Chances are, when you think about making changes in your life, “pleasure” isn’t the first word that comes to mind.
When we think of “pleasure”, there might be a sexual connotation, there’s likely a sense that it’s something that makes us physically feel good, and that it’s an extra…something for once in a while.
But here’s the thing, our desire for pleasure is actually hardwired with our survival skills. All of our cravings, all of our inclinations, everything we want, all of that desire to feel cozy & comfy and have pleasure…it’s NOT laziness. It’s a survival skill. (And I’ll get to the science part of that in a minute…)
Somewhere along the line, or actually multiple times in history (think: Stoics, Puritans, aerobics devotees from the 80s) society decided that the way to our best lives and best health was to deny any of our cravings. Cravings = Bad. Pleasure = Even BADDER!! “If I’m suffering, and I hate what I’m eating, and I’m feeling the burn…I must be on the right track.”
And this is where we get a diet & exercise industry in the billions, while so many people continue to feel crappy in their bodies and about their bodies.
I have a radical idea for you:
Your cravings and desires are always correct.
Your body’s messages to you are always worth listening to, always worth acknowledging, and the crux of self-care comes not with finding ways to ignore these cravings or train ourselves out of them, but to meet those cravings in ways that best serve our whole person health.
Now about that science part…
While we like to think we’re super evolved and smart folks (and we are!) we still have many parts of the way we operate that are a hold over from when we were hunters & gatherers and trying not to get eaten. A big piece of that brain-wise is our amygdala, the part that makes us want to move toward pleasure and avoid pain (i.e. why you’re on the couch with a Netflix & hot chocolate instead of out running 20 miles in the cold).
So when we try to dig into that Puritanical-Stoic-Kale & Running Only way of setting intentions, that inner rebel Amygdala says a big HELL NO!!
And then we can either find ourselves constantly embroiled in trying to fight with ourselves and white knuckle our way through what we THINK will make us healthy and happy OR we can try investigating what our amygdala is telling us, what we actually want and need, and how to make it happen.
Before you make your list of everything you’d like to do, shift or change for 2017, start with this:
1. Know your “why”.
If you want to really dig in and find those gaps between what you want to happen and your current reality, this is a great process. We talked about how our brains keep us on the pleasure-seeking track, and how it truly is for our own good, but how do we sift past the details of habits and practices we want to adopt and what we REALLY want that’s underneath it? Keep asking why until it’s simple enough for a 5-year-old.
So… “I want to eat healthier” when faced with a “why?” might become a bunch of things…
— I want to help health issues resolve and I think changing eating habits might help. (Good cognitive answer, but doesn’t compel that inner 5-year-old or amygdala to change)
— I feel like other people might judge my poor eating habits, and I’m not nice to myself when I eat crappy either. (Getting somewhere useful, but still not enough to make a change).
— My body feels good on a more regular basis when I eat healthier food. I want to feel good. (Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!)
2. Know how you want to feel.
Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map and supporting materials are a great way to dig deeper with this, but even a simple, embodied practice of getting quiet and comfortable and considering the intentions you’re weighing and seeing how they make your body feel is a perfect start.
3. Get support.
Buddy up with friends and family who have similar goals so you can support each other when times come up and the changes aren’t feeling so effortless. Anchor your habits with other things in your life that feel good, like your surroundings, music and entertainment choices…even artwork in your home.
When you let go of the idea that making positive changes in your life has to feel difficult or bad, the whole world opens up to you!