The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘conditioning’

The “battlefield” in your head

I’ve been thinking about this post for a little while now and what it needs to include. I have had a couple of people ask me for some tips on how to combat the battle they have in their heads about what they put in their mouths.

High fat, high sugar, high carb, versus low-fat, no sugar, whole foods.

Junk food versus healthy food.

Bad foods versus good foods.

Bad versus good.

This is a battle that I am more than familiar with myself. My weight has been “battle worthy” my entire life, and my mind the “battlefield”.

I believe that pretty much every diet program around promotes eating healthy foods and avoiding the unhealthy ones. Makes sense, right? But what constitutes healthy versus unhealthy? This is up for debate and it has certainly been a contentious one. The promotion of the diet programs and the huge amounts of media coverage seem to deliberately aim to impact our emotions. A lot of them would have us believe that the only way for us to live happily is for us to follow their program, whichever one that happens to be. We get told that the only way for us to control ourselves is to follow their program. In other words, to purchase their product. It is a selling tool.

This post is not intended to debate the effectiveness of such programs. Rather, it is to point out that in trying to convince you to purchase their product, they need to have you believe that you are currently doing the wrong thing. That by eating the foods you currently eat, you are making the wrong choices. And then by definition, purchasing their program will mean you can make the right choices.

Right versus wrong.

The thing is, when we start following the programs and we receive the message that we are making good choices by eating healthy foods, we set up a neural network in our heads (see previous post on this here) that is triggered every time we make a “bad” choice by eating chocolate or pastry or lollies (or whatever). And so begins a cycle of beating ourselves up and feeling guilty for each and every choice. The more we try to control it, the worse we feel. We end up feeling inadequate and unworthy, even for minor deviations from the plan.

There are those people who would suggest that the ideas associated with this way of thinking have become so ingrained in our society that even the idea of making a choice off the chosen program will have us believing we are inadequate. Really? An idea?? Since when have we been condemned for having a thought run through our heads? But isn’t that what many of us do?

If this sounds just a tad extreme to you, that’s because it is.learning new way to think

We start by feeling guilty for having a chocolate bar. We feel horrible about ourselves and start thinking that we have blown the diet so we may as well just give up. This leads to 2 large packets of potato chips. We feel guilty some more, believe we are completely useless, so we stop exercising, call ourselves all kinds of disgusting names and then reach for more food because it hurts so much!

Sound familiar?

You’re probably fighting a few things here. Firstly, you have a physiological addiction to all the foods you’ve been ingesting. The sugar, simple carbs, artificial sweeteners, salt. Our bodies go through withdrawal symptoms when we try to stop that cycle and it sends our brains into overdrive with cravings in an attempt to get “fed”. I am not an expert on this stuff and don’t profess to be, so I would suggest that if you want  more information on it do some research for yourself.

Secondly, as outlined in the previous post on firing and wiring neurons, you’ve got firmly entrenched neural pathways at play. It’s difficult to change these. Again, I am not an expert, so feel free to do some independent research, beginning with the books I have suggested in my previous post.

Thirdly, you’re fighting cognitive patterns. These are essentially a neural pathway your brain has created for the way you think. You eat the food and your brain automatically takes your thoughts to “I’m useless/worthless/hopeless because I can’t control myself”. It is a well-practiced pathway and I am sure you are used to its experience. It creates more feelings of inadequacy and suddenly you’re in the never-ending cycle you’re so used to.

So, what do you do about it?

My first suggestion is to think about things a little differently. So much of our energy goes into “good” versus “bad”. Healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables are in the “good” category, while chocolate and chips are in the “bad”. While it is human nature to categorise things, do we really need to do this for our foods? How is it helpful for us, when we go from “I ate some bad food and therefore I must be a bad person”? Does that way of thinking support us in achieving a happy, balanced life? Does it support you?

Why can’t we simply have one category: FOOD?

Or could we choose to have often foods and sometimes foods, the way they teach kids in schools? Or maybe use the traffic light system. Red light foods, orange light foods and green light foods?

