Letting go 08: making the emotional connection

Before my diet I only felt bad about being overweight when I caught a glimpse of my reflection.

Then I would feel bad, but the rest of the time it wasn’t really on my mind.

And eating? Eating was one of my great pleasures in life. I never felt bad about that!

Joining the dots

It wasn’t until I embarked on my search for a final answer to losing weight that I realised this didn’t add up.

How could I be happy about the way I ate but unhappy about my physical appearance, which was a direct consequence of the way I ate?

This is what led me to see that my body was merely reflecting something about my behaviour. I just hadn’t joined the dots or made that connection before.

I mean the emotional connection: it’s obvious that people diet to lose weight, and over-eating causes weight gain. What I mean by joining the dots is seeing the connection between feeling so bad about my weight, but feeling so good about eating.

Either I shouldn’t feel so bad about my weight, or I shouldn’t feel so good about eating. Something had to give in this emotional dynamic.

The hidden connection

When I feel bad about my circumstances in life, there must be something prior – something I enjoy or feel good about – that sets me up for that suffering.

The painful part of these circumstances is their unwantedness. It’s painful to notice conditions that are not the way I want them to be.

What is it that sets me up for this fall? What is it that feels good at the time, but leads me into situations that feel bad? What is it that feels enjoyable but shouldn’t if I could see the bigger picture?

Assertion

I’m going to call it “assertion” for now. It’s an inner assertion of control, wanting, grasping, or conditionality within me.

It’s as though I’ve put forward a claim or a demand on reality to be a certain way, and this leaves me sensitive to every contrary circumstance and change.

This is the part that doesn’t feel bad, yet sets me up to feel bad.

It’s not about desire or inspiration. Desire is implicit in our very experience of life. Desire is preference. Desire informs our personality and shapes our existence and our whole sense of wanted and unwanted.

Assertion is different. Assertion feels important in the same way that having a stake in something feels important. Assertion is like getting involved because you don’t trust others to do it right.

But like anything we do, it stems from a thought. Here the thought is negative and resistant. It’s the thought that I need to speak up or I’ll be overlooked. It’s the thought that things don’t work out for me so I need to get involved. It’s the thought that I can’t trust or rely on life to go well.

It’s the thought that by sticking my oar in I can steer this whole thing in a better direction.

False premise

These thoughts hinge on a false premise that uninspired effort and action will improve my life and make me feel better.

It’s a change in mode from inspiration, enjoyment and ease, to worry, control, and struggle.

That’s why unwanted circumstances feel like failure or loss. They push against this invisible force I’ve set up within myself, this effort of trying to assert my will on the world.

The big picture

We would all prefer life to unfold with ease. Inner assertion is, like over-eating was, an attempt to feel better that only succeeds in temporary escape by kicking the can down the road a little.

The attitude of taking things into my own hands feels temporarily empowering. But it comes at a cost of trust and faith in the goodness of God and the universe.

If I could trust instead, I wouldn’t need this assertion and control; and since assertion and control don’t work anyway, all I’m giving up is an illusion.

After all, if everything is working toward my good, then what sense does it make to say that some circumstances are wanted and some are unwanted?

That’s why the Abraham-Hicks teachings say that everything has both a wanted and unwanted aspect, depending on where we focus.

Refusing this dynamic

I think the way forward for me is to become aware of whatever lack of trust or faith moves me to assertion and control in the first place; just as I learned to become aware of the negative feelings that used to motivate my escape into over-eating.

All it takes is to decline the false promise of escape, and the whole dynamic will start to lose momentum and wind down.

Let go of the urge to control, and the frustration of unwanted conditions will go too. Stop endorsing the underlying thought of negativity and dissatisfaction, and trust and faith will return.

Letting go 07: inspiration only?

The Abraham-Hicks teaching is simply to feel better by focusing on things that feel better.

Sounds a bit too simple, but it makes sense and with practice you’ll wonder why you used to give so much attention to things that feel bad.

The teachings go a lot deeper, but keeping it simple benefits us.

Speaking of going deeper: I’m excited at the thought of mastering this practice, and I’m proud of the breakthroughs I had on the subject of dieting before I even got into the A-H teachings.

I want to have as much clarity around everyday life and focus as I did on that subject.

Focus

Yesterday’s post made real progress. Today I want to observe more closely how my focus changes moment by moment, and the feeling-result of those changes.

