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I love this time of year. New intentions and resolutions are being formed in the dark, cold, post-holiday quiet of January. By spring they’ll be in bud, and by summer, blooming.

May I suggest a basic fertilizer? No matter what your intentions or resolutions, they will get a boost if you nourish your body budget.

What Is a Body Budget?

According to neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, in her book How Emotions Are Made, the brain evolved to regulate the body. Everything the body does, from thinking to feeling to moving to digesting, has metabolic costs. To “pay” for those costs, the body requires certain inputs: wholesome food and water; sleep; movement; time in nature; and time with other humans. Feldman Barrett calls this balance of income and expenses the body budget.

We feel the state of our body budget but – unless we’re very depleted and experiencing, for example, raging thirst or hunger or falling down with fatigue – we don’t feel it as vividly as we experience our external senses. 

What we experience is a mood.

When our body budget is flush, it’s a pleasant sensation that we experience as a good mood. When it’s in deficit, it’s unpleasantness that we experience as a bad mood.

Parents of babies and young children understand this intuitively and so actively manage their child’s eating, activity, and sleep. If you don’t have children, but you’ve ever been “hangry” or felt better after a good night’s sleep, you also understand the concept of a body budget.

Having a flush body budget is the best foundation from which to pursue any endeavor, from daily living to New Year’s resolutions! It inhibits mental drama and improves focus and productivity.

How Do You Nourish It?

Think about how humans lived for most of our time on earth: in small, cooperative groups, in nature, with nature’s bounty and rhythms. I call these The Big 5:

  • Wholesome food and ample hydration. Generally, the closer a food or beverage is to an unrefined or unadulterated state, the healthier it is. For example, whole grains are healthier than bread or a cheese puff; water is healthier than an energy drink.
  • Ample sleep. Circadian rhythms and hours vary according to age. Here’s a simple guide. For a more in-depth discussion, here’s an interview with sleep researcher Matthew Walker.
  • Movement. It’s important not to be sedentary. Low-to-moderate intensity movement daily with bursts of high intensity weekly were the experience our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and our modern bodies still thrive on that. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic says about exercise.  
  • Nature. Again, parents of babies and young children need no proof of the power of nature. They know from experience that spending time outdoors daily keeps a child happy, works as a giant reset button to soothe an upset soul, and that a lack of nature is harmful (see Nature Deficit Disorder). The phenomenon of Japanese Forest Bathing attests to its enduring power for adults. 
  • Other humans. We evolved from social primates, not from solitary species like tigers. This means our need for belonging is as real as our need for food. Being with other humans who love us unconditionally and are protective of us feeds our body budget. Judgment, exclusion, and loneliness deplete it. If you’ve lost someone close to you, for any reason, your body budget will feel it and need time to adjust. Be proactive about “replacing” the lost contact with increased contact with good friends and family. In other words, your body budget needs you to reach out to others as you’re recovering.

+1: Meditation 

Changes to the way we live have outpaced our bodies’ ability to keep up. To help our stone age bodies adjust to living in an information age, some form of meditation is a necessary addition to the Big 5. At its essence, meditation is time away from thinking and doing and so can take many forms: a quiet walk in nature; staring up at the sky; journaling; yoga; traditional sitting meditations. Find a handful that work for you and do something daily.

My favorites, which I do as daily practice and as-needed, are deep breathing, walking in nature, and The Work.

Looking after your body budget by prioritizing The Big 5 + 1 provides a solid foundation for wellbeing and thus nurtures your intentions and resolutions.

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