Your thoughts and feelings are a mirror of your soul.Sydney Banks
Have you got a PhD in self-help?
Have you read dozens of books and invested way more than dozens of dollars to ‘fix’ yourself, to try and stamp out the drive to overeat?
For those of us who are naturally introspective and interested in our own growth and healing, self-help makes sense. The generations before us didn’t have the luxury of introspection or the information available to them that we have now. Self-help, as we know it today, didn’t really start until the 1970s. There were a few books available earlier than this that we would now consider to be self-help books, like Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. But it was in the 70s that the movement really took off.
I became an adult in the 1990s and spent the next 30+ years devouring every self-help book I could find, taking classes and going to therapy, all with the aim of ‘fixing’ myself. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience.
In hindsight, all that self-help work I did meant that I became highly attuned to my ‘problems.’ I can spot a psychological hitch in my giddy-up from miles away. We know all the lingo. We’ve practiced the affirmations. We’ve (probably) done the exercises in the workbooks.
I remember one particular weight loss program I enrolled in that, at the time, was called The Solution. The course cost a couple thousand dollars, I seem to recall, and I was shipped a set of six or seven weighty manuals. They were textbook sized; thick and intimidating. The course involved weekly telephone classes (this was before online video classes became the norm) and a metric ton of practicing and homework. On top of that studying, along with a group of five or six others in the class, I organized a telephone study group which met once a week. There was also an exercise-/mantra-type thing that we were taught, and I practiced that several times an hour. Every hour. For months.
Additionally, for the year I was taking that training, I blocked off every Sunday to work on the course materials. I did nothing else for that year of Sundays but sit on my couch and work my way through those manuals and faithfully do the exercises within. They were designed to excavate buried or suppressed emotions, so I dug deep, holding nothing back and writing in my journal until my fingers ached. I was determined that the money I’d invested in that course would not go to waste and that I’d be able to heal my food addiction.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.
By the time the course was over, I was left feeling like there must be something really big that was wrong with me because the course had made little, if any, impact on my eating habits. Did that stop me from trying the next self-help program I found? No. Did it stop me from haunting the weight loss section of Vancouver’s metaphysical bookstore? No again.
I’d bet good money you can relate to this story and probably have one (or more) of your own.
Those of us who are introspective and who have a natural bent toward wanting to do better and improve our lives know how to work at that. We are dogged—relentless, really—when it comes to wanting to find peace within ourselves. And as I mentioned previously, there’s a perfectly natural and healthy reason for that: we have a natural drive to connect with our innate sense of peace.
However, what often happens is that drive to find peace takes us down the wrong road: it may create a habit of working really hard and looking diligently at the ‘problems’ we have, rather than helping us turn our attention toward unearthing the peace and well-being that is innate within us and always available to us.
The illustration below shows how the old self-help paradigm works.
In this old self-help paradigm, our focus is, innocently, on the problems we perceive that we have. Makes sense, right? If you’ve got a burned-out light bulb or a plugged toilet, focusing on those problems and working on them is what fixes them. So, if I feel there’s something wrong with me, then my best approach is to focus on that problem and try to fix it. This is only logical.
Additionally, my experience was that the more educated I became about personal growth and traditional (old paradigm) psychology, the more problems I could see in myself. My awareness of what was ‘wrong’ with me only made me more attuned to other issues I could potentially have.
There’s an expression I love that says, ‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.’ In the context of this chapter, if the only tool you have is the old paradigm of self-help, then everything we think and feel can look like a problem that needs to be fixed.
In the last few decades, it has become much more widely accepted, at least in Western culture, to talk about our ‘issues’ and how we’re going to therapy to work on ourselves. We’re all more educated about our feelings and about the language around human psychology. And, in a way, this is great. It’s certainly better than being emotionally shut down and repressed. But at the same time, when we’re almost entirely focused on our perceived brokenness, we’re looking in the wrong direction.
The inside-out understanding points us in a different direction.
This is a new paradigm of wholeness, rather than brokenness. Each of us, every human who has ever existed, is whole and well at our essence. We are incorruptible and have infinite access to resourcefulness, peace, and well-being. Even when we are ill or incarcerated or financially broke, the essence of who we are never changes.
When we stop thinking of ourselves as a conglomeration of wounds and problems stitched together like a quilt made of discarded pieces of clothing and instead turn toward our innate well-being, those problems we perceived begin to have less significance.
Healing the drive to overeat isn’t about finding all the things you believe are wrong with you and fixing them. It’s about coming to understand that there’s nothing wrong with you in the first place.
This is an excerpt from It’s Not About the Food, which is available in ebook, paperback, hardback and audiobook wherever you buy books. You can also ask for it in any of those formats at your local library.