For as long as I can remember, Autumn has always been my favourite time of year. I love the turning of the season from summer, which is very hit and miss here in Ireland, to Autumn, which you can really see and feel. The air turns crisp, but it's still bright and fresh. As a perennial student, I must love school! I can still remember my first day of school, skipping in the front gate holding hands with my best friend. We were completely fearless and I have enjoyed school (for the most part) ever since, which is probably why I love teaching so much. So September always feels like the beginning of my year, much more so than January.
Henry David Thoreau
Though last January I did something a little different. Instead of committing to a list of new years resolutions, or indeed even just one noble pursuit, I chose a word to inform my year. I did this because I do love new years resolutions and the magical idea of fresh beginnings, but I am completely hopeless at sticking to them. In my youth I really struggled with lent and I am ashamed to admit I never managed to keep it up. So instead of feeling like a bit of a failure, yet again, I chose a word to inform my actions and intentions as I thought this would be easier. Little did I know what I was getting myself into....
I planted this tree from a Lemon pip a couple of years ago and I love to see how much its grown from a tiny seed that we usually discard...
The word I chose for this year was 'grow', and magically (or not so magically) I became pregnant, started this mission of mine to help others learn to love their body and enjoy food, started writing a book, doing a phd and growing emotionally and spiritually. It has truly been quite a journey so far!
It seems like this one word has informed everything I've done and its been so enjoyable.
Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
I'm sharing this with you because I believe there is always space to grow and learn and the best position to do this from is one of understanding that we don't know. I stumbled across Socrates' sentiment “Wisest is she who knows she does not know”, when I was about 13 and gifted the book Sophie's World, which is a marvellous book at any age. Many years later, during my training as a psychoanalyst, I came again to understand the importance of allowing space for not knowing, and privileging that position. I think this is what has fuelled my appetite to grow and to never stop learning.
With all this in mind, I have two things I would like to share with you this week:
The first is this: don't think you know it all when it comes to losing weight.
When they first come to meet me, my weight loss clients always say the same thing: "I know it all. I've tried everything and I know exactly what I should be doing, I just need some help with motivation".
But a position of certainty doesn't allow any space for lasting change!
While I haven't come across this professionally, I'm sure you've all herd that trite adage:
'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!'
Well, doesn't this aptly fit with dieting?
So please, this week, let go of all the old inhibiting ideas you're holding on to about weight loss and diets. They haven't worked so far and they are not serving you. Forget about the 'I have a slow metabolism...' or 'being overweight is in my genes...' or 'the only way to lose weight is to stick to some strict diet and deny myself the foods I love...'. What rubbish. The latest scientific research proves that biology is not destiny. There are plenty of people with the 'obesity gene' who are not overweight. Fact.
Isn't time you changed your story and thoughts around losing weight and allowed for the idea that you may not know it all?!
The second thing I'd like to share with you, I think perhaps is the most important lesson I've learned in my life so far, and it's one my wonderful clients have taught me as I opened my eyes this year to growing and not just in an academic fashion (which historically has been my predilection).
The second thing is to love yourself.
Love and treat yourself like you love and treat those special people in your life; your children, family, dearest friends, and pets if you happen to have the privilege of sharing your home with a furry friend! Self love is not a narcissistic pursuit, is a necessary baseline for feeling good, enjoying life and enjoying others. Looking good is a happy consequence.
Luther & Pip
For some of you this may be more challenging than others, and it can take a bit of effort to begin with, but allowing yourself to look in the mirror and focus on the good bits, not the flaws is a lovely start. Instead of honing in on the thing you did wrong, focus for a couple of seconds on the thing you did right. When we love and respect ourselves we are much more inclined to do things that serve us, like eating well, minding our physical health and believing we can achieve our goals.
Recent research within the field of Positive Psychology has a lot to contribute to this idea of being in a position of self love which actually facilitates feeling happy and achieving your goals.
Now if you ask someone why they are unhappy they will usually tell you something that is going on in their external world, or they'll say its because of their genes- that they have a family history of depression, or obesity or a neurochemical imbalance. If we were in a science class right now, this is exactly what we would be taught: You are a result of your genes and your environment.
