Tag Archives: emotion

Afraid to get excited?

3 Aug

“Everything has been going so well, I’m afraid to get excited,” my client stated emphatically. “What if it doesn’t last?”

“Guess what…” I said, “It won’t!”

I know what you’re thinking. Dang, Kori; way to burst her bubble! You always talk about how powerful our thoughts are and how important being positive is!

Well, yes, as a matter of fact I do. And I’m also a realist! Positive thinking is beneficial, if we’re still operating in reality– objective reality.

“It won’t last,” I confirmed. “And that’s the entire reason I need you to relish in the excitement you’re feeling right now. I hear it in your voice, I see it in your face. Your entire body relaxed when you were describing for me what you’ve noticed lately, how well you’ve been eating, the different ways in which you’re taking care of yourself, and how motivated you’ve been during your training sessions!”

Life- ScrabbleLife.

I can go from feeling blissfully grateful to depressingly disappointed in the span of 60 seconds!

Emotion.

Memories are created by emotion. Events that  stand out for us have feelings, driven by hormones, attached to them. You could be sitting in the middle of a movie theater and recall something you were involved in years ago because of a similarly felt emotion evoked from the movie you’re watching currently.

My client has disappointment, discouragement, frustration, hurt, and anger entangled around her previous weight loss attempts. Happiness– if that’s felt for her, it’s like traveling to a foreign land where she stands among throngs of people unable to speak the language. What? Huh? Where am I? What is this? Yet she knows what it feels like because she has experienced it in other areas of her life.

Unable to make sense of it in this context, however, with it being such a rare occurrence, not only was she uncomfortable about acknowledging it but she began attributing it to some magical phenomenon.

She said, “Everything that’s happening has to be pure coincidence….or magic…or luck.”

Self-determinationTo which I replied, “You’re right. It couldn’t be that you’re taking proactive steps toward planning ahead, thinking through your actions, defining for yourself how you’d like to feel at the end of the day, playing your behaviors forward, and moving away from the belief that you need to be perfect in order to be successful…..no. It can’t be that stuff.” I winked. “You’re developing a sense of competence through engaging in meaningful behaviors,” I said. “Roll around in that!”

When was the shoe going to drop? Who knew. But what I did know was that eventually it would, whether big or small, but it was the sense of mastery and competence she was developing that I needed her to feel and take advantage of while it was there, that she could draw on when the shoe did drop. She needed to sink into the gratefulness for her successes and the excitement she was feeling. With that would come more happiness and optimism and importantly, a new narrative that she could write to explain where she was headed.

The self-handicapping, a term coined by Knee and Zuckerman (1998) needed to erode away into an objective level of responsibility-taking when the negative would pop up and setbacks would occur. In other words, I wanted her to understand that she didn’t need to defensively prepare herself for possible failure by not attributing her success to personal efforts.  If we could acknowledge that there would be failures along the way, and expect them, she wouldn’t need to make excuses “just in case.”I write...

Her new narrative, her story, that she would write about herself, or explain to others, when they would eventually ask, “How’d you do it? You lost so much weight!” would be an amalgamation of the events in her life that she would craft and connect in ways that would define her identity as a persistent, determined, competent woman who set her sights on health, and put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again; rather than a victim of circumstance, untoward events, and the cosmos colluding in creating a fate that has her resigned to believing “I guess I was just meant to be fat.”

Dan Abrams, a Northwestern University psychologist, explains how stories give our lives coherence and meaning. Simply, they put the events we’ve experienced into perspective and help us create patterns. I wanted my client to begin rewriting the story she had been living for so long– that she was broken, unsuccessful, and a failure– and put herself in the role of a self-determined, cunning, clever, intelligent protagonist that could navigate even the toughest stuff and come out the other side. I wanted her to write a new story that had her as the hero!

Often the stories we’ve written are unconscious– think of all the times you’ve wondered why you act a certain way and have such trouble doing something different. We begin writing our stories at a very young age, and oftentimes we’re the main character in a story that is no longer true or valid for our present selves. Even if an event happened when we were a child, the meaning we spun around it then is often irrelevant for us as adults and keeps us stuck and frustrated. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, we keep reliving the same events again and again and again.

