Beliefs matter. They are concrete, and very real, when we move our bodies in ways that draw from those beliefs.
Cover your eyes and imagine standing shoulder to shoulder with a loved one: someone who has cared for you when you were sick, been on adventures with you, and loves you in return.
Focus your attention on how your body feels in that imagined moment. How do you stand when you’re standing next to someone you love?
Now, in your imagination, replace that person with someone who frightens you: a stranger, or a bully. A real person, or maybe a character from a movie or book.
Stand shoulder to shoulder with this frightening person, and again, feel your body. Has it changed? Do you hold yourself differently? Is there a tension in your limbs preparing you to fight, or run? Does your breathing change? Your heart rate?
Humans organize their bodies around what their brains believe might happen. Beliefs stem from past experience; for better or worse, they’re our best guesses for future wellbeing. Your beliefs manifest in the position of your spine, the depth of your breathing, your blood pressure, skin temperature and the tension in your muscles. Your strengths, skills, injuries and illnesses flow directly from these physical states.
The relationship goes both ways. The brain assigns meaningful predictions to physical sensations—sometimes mistakenly.
This means that we can influence how our bodies move by addressing our beliefs, and we can generate new beliefs by how we move our bodies.
Here are three beliefs that have a profound impact on how you feel, and that may be ready to change:
Belief #1: “Everyone is doing better than I am.”
Clients say some version of this to me weekly. The belief that you, alone, are struggling, hurting, or falling behind is a heavy burden to bear—and the body will bear the weight of that burden, whether the belief is true or not. (Hint: it probably isn’t.)
Belief #2: “I can’t ______ because I am ______.”
Our identities give us structure and purpose—but they also impose limitations. As a personal anecdote: when I was fifteen years old I developed a belief around this idea: “I can’t run because I am flat-footed.” An exploration into that identity of “flat-footed” yielded a different understanding of why it happens and what it means. Now, at 37 years old, I’m still “flat-footed” but I run ten miles a week, and I love it.
You are the final authority on what it feels like to be you. No rule, or diagnosis, or well-intentioned bit of conventional wisdom trumps your experience of what can or can’t be done.
Belief #3: “It would be wrong if I __________.”
Shame is a powerful tool—but, like dynamite, it’s best to be selective about where and when you use it.
We are taught what behaviors are shameful at a very early age, and we immediately begin organizing our bodies around avoiding those shameful behaviors.
The important thing to remember is that feelings and behaviors are different things.
Shameful behaviors, like pushing to the front of a line, or stealing your neighbor’s packages, can be avoided, and a little social pressure helps us to move our bodies through social space safely.
But there’s often nothing we can do to avoid having a feeling, even an ugly one. If we labor under the belief that even our feelings can be shameful, we spend our lives looking for physical states where those feelings can’t happen to us: an impossible and destructive pursuit.