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Body Wisdom

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:13am

I thought it would be fun to update you on my self-coaching process as I debunk my belief that I need to be superwoman/perfect/something unbelievably astonishing.  (As revealed in last week’s post.)  So here we are in Week Two of me reconnecting with myself, and I have to say, I’m loving it.  The reasons I’m re-learning this lesson are becoming quite clear, and once again, I am profoundly thankful for what would seem like a “bad” or “negative” experience.  The communication between my mind, body, and spirit are being strengthened beyond my wildest dreams, and I feel a deep sense of ease spreading throughout my being as I sink into this knowledge on a new level.

The funny thing about perfectionism is that it has many little tentacles that will spread into nooks and crannies and remain hidden, causing internal stress.  This also goes for other pressures you might be putting on yourself, even if you really don’t think you’re trying to be perfect. When I first speak with clients and ask them if they are perfectionists, they often tell me no.  “Oh, no,” they’ll say.  “My house is a wreck. My clothes are not stylish. Etc.”  When we dig deeper, though, there is often what I think of as “inward directed” perfectionism.  This is a very sneaky, deeply rooted belief underneath everything, telling you everything needs to be done well, or, you yourself need to be perfect in every aspect of your personality.  It could be a belief that you need to make everyone happy or pleased, or accomplish things in order to be a valuable human being.  There are many variations - you’ll have to find your own with a little mental detective work.

These tentacles of perfectionism have claws, and they will dig into your psyche and create havoc.  Talk about 24/7 stress!  Before you decide you aren’t doing this to yourself, really pay attention to your body and when you feel tension.  If you’re sitting there, completely alone, writing your novel, for example, and you notice your shoulders up to your ears, your pelvic floor in a state of contraction, or whatever else your body likes to do - then the culprit is almost definitely perfectionism in some form.  Look for where you are worrying about what others will think of what you do, and you will uncover the source of the pressure you put on yourself.

Many of us, myself included, have proudly worn the badge of perfectionism, considering it a strength - the kind of disguised strength you confess as a “weakness” at a job interview.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Perfectionism weakens your ability to listen to your essential self, your body, and steers you completely off course.

I’ll give you a few examples from my own newfound knowledge.  Last week, I talked about my running habit and how I had started upping mileage and literally running myself ragged.  Running, itself, is a perfectly healthy activity.  I really do love it.  However, I have not been running in the spirit of joy lately. Underneath this seemingly healthy activity was the drive to be perfect - always thinner, always faster, always farther.  I was literally afraid to take a day off of running.  That is where it crossed the line from an enjoyable activity to obsessive, stress-creating activity.  Since I’m very practiced at being a detective in my own thinking, I was able to spot this before I stressed myself into an even worse state of health.

I was literally running while also figuratively running - keeping myself busy, busy, busy and even feeling busy, searching for busy when there was a lull in the activity.  I’m still rolling my eyes at myself over that one - I’ve been here SO many times.  Why?  Well, because there’s this neat little physiological response our bodies give us when we are busy like that.  Our adrenal glands pump out adrenaline and we get cascades of feel-good chemicals in our brain.  I’ve never thought of myself as an adrenaline junkie, but I’m onto me now!

So, though the adrenaline crash has been less than fun, it is quite a bit more peaceful and relaxing to reset myself back to “normal” rather than “high.”  From here I can treat my body with respect because I am able to hear its messages.  I am willing, now that I’m not driving myself forward, to check in with my body and see what it wants.  You might think that would create instant sloth-like behavior - that’s what many of my clients are afraid of when I suggest listening to their bodies.  The truth is, though, after I recuperate from the hamster wheel life for a few days, my body doesn’t really want to lie around and imitate a vegetable.  I feel drawn to yoga, walking, being outside, swimming, and a variety of other activities.  I’m not drawn to overdo anything.  My body asks for vegetables and nuts and balanced nutrition.  It requests a little more sleep.  It’s quite reasonable, actually.  A lot more reasonable than my mind!

The most amazing thing of all is simply the wisdom of my body.  Often I can access this wisdom by feel.  Does a walk feel right?  Do I really want to eat chocolate right now?  My body has the answers.  I also use a fun technique I learned from Martha Beck.  I center my attention around any part of my body that doesn’t feel well or is carrying a lot of tension.  Then I ask that part of me what emotion it’s holding or what message it is trying to relay to me.  Try it - the body really does speak when we’re willing to listen.

I tapped into this body wisdom last week, settling into a comfy chair and letting the tense areas come into my consciousness.  I asked my body what it was trying to tell me.  I was hoping for a very detailed answer of what I should do, but the body is concise and straight to the point.  It took about a nanosecond for the message to pop into my mind.

“Stop running,” my body said.  In two words, it gave me the direction I needed to return to health and happiness.  I didn’t even have to ask it if I should stop running literally or figuratively.  The knowledge was just there, in my mind, instantly.  Stop running from my own fear.  Stop running my business and enjoy it, instead.  Stop running around constantly and settle down.  Stop running, literally, just for now.  Stop running and start living, again.

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