soon, I would have passed out and potentially died, having never told anyone.  So please, listen to your body and act upon what it is telling you!

5. The fifth principle of living an Aligned Life is prioritizing self-care.  This means doing things on a regular basis that help to improve your physical and emotional health.  These actions are non-negotiable.  Examples of self-care may be getting your nails done, going to a yoga class, taking a 15-minute walk outside during a work day, etc.  Unfortunately, many people see doing self-care activities as being selfish.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  I find it interesting that when searching for a partner, we look for people who have strong boundaries around taking care of themselves (this is very sexy) and yet when we create those same boundaries for ourselves, we see them as being foolish and too much of an indulgence to maintain regularly.  In order to offset the insane pace of life, responsibilities and unpredictable challenges we face, it is necessary to determine what your self-care practices are, and then build routines around them in order to make them permanent.

The last thing I want to touch on is something that we call the social media fallacy. Every day on social media all you see are pictures of people doing incredible things.  For example, in the gym, they seem to hit a personal record every day, they are on vacation with their family in Tahiti every four weeks, they are partying with their friends in swanky bars downtown, they are driving a fancy car and progressing quickly up the ladder in their professional lives.  It appears that they have their shit completely together.  They are in a constant state of living an Aligned Life, right?  Not exactly.  When I speak with these same people behind a closed door in my office, they tell me that their bodies are breaking down, they are scared they wont be able to be the active parents or grandparents they want to be in their later years, they are walking on egg shells at home with their spouse because they are working so much to pay for all the stuff they bought on credit cards, their kids are running wild without any supervision, they have a bunch of surface level friends but no one to talk to when things get rough so they feel isolated and they are completely overwhelmed.  What I want you to know is that EVERYONE has their own struggles.  We all walk with a limp when it comes to certain areas of our life and it is OK.  Please don’t get caught up feeling like everyone else is living an Aligned Life and you are not.  Forgive yourself for your challenges, give more empathy to other people and implement these five principles to help you live a life in greater balance.

Yours in Health,

Dr. Devin Shea D.C.