But when positive psychologists studied happiness, they actually discovered a very different picture. What they found was that if they knew everything about your external world; how much money you make, where in the world you live, what your education level is, whether your married or not, have kids or not.... with all this information combined, short term happiness is very easy to predict.
If you eat a chocolate bar, you feel happier and five minutes later you may think 'why did I do that?!'
But when looking at long term levels of happiness: your happiness, your joy and your meaning over days weeks, months and years, having all that external information combined, psychologists can only predict 10% of the variability of happiness amongst people! 90% of long term happiness is not about your external circumstances, its about how the human brain processes the world you find yourself in.
How you process the life you have, the size you are and most importantly, your relationship with yourself, is to do with the position you take up in the world, not your circumstances. If you change the lens through which you view the world and your experience of it, you will actually dramatically increase your level of happiness, wellbeing and self love.
Unfortunately most people follow a formula for happiness and success that's actually scientifically broken and backwards, which actually limits both happiness and success. Most people think "if I can just work harder right now, then I'll be successful" or "as soon as I achieve my desired weight then I'll be much happier".
Think about how often we do that! "As soon as I lose the weight I'll feel good about myself"...or "as soon as I fit into that outfit I'll like myself"... or "as soon as I meet the right partner I'll feel happier"...
In each one of those moments, happiness is on the opposite side of success.
The problem is, every time you achieve your goal your brain changes the goal posts of what your desire looks like. So if you achieve your desired weight, you suddenly feel you need to lose more!
So we need to turn the formula on its head.
What psychologists have found is that when the brain is in a position of feeling positive, our ability to achieve our goal or desired outcome improves dramatically.
A lot of people think that happiness can be reduced to genes and their environment, but research proves that its absolutely not true.
You can deviate from your genes and your environment if you commit to just two minutes a day.
Positive psychologists conducted an experiment with a group of people who were potentially 'genetic pessimists'. People who had been practicing pessimism their whole lives and at the time of the experiment, were in the middle of the recession, so they had lots to feel down about! They were required to record three things that they were grateful for every morning for 21 days. By the end of the experiment they had 63 things that they were grateful for, which is robust, but not the point.
The point is happiness is a pattern within the brain and you can actually learn to be in a state of happiness. Not if you do isolated bursts of changes in your life, but by actually creating positive patterns in your daily experience.
As the pessimists started their day thinking of three things they were grateful for, their brain got 'stuck'. They started scanning the world, not just for the fires they need to put out, or what they feel they were lacking, but also for the things that provided meaning. They had begun to create a happiness advantage. This resulted in their health and well being improving, their relationships improving and their ability to achieve their goals improving.
So what the researchers found was that by getting people to think of three things they were grateful for over the course of 21 days, they literally trained their brains to become more optimistic. This shift dramatically changed their experience of their world and facilitated them to much more easily achieve their goals.
Would you believe that you can do this with 4 year old children, and 84 year old grumpy men! Whats truly amazing is, if you chose to do this, your levels of happiness and optimism will rise above your genetic set point and indeed deviate from your environment. This is so powerful because people really believe that they cant move beyond their situation. But you absolutely can!
With this in mind, I want you to start by consciously shifting to a position of gratitude and happiness in order to allow for some self love. It's time to create some new thought patterns...
So for the next twenty one days I want you to commit to this experiment:
- Each morning wake up and before you get out of bed, I want you to count ten things that your thankful for, one on each finger. The key here is to really feel the good feelings of gratitude as you do this. I also want at least five of those things to pertain to you, what your thankful for about yourself, both physical and mental.
Ten is more than three, but I just know that you can find lots of things to feel thankful for!
This may be challenging at first, but go with it. Just by committing to this one simple, and I must say truly lovely, exercise you will begin to notice a shift in your thoughts as you start to move from being negative about yourself and your body, to being kinder and more respectful.
Good things will come from this, I promise you!
Give it a go and do get in touch and let me know how you get on, you may be surprised at what you discover about yourself.
If you're interested in the free Artful Eating mini course, sign up for it either at the top or bottom of this page, its packed with lots of actionable information to help you start to make the right changes and achieve the body you desire without dieting!
To feeling good and embracing changes,