Whichever categories we choose, they are just that. CATEGORIES.

Without the emotion attached.  You eat a chocolate bar. FULL STOP.  You eat some fried fish. FULL STOP. You eat a fried mars bar. FULL STOP.

So what? One chocolate bar or fish fillet or mars bar (or whatever) does not dictate how you live your life. One chocolate bar, fish fillet or mars bar does not dictate your happiness. One chocolate bar, fish fillet or mars bar does not dictate your worth. One chocolate bar, fish fillet or mars bar does not dictate what you put in your mouth for the rest of your life.

One chocolate bar, fish fillet or mars bar (or whatever), MAY influence the number on the scale you see when you step on it, but since that number is simply a reflection of your relationship with gravity (full stop) and could never EVER tell me about the amazingly wonderful person on top of the scales, why would you allow it to influence the way you feel about yourself?scale and worth

Instead, try thinking of them simply as choices. Sure you may choose the chocolate or fried fish. And it may even result in you moving a little further away from your goal number on the scales. The next choice you make to put something in your mouth could be a choice that may move you closer to that number.  And providing we are making more choices to move us closer than we make to move further away, we are overall moving closer. Correct?

One teeny tiny choice at a time, we can choose to end the battle and ultimately win the war (which, in my opinion, needs to be more about our internal happiness and is therefore more related to our self-talk rather than the number on the scale). Remember this. That number will never be able to tell you how incredible you are as a human being. And the simple fact that you are living and breathing means that you are worthy of that happiness. You are amazing, right here, right now.

let yourself be amazing

Whenever you catch yourself in the pattern of thoughts you are so used to, chances are you aren’t really aware of the things going on around you in your immediate environment. Does it feel like you’re kind of off with the fairies? It can be useful to practice some mindfulness activities. Engage your senses. Sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste. Mindfulness is about bringing your attention into the here and now. So to bring your mind back into the moment, try focusing on the things around you. If you are doing the dishes, pay attention to the feel of the water on your hands, or the cloth between your fingers. If you’re walking, note the smell of the flowers, the feel of the sun/wind/rain on your face. When you’re eating, slow down and really taste your food. Smell it. Feel the textures. Drink in the sight of it on the plate. Make it a real dining experience.

And sometimes, just be with yourself and sit in the solitude. Breathe. Commune with nature. Notice everything you can about the things around you. Focus on the way your breath feels in your lungs, pay attention to your chest or stomach rising and falling. Don’t try and change anything, simply pay attention to it. Be curious, without judging.

Don’t expect things to change immediately. Your brain will kick in with the automatic response again and again. It likes things to stay the same, so it will hit you harder with stuff when you try to make some changes. Persist with it when you catch your mind wondering, your brain is just doing its job.

 

Play with it and see how it goes.

mindfulness senses

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Letting go of Guilt

everything i do makes me feel guilty

 

I get a lot of people in my office who tell me they feel guilty. Usually for not being able to do something that they feel they “should have”. This could have been for something like, feeling like they haven’t met the demands or requests of their family, or “failing” in eating healthy foods and exercising. Or it could be something completely different. Whatever it is, the guilt that comes as a result can be debilitating. It can bring you to your knees. Literally.

If we looked up “guilt” in the dictionary we would see two general definitions. www.dictionary.com shows the following:

noun

1. The fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability: He admitted his guilt.

2. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.

3. conduct involving the commission of such crimes, wrongs, etc.: to live a life of guilt.

verb (used with object) Informal.

4. 

to cause to feel guilty (often followed by out  or into  ): She totally guilted me out, dude. He guilted me into picking up the tab.  

 

i regret nothing guilt

Both definitions are about wrongdoing. In other words, if you are guilty, you have done something wrong. Now if we were talking about the legal stuff I would agree with you. But if we aren’t, then things are open to interpretation. Of course there are occasions when we make mistakes and we do or say things that may not necessarily be helpful. And in those situations the feeling of guilt serves as a guide, or compass, to help us to know how to make amends and to follow-up with different choices next time.