Recently I’ve been inspired by the thought of living in the city. I’ve been looking at beautiful apartments and townhouses and just appreciating how enjoyable it would be to live in one of them with my family.

This is clearly inspiration. It feels amazing, and I naturally relish all the little details that pop into my head. Images and feelings and ideas keep occurring to me, and they all feel like relief, eagerness, appreciation, but stronger than that: they feel gratifying.

I’m looking at pictures of luxury penthouses and feeling gratified that such places exist.

Inspiration

So that’s inspiration. It wells up within me, doesn’t take effort, feels intrinsically rewarding, and simply excites me.

That inspiration should be my standard and my aim. Not living in a penthouse, but allowing inspiration to flow all the time and never cut it off or quash it. If inspiration flows toward thoughts of luxury penthouses, go with it. Don’t judge, don’t criticise, don’t overthink it.

Learning to let inspiration in is the skill here. It’s not about taking action to make the inspired goal a reality. It’s not about critiquing the goal to find a more “realistic” version of it. It’s about the inspiration itself.

Inspiration is the experience of alignment. Like being in love, appreciation, joy; these positive emotions are a sign of alignment with God/inner being.

Misalignment

Knowing what inspiration feels like, we know how it feels when we quash inspiration. It feels bleak, heavy, slow, stressful, effortful, and frustrating.

Inspiration is quashed when we focus on thoughts that contradict it. Or perhaps a better way of saying it is that inspiration has its own path and flow, and we lose it when we step outside it and focus on uninspiring things.

I started writing this morning, and my son was a bit grumpy and reluctant to go to school. I didn’t want to yell or push or coerce him to hurry up, so we took our time and got to school quite late.

The whole time, I was conscious that there was no inspiration in the dynamic or the drama of getting him ready. In other words this activity wasn’t worthy of much attention from me. Inspiration was not flowing there.

I don’t have an answer to that situation right this minute, but I have an intention to let more inspiration into my life around this subject of morning routine; and I’m already appreciating that the situation didn’t go badly.

A new rule?

For my diet I devised a rule of only eating when I was genuinely hungry, which for me meant only when I felt I couldn’t keep going without some immediate sustenance.

Perhaps there’s a new rule brewing here, to only follow my inspiration?

Letting go 06: open to inspiration

My diet started to work when I realised I was eating to escape from negative feelings already in me, and that eating to escape just kicked the can down the road a little. I would end up with more negative feelings plus feeling unwell and being overweight.

I see the same dynamic at play when I cling to manifestations. I cling to manifestations to escape from negative feelings already in me.

The diet analogy

For my diet to work I focused on my body’s signs of genuine hunger, and treated everything else as “fake hunger”.

When I felt the desire to eat but without genuine hunger, I paid attention to the feelings that were motivating me. Just by feeling those feelings my desire to escape into food diminished.

But I also began looking for more healthy sources of enjoyment. I started to ask “what would I like to do?”, rather than just indulging in food.

I began to appreciate how clear and light I felt when I wasn’t escaping into food. Although it was daunting to live without the comfort of extra eating, it was also new and different for me, and this brought me hope of a better way of living and relating to food.

Everything is like this

When I cling to manifestations, that means I focus on manifest reality with an expectation that it make me feel better (escape) followed by disappointment and frustration when it fails.

Just like my old eating habits: eating to escape didn’t bring lasting escape at all. It was a failing strategy, and when I became aware of it I gradually grew unwilling to persevere with the same flawed approach.

If I approached all of reality with the same insight, I would have to see the whole dynamic: chasing manifestations to escape feeling bad, feeling bad anyway because manifestations refused to do what I wanted, feeling disenchanted and cynical until a new escapist idea emerged.

Chasing manifestations

Every mystic, including the Abraham-Hicks teachings, says that we need to find a place of happiness and satisfaction in God, our inner being, rather than chasing conditions and circumstances.

For us that might sound like giving up on our dreams and desires and worldly conditions. But the whole point is that we can’t really use these things to make us happy anyway.

Using food as an escape from feeling bad is no different from using manifestations as an escape. Later, when we’re feeling frustrated and disappointed and sad, that’s the manifestation equivalent of feeling bad about your weight or your eating habits.

But what about genuine hunger?

What is the manifestation equivalent of genuine hunger? I think it is inspiration. When an idea inspires you, you just enjoy that inspired feeling. You don’t need to do anything or make anything happen.

