How Each of Us Can Leverage the Power of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness

Desire to Fight. We absolutely need resilience, grit, and persistence, but we also need hope. Without hope, there is nothing to look forward to. When you have the desire to fight and are ready to take the leap, you have to be armed with positivity, optimism, and a sense of hopefulness and gratitude.

Aswe all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post-COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.

What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?

One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nordine Zouareg.

Nordine Zouareg is a former Mr. World and Mr. Universe, bestselling author, and coach. Nordine is also a sought-after speaker, covering the topics of fitness, mindfulness, and emotional clarity at international and national conferences, like the National Institute of Whole Health, the Global Wellness Summit in Italy, and at the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers in Phoenix, Arizona, to name a few. His message has resonated with thousands of his clients and businesses. He has been invited to talk to and run retreats by Olayan Group, LA Sports Club, Hilton Resorts, and the Mental Health Foundation.

For nearly a decade as the Fitness Director of the legendary Miraval Life in Balance Resort & Spa, he applied his Mind Over Body and InnerFitness®, which helped to make Miraval become rated the #1 Spa by Conde Nast Traveler, the #1 destination spa by Travel and Leisure, and the top spa in American by Zagat. He has also worked as a personal fitness coach to celebrities like Oprah, Sugar Ray Leonard, Charlie Sheen, and Barbara Streisand to name a few.

When he isn’t writing, speaking, or coaching, you can find Nordine at home in Oro Valley, Arizona, where he enjoys his time with his teenage children, his spirituality and meditation practice, daily fitness, reading, cooking, travel, and encouraging those he meets to incorporate the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of being in their everyday plan to create a successful balanced and fulfilling life.

Nordine’s world travels have introduced him to several languages. He is fluent in English, French, Italian, and Berber.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?

Thank you for the opportunity. I’m very lucky to be in the position I am today, but it wasn’t easy to get here. I navigated the path of my career using sheer instinct and willpower that led to many personal and professional achievements. Being born three months premature in the back of a French army truck, traveling through the Algerian side of the Sahara Desert, is not what I call “a good start.”

During the arduous trip, my mom, fifteen at the time, gave birth to me under an acacia tree. After months of struggle and despair, my parents immigrated to France and sought medical attention that would save my life. I was diagnosed with rickets and a Vitamin-D deficiency.

I spent two years in and out of hospitals. My childhood was filled with trials and tribulations caused by illness, poverty, racism, and bullies. It’s at nineteen years of age that I began to gain awareness.

I went to college in France and studied accounting, then physical education, but never worked in those fields. I chose instead to pursue a career as a professional athlete. Bodybuilding me discipline and determination, powerful tools I have since used in anything I’ve chosen to undertake. My good friend Arnold Schwarzenegger who, like myself, has won several world titles, including Mr. Universe, is a living proof that with self-worth, discipline, ambition, and determination, one can go to the top of one’s game and stay there for a long time.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Yes, absolutely! In August of 1999, I was offered an opportunity to turn around a then up-and-coming destination resort spa, Miraval Tucson. The place had enormous potential but lacked the most important element to take it to the top: a fitness and wellness program. Upon accepting this gigantic task of building a non-intimidating, non-threatening, and non-obsessive fitness program, I sat down, observed, and created a plan. Within nine months we built a state-of-the-art facility with amazing programs and activities that would take Miraval to the World’s #1 Destination Resort Spa, for five consecutive years. The ingredients for this success were the ability to form a powerful team, a vision, determination, and discipline.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I love this question. Yes, this quote from Deepak Chopra: ”You and I are essentially infinite choice-makers. In every moment of our existence, we are in that field of all possibilities where we have access to an infinity of choices.” This quote allowed me to tune in to the right station and focus on what mattered most to me: things that were important in achieving my goals and true core desires. Things that were conducive to my health and wellbeing and the health and wellbeing of my friends and family. I learned that If you want to listen to rock, you don’t tune in to a classical radio station. You must tune in to a station that plays rock. Likewise, if it is success you want, you don’t listen to negative and toxic individuals. You connect with likeminded success-driven people.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?

Yes, Awareness by Anthony DeMello. I was sitting in my office one day; I think it was when I first started my job as Fitness & Wellness director at Miraval. The CEO at the time, Joseph DeNucci, gave me the book and said, “If there is a book you must read now, this is probably the one!” I must admit that the book is not for everyone, and if you’re not ready to contemplate and apply its concept, you probably won’t benefit from or even understand it. For me, this book took me to places I didn’t even know existed. It allowed me to take a journey inward, go deep within, and start a process of personal inquiry.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Absolutely, I’m working on several exciting projects I believe are going to be important in helping people regain sanity and reclaim their mental, emotional, and physical health. The pandemic, coupled with political unrest and national divide, have created a vacuum for possible mental health issues, weight gain, sleep issues, and a slew of other issues. I’m putting together a unique wellness retreat and workshop at award-winning and exclusive resorts/spas nationwide, called “Your Life Is Now!” I’m also creating an online “InnerFitness” tribe, which will cater to individuals who can’t afford luxury retreats, or even to those whom after their retreat would want to be held accountable and keep applying what they’d learn during their stay.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

You know, life is like a big journey made of little mountains we must climb to reach the summit. Each climb brings with it the opportunity to learn from experienced people, those who made the journey to the top. We learn from them, not from those who are afraid to climb. Staying at the bottom, waiting for things to happen, was never an option for me. My little mountains weren’t easy to climb, but thanks to my mentors, people such as my parents, my friends, Dr. Dharma (brain longevity expert), my former coach Serge Nubret, (former Mr. Universe, actor) business moguls such as Humberto Lopez (HSL Companies) and his wife Czarina, and many others, I did it. It’s not a single person, but several that helped me on my journey to the top.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?