The type of guilt I really want to talk about is when we have the perception of doing wrong, but in reality we haven’t. For example, let’s just say that a neighbor consistently asks you to take them shopping. You’ve been doing this for weeks and after a while you realise that it is getting in the way of other things in your life. The neighbour rarely thinks about stuff you need to do and never shows you any appreciation. You want to tell the neighbour you can no longer take her out, but you feel guilty for even thinking about it. guilt rooted in actions of pastGiven that there has been no appreciation or consideration, does it really make any kind of sense that you feel this guilt? As the person who is doing your neighbour a favour, don’t you deserve it? If it were your best friend or your mother doing the favour, would they deserve the appreciation?

So why do we feel guilty about it?

Before I go on, I do understand that the situations in which we often feel guilty are not always as uncomplicated as this example. You put many years worth of conditioning and complex family dynamics into the mix and things become complicated very quickly. Trust me, I get it. That said though, while the dynamics may be complex and a little more challenging to deal with, the concepts in dealing with it remain the same. I’ll come back to the strategies in a second.

fear of judgement mark of guiltThat feeling of guilt comes from expectation. Often the conditioning we have experienced shows its face. We expect ourselves to be perfect. We expect that our coping ability is better than everyone around us. We expect ourselves to have the ability to be everything, for everybody. And when we can’t meet those expectations we feel guilty and “bad” for not being able to. We feel inadequate. We feel like failures.

Guilt is also about “shoulds”. You think “I should be able to cope”, “I should help others. Good sons/daughters/mothers/brothers help their family”, “I should be able to manage better”, “I should help. They won’t like me if I don’t”. You better be careful there, cause you’re gonna should all over yourself! 😉 

Seriously … guilt is only ever a good thing when you really have done something wrong and it guides you to change your behavior. Otherwise, all it does is weigh you down, hold you back from living your best life and stresses your entire system.

To let go of the guilt you need to understand that your wrongdoing is your perception and is not necessarily an accurate one. Sometimes our mind plays tricks on us by sending us messages indicating that we are callous or selfish if we don’t feel guilty. Like most things, we become conditioned to it. Try not to listen to those voices.

A few things to consider:

  1. We also feel guilt when we have a conflict between our values. Using the example of the neighbour I introduced earlier, we value supporting others and helping them through difficulties. And we value our family and taking care of them. If what the neighbour is asking prevents us from doing things for our family, those two values could be in conflict. Being asked to justify your values is like asking someone to justify why their favourite flavour of ice-cream is butterscotch. It is an impossible question to answer. You can continue asking “why” forever without receiving an adequate response. And why does it even need justifying? It doesn’t. So work on getting some clarity around what is really important in your life. If you don’t know, try doing the rocking chair test. Imagine yourself sitting on your porch in your rocking chair in your twilight years. Reflect on your life and think about what you want to be remembered for. The important things.
  2. Have a think about your rights as a member of the human race and of your community. Most people would agree that every human being has a fundamental right to be respected, considered, appreciated. To make mistakes, to say no, to care for themselves. Without the need to justify these to anyone else. As a fellow human, you have those rights as well. Why should your rights be any less important?
  3. Standing up for your rights can be scary if you’ve never done it before. But it can also be super empowering. If you would like to take that stand and aren’t sure how to (or if you’re afraid to), try starting with the little things. Try starting with yourself. Try saying no to something that you know doesn’t serve you, or even try giving yourself permission to do something you’ve been denying yourself for a while.
  4. Allow yourself to be imperfect. You don’t have to do it right all the time.
  5. If you feel like you need some support in taking that stand, talk to someone you trust. Someone who you know will give you an objective opinion and support you in gaining confidence, without telling you what to do. If you don’t have anyone in your life who will be that honest with you, please don’t be afraid to speak with a professional. A counsellor, psychologist, life coach, or similar could be very helpful.

dear guilt

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