‘If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.’
Have you watched TV programs like Downsize Me? I really enjoy watching this! People who lead unhealthy lifestyles are given a ‘lifestyle makeover.’ They usually end up losing weight and finding more happiness by the end of the show. Obviously they do make great strides over the two months they are being followed by the cameras, but I often wonder how many of these people go back to their old unhealthy ways once the TV cameras have left. The trouble is that these kind of programmes focus on external things – diet, exercise, giving up smoking – but they don’t address the inner world of the individuals they are seeking to treat. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with eating better, giving up smoking, drinking less and doing more exercise, but there’s something deeper here.
The mind-body connection
The connection between mind and body is becoming more accepted in mainstream medicine. If you think about it, this connection is pretty obvious. When you get excited or nervous or panicky, that feeling starts in your mind but has an immediate effect on your body. When you fall in love, you can feel it in your body. When you watch a sad movie, you might start to cry. When you find out you’ve won the lottery or got an ‘A’ grade on an exam, your heart will start to beat faster and you’ll feel all sorts of other physical effects.
R. Veenhoven carried out a scientific study of the effects of happiness on health and concluded that happy people are less likely to get sick and that they live longer. The difference between happy and unhappy people was comparable to the difference between smokers and non-smokers in terms of life span. Veenhoven’s findings can be found in The Journal of Happiness Studies (yes there really is a scholarly journal about happiness!)
We all run on subconscious programmes. It’s how we manage to survive in the world. If we had to think about everything we did, we wouldn’t be able to function – there would simply be too much to think about! Our subconscious takes control of much of our life so that, in essence, we are running on autopilot. Examples of these habitual patterns are being untidy, being late and being poor. All these things come from the subconscious mind. Being sick is also a subconscious habit. I’m not suggesting that all sickness has its origin in the mind (though it might, and many people believe this), but we all know people who constantly get sick, and if they were ever healthy for more than a few months, their subconscious mind would find a way of getting back on track by bringing along an illness of some kind.
Our subconscious scripts often come from our childhood and they were developed because they gave us an advantage. The benefits of being sick, as a child, are that (for example) people will pay more attention to you, you might get a day off school, you might get some special treats or you’ll get treated better than your siblings. I’m sure we all remember the sheer joy of days off school as a child because of some minor ailment. When we grow up, these scripts stay with us. Sometimes they can still confer an advantage on us – maybe we still get attention from our family or a day off work – but they may also be problematic and destructive to our lives.
The strange thing is that many of us (most of us, in fact) don’t realize this is what’s happening. We are not even aware of the autopilot and think that things are happening to us, and not that we are controlling the way things turn out. But the reality is that we are in control and we do have a choice.
How to re-script your subconscious
Viktor Frankl wrote that ‘between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’
In that space, we can create ourselves anew. We need the right kind of self-talk. We talk to ourselves all day long, so we need to make sure we are saying the right things. We also see ourselves in certain scenarios in our mind’s eye. We need to make sure these visualizations are of what we want to achieve, how we want to feel and what sort of person we want to be. Ultimately, we are trying to construct a good self image. When we have clear image of the person we intend to be in our mind, then our subconscious will start to run that script and the image will become reality. A change in our mind will work its way out.
We need to take responsibility for our lives. Forcing ourselves to endure exercise and eat salad whilst all the time telling ourselves that we are unhealthy and unable to really change will get us nowhere. We need to do it the other way round – start off with the belief that we are fit and healthy, and this will become part of our reality. Spending a lot of time on our mental preparation makes all the difference to our success or failure. Sharpening the axe will make it a lot easier to cut down the tree.