Be Your Own Mirror: The most important question we can ask ourselves.
I don’t consider myself the most spiritual person in the world. I'm working on it. But, over the last month, the saying “we cannot control our first thought, but we can control our second” (or something along those lines) has resonated with me more than a few times. Like when you learn about a new brand or a new car model and suddenly start seeing it everywhere - perhaps it's just familiarity or maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. Either way, the sentiment sticks.
We can’t control our first thought.
Our first thought is a reaction to our environment. We see something, we think something. We feel something, we think something. Over years and years of experiences have trained our brains to jump to conclusions because if we had to deeply consider every component of our lived experience, we’d be exhausted after 30 minutes.
Remember Pavlov and his dog? How he trained the dog to salivate when he rang the bell because the ringing bell was always followed by delicious food? The network of neurons in our brain and body are connected and flexible - they adopt new reactions that are outside our conscious control based on a stimulus and an outcome. The first thought we have upon waking is usually going to be the same thought we have upon waking every single day because it’s easy.
We can’t control our first thought because it’s more efficient for our brain and body to have automatic thoughts.
But we can control our second thought.
Our second thought is the more important thought - the conscious thought - the one that will help us learn and grow and maybe eventually re-wire the way our body communicates our first thought. Time and practice can change the brain. Ever heard the phrase “fake it till you make it?” Repeat a mantra until you believe it? Simple practices like this can help us reorient the neural pathways in our brain until we start to automatically think the thoughts that are more helpful and supportive. But simply repeating a mantra will not get to the root of our first reactionary, negative thoughts. How do we even begin to do that?
We need to ask ourselves the most important question: WHY?
Why is our first inclination to check our bodies in a mirror as we pass by? Why do we only choose the “healthier” version of a food when faced with a few options? Why do we feel guilty for taking a rest day? Why do we compare our bodies to others?
Asking this simple "why" question forces us to reflect and think deeper. It can bring up uncomfortable realizations. It may illuminate the vast number of decisions we make that are rooted in a quest to conform to our toxic culture of the thin ideal, or fitness culture's obsession with appearance, or running culture's obsession with metrics.
Is your decision to go on a run coming from a place of truly wanting to enjoy the experience of running, or because you feel like you need to make yourself smaller, or more like so-and-so, or because you feel guilty about the food you ate (or are anticipating eating later)?
Are you tracking your calories because you want to make sure you’re eating enough or because you hope to see if you can eat less? Are you making food choices that you know will give your body the fuel it needs or to exert willpower over your body?
Reflect and Forgive
Try to suspend your judgment in this process of self-reflection. Especially as you become more aware of society's influence over what we automatically think and feel about ourselves, it can be easy to feel even MORE guilty and ashamed. Remember that we are all in this together. It is completely natural to want to conform to society - heck, it can feel a whole lot easier to ride the wave and be who everyone else wants you to be. Forgive yourself for forgetting yourself. As much as society trains us to want to be "unique," how many of your choices are rooted in wanting to be like someone else?