Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

What is conditioning, and how does it affect our lives?

It has been far, far too long since I’ve written a post on the likes of Ron Weasley.  Where is the fire and brimstone?  Where are the charging hordes?  Where are the Kirbys, the Spocks, and the Sonic and Tales?  We all need a little bit of Patton in our lives, and I’ve been remiss in going astray.  So I want to talk first about a very important psychological phenomenon, and second about it’s implications for contemporary lives.


Everyone and their grandma has heard of Ivan Pavlov.  But he was such an important man, and his ideas so profoundly impacted psychology, that he merits a recap.

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian scientist in the late 1800s.  He was a medical researcher, and he made important strides both in organ physiology and in the functioning of the nervous system.  He was particularly interested in the idea of “reflexes,” which is what brought him to his most famous works.

Pavlov was investigating the salivary response to foods when he happened upon a phenomenon now known as classical conditioning. What he found was that dogs salivated not just at the sight of food, but also at the occurrence of “food is coming” signals.  First, the dogs responded only to the food itself.  Then, after having food delivered with the sound of a bell for a certain period of time, the dogs began salivating at the sound of the bell.  Even without food present, the dogs salivated.  They had been conditioned to salivate, and no amount of mental “no no no” would stop the saliva from coming.

What does this mean for human beings?

This means that we can condition responses to just about anything.  Repeat a certain event with a stimuli for a certain amount of time– say, dinner (the event) at six o’clock (the stimuli) or food (again, the event) when I see a Starbucks (again, the stimuli)– we come to expect these things.   Naps in the afternoon, workouts in the morning, the same drinks every time we hang out with the same friends…

Moreover, it is not just a psychological expectation, but a physiological expectation.  I had a professor in college prove this to us.   For two months he would ring a bell then submerge his arm under hot water.  His arm would turn red.   At the end of two months, he rang the bell, without submerging his arm, and his blood vessels opened up, and his arm turned red.  Make no mistakes about it.  Classical conditioning is a very, very real thing.

We also have things called “habits” which are very similar to conditioned responses, only less specific and less strong.   Both are inherent parts of our every day lives.  Both are powerful, and both are hard things to break.

A lot of what we do in life is ruled by habit.  Habit makes things easier.  I always sit in the same seat in class, I eat a lot of the same foods, and I often eat at the same times.  Cool.  These are all helpful things.  But I also have some nasty habits.  I eat every time I come home.  Sometimes this act is so ingrained and subconscious that I have consumed an entire chicken leg before I even know I have food in my mouth.  Yikes.   Some other bad habits I have had in my life are eating while I talk to my mom, walking down the “bad” aisles of grocery stores, and pulling over every time I see a sweet potato cart.  These were subconscious, powerful, and–don’t forget–physiological compulsions.  They ruled my behavior.


It’s not all BAD NEWS BEARS for team humanity, however.  And why not?

Because as easily as we are conditioned to bad habits, we are broken of them. Without the hot water my professor’s arm still turned red, but each day afterwards, when the stimuli of the bell was rung, but the result of the hot water was absent, his arm got a little bit less red.  Within two weeks it didn’t happen at all, and he felt no difference.   He was, by then, conditioned to the new order of things, which was: ring bell, have nothing happen.  Cool!   We can be programmed to respond, but we can also be re-programmed, or de-programmed, to have different responses.

So if I forcibly stop myself from walking to the refrigerator the next time I go home, I will be de-facto starting the de-conditioning process.  Each time I do that it takes me further down that road.  This process is difficult as hell, especially at first, but each time gets easier and easier.  I can build up momentum in this way.  The more and more time we spend actively denying a bad habit, the easier and easier it becomes to let go.

How does this relate to Mr. Weasley?