Inspiration arises spontaneously, and it may be prompted by manifestations but it is independent.

The more aligned with God we are, the more we feel inspiration calling us and uplifting us. We also become less and less willing to take uninspired actions.

Open to inspiration

The best we can do therefore is to be open to inspiration in our daily lives, while resisting the urge to use action and manifestation to escape negative feelings.

Learn to recognise the negative feelings that come before our escape attempts. Understand with compassion that we have been running from these feelings, but can now look for a better response.

The better response is to look for inspiration instead, knowing that the more we look for and tune into it, the more we will find.

Happiness Day 13

Chasing your shadow.

Today I’ve been caught up in the parallels between my approach to weight loss, and my current efforts to improve my life by feeling better.

I like my weight-loss approach because it cut out all my uncertainty and confusion, but also took me deep into my own motivations and feelings around eating.

I like it because it took something that was simply a struggle and showed me the cross-purposes in my own mind, hidden behind self-deception.

Most of all I liked it because it worked. That’s why I’m applying the same process and intensity to my goal of feeling better.

Reality is a shadow

Chasing your shadow means mistaking the effect for the cause, the symptom for the underlying disease. In the context of weight loss I learned to stop focusing on being overweight as an undesirable state, because it was really just the symptom or effect.

The real issue was my relationship with food. I even went so far as to say that being overweight was a healthy physical response to unhealthy eating habits.

I viewed my weight as always good, always a clear indicator of my relationship with food.

What was undesirable was not my weight but my approach to eating.

Reality is like your body weight

By analogy my experience of life is always a clear indicator of my relationship with God, my inner being, the spirit within me.

Because God is always reaching out to us. Our inner being is always pouring love and appreciation into us. And this spiritual reality would colour and infuse our whole existence and physical reality if we stopped turning away from it and clinging to unwanted things.

I’ve seen it today in my own mind: I may be feeling peace and happiness and appreciation, but then I reach for thoughts of worry and deadlines and “I need to get the kids dressed in the next twenty minutes or we’ll be late!”

What do I get out of it?

My relationship with food changed when I realised I didn’t like being overweight, but part of me quietly, determinedly, wanted to eat as an escape and distraction from unpleasant feelings.

Losing weight was always a struggle because I was wanting contradictory things and hiding the conflict from myself.

So by inference there must be something I want to get from feeling bad. I must want to focus on bad feeling thoughts even while I’m trying to focus on good feeling thoughts.

Why?

Well perhaps it’s because feeling bad, worried, and stressed gives the illusion of safety.

Feeling crappy all the time might be draining, but it’s much better than walking unawares into danger.

At least, in any given moment it’s much much better to feel worried and vigilant than to be caught by surprise and feel the sudden shock and terror or hurt or panic at being accused, threatened, ridiculed, or tricked by others.

In other words, thoughts that feel bad might help us approach situations with caution and self-protective guardedness.

But as a long term strategy the cost is too great. And since we create our reality it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If I imagine letting go of that guardedness and protective cynicism I do indeed feel afraid of something worse. Better to get hit when you’re expecting it than to go down to a sucker-punch.

But it’s much much worse to go through life flinching at every imagined blow.

I think the way forward is to face the fear of being open and unsuspecting of harm, and not seek to avoid that fear by dampening my happiness.

It might be intimidating at first but it will also be a huge relief to own the fear directly rather than taking so many demoralising efforts to avoid it.

The Happiness Challenge

A couple of years ago I wrote a super-intense, psychologically-driven diet book.

The heart of the diet was making a commitment to only eat when you are genuinely hungry, and only eat enough to sate that need for physical nourishment.

The rest of the book was about understanding why this approach works, and finding clarity around our true motivations for eating.

If you commit to the rule of only eating for nourishment, then it immediately becomes clear how often we are eating for other reasons, typically as an escape from unpleasant emotions. Excessive body weight is then best understood as just a by-product or symptom of eating for these other reasons.

Isn’t happiness the same?

Today it hit me that my desire to feel good is very very similar to my approach to diet.

The underlying premise is that we are meant to feel good, and that we would naturally feel good if we weren’t doing something to interfere with this natural state.

Just like we would naturally arrive at a healthy body weight if we weren’t interfering with our appetite, using food and the experience of eating as an escape from feeling bad.