Great stories happen to those who can tell them...So think positive. But think realistically positive.

Proofread your stories and proofread them well.

Demand excellence from yourself, but not perfection.

Don’t wait for the shoe to drop– expect that it will. Then go put it on and tie the laces tightly.

And finally, get excited. Go experience and take risks so you can write new stories in which you’re thrilled to be the main character!

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Don’t Kill the Messenger!

31 May

At the conclusion of my workshop earlier this week one of the participants expressed concern about the utility of a particular tool I’d recommended. I gave everyone 10 different tools to begin putting into practice that would set them on a course toward navigating the barriers we so often trip over and give permission (not often consciously) to minimize our goal persistence.

The tip, BOYCOTT THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, suggests that we would do well to become more open to experiencing what life hands us, to pay attention, to slow down, and to savor.

Open to ExperienceBoycotting the zombie apocalypse means we aren’t operating in the misconstrued land of “ignorance is bliss.” No. In fact, deciding to disengage from the automatic pilot mode that so many of us move through our days with, gives us hope for a new level of authenticity and importantly, choosing goals that actually resonate with who we are.

So my workshop attendee’s concern went something like this: “Kori, I’m getting stuck in the part where you talk about letting yourself experience emotion. Like pain. I’m worried that if I let myself feel it, I’ll just wallow in it.”

She related her perceived tendency to stay steeped in emotion, as so many of us do. But not because we’re consciously making a decision to invite it in and acknowledge it… when we get overwhelmed by pain, it is more a function of believing the thoughts that we’ve constructed about the meaning of our pain. And often the thoughts are distorted and untrue.

It is our nature to feel coherent and integrated. You know when you feel uncomfortable– like something is awry. Our bodies signal us through symptoms like an increased heart rate, lack of concentration or focus, or fidgeting. Our thoughts can clue us in to how we might be experiencing a situation as well, for example, “you’ll never finish this project”, or “he’s very angry with you right now.” These thoughts give rise to feelings that manifest in our physical bodies and can cause a host of behaviors. When we’re in zombie land, we move impulsively. We react. If we can slow down when we recognize these cues, we can respond in a more coherent, integrated manner.

It’s not our nature to tend toward wallowing and staying in the center of discomfort- we want to feel like we’re well oiled and calibrated. The body strives toward equilibrium as well. However, if, for instance, my workshop participant grew up in an environment where by staying emotionally engaged and emotionally intense she received attention and nurturing, perhaps her concern is valid. There were positive consequences for her to remain in the emotionally volatile place, despite its being uncomfortable and disintegrating.  Now, in her adult life, such behavior is likely not so effective. She gets to learn a new way of being with her emotion, and still “using it”, but in a different manner.

The pain is the messenger. When we try to push it away versus inviting it in and acknowledging it, we in essence, tell ourselves that we’re unimportant and that our bodies are misguided and we can’t trust them. I read this equation that is helpful to remember: Pain x Resistance = Suffering

Listen and LearnIf we resist the pain, we kill the messenger…and the message. And the messenger can be delivering some astoundingly revelatory and insightful information to us….if we’re willing to listen.

We don’t have to wish for pain or not-so-comfortable experiences. What I am implying is that through the adoption of a more open nature and a boycotting of the zombie apocalypse, you will experience a wealth of benefits including: greater emotional regulation and resilience in the face of difficult circumstances; higher thresholds for experiencing threats or stress; viewing all experiences as opportunities for growth and learning; fewer inclinations toward awareness distracting activities like television, video games, or compulsive behaviors such as binge eating; and the adoption of goals that are not only personally meaningful and relevant, but the ability to pursue them with persistence.

So don’t kill the messenger. The messenger is your friend. And as Carl Rogers once said, “All the facts are friendly” (1961).

Can you trust your struggle?

13 Feb

Lean Into DiscomfortI’ve been practicing more and more  “leaning in” to my anxiety.