Well.   It’s about being the hero of your own life. It’s about recognizing your bad habits, and about owning up to them, and facing them dead on.  It’s about being honest with yourself, and determined, and about taking action.  In a lot of ways, it boils down to bravery.  Here, we have the science to back us up.  We know what the road is going to be like.  We know it’s tough, but we also know that it gets easier over time.  We know that we have conditioned ourselves to act a certain way, but we also know that we can de-condition that behavior.   The first time you get yourself past the McDonald’s without pulling over, it’s an enormous struggle, but it’s also a momentous victory.  Huzzah!  And the second time, it’s still a struggle, but it’s yet another victory.  Bad habits suck.  Let’s be real.  But letting them rule your life and perpetuate disordered eating is even more horrific.  Be a Ron Weasley.  Be an Odysseus.  Be Mufasa.  Whatever.  Whoever.  Use every tool you have at your disposal to improve your life, then commit, and do it, god damnit.

Easy Peasy.  Pavlov says so, and he was the man.


06 2011


What up, friends.

I was having a discussion with a client of mine about positivity, and it struck me that I’ve never straight on discussed on my blog how I feel about positive thinking.  I think it’s… well.  It’s amazing.  Perhaps the most important thing in our lives.   For mental health, for our relationships, for our bodies, for our souls…   Gods!  It’s a huge topic, too.  “Positive thinking.”  So I’m going to focus on, like I said, the most important points.  First, gratitude.  Then, what does gratitude do to improve our mental and physical health?

First, there’s a caveat. (I feel like Prometheus.  These damn things never go away.)  Positive thinking is, while the absolute most important, also the absolute most difficult part of this whole recovery deal to wrap our heads around.  Whether it’s because of our natural wiring and drive perfect ourselves, or our consumer culture, or globalization, or stress, or what-have-you, we are really, really good at being down.  Sadness and futility are pervasive.  The English language, you know, has twice as many words for describing sad emotions as for describing happy ones.  That shouldn’t be surprising.  The real kicker of the whole deal, too, is that sadness begets sadness.  Once we start thinking negatively, more negative thoughts pull us further under, and before we know it we’re being dragged along the bottom of the ocean bumping our heads on all sorts of lava flows and abandoned ships.  I see this time and time again with my clients.  Everyone recognizes the fact that positive thinking is the pavement on the road to recovery, but no one has it easy internalizing this fact.  So take it slow.  Practice some of the ideas and activities I (and others) propose when you feel like it.  Affirm yourself as much as you can.  Love and forgive yourself as much as you can.  Try and think of how you would treat your partner, or your child, and give yourself the same leeway. Look at the things in your life that give you stress and see how you can change them.  Trust me– the world really is a bright and beautiful and lovely place.  All we’ve got to do, well, I guess is warm up to that idea over time.  Then give it a bear hug and fight as fiercely as possible to hold on to it forever.

The world is full of pain.  We all know this.  Yet while it sucks big time, why dwell on it?   Especially when it’s our own suffering?  Focusing on our own problems doesn’t do anything for anybody.  What’s more, everything in our lives could be a whole hell of a lot worse.  We could have a shit show of everything.  That would be very bad.  That would be as bad as some other people do have it.  So perhaps we should feel sympathy for them, and think about their pain and how we can ease it, instead of focusing on our own issues that really could be eons worse. Every day we wake up feeling healthy deserves a prayerful of thanks.  Remember how scary it is to be sick?  It’s amazing that we have whatever health (and existence!) that we do.  This fact is worth cherishing beyond measure.

That said, the pain that we do experience doesn’t even have to be a bad thing.  Instead, we can internalize it as an inherent part of the human experience.  Without pain we would never know true joy, so we honestly have no choice but to be grateful for sorrows.  Moreover, we, as human beings, are united by our basic humanity.   “Hearts united in pain and sorrow,” wrote Khalil Gibran, “will not be separated by joy and happiness. Bonds that are woven in sadness are stronger than the ties of joy and pleasure. Love that is washed by tears will remain eternally pure and faithful.”  Not bad, eh? We are profoundly connected to each other by our abilities to feel and to love and to bleed, and all of our struggles help us to be truly, deeply human.  In this way, our suffering makes us profoundly (and bittersweetly) beautiful creatures.  We can–and should–find gratitude in our hearts for every experience, even for this.

