“Growing up, I didn’t have a lot self-worth and I allowed that to dictate a lot of my actions,” Abbott, 35, tells PEOPLE. “In my early 20s, I ended up taking a job as a contractor in Iraq during the Operation Iraqi Freedom war, and that was the turning point when I realized that my decisions were eventually going to kill me.”
Up until that point, Abbott had been drinking, smoking and doing drugs, but being in a war zone where her life was at risk was a wake-up call, and she decided to start making positive changes.
“At that point, I didn’t think I was going to turn my life around the way that I did,” she said. “I just knew that I needed to start making better decisions.”
Abbott started her journey to living a more healthy lifestyle by making small changes.
“I committed to myself for a month to work out two to three times a week for 20 minutes on the elliptical,” she recalls. “It wasn’t a dramatic change physically, but I felt different, and for the first time in my life I felt proud of my actions, and that ignited me.”
Abbott has since gone on to become a competitive CrossFit athlete, fitness trainer and the first female NASCAR pit crew member, and she believes that anyone can turn their life around by making small changes to improve their body, mind and spirit, which she outlines in her upcoming book, The Badass Life (on sale May 23).
RELATED VIDEO: Crossfit Guru Christmas Abbott’s Fitness Secrets
Here are some of the author’s best tips for anyone who wants to have a happier, healthier spring:
1. When it comes to diet and exercise, think of healthy behaviors as rewards rather than punishment
“People often think of their bodies in terms of restrictions — they think they need to cut out sugar or to not eat this or that. Instead of thinking of it in a negative way, think about reward. Think about it, as ‘I’m rewarding my body with fruit or this delicious meal,’ or ‘I am honored to be working out for 20 minutes today and that is a reward for my body.’ Look at it as a positive add-on instead of a negative take-away, and then you look forward to it.”
2. Come up with a goal to keep you motivated
“Most people don’t understand the power of the mind. If we have goals, that means we have something we’re working towards. As human beings we need to have a purpose to get up and do what we do, whether it’s a physical goal like competing in something or having a body transformation, or a spiritual goal of being more grounded. Mentally our mind is the engine for our entire body, and goals are important to keep us on track.”
3. Schedule out your day
“A lot of people neglect the fundamentals. Waking up and having that checklist of: Wash my face, brush my teeth, brush my hair, journal for three minutes, meditate for three minutes — what that does is it creates an amazing blueprint for your day-to-day life that makes your mind and spirit stronger, and you can use that energy to make your body stronger as well.”
4. Find something that’s active that you love
“For me, CrossFit is great, weight lifting is great, yoga, running — but I am just a fitness enthusiast. My mom loves to walk around the park and chase after her dogs. That is what makes her happy, but it also gives her a physical outlet. There are super easy things to implement into your daily or weekly routine that paves the path to your next step. Being willing to try something new is key to reaching that next step. Find something that interests you and embrace it. And you have to schedule it in and make it a priority. If you don’t schedule it in, it won’t happen!”
5. When you find something you love, don’t overdo it
“Overdoing one thing makes it become a burden or not fun. Then it has an opposite effect from what you originally started it for.”
6. Take a few minutes every day to focus on your spiritual health.
“What I’m talking about with spiritual health is how happy you are in day-to-day life. Whether you are religiously spiritual or internally spiritual, embrace and enhance that. Spiritual health is about taking a few minutes every day to detach from everything else, and allow yourself to have a moment of quiet and calm, and embrace gratitude no matter what is happening.”