The most confronting moment in my diet journey was contemplating a future of never again using food as an escape. It was an incredibly daunting thought, but I gradually saw that it was the next logical step for me. And so I resigned myself to fundamentally changing how I related to food.

The same sense of a daunting, yet logical next step is now arising in the context of happiness. Because I know from experience that I can feel good simply by focusing on better-feeling thoughts like contentment and appreciation.

And I know in theory that my circumstances cannot prohibit me from finding better-feeling thoughts.

So the situation is simple: I can choose, if I will, to focus on better-feeling thoughts all of the time.

Making a commitment

It’s a bit like committing to get up early every morning and do some exercise.

The next logical step is that I commit myself to make better-feeling thoughts my rule, and view worse-feeling thoughts as exceptional, accidental setbacks.

Without this commitment I’m liable to continue haphazardly feeling good when I remember to, and making little overall change to my consistent emotional state.

At first it’s going to take some effort, because I’m accustomed to just letting my mind wander all over the place.

But to be honest I prefer an “all or nothing” approach over an incremental one.

If this process continues to mirror my diet journey I’ll likely break my commitment a number of times over the next few days and maybe weeks.

Yet each time I break it, I’ll reinforce my intention to stay on track.

Discovering what a happy life looks like

Part of what kept me so intensely motivated during my diet journey was that I had never really been in the “normal” weight range as an adult. I’d always been 10-20 kgs overweight.

So I was inspired by my desire and curiosity to experience life differently, to see what it was like to finally be in the normal BMI range.

Once I got there and maintained it for a year or so the inspiration ran out, and other demands like a new baby changed my eating habits.

The old resolve is hard to recapture, because I already accomplished that body weight goal. I’m not curious about it anymore.

But I am profoundly curious and inspired to see what life will look like when I am consistently happy and feeling good.

Happiness is harder to measure than body weight, but my experience has shown me that small improvements make a big difference.

I also have faith that how we feel is intrinsic to the creation of our reality and the shaping of our individual experience of life.

When you feel really good, bad or irritating or disappointing things cannot insert themselves into your reality anymore.

Feeling good….feels good!

Finally, it’s actually very sensible to learn how to feel good all the time, because feeling good feels good after all!

And on reflection it’s actually deeply silly that we spend so much time either fixating on things that feel bad, or simply letting our attention drift and gravitate into whatever old patterns we have already formed.

It feels bad to feel bad, so why do it if you don’t have to?

Weight loss and happiness

It’s been over a year since I published The Weight-Loss Paradox: an enlightened approach to body weight and diet.

I reread the book recently and what struck me was how intense it is. It’s like a concentrated dose of all the principles and ideas that helped me lose weight and change how I was eating.

Reading it again helped me get back in that mindset, and to appreciate what an intense period of reflection it was.

Ultimately any major behavioural change requires a lot of focus and energy. What made this approach work for me?

Above all it’s about clarity – clarity of purpose and clarity of method. It’s much easier to commit to a path when you know for certain that this path is the right one.

Looking back on it, I can’t say that it’s the definitive approach and I doubt that any approach to diet and weight loss will work if you can’t find it within yourself to focus and change.

It doesn’t matter how straight the path if you refuse to walk it.

In hindsight what I would most like to explore in greater depth is the relationship between our motivation to change, and the need to find sources of happiness other than eating.

I touched on it in the book, but my own motivation was already well established by that stage. For people who are reading, rather than writing, the book – is it really enough to just look for alternative sources of pleasure and enjoyment?

I think next time around I would make this question more central, because I don’t think it’s a coincidence that eating too much goes hand-in-hand with insufficient sources of happiness and enjoyment.

Many of us think we would be happy if we lost weight, but it’s likely the other way around: we would lose weight if we were happy.

And to achieve happiness we need something more than just a change to our eating habits.

What if we made happiness central to our lives, trusting that issues like body weight and lifestyle choices would gradually shift?

After all, over-eating and being overweight are not the happiest experiences in life. As I get deeper into positive-thinking it seems obvious that we overeat partly because we don’t know how to treat ourselves better.

A diet for the mind

I was pretty impressed with my approach to weight loss a couple of years ago, so much so that I wrote a book about it.

One aspect of the diet I remember well is the discipline that came naturally, once I understood they underlying problem. It wasn’t easy, and there was a definite progression to it, but at least it wasn’t arbitrary discipline, or discipline for its own sake.