What else do we have to be grateful for?  How many good, or fine, or acceptable things are there in our lives?  How many beautiful things surround us on a daily basis?  One of my favorite pieces of prose I have ever read was by a female prison inmate.  In it, she discusses the simplest of pleasures, and how desperately she yearns to experience them.   The greatest aspect of all, to me, is that she talks about color.  She yearns for color.  When I read this piece, I think about the fact that no matter where I am or what I am feeling in my life, I will always have the beautiful, wonderful experience of color.

“I want to see the colors, all of them, every color ever spun into existence.  And white, true white, pristine and unblemished.  And acres of green trees, and miles of yellow-ribbon highways, and yards of Christmas lights.  And the moon.”

What a rich and lovely and vibrant thing.  This passage will never leave me, even in my saddest times.   And it will always remind me of what it means to be human, to have senses, to experience the world, and to live and love and absorb beauty.

One of the great loves of my life once said this:

“I love life. I love everything about it. Smiling, laughing, loving, crying, breathing, jumping, running, flying, standing still – arms open, head tilted towards the heavens. Everything in, around, and about my life is beautiful. I watch countless sunrises, sunsets, wind blowing in the trees, waves rolling on open water, birds flying in the endless sky and fall more in love with this world every day. I don’t understand how any person could be anything but overjoyed with life.”

And he has a point, does he not?  The things he loves are simple and universal, and they flood him daily with enormous feelings of gratitude and love.


So what does this do for our bodies and our health?

Feeling gratitude in every moment, and looking at the positive aspects of our experiences, increases the amount of time we spend thinking positively about the world.  With more and more positive thoughts accumulating in our heads, we are de facto pushing out the negative ones.  Instead of spending our time trying to get rid of negative thoughts, which can sometimes help us achieve neutrality, we can actively use positive thinking to shove them out the door. “Sorry, self-hate! My brain is an open invitation party for lovers and optimists only.”    Even if it is only a little bit at first, the ability to think positively and gratefully about our lives grows and grows, and can become more and more the dominant mode of thought.

Like I said above, easier said than done.  But it’s true and it’s important and it’s absolutely a practical step towards well-being.   Make a list about yourself, for example, of all of the beautiful things inside and out.  Or stand in front of the mirror.  Or flex and look at your muscles.  Do whatever you need to to appreciate your own body.  Lay in your bed and breathe deeply in and out, and think about your heartbeat and your nerves and all of your fibers working together.  Even better, though, is looking for gratitude outside of yourself. Open your fridge and feel grateful for your bounty.  We live in a world of abundance, so instead of resenting it, be grateful that you have enough food and resources to meet your needs.  It’s okay if you overeat once in a while, or what-have-you.  Isn’t that better than starving for the rest of your life?  I know a lot of people who in secret admit that they have envied starving children in India because it is “effortless” to be thin.  Please don’t be one of them.  It is the most wonderful thing to be fed and warm, and we have nothing to be but grateful for it.  Our societies have hindered our ability to normally use those resources, but that’s okay.  We can get that back.  We just have to love, love, love ourselves and rise above the troubles coming at us in our lives.  We have worlds worth of things to be grateful for, and focusing on them helps us transcend the ugliness in our own lives.

Studies about gratitude have shown time and time again that it increases well-being.   Feeling grateful makes the world a generally brighter place, and we could really use that from time to time.  The thing is that it doesn’t just have to be an occasion, or an intervention, but it can be a habit.   To make that happen, we can routinely focus on our gratitude, AND, if we really want to push the envelop, we can explicitly express our gratitude.  Expressing thanks to others has shown to be hugely beneficial and stress reducing.  One slighter but no less important method is expressing thanks privately, such as writing, drawing, or singing how we feel.  I mean it.  Get it out there.  Share with your loved ones and the wider universe what you are grateful for in any situation, and your brain be much better prepared to deal with future struggles.

I write about gratitude today not only because it is the most important thing in my life but also because it is so incredibly relevant to contemporary culture.  We live in a time that compels us to think about what we can’t have, to wish we could be better, to want want want want need need need need.  Bullshit!  Contemporary culture actively works to eliminate gratitude and appreciation.  Constantly, it chips away at our “gratitude muscles.”  I don’t like this one bit.  Positive thinking is enabled by gratitude and acceptance and love, and sometimes we need reminders of that fact.  So… stop.  breathe.  look up.  look around.   Life certainly is a clusterfuck of struggles and pain sometimes, but we always exist, and we always have something beautiful in our lives, and we always have each other.  If those things aren’t enough to ease the burdens off of our shoulders, I don’t know what possibly could be.

