Modern day living and the fast pace of today’s lifestyle has us living most of our lives in extrospection in the form of responsibilities, obligations, bills, meetings, exercise -maybe healthy eating- sometimes and perhaps a bit of a social life, family life etc. Not a lot, if any time is spent in introspection. To take time to be still and hear our thoughts, checking in on how we’re doing with all aspects of our lives.
Everyone understands the importance of diet and exercise when it comes to our overall health and appearance, some in the know even understand the importance of sleep, managing stress, getting enough sunlight and the benefits of MCT’s, exogenous ketones, grounding, biohacking and intermittent fasting.
However, rarely do I see information in the mainstream about the complex nature of our thought lives and our inner relationship with ourselves and various parts of ourselves. Most if not all of these thought patterns are established in our formative years, which then informs our subconscious belief systems (what we ‘believe to be true about ourselves’). In turn, affecting how we interact with people and how we show up in our worlds. These subconscious beliefs then cause our outer actions (our daily, weekly, monthly, behaviours) which either support our long-term goals or create negative behaviours that completely derail our progress, in the form of our eating habits, alcohol, drugs or other compensatory behaviours.
If we have a good supportive belief system in place that reinforces positive interpretation of our life experiences (the things that happen to us), we then go on to achieve and accomplish the things we want in life, or we don’t, and generally have a good level of happiness and fulfilment regardless. On the other hand, if we have a negative belief system (I’ll never lose weight, I’ll never be “skinny”, I’m not good enough, I’m addicted to…, I’m fat etc) this then seeks to fulfil that negative belief in a tunnel vision like fashion. Which causes us to see circumstances that arise in our lives in a ‘see I told you bad things always happen to me’ kind of way because we already believe this to be true, so we then look for situations which prove our pre-existing beliefs, therefore reinforcing that negative belief in our mind. Creating a strong neurological pathway, like a train on tracks that gets deeper and harder to shift the more times the belief is allowed to manifest.
So, all this talk about the mind but what has it all got to do with my health and nutrition? Well, it’s damn near impossible to improve our physical health when we have a negative belief system. These negative belief systems that we leave undealt with, manifest into as already mentioned self-defeating beliefs and physical ailments. Which left unchecked, can go on to create disease or Dis-ease in our bodies, which then costs us our health, wellness and vitality, and in some cases, can lead to an early death (See Fig. 1). According to Rao et.al “The biochemistry of our body stems from our awareness. Belief-reinforced awareness becomes our biochemistry.” In other words, your mind and thoughts affect the chemical processes within our bodies, having a huge impact on our ability to lose weight, function, perform, and it even affects the healing ability (or lack thereof) of your body. Stress, trauma, pessimism, worry, anger, depression and negative subconscious beliefs are all suppressed by your body’s natural biochemistry processes. Try as your body may, it’s very difficult to make the changes (like weight loss) when you truly need to do the mind work first in order to come into alignment with the mind-body connection.
Fig.1 Am J Geriatr Psychiatry (2016)
So what do we do if we’ve had all this stuff happen to us in our lives in the past and we are now carrying it around like luggage at an airport? When working with my clients, once we have lifted the lid on the first step which is the understanding that we have the power to choose our inner dialogue, we then move to actionable steps to become aware –manage oneself and treat yourself with more self acceptance, empathy and compassion in order to bring your mindset into alignment with who you really are and what you truly desire. I’ll explain in a little more detail below:
Self-acceptance is taking the time to actually sit with yourself, no phones, no distractions Just you. Usually, 5 mins in the morning and 5 mins at night to ‘Be still’ and take a heart check in. Accepting where you’re at and what’s going on inside. Checking in on how you are relating to yourself, to others, and to the facts of reality. This requires you to be real with yourself, not using those same old distractions, drown outs or coping mechanisms to deal with aspects that are upsetting, discouraging, or stressful. You do not need to agree with or like all aspects of yourself, just as you do not need to agree with or like all facts of reality.
Giving yourself the space to feel and move through the emotions
Empathy is the next level, once you’ve heard and acknowledged your hearts cry, or anything that you're dealing with currently. You then need to give yourself the empathy and space you would give to a friend going through a similar experience. Understanding it is ok to have those feelings and allow the feelings to move through you rather than burying them or harshly judging them like they’re not ok to have. (Often, I use a method called free writing or guided meditations via headspace to help implement this). Modern day society needs to huge wakeup call in the emotional intelligence department. As it is vital for human wellbeing and development to allow feelings to flow through us and to acknowledge and accept them in a non-judgmental way. Here’s the thing, the fact that we as adults typically don’t practice this we then teach our children the same lack of emotional intelligence. So, the costly cycle of not really taking the time to hear and understand our own feelings and needs tends to continue.
Being kind to yourself and reframing the experiences
Compassion is the level up from empathy where you treat yourself (and others) with kindness and forgiveness questioning that same negative self-beliefs that say I’m a failure, I’m this I’m that etc. and replaces them with the more positive beliefs, for example, I am loved, I am fearfully and wonderfully made, I am perfect just as I am etc. Which then defuses the anger of perceived rejection, fear, hurt and pain, bringing a new sense of relief, nurturing, peace and love instead of “self-medicating” with compensatory behaviours like drugs, food, alcohol etc. Taking the time to compassionately connect with your needs that may have not been getting met in the way you most need. Self-compassion is about treating yourself with kindness.
Tune in to something greater
During those times of stress when the subconscious negative belief systems take over, and its hard to be as empathetic and compassionate to ourselves as we want. Its so important that we connect to something beyond ourselves, to ‘look up and out’ to the divine in whatever way that is for you. For some its God and worshipping in a beautiful song, for others it's being amongst the surf where you feel so serene and peaceful, others still it's in Qigong, meditation, or nature. Whatever your sense of the divine is, it’s so important to have a regular connection with it. It humbles us and helps us to remember how big our worlds truly are, and how insignificant the past now is. To have an outer focus rather than being consumed by our inner worlds and pasts.
This really doesn’t scratch the surface of the mind-body connection but it does help you begin to understand that your mind is a powerhouse in behavourial change, and if we are only committed to training our bodies through the gym and trying to get a handle on our nutrition we are missing a vital part of the puzzle when it comes to longer term effective change.
Next week I will delve further into some practical tips for the mind and the cognitive benefits that good nutrition can have on our sleep, mood, energy and overall well being.
But for now I’ll summarise with the below points:
· Spend 5-10 mins daily in introspection and stillness to truly hear your thoughts.
· Checking in with yourself to hear your inner dialogue throughout your day, catching negative thoughts and interpretations of events and asking yourself, What really happened here? and what did I make that mean? Ensure your interpretation of the daily events is grounded in the facts rather than a story you have created internally.
· Be kind, empathetic and compassionate to yourself, try to think of yourself as a friend, and coach yourself through situations rather than criticising and demeaning yourself. Realise, no good comes of punishing language and is counter-intuitive to your success.
· Connect to something bigger than yourself. Our lives can become incredibly small if we continuously have a ‘self’ focus. Instead of ‘looking up and out’ and keeping things in perspective.
Lastly, If you need help putting these thoughts into practice, click the link below to have a chat to me about putting a plan in place to help you finally reach your goals and make permanent and effective long-term change.