12 Steps to Health and Happiness

By Rena Greenberg

At a young age, I got sick, and I don’t mean slightly ill—I was literally facing death. As I desperately clung to life, I set a goal for myself that I have never turned back on: to find health and live my best life.

Over the 30 years that have followed, I’ve been on a conscious journey towards seeking wellbeing—mental, physical and emotional health. Through a lot of trial and error, I have come up with 12 steps that are essential, towards that end.

In addition to using my own life experience, I’ve had the pleasure of working with over 100,000 people, and I’ve also learned from their ups and downs in the quest for health and happiness.

From all of this experience, a general theme has emerged: Life is a constant series of choices that ultimately boil down to one decision to be made in every moment. Are we choosing life/health/love/goodness or are we selecting, either overtly or by default, pain/negativity/fear/evil?

Here are the 12 steps to make the choice easier:

1. Lift Your Vibration
We are made up of energy and highly sensitive to it. Often, we forget this basic fact of life. Our moods generally are not arbitrary. Either we are being uplifted by our choices in thought, word and action or we are being brought down. We are either surrounding ourselves with positive energy or we are putting ourselves in an environment where the vibration low. Vibrations are “catchy,” as we tend to be porous to some degree.

Notice that when you are in the midst of an ecstatic crowd of sports fans or at a rock concert or even in the company of someone who just had a great life fortune (such as birthing a new baby, falling in love, or winning the lottery) you automatically find yourself feeling uplifted.

By the same token, when you are around a negative, depressed person (who may even be you!), you can’t help but begin to feel tired, worn out and possibly even hopeless.

Step one is making a conscious decision to lift your own vibration with your choice of thoughts, words and actions.

2. Practice Awareness, Self-Reflection and Honesty
How can we lift our vibration when we don’t even know that it’s down? How can we improve our life when we are unaware of our own energy and its impact on the people around us? It takes great humility to look at ourselves honestly. It is not necessary to ruthlessly berate ourselves, but it is essential that we assess your own strengths and weaknesses with honesty and courage.

If you don’t admit that you are carrying within yourself a chunk of anger, resentment, hatred or envy, how can you possibly release it? Criticizing yourself for small flaws such as saying or doing the wrong thing isn’t going to create the kind of lasting change that can transform your life.

However, observing yourself with honesty—without condemnation—can prove to be incredibly helpful in producing such a transformation. Here’s why:

If your goal is to live your best life, you need to see what’s holding you back.

Perhaps you turn people off because your energy is invasive or offensive. Maybe you have the habit of isolating yourself or, towards the opposite extreme, spreading yourself out to thin.

It’s possible that you are expending too much of your precious life force energy talking or running around. Or, alternately, you may be clamping down your creativity by wasting oodles of time in front of the television or on your computer.

Without awareness, you have absolutely no control over your life and your destiny. It’s easy to want to avoid awareness because you don’t want to feel bad about yourself. Realize, on the other hand, that you have the power to change what is in your awareness.

One of the keys in this step is noticing your own identifications. Do you identify yourself as someone who is lazy, weak-willed or strong-willed? Do these labels serve you? For example, if your goal is to be at a healthy weight, but your self-talk insists that you hate to plan ahead, cook or prepare healthy meals, how is that useful to you?

If you want to succeed in reaching your goal, you must drop that identity the way you would drop an old, worn out piece of clothing and realize it’s just a story you’ve adopted about yourself.

Character traits can seem like they are carved in stone but, in reality, most of them are just habitual tendencies. With motivation, you can shape your character by reclaiming your lost inner resources and remembering that you are so much more than you think you are.

Who you are is not lazy, hopeless, unhappy, obsessive, angry, anxious or poor, but those adjectives may describe your behavior and your life circumstances in the moment.

Shed old, unwanted identities by deciding to do so. Remember that even though those character traits may exist, each one is only part of the story and you are so much more. Reclaim your life and start heading towards your best possible outcome or destiny.

3. Love with an Open Heart
So many people choose to give their deepest love to animals. This is not surprising because the beautiful gift that many of our pets give us is the experience of absolute, unconditional love. Pets seem to respond to our highest, best selves, and never reflect back to us parts of ourselves that we wish to disown or ignore.

We can receive this same wonderful gift when we open our hearts to other people. It also provides the opportunity to witness repressed parts of ourselves based on our own reactions to them, and incredible love then comes back to us. What’s interesting is that this love doesn’t always get returned from the one to whom we are directing our affection—but it does always come back, in one way or another.