Kevin Spacey’s character in the film American beauty says:

“It’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst…and then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life…”





The history behind Paleolithic diets

The palaeolithic diet, is a eating style which is compared to the caveman diet because it only allows you to eat certain types of meat and vegetables and bans sugar and ready-made meals. Similar eating styles were presumed to be used 2.5 million years ago. The modern version permits dieters to have grass fed, pasture raised meats, fish, vegetables, roots, nuts and fruits. However, it excludes grains, legumes, refined sugars and dairy. It tries to mimic what cave people might have lived off of.

The science behind this method is that research has suggested that modern people are genetically developed to consume the diet of their ancestors. In addition, studies have shown that there has been nutritional benefits of trying the old age diet. Some people think it can help with acne because it helps improve their skin. It seems like a good idea if you want to cut down on fatty items and ready-meals, improve your quality of life, living longer which will reduce the risk of your family cashing in on the Aviva Life insurance, or which ever company you might be with. However, it is not popular with everyone, nutritional experts and the National Health Service of England have implied it is likely to be a fad diet. Critics believe it doesn’t reach certain dietary recommendations and the diet provides no benefit, but equally no harm.

The main foods of the diet are based around those which can be hunted or gathered, such as fish, eggs, nuts, fruits and seeds. By eating lean cuts of meat, including wild game and grass fed beef, proved to have higher levels of omega 3 oils. Any product which was not consumed by the cave people are not permitted, these include dairy and grains.

To wash all that down with, dieters can drink water and some teas, but are banned from alcohol.










05 2011

Reader Insight

With the permission of a reader of mine who has become a dear friend, I am posting part of one of her emails to me.  I find it to be very stirring and very true, and I think that the words of someone wrestling with food so intelligently and bravely right now might be a good perspective to add to mine on this blog.  She discusses what makes her binge, and why, and it’s enormously touching.  Moreover, we could all really learn from her radical and brilliant self-honesty.


I thought about WHY did I want to eat. Was it because I was hungry? Was it because I had just “allowed” myself  that day and wanted to make the most of it as a treat? Or was it because I wanted to be distracted from a thought about myself or a void inside?

Usually when I binge, Stef, I think its the last two questions.  I’m getting better at learning how to handle the second to last one- the go crazy because I already screwed it up mentality- that’s all about willpower, and realizing that the real treat and the real spoiling of myself comes from getting to that goal weight that would make me so happy. It’s the last question I think is the hardest- the types of thoughts I’m trying to escape from are ones where I am disappointed in myself, or ones where I feel lonely (like I’ll never find someone to spend the rest of my life and will live alone forever), or thoughts about how I could be better at everything, or thoughts about how little progress I’ve made- I don’t need to describe more because we both know what those self-castigating thoughts (thriggers [purposeful misspelling lol] lets call them) are and how they get us going on a binge.  And we talked about it before and I knew that, but what I think I realized this week, is when you are in that moment, when you are reaching to eat something, and IN THAT MOMENT when you realize that you are doing it because you don’t want to think whatever you are thinking, or you want to run away from that loneliness inside- it is so hard to put it down. Not because you dont realize its not going to make you better- I’ve made that realization already- i know that it’s not going to make me feel better, and i know that probably in an hour and the next day its going to make me even feel worse but IN THAT MOMENT, it’s something to do, something to distract myself with, something to fill myself with. Something to keep me from being alone with my thoughts of self loathing and loneliness. And when you do decide to put it down, and when you do decide to not eat, you are alone with those thoughts. And that’s when it becomes something you actually know- that is when you actually realize that you were eating to not be alone with those thoughts, because being alone with those thoughts suck. At least it was something to do (like people turn to alcohol or drugs, the analogies weve made before to addictive substances).  It’s not until you actually let yourself be alone with those thoughts do you really understand that you were running away from being alone with them. And I know why- because it sucks to be alone with them. But I know thats the only way to heal.  Its the harder route, but in the long run makes me happier, and in the long war against self loathing, its beginning a small battle with those thoughts- giving yourself the opportunity to sift through them, to face them, instead of eating away from them.

