Are you unhappy with your body? Do you wish you were faster, stronger, bigger or leaner? Do you long to be one of those neon-clad runners who pound the pavement at the crack of dawn and actually enjoy themselves while doing it? Do you wish you didn’t love ice cream, cheese, chocolate and salt-and-vinegar chips so much?
I’ve got good news for you.
Evan Thompson, a philosophy of mind professor at the University of British Columbia who recently published a neuroscience paper on the concept of what we perceive to be our ‘self’, has discovered that “the brain and body is constantly in flux. There’s nothing that corresponds to the sense that there’s an unchanging self.” Now, this doesn’t mean that one day you’ll spontaneously grow bigger bicep muscles and develop cravings for kale and wheatgrass smoothies – but it does verify what Buddhists have believed for ages; that our self is ever-changing and that we are not our thoughts.
“Buddhists argue that nothing is constant, everything changes through time, you have a constantly changing stream of consciousness,” Thompson explains in this article. He found evidence that “self-processing in the brain is not instantiated in a particular region or network, but rather extends to a broad range of fluctuating neural processes that do not appear to be self-specific.”
So what does this have to do with health and fitness?
“There is tremendous liberation in not identifying ourselves with thoughts, or a set idea of who we are,” writes Lori Chandler at BigThink.com. “It is then that we can grow and change, with the help of neuroplasticity. There is then hope that we can overcome our vices or bad habits (of mind and body), because if we aren’t stuck with the self-limiting beliefs inherent with a consistent self, we may orient ourselves toward becoming more of who we want to be.”
I’ve written before about how you can change the perception you have about your body by thinking about it as a set of conditions coming together, changing and shifting over time instead of a stagnant object resistant to change. Who you are 10 years, three years or even a year from now can change drastically from who you are today. While our past certainly shapes who we become, we don’t have to be the stories we tell ourselves. If you told me seven years ago I would be a triathlete and ultrarunner who qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2014, I would have literally laughed in your face. If you told me seven years ago I’d actually be preparing, eating and enjoying meals that were primarily plant-based instead of scarfing down a few bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dinner, I would have been skeptical. If you told me I’d be meditating, doing yoga, wearing mala beads, drinking fair-trade coffee and championing for the environment like a west coast hippie, I’d think you were just plain crazy. Although part of it is growing up, I’ve had to break a lot of bad habits and start new, better-for-me habits along the way to become who I am today.
Even if you don’t subscribe (or are particularly interested) in the Buddhist belief of anatta, or not-self, know that who you are now can change if you want it to. You’re not who you think you are. You are not stuck, and nothing is holding you back from changing into the person you truly want to be.
Need helping in getting started? Drop me a line.
How have you changed over the years in regards to your fitness and health habits? How long did it take you to change? What was the worst habit you’ve changed? How did you do it? What’s one habit you’re trying to change/start now?