Just the act of being open and approaching life with a pure, open heart, invites beauty and goodness into your life. When you are strong enough to let go of calculated measures about who you give your adoration to and in what amount, you are able to connect to the unconditional love that is deep within all of us.

This leads to greater happiness, regardless of the outcome of any single relationship you may be in pursuit of in the physical world.

“Love cures people – both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.”
– Karl A. Menninger

4. Release and Forgive Daily
What prevents us from maintaining an open heart and giving the love at our core freely is the constant insults we shower on ourselves. The more we analyze life, the more we come to see that it isn’t fair; often we cannot understand why things happen as they do. This realization and acceptance is one of the keys to happiness.

We want to be loved, appreciated, and we want our mistakes overlooked. How can we ensure that our mistakes will be overlooked? We can’t, but we can begin to forgive the mistakes of others. Often, this can very challenging because the analytical mind tells us that the other person’s behavior is unforgivable. We tell ourselves that we would never do what the other person did. While this may be true, we often overlook the fact that we have done other things, either now or in the past, that were equally hurtful to someone else.

It’s so easy to judge and condemn others but it can be quite humbling to realize that the forgiveness we are being asked to give is in reality the forgiveness that we ourselves are seeking.

To release is to gain freedom. Try working with this affirmation:

“I forgive you. I release you, I set you free and I am free.”

Make it a daily practice to let go of everything that is bugging you. If that seems difficult or even impossible, imagine the passage of time happening, in this moment.

Ask yourself, “How long does this event warrant me carrying it around with resentment and hostility?”

Clear all your fear, anger, hurt, shame and guilt by letting it wash off you, just as you rinse the dirt off your body on a daily basis in the shower, or dust off the furniture in your home.

Since there is no distinct amount of time that is beneficial to carry around pain, the quicker you can let it go the healthier you will be. Fear, anger and resentment create aging, illness and disease. It doesn’t matter if these emotions are understandable based on your life circumstance. What matters is simply that you are carrying them and they are weighing you down (often literally). You can let them go, just by deciding to do. Remind yourself that, “Nothing means what I think it does,” and “This too shall pass.”

In the big picture of your life, remember constantly all the goodness and love that are directed your way and let that overshadow the disappointments. And stop looking for a cause. There never is any one cause or single person to blame. People treat you in less than loving ways because of their own emotional pain, fear and anxiety. Give them the gift of forgiveness and open your heart to receive all the redemption that is here for you.

5. Exercise
One of the most obvious ways to improve our health and stay youthful is to exercise. Physical exercise is not optional – it’s necessary for peak mental, physical and emotional health. The key is making exercise part of our daily routine. We have to make it a habit.

We don’t ask ourselves daily whether we feel like bathing or brushing our teeth, do we?
When it comes to physical activity, chances are you expend too much energy trying to decide whether you feel like exercising or not. Honestly, if your goal is to be healthy and happy, then exercise must be a part of your routine, even if sleeping in another hour feels more desirable in the moment.

Here’s the great news. Like any other habit you acquire, once you start incorporating movement into your daily routine, you will crave it and look forward to it. It won’t feel right to skip it.

The other terrific news is that exercise really can be fun. It may not be exciting every time, but in the big picture of your life, you can begin to look forward to movement in anticipation of reducing stress and releasing pent up feelings of physical and emotional constriction.

There is such a variety of activities to choose from! Also, give yourself plan A and plan B. Find something you like to do. Perhaps it’s a sport you used to enjoy such as tennis, swimming, bicycling or hiking. Make a commitment to move your body daily and you will see a great upswing in your health, energy, mood and stamina.

6. Eat Whole, Clean, Real, Unprocessed Food
What a detour dieting is! If your goal is health and happiness, I can only encourage you, no matter how long dieting and deprivation has been a lifestyle and an identity for you, to shed it. That’s right, just let it go.

Most people who diet are not at a healthy weight, nor are they likely to have a healthy state of mind. Not being on a diet, however, doesn’t mean eating whatever we want whenever we want, until our taste for food changes. Once that happens, we really can eat whatever we want, whenever we want, because at that point, we will actually crave healthy food.

When you select healthy food consistently, by choice, you just don’t even want the junk anymore. It starts to look extremely unappealing. That’s the gift that awaits you! Freedom is being completely turned off to harmful, toxic, processed foods that suck the life force right out of you. You may recognize these foods because you see them on commercials, being touted by beautiful, thin, seemingly happy people. These people are drinking soda or beer, eating fast food, junk food and fried food, and seem to be no worse for it.