Using what I notice my body is conveying to me– the racing mind, lack of focus, tense shoulders, heavy sighs, and fidgitiness — as a signal to tune in to the feeling as opposed to galvanizing my energy to run away from it, I find I’m not less comfortable like you might think would occur. In fact, when I realize that I am the same as my experience (I am the anxiety), there is nothing to run away from.

When I do this I think of the saying,  “Wherever you go, there you are.” We suffer most when we attempt to push away from us what we are experiencing, right?

If we are our experience though, we are one with it. If we absorb our experience, we relieve ourselves of rigidity. If we refrain from building a wall that we mistakenly think will protect us from it, we respond with greater flexibility. We are more resilient.

Like the reboundability and quick recovery that athletes practice — the  mental toughness that we all desire more of.

Trust Your Struggle

Like a willow tree that bends in the wind yet remains firmly planted in the ground.

Like the water you slide into when you immerse yourself into a warm bath.

If we learn to lean into our discomfort, won’t we suffer less? Grow more?

Can you trust your struggle?

Come, Walk With Me…

1 Jan

Pain demands to be feltWhen a friend of mine shared with me recently in an email that her mother “decided to die on Christmas Day” I took some time to respond. Given the situation and the rate at which the woman’s condition was deteriorating, it had seemed that weeks before, the possibility of death occurring sooner than later was imminent. My friend was her mother’s caretaker, and each time we spoke I was reminded of my own mother’s role. She is currently caring for my grandma, whose husband, ironically, would be celebrating his birthday this New Year’s Eve.

As I write this I’m struck with wrenching sadness. Unexpected. I let the ache fill my chest, and I suppose there are a few things happening for me all at once. The reminder of my grandpa’s death puts front and center the eventual passing of my mom. The thought of her absence leaves a gaping hole in my heart. I imagine too, her pain in being with her dad when he died, having taken care of him for over a year, feeling helpless to give him comfort as his body failed him and longing to have him argue with her in their typical sparring way that would so often leave her upset and fuming but would now give her reassurance that he was vital and energetic. It’s not my pain, it appears, that I’m afraid of then—it’s hers. All the same, I suppose I am afraid of not being able to take it away from her, afraid of the lack of control I’ll have?

But my friend’s words were poignant. Despite not knowing that her mom had chosen to make Christmas Day the day she would take her last breaths, she thought it. She gave her mom credit for a decision. Her mom was a strong-willed, demanding woman. It fit. Was that my friend’s way of making sense of an event she couldn’t easily wrap her mind around?

the most precious giftsThe reply to my friend was short. What could I say? I’m a therapist, and I know she needs to grieve. I know too that her process will be hers alone, distinct and beautiful in its own right. But I wasn’t sure of myself in this situation. I calculatingly expressed my sorrow for her…for her mother’s death. I remember pausing before I typed the word “death”, wondering if it would be more appropriate to say “passing.” But what difference would it make? I scanned her email before deciding on the former, hoping to glean a sense of rightness of fit from the context and her tone. I couldn’t. If she were in the room with me I’d just be with her. I’d reach out and hold her hand…hold her if she was okay with it. But I couldn’t do that across a thousand miles and a keyboard. I typed those words instead, worrying with every key stroke that it sounded trite, overly sentimental, and empty. Except it wasn’t, at least not to me. It is what I would do. But I proceeded to get on my own case about worrying so much about my words. Back and forth I went until I decided to land on the fact that this wasn’t about me. I expressed that she was in my prayers, in my thoughts, that I was having a difficult time articulating what I wanted her to know, but that I was there for her, whatever she needed. When a person dies, what do you do?

Death.

Last year I read Staring into the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death by Irvin Yalom. I’m not sure what led me to it. Perhaps it was on the recommended reading list in my psychotherapy journal. It very well could have been a discussion I had with a friend about how we comprehend death. Or maybe I was interested in better understanding the fear that so many of us have about dying. It seems our fear of death is often underlying the fear we experience in other areas of our lives. We desire connection and belonging, and we will, upon introspection about our behavior, lash out defensively and in anger when underneath such explosions is fear of isolation and rejection. Isolation—could this be the illusion linked to death? How are we to know  if we’re unwilling to ask questions about death though, of The fear of death follows from the fear of lifeourselves and of others? If death were within our awareness, willingly, would we all be walking around on automatic pilot so often? Going through the motions? Living with such an astoundingly depressing, in my opinion, lack of intention or sense of our own mortality. If we were really mindful of death, wouldn’t we be more conscious in life? If we asked ourselves what our thoughts are on death, wouldn’t it incite us to live more generously? Feel more passionately? Or, maybe by asking ourselves about death, we’d just be living in a perpetual state of anxiety.

