I feel the need to place an Ethereal Disclaimer on this one. I realize that parts of it may be kind of “out there” for some, but I’m ok with that. Keep an open mind.
As my wise mother says - you never know!
I recently gave a couple of talks at my neighborhood grocery store for their Healthy Living Festival. My talks were on how to “undiet” your diet, wherein I focused on how we can choose a different path to food choices by examining our thoughts. I know. It’s not very sexy. In fact it’s actually pretty uncomfortable for most of us, especially when we are new at it. However, this can be a powerful tool in any health behavior change process –
THOUGHTS affect our ACTIONS and subsequent RESULTS.
Thoughts are the building blocks of beliefs, and beliefs are huge when we are attempting new behaviors and trying to remove behaviors that do not serve us. The good news is that the more we embrace the process of turning inward to examine our thoughts and feelings, the easier it becomes AND our actions will begin to change. Momentum can then build, helping us succeed in reaching our health goals.
Steps to changing your thoughts are to
1) notice what your thoughts are (we are largely unaware of what the brain is busy doing most of the time).
2) acknowledge that thoughts do not equal facts.
Begin by noticing what your thoughts are from a place of curiosity and in an attempt to gather information. When you notice thoughts that prevent you from moving forward with your health goal, challenge the thought. Ask yourself why you are accepting it as fact. Examine why you might have the thought. Is it based on the past? On someone else’s opinion? On your perception of someone else’s perception of you? This last one is something we commonly do, yet think about how little sense it makes and how much it holds us back.
There are multiple ways we can break out of our tendency to work from autopilot and become more mindful, one of which is dreams.
Dreams contribute to, and are evidence of, our underlying thoughts. Assessing your dreams is one way to see where you may be focusing your thoughts, and may help you become more aware of the thoughts you are having while you are awake. Thus, this examination is one tool that you can use to help you see why you may not be getting the results you would like with goals such as weight loss, healthier eating, smoking cessation, or regular exercise.
Dreams can help us:
- practice self-compassion.
- ease judgment.
- rectify disadvantageous thinking.
A few weeks ago, I had a vivid dream where an individual (we’ll call her Sue) was offering advice. Sue is someone who previously helped guide me in decisions. In my dream, Sue asked what I was doing these days, which is a common question people ask me since I resigned from my position at Cornell and moved back to Austin. I told her that I would be teaching an undergraduate class this spring in my old department (this is true). I explained to Sue that I was looking forward to it, that I had been preparing, and that I was excited about bringing in new ways of looking at the material. Sue proceeded to tell me all the ways it would be difficult, how insignificant it was to teach this class, how overwhelming it would be, and how my ideas for presenting content wouldn’t work.
Sue’s appearance reflected the way her advice made me feel. She was disheveled, her hair was greasy, and her face was scrunched up in that ever-so-annoying “I don’t know, it sounds unlikely, are you sure?” expression. Sue began to walk away while I was still talking, leaving me doing that whole “No, seriously, I am going to do this, and this, and I like this, etc.” song and dance, as my rationale fell on deaf ears.
In my dream and when I woke up, I had the same mental loop playing “Sue is not proud of me, she always thinks I’m incapable, she always criticizes, why does she make everything so difficult,” and on and on.
So who was the naysayer in my dream?
I’d like to say Sue. It is much easier to put the blame on someone else, to attribute my insecurities and lack of progress to an external source, rather than stopping to do the more difficult personal work to realize the truth.
But that naysayer in my dream was me.
In reality, Sue’s incredulousness was my own.
We often live as though the things playing out in our dreams are mini movies, something someone else creates for us to watch and sometimes act in. Dreams are usually just strange enough that we can’t directly relate them to reality, contributing to some feelings of detachment we may feel from them and from the evidence they may provide. But dreams are one way that we can help change our automatic thought processes.
Sure, we can consult a dream-meaning guide and see what some themes may represent. But I’m suggesting something else. We can also pay attention to what we ourselves do and say in the dreams, and what “others” do and say. What are our emotions? What are we accomplishing? What are we avoiding?
Additionally, by correctly identifying each person’s words and actions in your dreams (hint, they’re yours), you can more effectively take responsibility for your actions, rather than displacing the accountability to the various people in your life. This idea is tricky for some people to adopt, but there is a difference between taking responsibility for ourselves and blaming ourselves. We can help accomplish this when we turn inward with a sense of curiosity, rather than an agenda to decide who did what wrong, who should/shouldn’t have said something and what they should/shouldn’t have said. Looking to our dreams is a way to see our own perspectives on our life situations and the players in them. We typically work under the assumption that our perspectives are correct. By stopping to examine what’s going on when your mind is left to run unattended, it may help you in your journey to better health. This is another way to feel empowered rather than feeling like you are waiting to react.
Even if the events in your dreams do not directly relate to your health goals, they are interwoven with all realms of your life. If you are feeling insecure in one area, it may be affecting other areas. For instance, if you are feeling uneasy about a professional situation, it is likely that your nutrition goals will be affected. Perhaps you are preoccupied or stressed, or having feelings of anxiety or inadequacy.
We have all felt the snowball effect of negative thinking…I’m stressed about a work deadline…I always procrastinate…I will never get it all finished in time…I don’t even know how to do what I need to do…I am never going to get ahead in my job…I’m already behind and now I’ll never reach my goal…I can’t possibly take time to cook a healthy meal tonight, I’m too busy and stressed…I will just order a pizza so that I don’t have to think about dinner…even though I told myself I would be good this week…it’s only Monday….I’m never going to lose this weight if I keep eating take out every night…but I’m so stressed with this deadline…
And so goes the downward spiral.
Does this sound familiar? It’s worth entertaining the idea that the underlying stress you’re feeling is actually stemming from irrational and extreme thoughts. Thoughts that may not appear on the surface to be directly related to your healthy eating goals.
My challenge to you over the next week is to take a minute when you open your eyes to recall your dreams. If you can take the next step to write these things down, great. If not, that’s ok. Just try to take the step of increased awareness. Who were the people in your dreams? What did “they” say? What feelings came up for you when you were in your dream and after you awoke? Are your dreams obviously related to your health goals?
I hope you’ll leave comments with your own perspectives on this topic and how it affects your health.
Much love y’all,