Welcome to the world of mass hypnosis! Processed, junk food; greasy, oily food and sugar in all forms make you sick in body, mind and spirit, over time.

You didn’t develop bad eating habits over night and that’s why it takes time to get out of an unhealthy lifestyle which is comprised of unhealthy habits like eating when you are not hungry or stuffing your problems with food.

The basic rules of healthy eating are: Eat only when you are physically hungry; eat only real, whole, clean, unprocessed food, from the earth; plan ahead. It’s eat to live, not live to eat!

Every food has a vibration that either uplifts you or brings you down. It’s not about calories or points. Some of the foods with the lowest number of points or calories are just as toxic to your body as a 500-calorie hot fudge sundae or plate of barbecued ribs.
Think health, energy and vitality! Choose your food wisely based on asking yourself, “How will this food sustain me and nourish me over time?” “Will this food satisfy me or will it cause me to crave more sugar, in one form or another, either immediately or long-term?”

Make decisions about what you are going to eat with consciousness, mindfulness and awareness.

7. Eliminate Toxic Substances – Drugs, Food, Liquids
Your body is not a trash can. Stop treating it like one. Think about the substances you are about to put in your body and their long- and short-term effects.
Flippantly throwing out phrases such as, “You only live once, you might as well enjoy yourself,” as you guzzle down your third margarita, may not be in your best health interest.

Many times when evaluating what food, drink or even the prescription drugs to take, we seek advice from others. The downside of that is that the people we are seeking advice from, even if they are professionally competent, may not have the expertise we are assuming they do.

How many medicines have been touted by physicians and their educators (drug companies) for decades, only to be recalled later? Or what about food items and beverages that have been reported to be safe for consumption that later are put under greater scrutiny and found to be health hazards.

These examples are obvious, but what about the subtle effects that food and drugs have on us? I suggest reading up on the benefits of living without caffeine, alcohol, sugar, processed foods and other potentially harmful substances.

Become a master of your own body. Notice the effect that lifeless substances have on you. Consider the fact that if an item is processed, it most likely is not carrying a very high level of life-force energy. And if you are taking a substance to lift yourself up, remember that what goes up must come down. Look for ways to obtain the energy, vitality and happiness you seek, naturally.

We are often looking for shortcuts when it comes to improving health, but the truth is that the journey leading us to the better life we are seeking is often what is of the most value.

Question what you are putting into your mouth and make a conscious decision to select the items that will uplift you. Be patient, listen to your body’s feedback, and let it guide you and show you the way.

8. Eat and Live in a Balanced Way
Balance is the key to health. Let go of the concepts of good or bad, right or wrong. We need to check in with ourselves regarding the effect the foods we are eating and our lifestyles are having on our mind and body.

It’s all about balance. Carbohydrates aren’t bad, but it is essential to eat them in balance with protein and vegetables. Plant-based food is indeed best; however, most of us, particularly those of us with sugar and carb addictions, need to offset the vegetables we eat with protein. We need some starch, too, but that needs to be combined with protein, healthy fat and vegetables. Healthy starch is made from whole grain or root vegetables, not processed white flour. Potatoes, winter squash, yams and whole grains are good examples of healthy carbs to go along with your vegetables. Good quality protein is essential, along with healthy fat such as olive oil, small amounts of coconut oil, almond butter and avocado. Other foods like dairy, nuts and seeds can be enjoyed in small amounts by those who are not sensitive to them.

Balanced eating also means discovering your triggers—most likely, sugar, fat and sugar substitutes—and eliminating them. Not because you are on a diet, but because trying to eat them in moderation is next to impossible. It’s like trying to date someone only once a week to get over them. It’s easier to just break the addiction than to try to string it along.

Balance also means not thinking in terms of black and white. If you “messed up” and had some pizza, don’t think of it as messing up but rather make your next choice of food something healthier to offset any damage. Wait until you are hungry again and then have a salad, some celery or a little meat with steamed broccoli.

If you are in an environment where a lot of dense, highly caloric, rich food is your only option, select small amounts with lots of lettuce to help stay in balance and lessen the negative impact.

Drink lots of water, rest deeply when you are tired and move your body as much as possible.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is “all or nothing thinking.” Either I’m on a diet or off a diet. This attitude just leads to failure.  Remember balance is the key to a healthy life. Eat everything in moderation except trigger foods, which do need to be avoided completely.

9. Practice Emotional Containment
One of the greatest challenges we all face is dealing with our own emotions—our reaction to the world around us. Our ability to do this successfully can mean the difference between happy relationships and painful ones. Can we contain our own and other people’s emotions, without withdrawing or attacking, either overtly or in a passive-aggressive way?
One way to do this is to remember that our emotions are like the weather—they simply come and go. Also, they are repetitive.

