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This morning it’s just me, my breath, and the tap, tap, tap of my shoes hitting the asphalt under the morning moon glow. There are no birds, no cars, no clouds. Just me and my nonnegotiable pursuit of health before work, or really health before today and every day.

Health before work is my motto. Used both in a literal sense and figurative, it keeps my mind right and my focus ahead. To be my best every day—by setting my physical, mental, and spiritual self before anything else—means I can be my best for others.

The truth is, if I am not running, or hitting my CrossFit training, or simply moving, I find I don’t provide optimal treatment to those whom I come across on my day’s journey. What enters in, instead? Road rage, short replies, lack of patience, and the rush to get home and cross the day off—which, when we aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow, is a very crappy way to waste what is our most prized and often-underappreciated value: time.

Instead of being tied to the virtual world that only exists through a charged battery, I choose to recharge my own battery. I choose to reset each morning and do something for myself. Which is where running, or CrossFit, or simply moving comes in.

Health is a nonnegotiable. Or it should be. It should be thought of like other nonnegotiables we mindlessly agree to do each day. Work, school, deadlines, replies; we don’t negotiate and skip work because “we’re just too tired.” Likewise, when the car’s gas tank is empty, we don’t decide that we aren’t heading to the station to refuel because, well, we just don’t want to.

I recently went through a mental exercise with my CrossFit coach to discern my current quality of life with my continual goal of active longevity. Welcome to "Operation Reform: The Quality of Life Wheel."

My coach asked me to consider and draw a perfect wheel: completely round, completely equal, and completely balanced. Next, to add six spokes on the wheel encompassing values most important to me, which are physical health, strength, mindfulness, spiritual health, financial comfort, and social health. From there, add ten dashes onto each spoke, representing a scale to measure my current levels of quality on a one to ten ranking system. I marked each answer, knowing there is no right or wrong, just me and the pursuit of the best version of myself.

I found this exercise enlightening. Because, at the end of it, I had to consider how well my wheel rolled. The goal being a normal, rolling wheel; mine, however, must have hit a nail—sat flat in a driveway in some areas and ballooned way out in others.

What am I doing that is causing my wheel to look more like a trapezoid and nothing that even Fred Flintstone could operate? So began the interesting adventure of digging deep into my soul in search of my overall balance.

By chipping away at the whys, I found ways to improve, set goals, and begin to put myself first. Am I nourishing my body each day through sleep, clean eating, and hydration? Am I waking up each morning thanking God for the opportunity to be alive just one more moment, to interact positively with those I’m destined to run into? Am I harboring aggression and need talk therapy? How is my spending?

Asking good, incisive questions is not just for your day job anymore. I’ve found it’s necessary for my personal life. Self-examination is key to realizing what areas I need to put greater attention.

Am I prioritizing happy hours but it’s putting my bank account off balance? Or am I working out ad nauseam and neglecting my mental or spiritual wellness? Where one area sees great focus, another is much more disregarded. By looking at the broad picture, but dialing in on the specifics of why, I can begin to focus on small changes. Small changes that beget other small changes—like heading to the gas station, and checking the tire pressure.

Lo and behold, with time, attention, and some fresh new air, I’ve found the tire is evening out. But it took steps to get there. It took effort, and dedication to that effort.

As we zero in on the holiday season and an upcoming new year, consider your quality of life and your wheel. By focusing forward, yet not neglecting today, and beginning each day in gratitude, and putting ourselves first, we can be our best and emit our optimal awesomeness onto the world.

For my own wheel I have begun making several small steps to pursue a greater life balance. I have stepped up my mindfulness by using two great apps on my phone—HeadSpace for guided meditations, TalkSpace for online talk therapy—and I'm considering a thirty-day yoga challenge. I am volunteering at my church and participating in a weekly all-female bible group. I am making improvement to my physical self by dialing into means to improve sleep, build muscle, and broaden my gymnastic skills. I am maintaining keen observance of my bank accounts and spending, especially with the holidays, and need to make greater improvements on scheduling social outings without overwhelming my calendar. I am communicating and relying on those around me to assist in self-improvement. I am by no means running optimal just yet, but with added focus and fortitude I am well on my way.

Photo Credit: Horn Photography