How much does the body know?

Every now and then, one comes across a book or article on the theme “The Body Doesn’t Lie.”  This is an interesting idea, although I’m not sure how one would phrase questions in body English for a definitive polygraph test.  My own observations lead me to believe that the body does have its own ways of expressing emotion-like things ranging from giddy happiness to disgust to despair.

This started when I asked the question “When was the last time my body felt happy, and what was going on at that time?”  I don’t know how to go about answering that question, because things can change dramatically in very little time.  I can wake up with a backache, feel at ease half an hour later while reading a book and sipping coffee, and grumble about cold feet when trying to fall asleep.

A better question, perhaps, is “When was the last time my body was consistently happy?”

This question is probably not answerable in an empirical sense, owing to the subjectivity of happiness itself.  Depending on context, the same sensation can have wildly different interpretations.  In the context of running a race, the soreness and exhaustion may be barely noticeable.  In the context of running for the bus, and seeing it pull away, a stitch in the side or a spasm in a calf muscle can ruin the whole morning.

What’s obvious from this phenomenon is that someone, or something, isn’t telling the whole truth.  The mind-body connection is a kludge, held together by external events, perceptions, and a mixture of good intentions and wishful thinking.  At the same time, this inconsistent mess suggests that the connection can be easily hacked.

Let me say that again:  Easily hacked.  Something that can be subverted by a bus arriving a minute early can be exploited with deliberate effort.

In order to make this work, though, it’s not enough to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and babble noble affirmations at oneself.  There has to be an anchor in reality, something as real as the sign at the bus stop, as real as the tail lights of the bus receding in the distance.  Good intentions are not enough:  If they aren’t believable and aren’t believed, they won’t lead to lasting change.

What is needed here is something tangible, something measurable.  A consistent daily habit, which contains repeated physical actions, is both tangible and measurable.  Individual actions are good for a start, but unless they’re strung together into a pattern there isn’t really anything to measure.  An ethos can provide a framework, a standard to live up to, and provide a context for things that don’t lend themselves to habit formation.

Where to go with all of this?  How can this be used to clean up all the junk data that corrupts the connection between mind and body?  I propose the following:

  • First and foremost, no more hiding from the truth.  Problems have to be accurately assessed, through objective measurements if possible.  Tired?  Not enough sleep.  Why?  Went to bed too late.  Why then, and not an hour earlier?  Drank coffee in the evening.  Ask “Why?” over and over again, enumerating all the facets of the problem and owning up to one’s participation  therein.  That coffee didn’t drink itself.  There was a reason you went out to buy it.  Keep asking.
  • Next, fix what you can, when you can.  Very few things can be fixed all at once.  Give yourself credit for the efforts you do make, even if those efforts don’t bear visible fruit.  One pushup won’t cause muscles to visibly sprout everywhere, but it’s a behavioural change that supports greater things.  Choose things that take you in the right direction, even if by only a single step.  Keep choosing.
  • Finally, keep it simple.  Don’t over-analyze.  Don’t over-commit.  Be selective and consistent in action, and don’t spread yourself too thin.  One change that sticks is infinitely better than 100 scattershot attempted fixes that were abandoned due to lack of time, lack of effort, lack of caring.

And that, I think, is what drives a lot of problems:  Not caring enough to solve them.  It’s hard to find the emotional stuff to move forward if you’re simultaneously worrying about half a dozen other things.  Note the other things and then push them off to the side, with the understanding that you’ll worry about them later, after you’ve dealt with the most pressing situation.  Just as a drained battery can’t start a car, a drained individual can’t turn over the engine of one’s life.  Use jumper cables if necessary, but make sure that the engine has the power to keep going.


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