Did any of that make sense? I hope it did. I was trying to convey something I think that’s been very powerful for me.  Realizing that 1) not only will eating not make it go away or make it better and will actually make it worse and make me hate myself more and that 2) being alone with these thoughts is what I was running away from, is what binging was doing for me.  The thoughts of feeling like I obsess too much on whats on the outside and that my inside is not good enough, or that I will be alone forever. Or that I feel like a failure in everything. Not always, many of the times I binged because I felt I needed to make the most of this “break” — which I think is more about dealing with willpower and arming myself with the knowledge that Im not depriving myself but actually doing better.

As you can see, I’m sifting through the WHYS of my binging so I can move forward with better armor and preparation as you suggested is best.  I’m reading this book called “the act of racing in the rain”- it’s absolutely amazing. I want to copy in a paragraph for you, but it will take too long. Basically the point of the paragraph is:  “that which you manifest is before you”– I’m explaining it horribly, but the idea is that you create your own destiny by the decisions you make and the way you react to things that are outside your control- by realizing the response to these actions are in your control.  I woke up this morning (the hardest part for me is the day after a bad day , I just want to make that bad day bad too and the cycle goes on) saying “that which you manifest is before you- it is in my hands to get to my goals or not, I can decide whether I’m going to make this day something that I want rather than something that is self sabotage”- and I am pushing and pushing every time a thought of laziness, post fruit from yesterday hunger pang comes, to remember my goal to get to Sunday with my break only lasting one day. And I WILL do it Stef, I’ll be dammed, but God willing, I will get there. Because I can decided whether I will or not, and I decide to do what I know I want for myself.


She’s brilliant, isn’t she?  And strong and courageous, and making so much progress, and really doing well.  And getting through med school at the same time.  In any case, the greatest lesson I think we can learn from her is that running is not the answer.  Food as a distraction is not the answer.  Is it momentarily numbing?  Absolutely.  But it is a band-aid, and a bit of a scary one, at that.  One of those that pulls all of your tiny hairs out when you take it off.  Don’t let food be a band-aid.  If you need one, look elsewhere.  If you don’t need one, face your demons head on, and think about how to best deal with them, and approach the problem with as much patience, love, and positivity as you can muster.  And I promise, I promise: no matter the depth of your pain or your self-illusion, recognizing food as a distraction will help you walk away from it more easily.  Hell no, it won’t be easy.  But it will be easier, and you will be able to more clear-headedly think about your problems and how to fix their place in your life.


05 2011

Paleo Success Part 3 of millions

Pamela is an enormously beautiful 23 year old soul from Michigan who rocks my world.  She’s a humor-writer, so she writes a blog on cool stuff and smart things she thinks.  She has just started paleo and is writing a series of posts on her journey.  What I love about it is that she’s totally geeked on her progress, but also realistic about the way it’s changing her relationship with food.   Like Pam, I admit, too, that my “problems” with sugar, cravings, and overeating didn’t really get going until I got thin/healthy/paleo.    I think that has a lot to do with (outside of the biology of cravings) drastic dietary change, stupid norms, and deprivation in our society of wicked abundance.

In any case.   With great care, awareness, and kick ass passion, Pam is happy and healthy and moving forward like a champion.


04 2011

Do we really know anything? Science, experience, and yo’ life

Not really.

Or, we don’t know the whole picture.  On my last post, Erin from Pretty in Primal (the bomb) suggested supplementing with dopamine.  She said that it helped her enormously with her Hashimoto’s-fucked metabolism, cravings and general well-being, and I think that’s wonderful.  It never even occurred to me to research such a thing.  See how little I know?

Millions and millions of other examples abound.  I am not an economic specialist, so I don’t come down on either side of cap and trade debates.  I don’t know shit about the politics of medicine (that phrase in itself demonstrates how fucked up the whole deal is) so I don’t come down on health care.   Even if I were a specialist, there would be dozens of people in my field who disagreed with me strongly.  How can I assert my position with certainty?

