If I could grant you 4 wishes this year, here’s what they would be:
1. May you take in the good.
You can thank our ancestors for your brain’s negativity bias. After all, their primary goal was to eat lunch, not be lunch. According to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That shades ‘implicit memory’ – your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood – in an increasingly negative direction.”
While the negativity bias was key to survival for our ancestors (those who laid in the grass staring peacefully at the sky got eaten; those who were hyper-vigilant about any potential danger lurking around the corner survived and passed on their genes), it’s no longer helpful in our current modern realities. The good news is that we can offset our built-in bias towards anxiety, worry and constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop with a practice Hanson calls “taking in the good.” When you notice a good fact or experience – say a beautiful flower on your walk, your barista’s friendly smile, or stepping into your warm home on a freezing day – take a few extra seconds to fully experience it without getting distracted. Imagine this good experience sinking into you (maybe into your heart).
Over time, a steady practice of taking in the good will soothe your nervous system and help you become more resilient, peaceful and joyful.
This practice reminds me of when researcher Brene Brown, PhD was asked how she defined a good life. She answered:
A good life happens when you stop and are grateful for the ordinary moments that so many of us just steam roll over to find those extraordinary moments. To me, my good life is soccer practice and carpool line and tuck-ins and date night…and knowing that it’s good and acknowledging and stopping and saying, “This is good.”
I’ll slip in my personal news here: I’m expecting baby boy #2 sometime in February and will be on maternity leave until mid-June.
The practice of taking in the good is one of my wishes for you and also myself. I want to pause and fully experience things like that first sip of my jasmine pearl tea, the smell of garlic and butter sizzling on the stove as I prepare dinner, my toddler’s squeal when he’s being playful (and soon, his baby brother sleeping on my chest as we all get some fresh air in those sweet and hazy newborn days), a good conversation with a friend, the sight of Mount Rainier, Monsoon’s fried shrimp and chive wontons (weekend brunch menu – highly recommend), that juicy glass of Syrah post-pregnancy, my new comfy pillow… It’s about more than noticing the small moments. Right now, to me, it’s everything.
2. May you practice more body peace.
A fascinating study reveals feeling bad about your body is worse for your health than actually being at a higher weight. Women in the study who had a lower BMI (aka Bullcrap Made Important) but more weight dissatisfaction had higher blood pressure and fasting glucose than those who had a higher BMI but were content with their bodies.
Researchers theorize that constantly hating on your body leads to a chronic level of internal stress and actually discourages healthy behaviors and self-care. (After all, why would you take loving care of something you hate?)
So in 2017, I wish you more peace with your here-and-now body. Here’s to spending less energy stressing about weight (or thighs or stomach, etc.), and more energy building body trust and prioritizing self-care that would help your body feel good now.
3. May you drop the second arrow.
There’s a Buddhist teaching that there are two arrows of suffering: The first arrow is inevitable pain in life, and the second arrow is our response to that pain – things like self-judgment, shame or resistance. It’s thought that the second arrow is what causes suffering.
See if you can relate to any of these examples:
Example: You overeat at a social gathering.
First arrow: You feel uncomfortably stuffed, bloated, and sluggish.
Second arrow: You beat yourself up for lacking “discipline” and call yourself disgusting.
Example: You put on a pair of jeans and notice that they’re tighter.
First arrow: You feel discomfort and some constriction around your stomach and legs.
Second arrow: You judge your body’s size and shape as “wrong” and “unacceptable” and consider shaming yourself into a smaller size by contemplating your next diet or punishing workout regimen.
Notice how the pain of the first arrow always passes. Always. The second arrow is completely optional. May you become better at noticing and dropping the second arrow this year.
4. May you move towards svādhyāya.
Svādhyāya means “to move toward one’s self” in Sanskrit. When I first learned this word in my yoga teacher training, I thought it perfectly summed up why I feel passionate about Intuitive Eating. Letting go of external rules about food and tuning into your body’s internal wisdom is at the heart of Intuitive Eating.
A few years ago, palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware recorded the top regrets of the dying, a list I revisit every now and then. The #1 regret? “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Intuitive Eating is one gateway to svādhyāya, living a life that’s more true to yourself. When you practice answering seemingly small questions (Am I hungry? What sounds good for lunch? Do I want something warm or cold? Sweet or savory? What would be satisfying?), it strengthens your ability to answer life’s bigger questions. Rejecting our culture’s diet mentality in favor of attuned eating strengthens your overall ability to let go of external rules, comparisons and others’ expectations, and tune into your own Inner Compass.
I truly believe that all four wishes are possible for you this year.
And I’m curious: which of these wishes do you most desire and why?