I remember realising that if I wanted to lose weight I couldn’t afford to eat mindlessly anymore. I couldn’t eat and lie to myself about why I was eating.

In every instance I was either eating because I needed sustenance, or eating for some other motive like pleasure or escapism. Being honest with myself about the motive was the essence of discipline.

Positive thinking

I’m beginning to appreciate that the same kind of discipline is required for “positive thinking” work.

In parallel to the simple dichotomy of food that is either for sustenance or in excess of sustenance (and therefore contributing to weight gain), all thoughts can be categorised as either better-feeling or worse-feeling.

The thought of monitoring every single thought seemed excessively burdensome at first, but this sense of burden was, appropriately, indicative of a negative thought…

It turns out that monitoring every thought, paying attention to the thoughts I am thinking and the feelings that derive from them, is not easy but like a physical diet it instills a positive sense of control and direction.

If eating mindlessly perpetuates the status quo of body weight, so thinking mindlessly perpetuates an emotional set-point.

But if you only eat for sustenance, inevitably your body weight will return to normal. And if you only think thoughts that feel good, inevitably your emotional set-point will attain a net positive.

Promoting The Weight-Loss Paradox

If you have an idea you believe in, all you can do is trust that others will believe in it too, find it beneficial, and then it will succeed.

“Success” is just short-hand for your plans coming to fruition. My plan was to write a short book that describes how I used my skills in philosophy to lose weight.

It won’t help everyone, but I believe enough people will find it worthwhile, insightful, and refreshingly honest.

All I can do beyond that point is try to make people aware of it. I’ve never been big on marketing or social media, so bear with me.

My first step has been to create a Facebook page for the book, which you can find here:

I’ll keep it updated with key ideas and concepts from the book, and other thoughts that helped me arrive at the answers to the weight-loss problem.

My first non-fiction ebook!

When I tell people I’ve been writing a diet book they’re typically speechless.

I choose to interpret their reaction as one of awestruck silence.

Awestruck is incidentally how I felt when I came across the photograph that now adorns the cover of my new ebook, The Weight-Loss Paradox: an Enlightened Approach to Body Weight and Diet.

I’m also pretty proud of the book itself. It’s not a long book at only 14,000 words, but it’s the culmination of several years of thinking about body weight and the psychology and ethics of eating.

But more than anything it reflects my own success in using my insights and reasoning as a philosopher to help me lose weight without trying. That is, I lost 20kg without feeling like I was trying to lose weight, and I did it in the firm conviction that if I truly understood the whole dynamic of eating and body weight it would change my mind, my relationship with food, and my whole life.

A quick shout-out to my former PhD supervisor Dr John Quilter: this probably isn’t the continuation of my work on free will, intellectualism and voluntarism you were expecting, but on the other hand I bet it’s the only diet book in existence that explicitly asserts “To know the good is to do the good!”

Like anything in life, this book won’t be for everyone. But if you or someone you know is thoroughly sick of the confusion and mixed-messages surrounding dieting and weight loss, or despondent and demotivated at the very thought of losing weight, my book may be exactly what you need.

I’ve been overweight for more than half my life, all my adult life until now. At my worst I was over 100kgs, right at the cusp of obesity according to my BMI (Body Mass Index). I’m now well into the normal range, and my weight stays consistently at or under 85kg.

In hindsight, I used to be someone who valued the enjoyment of eating so highly that I would never turn down good food unless I was physically incapable of eating it. I never understood people who could say no to a second helping of something delicious, or who could refuse a treat. I never even imagined I could be one of those people.

I finally found an approach to eating that makes sense, and I gradually changed my eating habits. I still enjoy food, and I still occasionally overeat. But most of the time my eating habits reflect my body’s actual needs in that moment. Isn’t that the ideal?

But for me the best part is that it’s not about weight anymore. In fact my weight loss really took off when I stopped thinking about it, and focused instead on the deeper motivations and dynamic that was driving my dysfunctional attitude to food.

In the end, being overweight was a symptom of that dysfunctional relationship with food. Weight loss is such a struggle because we expend most of our energy fighting a symptom instead of looking at the root cause.

The Weight-Loss Paradox: an Enlightened Approach to Body Weight and Diet is available exclusively on amazon kindle. If you don’t have a kindle, you can download a free kindle app that lets you read kindle ebooks on your PC or Mac, android or iOS devices. So you can buy the book at Amazon and then download it to the app on your preferred device.