The good thing about getting older is that we get to have the realization that our emotional tendencies are habitual. This realization can bring us to the awareness that what we are feeling in the moment may be, to a large degree, based on our own history, and not exclusively by what is happening in the moment.

Often, strong emotional reactions, when observed without judgment or interpretation, reveal deep-seated fears or insecurities that we weren’t even aware of. In fact, these fears and insecurities may have been handed down to us by our ancestors and may be kept alive by our culture, our environment and our own habitual way of operating in the world.

Containment means being able to hold or contain situations without reacting in a way that adds fuel to a burning fire. It means responding with wisdom, love, humility and compassion rather than with the need to control, defend or gain power and dominance. It means holding the space for a win-win conclusion. The goal of containment is to bring healing to the human condition and any pain that it is triggering in you, either consciously or unconsciously.

To contain your emotions, it’s necessary to shift your perspective—to see the points of view of the other person or people involved.

It can be helpful to mentally roll back in time to increase your understanding of why you and the other players in your drama may be feeling and acting a certain way. Finally, the goal is to look toward the future and imagine the achieving and outcome that will be beneficial to all involved.

What would be your next right action to take, considering these factors? As you are contemplating the next step, remember to keep your heart open so that you are receiving compassion, mercy and strength as you seek to bring something of value to the situation at hand and to your life.

10. Breathe and Live with Intention
The breath of life is what keeps us alive. Yet most of the time, we are breathing unconsciously, with no awareness. To be truly happy, we need to increase awareness of our own levels of tension in the body. Patterns of muscular constriction and holding tension directly correlate to how shallow or deep our breathing is.

When you are feeling tense, chances are that you are holding your breath. Stay conscious of your breath and deliberately practice making your breath rate slow and even. This action will calm your mind and slow the thoughts down.

Set an intention for how you want the next hour, day or year to unfold. I’m suggesting that you not only consider long-term goals, but ask yourself, What is important to me and how do I want to live?”

The point of discovering this information isn’t to figure out whether you are right or wrong or good or bad. It simply can be helpful to notice that when you say you have a goal and do nothing to move towards it, except spin your wheels and sabotage yourself, perhaps there is a part of you that really doesn’t want to achieve what you think you do.

To help break free from this type of downward cycle, remember to breathe deeply with conscious awareness and at the same time set a new intention to let go of the past and your old way of doing things. Embrace a new possibility for yourself—one of accomplishing your goals and living congruently with your deeper values.

Setting a daily intention and drawing it in with a full breath can be very strengthening. Some possible intentions may be, “Today, I am alive with happiness and gratitude,” “I embrace, radiate and receive love deeply today,” “I am full of wisdom, kindness and inner peace.”

11. Practice Meditation and Self-Hypnosis
If we could have solved our problems with our conscious mind alone, we already would have done so. Einstein told us, “You can’t solve a problem at the same level it was created.”
This means that when we create problems for ourselves with our incessant thinking, judging and analysis, the only way to break out of this trap is to shift away from that surface level of awareness and go deeper. Self-hypnosis and meditation offer a vehicle to go past the critical, chatty conscious mind and connect deeper with our inner voice of Truth and Wisdom. This new, inspired information may come in the form of an inner knowing, new awareness or deeper insight.

Getting into a positive habit of practicing self-hypnosis is like opening the window and letting the fresh air in.

Regular practice of self-hypnosis helps you keep your heart open and your mind receptive to new ideas and fresh, creative possibilities to improve all areas of your life. Even more importantly practicing meditation and self-hypnosis helps to combat the negative and detrimental effects of stress.

Physical and emotional stress has been proven not only to cause or exacerbate illness and disease but to increase depression, anxiety and hopelessness.

Often when we find ourselves in these negative states, our tendency is to want to analyze our way out of them. This rarely works in the long run. What can help us shift out of a dark state of mind is traveling within beyond the conscious mind and connecting to the deeper resources within our inner mind and heart.

Getting caught in negative frames of mind such as fear and grief are like being trapped in a bed of quicksand. The more you fight against difficult feelings or submit to them, the more they seem to engulf you and the stronger their hold on you. The solution is to go inward beyond the “quicksand” of emotional and mental turbulence and discover and bask in a deeper, wiser, more vast and eternal part of yourself.

Though this infinite field of intelligence in your subconscious mind is always available to you, it is only through your conscious intention and focused attention that you can make contact and commune with it. It is through this connection, on a regular basis, that your life can start to change and reflect this deep, inner, soulful and profound relationship with your higher self.