If you are a follower of my blog, you’re aware of my penchant for mindfulness. It’s my belief that we all need to wake up and become active observers of ourselves and others, refrain from pushing away what is and away from pain, pay attention to what influences us and how we act, and pause long enough to respond rather than react. When someone dies I think the discomfort is less about the loss and more about the emotions that well up inside of us. And we try arduously to shove them away. I’m reminded of something a friend of mine said to me this week: “I’ve been holding back tears, and I’m not a person that cries,” she stated as she explained that her co-worker was leaving. This was a women 10 years her senior but who felt like her older sister and was her best friend.

The Tragedy of LifefIn this instance I felt sure of what I wanted to say. “What is a person who doesn’t cry? Non-human?” It’s possible this statement could have easily been taken the wrong way by someone other than a friend, but it was important to me that I convey to her that crying would, it seemed, be a pretty normal reaction to what she was experiencing. “Your sadness could be showing you how important she is to you; do you want to ignore that?” I said.

If we were more comfortable feeling in general, would we be more comfortable with death? If we more often said to the tears filling up the caverns of our insides, “Come, walk with me,” instead of “No, go away!”, would death be more easily experienced? What about before the death?

How do we manage what I would presume most of us will only experience once? Death isn’t like a meal, when we know we’ll have another. “This one just wasn’t satisfying,” we might think. “But I have lunch in a few hours.” No. Death means done.

At the same time death might mean an awakening of sorts, to our own fragility, to our meaninglessness, to meaningfulness, and to relationships we cut ourselves off from either purposefully or just through an abandonment of attention. Paul Auster in his book, The Invention of Solitude, becomes a son to his father and makes it possible to become a father himself, only after his father’s death. What if both had, if even obligatorily, run through the gaping holes of each other’s hearts and been vulnerable enough to get to know each other before? Would it have mattered?

forwardYalom (2008) quotes a woman in Staring at the Sun for whom it mattered immensely:

“I lost my beloved father two years ago and I have experienced previously unimaginable growth since. Before then I’d often wondered about my own ability to confront my finiteness and had been haunted by the idea that I too, will someday pass from this life. However, I have now found in those fears and anxieties a love for living I didn’t known before” (p. 116).

My current assignment for the course I’m involved in is focused on “Difficult Conversations” in healthcare. In palliative care, communication of what is often perceived as difficult has received much attention, primarily because of the intense discomfort that many physicians feel when they must bring it up to patients and family members. Little training is provided for healthcare workers during their education and practicums, at least not the type that provides them with confidence. Emotions can’t exactly be blueprinted. An “if”/”then” flow sheet for telling a patient that they will not recover, won’t cut it. So we come back to having the ability to be comfortable in our discomfort, to experience our own suffering as we face the suffering, but don’t assume the suffering or the decisions, of others.

As I conclude I am brought back to my most recent conversation with the friend I can be ultimately raw with, whom I can divulge what others might, quite possibly contract with horror in hearing or seeing.  He read me a passage from the book he’s absorbed in, which just so happens to be about dad’s…and death. I’m struck by the convergence in these last few days of my school topic, his readings, my friend’s mother’s passing, and the squelching of friend’s tears stemming from a loss.  All seem to be beveled in a tangle of  fear. They are Time to Growconnected. We are connected. I have with this friend what I imagine to be quite rare, a frequency that a mere fraction of could stabilize the air between life and the anxiety of death. Sogyal Rinpoche, in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, eloquently captures the essence of this strange marriage of the aloneness of death and its revelatory harmony:

“When we finally know we are dying, and all sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense…of the preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.”