The issue of the greatest importance for my life right now, however, is nutritional science.   There’s been a lot of talk recently about re-defining “paleo” and making sure the “bad science” stays out, but the problem is that we’re constantly evolving towards a better understanding (we hope) anyway.   The thing is, I think the paleo community has the right idea in general– our health is best maximized by paying attention to the evolution of the human body and what Kurt Harris calls “neolithic agents of disease”– but beyond that, the specifics are still way up in the air.   Do I eschew carbs or make sure I get at least 50 g per day?  Do I supplement with fish oil or is that actually bad for me?  What about vitamin D, the one thing every one has been on board with for the longest?   Not even that is certain.  Conflicting studies are published daily, and to proscribe a certain set of foods and principles with confidence is not just audacious but downright swimming in hubris.  IMHO.

I write my posts with all of this information in mind.  I say “fructose is evil,” and I do certainly think so, based on my own experience and the information I’ve analyzed over months and months, but I still don’t have 100 percent certainty.  You have to decide that for yourself.    Moreover, I try my hardest to write with a style that conveys that.  Hopefully, what you get from my posts is “this is what works for me, and it aligns with current literature in such and such a way, so I think you should try it, but please don’t take any suggestion as a cemented proscription.”  This applies most obviously to my blog posts, in which I am forced to take a position, and often do so gladly.  However, this also applies to the correspondence I have with so many of you.  Take my advice and mull it over, and try it, and then pay attention to your own body.  No one knows your body and your happiness better than you do.

So what’s my point?  I think that anecdotes and experience are really the best sources of information.  I know that there’s a lot of carb-friendliness going on out there in the literature and in the paleo movement, but personally I think I’ve objectively observed that they derail my body fat percentage, independent of changing calories.  Every time I try to add them back in I see my weight not just inch but balloon.  I’m done trying (for now).   This is just what works for me.  I’m not quite sure why–people fight about the importance of insulin for fat storage all the time–but I’m going to keep using this method until I find reason to change it.   The same thing applies for fruits.  I experience enormous fruit cravings, and I just live better eschewing them entirely.  Science seems to support this undertaking.  I’d advise you to try it.  But, well.  Some people feel otherwise.

That said, this manifesto for experience requires a caveat.  Which is: even though no one knows anything for certain (What up Kant!), some of us know more than others.   For example, scientists.  The thoughtful sort.   Or, better yet, scientific data.  And in those cases, we had best listen.   What I mean is:  there are some aspects of the paleo diet and lifestyle that immediately effect our well-being, that we can “experience” and know and immediately feel good about.  A good example of this is my stabilized blood sugar levels, and how I no longer fall down right after standing up.  However, there exist much more subtle benefits.  You could be very slowly tearing holes in your arteries.  You can’t feel that on a day to day basis.  You might be unduly stressing your joints with certain exercises.  Or, perhaps most infuriating, you might say: “but Stef, I still feel good on wheat and vegetable oils!”  Certainly you do.  But some day, you might get sick. You are, in all likelihood, like the rest of us, inflamed.  And it is because you prioritize your immediate feelings over good science.  I see this all the time.  All the time.

So the point is that we have to balance the two lines of thought. On one hand, our experience and feelings are excellent indicators of health.   Science is shaky, people are fallible, and advice is not always good.  On the other hand, scientific data does in fact exist for a reason, and many interpretations (most?  some?) say important things about the body that we should be listening to.  It’s hard to filter what’s right and wrong, and honestly I have no idea half the time, but we’ve just got to think and test and think and test and think and test.  This is another good reason to consider “progress” the ultimate goal.  How can we know even what “perfect” is?  And if we do, how incredibly long would it take to get there?  Best just move forward with our feelings and our minds doing the best they can, and focus on healthful progress.  I have this sign hanging on my wall.  It says perhaps the most important lesson I’ve ever learned on it: Listen, it says.  Listen.  To yourself and the universe and every thing you can.

And don’t ever believe a thing I say.


