Be Water, My Friend

“Emotion can be the enemy, if you give into your emotion, you lose yourself. You must be at one with your emotion, because the body always follows the mind.” ~ Bruce Lee

When I was asked to write for the newsletter this month, my quick response was “Sure, no problem!” Having a writing prompt often allows me to get out of my own way and direct my writing into something organized and productive. When Lynn asked me to write for the mind section, I figured in a few days I would hammer out a piece and be on my merry way. Little did I know, I would wrestle with this one. I would start and stop, trashing intro after intro, none of them feeling quite right. A day turned into two, then three, then a week. Still nothing I deemed worthy of the public. What the heck was going on?

Earlier this month I made the decision to do a bit of a detox. Not one of those starve-yourself-and-only-ingest-liquid types. I am doing a vegan challenge that caters to my dietary needs. It has a huge mindfulness component (be still my heart!!!), and is currently retraining me to listen to my stomach. It is forcing me to get off auto-pilot and tune into what my body truly needs to feel nourished. I also have been forced to try new foods and recipes, things I would never venture into on my own. Overall, it has been a great experience physically and mentally.

What I didn’t count on was the emotional experience. I’ve been having some come-to-Jesus moments with myself over the past few months about my health. The scale began showing numbers higher than I’ve seen, and the excuse of packing on grad school weight is becoming less viable four years later, even to my own ears. My husband’s loving nickname for me is Paparazzi in honor of my love for picture taking (and let’s be honest, selfies). I realized that I was becoming less inclined to jump in pictures, and the delete button was used way more frequently than ever. I was more tired, and avoidant of being around others solely due to how I was feeling about my body. My whole life style was changing, and I needed to stop the slippery slope NOW.

How does this relate to the mind, you may be wondering? As I mentioned, this vegan challenge has a reflective piece that forces you to examine negative habits, which links back to negative thinking patterns. I had to look back on other diets and failed exercise plans and examine why they truly didn’t work for me. My truth is because I am a FEELER. I am not a thinker by nature. Yes, I am analytical and a book worm. But, I follow my heart. Always. I make emotionally-based decisions, and am a believer in following your dreams. I dive into love with both feet and star dust in my eyes. I know all the thinkers out there are ready to gag. :)

Writing an article for the mind section goes against the grain of my very being. I don’t like to live in my head space, which is exactly why diet and exercise plans ultimately fail for me. For all my planning and research, I never account for the fact that once implemented, these changes never FEEL good to me. They feel forced, yucky, regimented and leave me feeling largely disconnected from myself. But it cannot be ignored that the mind, body and emotions are linked in such a way that one cannot exist without the others. True change and success comes from coaxing all aspects simultaneously into a shift. Our ability to know ourselves allows us to identify which angle to start at as a foundation for change. 

It will be different for everyone, but here’s how it played out for me. I was not happy with how I looked or felt about my body. This event became the catalyst for change once the discomfort became too intense to ignore. Unsuccessful attempts in the past began with the mind (diet planning, exercise schedules) or body (forced exercise which I hated that triggered more negative self-talk). This time, I began with the emotional, or feeling. It’s summer, and fruit is at its peak of deliciousness. Mindfully eating and noticing the depth of the flavor and luxury of the juices feels good. Laying in the sun to get vitamin D (under my SPF 70) feels good. Swimming in cool water feels good. Doing yoga and completely stretching out my muscles feels good. Burying my feet in sand at the ocean feels good. A week later, I am down five pounds. 

Now, a practical person may say that cutting out bad food and moving more is really where I can attribute success. Maybe. But I also wasn’t eating that bad before. Nor was I completely inactive. What has changed is my emotional focus. I am feeling lighter because I am thinking lighter. I could not think lighter until I felt lighter. I felt lighter because I ate lighter. I ate lighter because I physically paid attention to my food. See how they are intertwined? But my underlying reinforcer is how each of these moments feel. When I position myself to be rewarded by something that FEELS good, I am more successful. 

How can this work for thinkers? Let’s take anxiety. Anxiety can be extremely distressing for those who have it. Panic attacks are described to feel like heart attacks. Anxiety is usually sustained through automatic negative thoughts that run rampant and create domino-effects of terror in the mind. Client’s will come to therapy to relieve feelings of anxiety, but one of the most effective treatments is challenging the automatic negative thoughts, or the mind. It’s about replacing worry-based thoughts with positive alternatives. It’s challenging the validity of worst-case scenario thinking. It’s doing (body) activities that interrupt and distract from negative thinking. See the three aspects weaving themselves together again? However, this time, we started with making changes in the mind. The reinforcer becomes the mind because positive thoughts feel better.

So which are you? A thinker? A do-er? A feeler? Identify a time you were successful in making change. Where did you start? What was your foundational approach? Knowing ourselves is essential to knowing how to find success in any of our goals. Spend time daily reflecting, and getting to know you. You just might find you’re worth knowing. Knowing that I am a feeler allowed me to make some deeply impactful changes. Ultimately, this piece may not be the traditional “mind”-focused article others write, but the process is a universal truth.

I never was much of a rule follower anyways.

With gratitude,