The healthcare workers who sit with the dying and who reveal to their families the brevity of the life before them, the aging, the caretakers of those in their final days,  the dying who have accepted their impending endings, the dying who haven’t, the dead who had no choice, and those of us who fear what will come– might we face death with life, with breath, and welcome it to walk with us? For isn’t it always with us anyway?

To Think or Not to Think…That is not the Question

4 Dec

Brain as a ComputerEver have those days when you wish you could just CONTROL-ALT-DELETE your way to new thoughts, a different situation, or varied emotions?

I’m certainly not immune to moments of feeling frazzled and tired, maxed out, emotionally overloaded, or otherwise just wanting to left click on my hibernate button. At the end of each day I usually go into power saving mode, but I know well when it’s time to power down for a full battery re-charge.

During the work day I’m conscious of making sure the necessary downloads and back-ups are performed. I’ll need a lot of the information I create and collect later on. Fortunately, I also possess a pretty high tech machine that auto saves and regulates many of my running processes on its own.

You know what it also has though?  A bunch of default programs, many of which I am unaware of. And they surprise me sometimes.Those little pop-up warning boxes suddenly appear, and a noticeable shift in my usage level occurs. The list of running applications  gets longer, and I’m forced into either making a decision, freezing up, or short circuiting.

I used to choose what I believed to be the path of least resistance. I’d log off. I’d pretend that whatever was happening just wasn’t. I wish I could say it gave me the reboot I was looking for and everything ran more smoothly afterward. Instead, I just got bogged down, my RAM got closer and closer to the red, and viruses infiltrated my system  until I was forced to pay attention.

What I needed was a lesson in caring for my software, but also the skill to recognize and manage my hardware. I needed to learn how to regularly run the disk defragmentation and update processes.

Here’s the deal: like a computer with an operating system, we have background programs running constantly. These background programs- the lessons we learned as we grew up, the messages we absorbed that were conveyed to us by our early relationships, the environmental influences and genetic inheritances that exist for us that created our biases, limitations, fears, and conditions of our thinking– block our ability to fulfill our potentials. Rather, we fulfill our programming.

Unlike computers, however, we have the gift of consciousness. We can be critical and we can be vulnerable. But we also have to be willing to be these things. We can be more than empty operating systems just being run by the background applications, or we can engage our awareness, access our capacities, and grow our abilities and our sensibilities.

We can choose to install new programs, even a new operating system, but unlike a computer we can never erase what we were programmed with at the start. This makes our jobs quite a bit more interesting because it means we must develop a greater sense of our selves to live more  authentically. Those moments when you’re hitting max capacity or getting bogged down in details and you surmise,  “I think too much” , perhaps it isn’t that you’re overthinking. Perhaps it’s that you’re not thinking effectively. Perhaps the wrong questions are being asked. Perhaps the problem hasn’t been identified. Perhaps we haven’t thought enough to decide what  program we really need or how to write it.

effective-mind-controlIn essence, if the conscious mind becomes aware that the program isn’t good, you must do the processing to get a new program in. You must be aware of where you want to go, but also be conscious that you must act in another way for the program to work. All the while, your old circuits ( those self limiting, self sabotaging beliefs) will come into play. Slowly but surely, however, you can override them.

If we don’t think, we don’t feel. “Maybe that’s  good,” you may be thinking. A lot of feeling “hurts.” Except without emotion then we become robots. Without emotion we can’t experience empathy. Without emotion we live incomplete and disconnected lives.  Without emotion we can’t experience love. Without emotion we can’t be in real, genuine, raw, and fulfilling relationships. For you can’t share with others that which you cannot yourself understand. Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

How we think and what we think embody our perceptions and our attitudes, and these result in our emotional selves. The biochemistry of our bodies is altered with the feelings we experience. Fear produces cortisol, norepinephrine, and histamine, for example. And love? Well, love produces oxytocin and dopamine. Rather than the cells acting protectively like that password protection screen that pops up, they are enhanced, they grow, and they expand!

Love is expansive and all encompassing. You know what it feels like to be loved, to “feel felt”, to feel nurtured and understood. Can you imagine life having never felt love?

