7 Habits of Highly Normal People

Myriads of health and wellness articles claim to have the answers. We can open msn or yahoo and click on a dozen advice columns telling us what to eat, drink, think, be, love, wear, move, change, moderate, eliminate, increase, decrease, pursue, et cetera. And it’s a little validating when we open up a link entitled “Habits of Happy People” or “Things Healthy People Do Daily” to find that we have, in fact, not failed entirely in life…according to this random little editorial. However, in our attempts to be and feel our best, we often forget to simply be and feel. Isn’t that why meditation has become the best thing since “healthy” junk food? (No offense, Trader Joe’s snacks.)

In the course of a week, we all do many of the same things, in various orders and ways:

  1. We breathe.
  2. We wake up.
  3. We eat and expel waste.
  4. We produce, change, fix, drive, promote, tear down or examine something.
  5. We make connections with other human beings.
  6. We sleep.
  7. We find ways to entertain ourselves.

While there is no crime in trying to improve the quality and methods behind all of these activities, if improvement becomes the main focus, we lose the most valuable asset available: Time. Put simply, if you are not living in the present, you are losing time. Conversely, our culture is both obsessed with time and obsessed with improvement via comparison. Pictures of thin, beautiful people are supposed to inspire us to read about how they’re thin and beautiful—because, obviously, that’s attainable for everyone. Of course, comparing yourself to any other human being is almost laughably irrational in this lens, because there are too many variant factors for you to come to any real “value assessment.”

You can only determine how you are similar, how you are different, and perhaps (if you have the inclination) inquire as to why. This hardly seems to point to improvement in and of itself, and it all takes up a tremendous lot of time. If wasting time is the problem, it might sound counterintuitive to spend ten minutes with your eyes closed, focusing on your breathing, instead of scrolling down the page of self-improvement article or reading every single nutrition label so you can begin your gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free diet.

The science backing practices like mindfulness exercises is fascinating in its scope and application. If you don’t know, mindfulness is the act of being fully present for a period of time, immersed entirely in an activity with conscious attention paid to the world around you and your reactions to it. I tried to apply this when going for my evening “sprint and pant” (aka: run, for the physically unfit). Rather than focusing on the tree 20 feet ahead of me, thinking, “I’ll just make it to that tree,” and then focusing on the house with the rock garden, thinking, “I’ll just make it to that rock garden,” I tried to simply focus on where I was and what I was sensing.

It was the longest run of my life.

I began feeling every sensation in my body. My legs were tense, my eyes were watery, my heart rate seemed uneven, and the moisture in the air burrowed into my skin like tiny ice slivers. Now, one of the cardinal rules of mindfulness is that you aren’t supposed to judge. It’s supposed to be purely objective observation. That’s one reason why the pros often recommend simply focusing on your breathing. You aren’t supposed to judge yourself, contemplating why you’re breathing so fast or slow or deep or shallow, but rather notice, “My shoulders go up when I breath,” and continue to notice any changes to that state.

I’ve since tried mindfulness while walking, and that seemed to work better. I listened for birds, noticed the way my balance changed as I switched from the sidewalk to the dirt path at the park, and took note of when my breath stopped being visible in the shift from cold morning air to a warming noon. Mostly, I was able to do this without feeling ridiculous or lazy. However, it must be said that observation is difficult for someone who feels guilty whenever they are not actively involved in doing, creating or being something. In fact, observation is difficult for almost everybody. Being objective observers does not come naturally to most people, but mindful living—free of judgment and future-oriented concerns—is a beneficial state of mind.

In 2003, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published an article by Kirk Brown and Richard Ryan showing that study participants with cancer who demonstrated high levels of mindfulness not only experienced a decrease in “mood disturbance and stress,” but those levels correlated positively with how well they were able to demonstrate properties of mindfulness. A random, controlled study done by group of PhD researchers found that mindfulness actually altered the brain in as little as 8 full weeks of application, even boosting the body’s immune function when tested on healthy employees who were given a flu vaccine. The  2003 findings, in “Alteration in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation,” have since prompted further research.

Now, the practice is so commonplace that you don’t just see pamphlets at your shrink’s office. Many parents teach mindfulness meditation to their children. One of these parents is Sonia Sequeira, PhD, a clinical researcher and director of the Institute for Meditation Sciences, who was quoted by Carolyn Gregoire of the Huffington Post as saying, “Teaching mindfulness to children has always been the easiest for me because there’s no set patterns, or at least they’re not set in stone yet. With adults its much more difficult.” The most active practices, such as breathing exercises, yoga postures and chanting, have been used to help children improve their grades and focus at school, increase their ability to deal with the pain of cancer and other diseases, and cope with or lessen the symptoms of psychological distress and disorders.

The best aspect of mindfulness for practicers of any age is that it improves our ability to focus, de-stress, and maintain our physical and psychological health without demanding a rigorous diet, a guilt-induced new regimen of “healthy” habits to develop or expensive purchases. It’s as easy as living.

  1. We breathe.
  2. We wake up.
  3. We eat and expel waste.
  4. We produce, change, fix, drive, promote, tear down or examine something.
  5. We make connections with other human beings.
  6. We sleep.
  7. We find ways to entertain ourselves.

Those are 7 habits of highly normal people. Now add:

  1. We pay attention.


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