04 2011

Re-define yourself

Here’s another mental roadblock.  The thing about this one, though, is that we all face it, whether we know it or not.  And it goes like this:


What do I mean by “inertia”?  Inertia is a property of matter defined by resistance to changes in motion.   It means that cars don’t like stopping, boats don’t like turning, and planets like to keep going around the sun in their designated trajectories.   When used abstractly, however, inertia refers to all of the mental resistance we encounter when trying to do anything, ranging from trying to get a project done, to confronting an emotion, or to making personal changes.

The point of this post is that, as human beings, we don’t like change.  We resist it.  And often we don’t like challenges, so we resist those, too.  Often this is manifested in really obvious ways, such as my insistence on walking a block further to go to Family Mart (clearly superior!) instead of 7-11 (which is actually the same exact store as Family Mart).  Or perhaps: we all know people who have heard of the paleolithic diet (perhaps we’ve tried to convince them ourselves?) but just don’t want to give it the time of day.  Compelled by fear or inertia or both, friends and family members daily come up with some pretty nifty rationalizations that make their current course of action continue to be the best one in their own minds.  Whether it actually is or not is not the question.  The important thing here is the mental attitude, and the strong, almost irresistable impulse to never change.

This is a pretty well-known fact.  People don’t like change.  Why am I beating a dead horse?   Because I think it goes even deeper than that.

Sometimes we actively want change.  Sometimes we pursue it.  Sometimes we even achieve it.   We do this by making a conscious decision (not always!), by committing ourselves to new pathways, and by following through.  But it doesn’t always stick, and progress is really difficult, and one reason this is true is because we’re stuck in the same ideas of ourselves.
I’m currently pretty thin.  That happened about a year ago.  Up until that point, however, I battled weight loss and body image issues for eight years.  There were a lot of things going on, and I could probably write a book (have I already?) on them.  Yet one phenomenon was particularly vicious.  Every time I started gaining momentum, I up and threw it away. I pinched my thighs after a week or two of good eating and they felt different.  I noticed and this was so cool.  So naturally the first thing I did was walk into the pantry.  For a long time I wrote this off as my desire to “treat myself” for my progress, but after many years and deeper reflection I realized that my thoughts were far more twisted.  My body had changed, and that was weird.  I was in a place where I could be more confident, and that was weird, too.  Stefani (that’s my given name) is not hot.  Stefani is not thin.  Stefani is not confident.  These changes do not line up with who I am.   I need to prevent that change.  I need to put a little weight back on.

And I did it!  I swear to Hera I did this for years. It was never something I was conscious of.  Instead, this monster watched me from the deep folds of my subconscious, and every time I started getting somewhere reached out and dropped this huge rock of inertia (recall: resistance to change) on top of my progress.

I find myself wrestling with the same subconscious resistance to this day.  It’s like… we have this image of ourselves.  A physical image.  And we have this idea of ourselves, this mental, psychological, personality type thing.  And we don’t rock the boat.  Ever.   Whether it’s by other people or ourselves, our unconscious minds work really hard to preserve norms.  Everybody’s does.  It’s how we’re built.

Except it might be worse in people who are struggling.  Your resistance to change might be compounded by feelings of unworthiness. I often thought: “Stefani is not thin, pretty, or confident, therefore I need to restore the qualities that made her otherwise,” but it was much worse when I thought: “Stefani does not deserve to be thin, pretty, or confident, therefore I need to restore the qualities that made her otherwise.”     This is another reason that it is so, absolutely vital to love yourself. It is vital to forgive yourself.  And it is vital to realize that whatever you’re wrestling with is not your fault.  Only after practicing these self-loving mental habits can we dig ourselves out of the mental pits of unworth, and begin to really see progress in our physical, as well as mental, health.

That said, once we’re in decent mental condition and walking on the path of progress, we’ve got to safeguard against subconscious inertia.  We’ve got to break that mental mode.  We’ve got to be in charge of our emotions and our brains, and to make sure the riptide never pulls us back under.   Subconscious perceptions of ourselves are enormously powerful.   Recognizing that fact can help you re-define yourself, and make sure that that definition sticks.


04 2011