So we don’t want to do away with emotion. Other benefits exist besides becoming a more self-actualized person, however. Take, for example, the evidence that people who cry live longer than people who don’t, that gene activity is altered via the blood chemistry that changes as a result of emotion, & that love and compassion creates the optimal environment for neurogenesis. Yes, the cortex of the brain grows and expands. This is the area of the brain critical for our thinking and processing! But you’ve likely heard that we only use approximately 5% of our consciousness. That means that 95% of our behavior is based on the subconscious–those background programs, our ‘old stuff’ as I’ve referred to in previous blogs and articles. It’ll hang on, just sit back and watch, and see if you’ll respond when it pops up every now and then. And sometimes you will. Sometimes you’ll have what you consider to be an odd or extreme reaction and upon analysis realize that you were perceiving something that wasn’t there. In essence, the feeling wasn’t “real,” but the way in which it manifested in your body was!

“But what does all this mean?” you ask.

AuthenticityI’ll break it down into what I believe to be the keys to an authentic life:

  1. Learn to step away from your conditioned responses.
  2. Your old programming is what has been downloaded by others. You often didn’t choose it. Do you want to operate according to you or to others?
  3. When you live ‘consciously’ you empower yourself to create the life you desire.
  4. By paying attention, staying present, defragmenting, and constantly updating, you gain control.
  5. Authenticity means that you are not living in denial of who you are. Acknowledge and accept the old programs, and decide what you’d like to convert to a new file format or override with new programming.
  6. Ask yourself: “What is the highest standard I can hold myself to?” And update accordingly.

In my mind it’s not about thinking or not thinking.

I will think, and I will think often. But I will think well. And I will think critically. I will control-alt-delete my way to my task manager.

What to say when you don’t know what to say….

17 Oct

I think we could avoid a lot of heartache, hurt feelings, defensiveness and conflict in our relationships if we were willing to forgive ourselves more often and decide that we don’t have to have the answers all the time.

As much as I write about getting to know ourselves, developing our emotional intelligence, being able to discern what’s going on inside of us, defining the thoughts and emotions that are driving us so we can more appropriately respond to our circumstances, sometimes all we know is that we’re just darn uncomfortable. There is no word in that moment to articulate the feeling. The ability to articulate anything that we would classify as meaningful at all may elude us.

But rather than leaving the moment open to interpretation by the other party, rather than risking being misunderstood, rather than feelings being hurt unnecessarily due to the looks or context being mis-perceived even if we have no idea what to say to prevent any of these things from happening…..

what if we said just that.

What if we said “I don’t know what to say.”

What if we said, “I’m pretty uncomfortable right now. I want to be able to articulate what I’m feeling right now, but I’ll need some time to think about it.”

What if we said, “I need you to not think that by my silence I am saying ‘I don’t care what’s happening right now’, because I do.”

What if we said, “You’re so important to me that I need you to know that if I say something that ends up hurting your feelings, it’s not my intention.”

When you don’t know what to say, there are still things you can say…to be true to you… to be genuine in your relationships.

Gain Control by Letting Go of Control- An Approach for Cravings

2 Oct

It’s not a huge surprise to me when the individuals I am working with who initially come in with struggles related to emotional eating, stress binges, and feeling out of control around food report having far less cravings, urges, and impulsive reactions around food after just a week or two of more structured, balanced eating. Small tweaks to what they are consuming at each meal net them big dividends in blood sugar stability, even-keel energy levels, and satiety after meals. The drive to continue eating after a meal is dampened, and that “I have to have something sweet after a meal” thought often begins to feel incongruent with what their bodies are telling them. Relief!