For me, gratitude is a powerful emotion that can only be felt when you’re here, grounded in the present moment. It is the one tool that has the power to transform you instantly by getting you out of your self-destructive comfort zone and into a place of love, calm, and tranquility. There you’ll find happiness and creative flow. In short, gratitude is a shift from darkness to light.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

Great question! As I mentioned earlier, gratitude is an emotion that can only be felt when you are in a love state of being. It transcends fear, which is felt only when your mind is thinking about the past or the future. Since most people are in a mind state of fear, it’s impossible to feel grateful if you are stuck there. Gratitude then becomes elusive. Most people live in the past or the future. In order to make the shift, one must be willing to surrender to what is, take a few steps back, breathe, be grateful for life itself, reset, then reengage with whatever it is they’re experiencing. Remember this: the only thing we truly possess is the here and now, and to be grateful for that!

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?

Forgive me if I’m repeating myself but, as I mentioned, gratitude lives here; it’s only felt when one returns to a peaceful state of being. We can find gratitude in the heart; a place we forget when life strikes. Fear robs all of us of our natural ability to be happy. Unfortunately, society has conditioned us to do more, achieve more, crave more, but never taught us to enjoy the simple things in life. Fortunately, gratitude can outsmart our ego and bring us back to reality. Your life is now, and it’s waiting for you.

Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?

It’s my experience that when one is overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, doubt, and fear, one struggles and has difficulty staying committed to important tasks, goals, and even core values. If your stress and anxiety levels are high, the solution should not be to seek external brain numbing tools such as binge TV watching, tobacco, alcohol, drug, porn, food, and other self-destructive distractions, but appreciate what you have while you are pursuing what you desire. When you’re satisfied with your life and enjoy both your inner and outer environments, the things that trouble you lose their grip on you.

Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?

Sure! In my latest book InnerFitness, published by Skyhorse Publishing, I outline five powerful steps to overcoming fear and anxiety while building your self-worth. These steps are: self-worth, trust, tranquility, body, and the desire to fight. It’s by harnessing each step that one can finally create equilibrium in one’s life, allowing gratitude, peace, and happiness to flow naturally, without fear and anxiety. This flow is essential to mental health and wellbeing. Allow me to explain those steps briefly.

The first step is Self-worth. If we keep thinking self-worth is out there, it becomes deceptive and much harder to connect to, therefore often confusing it with self-esteem, which is wordily rather than soul filling. Gratitude and self-worth are very much linked, they both impact one’s positive behavior.

The second step is Trust. There’s a great French saying, which I love and goes something like this: “When you throw a baby in the air, he laughs because he knows you will catch him. That’s trust!” With a trusting mindset, you will learn to walk through life without wasting energy on defending and protecting yourself against the world. Trust that you are enough.

The third step is Calm and Tranquility. I can honestly say that unmanaged stress can lead to inner conflict, which leads to mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. It’s difficult to feel grateful when one is completely depleted. One way to regain control is to surrender to the immediate feeling by allowing yourself to experience it. Acknowledge it without owning it; it’s going to happen either way. A powerful way that works for me is to take deep, slow breaths as I allow myself to connect to the present moment and return to a place of tranquility.

The fourth step is Body. As a fitness and wellness coach, I know how important it is to maintain health and wellbeing. If the mind and body aren’t working well, it will be difficult to be present and have the energy to fight anxiety, fear, anger. Remember, gratitude doesn’t reside in a fearful state of mind.

The fifth step is Desire to Fight. We absolutely need resilience, grit, and persistence, but we also need hope. Without hope, there is nothing to look forward to. When you have the desire to fight and are ready to take the leap, you have to be armed with positivity, optimism, and a sense of hopefulness and gratitude.

Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?

Absolutely! There are many ways one can reclaim inner peace, but here’s one powerful and effective way to return to a peaceful state of being. I use what I call the Tae Kwon Do method of shifting my thoughts, which is to acknowledge, accept, and let go. The basis of Tae Kwon Do is to vanquish your opponent (in this your negative chatter) by grabbing him (your acknowledgment), pulling him towards you (accepting), and letting go of him by throwing him to the side. When you throw your negative thought to the side, you’ll make room in your mind for a positive thought to replace it. By doing so, you’re adding fuel to the fire of your passion. What fuels your passion may be different from what fuels mine. For me, it’s making myself stronger and more energetic so that I know I can take care of myself and my family.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?

Absolutely! Awareness by Anthony DeMello, The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle, The Five Golden Rules by Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, and of course my books Mind Over Body and InnerFitness. Also, a great resource for gaining mental health awareness is with the Mental Health Foundation, which you can visit as mentalhealthfoundation.org.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think bringing awareness about overall health and wellbeing by helping raise collective consciousness would be outstanding and make an enormous difference. The state of the world’s consciousness level is at an all-time low, and we need to push it back up by building compassion, giving love to one another, and stop spreading inaccurate and dangerous information. We are better than we think we are.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

I welcome anyone to sign up for my newsletter at www.NordineZouareg, follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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