You are whole: 9 key habits for total fulfillment in 2021

Most of us are hyper-focused when it comes to day-to-day life — work, family, maybe a hobby...

At the end of the day, that intense focus in relatively few places probably leaves you feeling unfulfilled in others, like it does me.

That's what this week's resources are all about:

Being "whole," or working towards fulfillment in all aspects of life — body, mind, and even spirit.

The research to come out of Dan Buettner's The Blue Zones explores this well.

They found the world populations with the highest life expectancy, then searched for evidence-based common denominators to explain why they live longer.

The nine traits they discovered feed off one another to make for a whole lifestyle.

Below I break down these "Power 9" habits with real examples and resources to demonstrate how I incorporate them into my life.

As you'll see, I have a lot of work to do on this myself, but even the growing process has proven to be rewarding.

Note: All of the headers and italicized text below come from the Blue Zones Power 9 article linked above.

The Blue Zones Power 9: Reverse Engineering Longevity

1. Move Naturally

 

The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it.

While we certainly use our share of mechanical conveniences in the Frazier household, these days I tend to choose fitness hobbies that are more functional (or just fun) than typical exercise routines. Recently I've traded running and weightlifting for working out with kettlebells and a suspension trainer, taking hilly walks, and playing soccer — all activities that feel more like "practice" than drudgery, and favor practical, real-world movements over constrained, programmed repetition. And as I get older, I've recognized the importance of maintaining mobility, so that I can keep doing these other activities for decades to come.

Move Like a Ninja: The Beginner’s Guide to Developing Mobile Joints & Improving Performance

2. Purpose

 

Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.

Without a doubt, raising a family and building impactful businesses contribute to my sense of purpose in the world. But while those create lasting meaning, on a day-to-day basis my sense of purpose comes from a mission of personal growth. Whether it's learning foreign languages, traveling, practicing musical instruments, studying regional cooking, or attending a personal development seminar, I'm happiest when I'm making progress or gaining new experience. And this makes it easy to avoid wasting time with more passive activities like TV, news, or social media.

3. Down Shift

 

Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress.

Here's a fun fact: I'm a HUGE fan of taking baths. While I've never made a meditation practice or other formal mindfulness habit last, a near-daily bath is my chance to think, read, or just relax, without interruption. (And as a bonus, it gives my wife and kids an endless source of make-fun-of-Matt jokes.)

4. 80% Rule

 

“Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it.

From a health perspective, perhaps the single largest virtue of a plant-based diet is that plant foods tend not to be calorically dense — meaning they take up more space in your stomach (and therefore, make you feel more full) per calorie than animal products do. In this sense, plants create hara hachi bu without conscious effort on your part.

Beyond this, however, I think caloric restriction in general is an interesting concept, and I'm excited to try my first round of a fasting-mimicking diet early this year. Check out ProLon creator Walter Longo's interview on the Blue Zones website to learn more about his approach to short-term caloric restriction.

Fasting for Longevity: 9 Questions for Dr. Valter D. Longo

5. Plant Slant

 

Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets.

Most people reading this will already be vegetarian or vegan, so no big surprise with this one. Eating a plant-based diet, minimally but properly supplemented, is in my opinion the single most important thing each of us can do to prevent or delay (and sometimes, reverse) the onset of disease as we age.

Our Stress-Free Plan is my favorite simple framework for eating a plant-based diet, so even if you're not yet willing to do it all day, every day, it's worth trying a meal (or better, a day) now and then from this plan to see how easy eating plant-based really is. (And if you really want to step it up and make plant-based happen this year, check out 80/20 Plants.)

The Stress-Free Plant-Based Plan

6. Wine @ 5

 

People in all blue zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers.

Of all the Blue Zones tips, this just might be one that's easiest to follow! My wife and I almost always choose old world wines from Spain and Italy (which tend to be lower in alcohol and residual sugar than those grown in warmer climates), and we use very small wine glasses to encourage the moderation that this habit requires. The Cannonau from Sardinia that's so highly touted in the Blue Zones book is delicious, but it's relatively expensive in the U.S. (usually $15-20 for a bottle) for an everyday wine. However, the grape that Cannonau is made from is genetically equivalent to the more widely available (and cheaper) grenache, known as garnacha in Spain, an alternative that likely provides similar health benefits.

7. Belong

 

Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.

Here we reach my "needs improvement" section of the Power 9 — the three items relating to other people.

Although I read a lot of books about consciousness — which, for me, has a highly spiritual interpretation — I don't participate in any sort of organized religion (and make sure my approach to a vegan diet is more based on science than on faith).

8. Loved Ones First

 

Successful centenarians in the blue zones put their families first.

When it comes to family, I score somewhat better than I do on religion. I used to dread the idea of one day spending most of my free time driving kids around to their sporting events, but as my wife and I have gradually become "soccer parents," we now understand the why so many people love it.

My mom and dad have allowed me to teach them a lot about how I eat, and both of them now eat largely plant-based diets. And although we don't live together, we're closely connected and technologies like Facetime, Zoom, or even Marco Polo (a video-messaging app which turns low-fidelity text messaging into a richer experience, one that preserves all the important brain activity that comes from seeing and responding to facial cues, while still being asynchronous) make being apart feel a whole lot better than it used to.

9. Right Tribe

 

The world’s longest-lived people chose — or were born into — social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais”–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life.

Here's my real weak point, and with 2020 being what it was, I know I'm not alone here. I've recognized for quite some time that I should make more of an effort to regularly connect with friends (even if for no other reason than my health, and of course there are many more reasons than that), and I've never actually done much about it. But as I enter my 40's — and as COVID taught me what it feels like to have almost ZERO in-person interactions with friends, making more time and effort for friendships has become less a "should" and more a "truly want to" for me.

Cal Newport, in his book Digital Minimalist, has some great ideas here — like setting a weekly or daily "office hour" and encouraging people to call you (for any reason whatsoever, or none at all) during this time. It turns out that one reason people don't call each other much anymore, preferring far lower quality text-message interactions, is that they don't want to bother the other person when they might be busy. So if everyone knows exactly when you're not busy — a time that's set aside just for conversations — this obstacle is eliminated.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

So that's it! The Blue Zones Power 9 and how they work into my life.

I hope this will inspire you to try something new or focus on a different part of your life, as you work towards whole.

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Everything you need to know about supplementing a plant-based diet.

 

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