Everyone defines their priorities differently, but there are a few elements of our well-being that almost everyone can agree upon. However, the ranking of these in order of importance are specific to each individual.
Sleep, movement and physical activity, nutrition, community/connection, and mindset are all important to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of humans. If we imagine a pyramid and place those of greatest importance at the bottom of the pyramid and those we don’t place as much stock in at the top of the pyramid, we have our personalized well-being pyramid.
Each of these elements is important for our long-term health, and the order of importance will likely change throughout our lives in accordance with our priorities. For example, several of my friends and clients have young children, and their pyramids drastically changed after having children. Whereas many placed physical activity and movement at the base of the pyramid prior, sleep is now at the base of their pyramids.
For those who are undergoing an emotionally traumatic or stressful time in life, ensuring their mindset and community/connection needs are fully met will likely stronger priorities than making it to the gym. For those training for a specific event or competition, physical activity, nutrition, and sleep are likely going to be at the bottom. The other elements are still important, but these are currently fundamental to the base of their well-being.
Why is it important to understand this concept? Because our priorities are reflected by how we spend our time, and we can save ourselves a lot of frustration if we get really clear on which elements have the greatest impact on our well-being. Additionally, focusing on the items at the base of the pyramid often leads to having more time and energy for the remaining items on the pyramid, as we have established a solid base. For example, when my mindset, sleep, and community needs are met, I have much more mental and physical energy to focus on my nutrition and fitness.
Discovering what our own personal pyramid of priorities looks like takes some trial and error. I have come to understand that spending time checking in with my internal landscape and focusing on cultivating a strong, positive mindset is imperative for my overall well-being. When I’m present and connected, it’s much easier for me to make choices that are in alignment with who I am, my body, and my goals.
I had to forgo this practice several times to really understand the impact. I become disconnected to my body and therefore my food choices, become easily stressed and agitated, and I lean towards a victim mindset. Meditation or some other form of mindfulness practice is now a non-negotiable each day, even if it’s five minutes in silence drinking coffee in the morning. Spending time outside and in nature is another one of my favorite ways to cultivate presence and connection.
When I take care of the base of my pyramid, the rest falls into place more easily.
The remainder of my pyramid, with mindset at the base, is noted below, and I will walk you through how I determined where each element currently belongs.
- 2nd Tier – Sleep – I need a solid 7-8 hours of sleep or my emotions aren’t as stable, I can’t think clearly, I don’t move well, and I make poor food choices. However, I believed for many years that nutrition and physical activity were the cornerstones of my physical well-being, and I was often under-slept as a result. (Let’s be real; it’s also much easier to survive off of four hours of sleep when we’re 20 years old). This is a close second behind mindset, as it’s much easier for me to stay connected to my internal landscape when I’m well-rested. However, connecting with myself and cultivating presence and awareness leads to greater focus on sleep, and I’m still able to establish this connection without sleep. So, mindset remains at the base of my pyramid.
- 3rd Tier – Community – Community and meaningful connection with others is often overlooked in the health and wellness industry, but it’s vital to our well-being as humans. During my days of food obsession and body, my only concern was becoming leaner and more fit, and I gradually withdrew from others as a result. I slowly began to feel the effects of not experiencing frequent, meaningful connection with others, and this led to a lack of motivation and purpose in my daily life, in addition to a life that was centered around myself.
When my sleep and mindset are solid, I’m able to connect with and show up for others more easily, as I have a strong connection to myself. When my sleep and mindset waiver, I’m a deflated version of myself. Mindset and sleep are the equivalent of “putting on my own oxygen mask first”.
- 4th Tier – Nutrition – my mood, energy levels, physical performance, sleep, and hormones rely on adequate and proper nutrition, and I feel a huge difference in my quality of life when it falls to the wayside. This is why meal prep is such a consistent and important part of my weekly regimen – it’s an act of self-care that allows be to show up more fully in other areas of my life. While physical activity and movement are certainly important, implementing consistent, healthy nutrition habits has a greater impact on my overall well-being.
It took some time for me to understand how to prioritize nutrition and community for my 3rd and 4th tiers, but I learned that I’m better able to make decisions around my physical health when my emotional needs are met via meaningful connection with others. I used to choose a workout or a strictly “clean” meal in lieu of meaningful time with friends and family, and my overall well-being suffered as a result. Nuance is important though when making daily decisions. Sometimes a meaningful conversation with a friend is more worthwhile than spending the energy and time on a healthy meal, and other times, I need to really focus my time and energy on my nutrition as opposed to a night out with friends (**This choice is made when my connection needs are met and this would simply be icing on the cake). However, I rarely sacrifice my physical well-being for superficial connection (i.e. a night out drinking with people I don’t connect with on a deeper level). Sometimes, but rarely.
- 5th Tier – Physical Activity/Movement – this doesn’t just include strenuous workouts, as some form of physical movement, even a 20-minute walk, has a large impact on our physical and emotional well-being. Emotions are energy, and we need to move in order to effectively process them. This is especially true for me during times of stress and overwhelm. However, if I’m going to sacrifice something, my workouts and physical activity are going to fall to the wayside in favor of connecting with myself and others, solid sleep, and adequate nutrition.
Each of these elements is important to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being, but the reality is that there are times when we can’t do it all. As such, it’s important for us to become clear on the elements that are most impactful and the amount of energy utilized. Additionally, we each have unique priorities, lifestyles, bodies, and energies, so our needs will vary as a result. For example, extroverts may place connection with others closer to the base of their pyramid, while introverts like myself can get away with it being closer to the middle.
If you haven’t done so already, I strongly encourage you to spend some time in reflection to better understand which elements of the well-being pyramid are most important and essential to your overall health and well-being and to adjust your time and energy accordingly. In a perfect world, we would be focusing on each, but that’s often not a reality for us at all times.
Double up where you can (i.e. walking with friend or while calling a loved one, spending time hiking in nature, cooking or enjoying a healthy meal with friends), do your best through trial and error, and be cognizant of sacrificing your own well-being for the sake of fleeting, superficial distractions.