Unconscious incompetence – I don’t know what I don’t know
Conscious incompetence – I know what I don’t know
Conscious competence – I know what I know
Unconscious competence – I don’t know what I know
Reflective or enlightened competence – I am aware that I don’t know what I know but I can shift back into conscious competence to teach someone else

“Kori, if I wasn’t working with you  on the consciousness aspect of all this, I’d still be doing what I was doing and just getting more and more frustrated.”  This is a quote from a client call I took just this morning from a woman who started with significant binge eating issues. Her food logs have gotten better and better each day– meals balanced with some protein and some carbs, moderate fat spread out through the day in foods that she really enjoys, 1-2 lbs of fat being lost each week. When asked what she felt was making the biggest difference she said “I’m learning.” Our first phone call as part of her Life Transformation program was all about her being educated about the physiology of nutrition– what actually happens in her body when she eats, how is her blood sugar influence, how come she would feel hungry so quickly after a certain meal. She was getting questions answered that would allow her to start making healthier choices, and she said, “I’ve never felt so empowered!”

There was a lot she didn’t know she didn’t know. There was also a lot she knew but didn’t know she knew! And she knew she needed to continue learning and asking questions and said to me, “I’m teaching others too, Kori!”

YUMMY! implies emotion. Contrast this with the objective response: “It’s just pink frosting with a spongy base made of sugar, butter, flour…”

For her birthday the colleagues in her office teamed together to bring in a batch of decadent, beautifully decorated cupcakes. Without hesitation she gathered them together to thank them profusely for their gesture and then explained that she wanted to share with them something very important to her. She proceeded to describe her goals of better health, fueling her body with whole, nutritious foods, and having better energy. Nowhere in her explanation would you find the words “can’t eat that” or “diet.” “Everyone enjoyed a cupcake for my birthday, and I didn’t have one because I just didn’t want to,” she said to me.
If it were another day, another time, and after assessing the situation she decided she would like to eat it, she would have.

My client is developing a new relationship with food….and with herself. She hit the nail on the head when she said she has never been more conscious. Think about what this means. Alive, awake, alert, paying attention. How many people do you know who really are that focused and attentive to what’s going on around them? Mindfulness is  what she is practicing– seeing her situations in full color, broad spectrum, and approaching them non-judgmentally. The word “seeing” is important here.  Consider seeing the words on a page. You view each letter, each word, and observe the sentences. If you look, you delve into the “meaning” of the words and the sentence they construct, and may be pulled into an emotion from reading the words. It’s the difference between being a copy editor and being the writer wrapped up in each character.  The difference is significant, and it can have a big influence on craving control.

Just today I received a tweet taking me to an article about the spiritual and physical meanings of cravings. A common myth is that cravings mean your body is lacking in some specific nutrients.  A craving implies a desire. Don’t confuse this with low blood sugar telling you that you need glucose for energy. You might have a craving for something sweet and you just ate a full meal. You are not requiring additional carbs at that point. In this case a craving would appear to be about a lack of satisfaction…a feeling of incompleteness. This is where mindfulness comes in handy.

You could get swept away by this craving, immediately begin searching for the chocolate on your co-workers’ desks and impulsively scrambling to find whatever is available to satisfy what feels like an uncomfortable restlessness OR you could recognize your craving (“Hmm…that’s an interesting sensation”); observe it and see it for what it is– “just a craving” with no emotion attached; and remind yourself that cravings are fleeting. They come and go. Just like emotion, the thought of wanting a certain food is transient– it changes. If you just watch it, rather than becoming attached to it and moving with it, you will notice it dissipates. I’ve had plenty of instances where I will think, “Mmm, I really want some frozen yogurt!” and if I get busy with something (distract myself) OR notice the thought and notice by body posture it becomes obvious that it’s not necessarily food that I need– it’s comfort or relaxation or a break from what I’m currently doing. When are the times I find myself most likely to crave something? When I’m anxious or frustrated or not wanting to be engaged in what ‘s right in front of me! When I’m attempting to push away what is here and now, I’m not being mindful. I’m not being present-focused. I’m not giving myself permission to be human and experience emotions and thoughts and realize at the same time, that they aren’t permanent. They’ll roll in like a wave and then roll right back out. Unless I decide to grab my surfboard and attach to one.

The next time you notice a craving, rather than telling yourself, “I can’t have that”, consider another approach. Say “Interesting. There’s that thought again. It’s not a part of me. I’m just going to watch it and see what happens. I don’t need to do or be anything right now but a fly on the wall of my mind.”

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