Not only will you live a less stressful life but you will acquire the satisfaction of achieving greater levels of inner peace and happiness and more optimal health in your body and mind. Another side benefit of regular self-hypnosis and meditation is developing greater awareness, deeper compassion and empathy for others, and a connection to a greater wisdom and strength that can guide you to your greater good in all areas of your life.

12. Adopt a Miracle Mindset
Having a miracle mind-set means letting go of skepticism and fear by replacing them with faith and optimism. No doubt we’ve heard the expression from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.” It’s so true that our ability to achieve our goals is very predictable based on our mindset.

The best way to change your mindset to be more productive is to become aware of your own inner voices and adapt them to reflect what you truly desire.

It’s OK if you have doubt. That is only natural. We all have doubt, insecurity and fear so welcome to the human race!

Even the seemingly most confident people have some insecurity and fear, which will manifest in one way or another. The important thing is not to attempt to rid ourselves of fear because what we focus on grows. We need to admit it’s there—see it for what it is: false evidence appearing real—and stop making an identity of it.

Instead, focus on your strengths, blessings and the vast, infinite, eternal spiritual strength that you have access to and can tap into at any time. If your inner voice says, “I can’t,” “This is hard,” or criticizes you in one way or another, affirm to yourself aloud or silently:
“I release all negativity, criticism, judgment, un-forgiveness and toxic emotion to my higher mind to be dissolved and healed completely, and I am free.”

“I release all emotional pain, real or imagined, known or unknown, coming towards me or from me, conscious or unconscious, past, present and future in all directions, to my Divine Mind, to be dissolved and healed completely.”

“I Am” statements are very powerful, so use them wisely. Your subconscious mind hears everything you think so be aware of putting a negative expression after the words “I Am.” Instead repeat phrases to yourself such as,
“I am successful.”
“I am happy.”
“I am loved, loving and lovable.”
“I am strong.”
“I am capable.”
“I am a fast learner.”
“I am peaceful.”
“I am filled with light and love.”
“I am a vessel for love, beauty and goodness.”

Notice how these words make you feel. It’s so interesting to see people hooked up to biofeedback equipment that measures their physiological responses, such as heart rate, blood pressure, sweating response and muscle tension. They have noticeable improvement in all these bodily systems when they are speaking words of kindness to themselves.

By contrast, when we speak harsh, cold words to ourselves, or remember times when other people have hurt us, our physiology reflects the impact by shifting our bodily systems in the wrong direction—muscles get more tense, hands and feet get colder as the blood vessels clamp down, and heart rate goes up.

Practice adopting a mindset filled with thoughts of peace, safety, gratitude, joy and faith.

Don’t worry if you have to fake it at first. The good news is that your subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined.

If you pretend to be happy, your body and mind will respond by relaxing, being more at ease and creating healthier, more productive responses. This starts a positive feedback loop and helps to turn your miracle mindset into a positive habit.

Always look towards the future with optimism, believing that things will get better, even if your conscious mind doesn’t know how.

Dare to dream. Access the incredible, creative, picturing power of your subconscious mind by visualizing and imagining with all your senses how magnificent your life can be.
Imagine feeling so full of love that you are flowing over. Imagine expressing yourself creatively and feeling your own inner power in a way that only brings out the best in others, while basking in your own deep strength and sense of empowerment.

Instead of looking to the outside, physical world to tell you what reality is and what’s achievable and what’s not, seek out within yourself an understanding of your place in the world and what’s possible for you.

Tap into your deep heart and soul to discover your inner longing and let that longing for life and energy guide you to the best action steps for you.

Practice your miracle mindset daily by releasing doubt, fear and insecurity and embracing inner power, love, wisdom, strength, and your connection with the life force energy that powers all of life.

These are the 12 steps that I have developed over time to help you live your best life. The goal is not perfection but getting closer and closer to living a life where you are most connected to your authentic self, comfortable and happy in your own skin, feeling fully alive and saying yes to life!

Rena Greenberg is the author of The Right Weigh: Six Steps to Permanent Weight Loss, which is used by over 100,000 People (Hay House Publishing) and The Craving Cure: Break the Hold Carbs and Sweets Have on Your Life (McGraw-Hill). She conducts weight loss seminars using hypnosis at hospitals throughout the country and has a private hypnosis practice specializing in gastric bypass hypnosis in Sarasota. She can be reached online at www.EasyWillpower.com or at 800-848-2822.

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