What Does it Mean to Be Truly Full From Within?

What does it mean to be “full from within?” This concept, from my upcoming book "The Psychology of Finally Being Full From Within (June 2017)," refers to the idea that we no longer have this psychological “black hole,” that needs to be fed through external things such as; food, drugs, alcohol, spending, relationships, gambling. 

 

To be truly Full From Within means that our “tank” is mentally full. In other words, our self, although beaten up, bruised, and broken sometimes as a result of our journey down each of our unique life’s path - is repaired and felt as whole again. Like a patchwork quilt that only gets stronger as a result of it’s many tears and reparations. 

 

How does one achieve this, you ask? 

 

Borrowing from Aaron Beck’s cognitive triangle 10- we have three components of the mind that work to repair the self :

 

  • thoughts
  • feelings
  • behaviors

 

These are the different components that must be running on all four cylinders to ensure that we aren’t at risk of developing or perpetuating an unhealthy relationship with any of the topics mentioned above, for the purposes of this book, specifically - food. 

 

Behaviors to Repair the Self

 

One of the biggest misconceptions about our mind is the idea that we must feel a certain way to engage in certain behaviors. In other words, we must first feel happy if we are going to go to a social event and relate to others in a positive way. However, the cognitive triangle mentioned above is tri-directional14, meaning our behaviors can influence our feelings and/or thoughts, and vice versa. 

 

This is powerful information. This means that we don’t have to wait for happiness or joy to come around to engage in behaviors we know lend to more happiness. In fact, one of my first interventions with my patients who suffer from depression is the “just do it” approach, meaning they are given the task of doing three behaviors they don’t necessarily feel like doing in the six days in between their next therapy session.

 

To explain depression via a very simple analogy- it is like the flu for the mind. What do you typically do when you have the flu? 

 

You cancel your appointments, stay in bed, drink lots of water, and get lots of rest. The reasoning is that if we minimize the amount of life events for a brief bit of time, we will heal more quickly, and we do. BUT, this is not the case with depression. 

 

The same intuition we use to combat the flu is the antithesis of what we must do to combat depression, yet somehow our instincts tell us to do the opposite. When we feel depressed, our inclination is to isolate, do less, and wait for the clouds to part. The problem with this, is that this type of behavior is what feeds the depression. 

 

For my clients suffering with depression, I will often assign them a task of doing one social event, one bout of exercise (if they have never been inclined to exercise), and one learning activity (lecture, take a CE, attend a webinar, go to a pottery class, painting class, attend a speaking event).

 

Many of them balk at the idea. Some of them have been doing things their way for years and there is an undercurrent of fear related to breaking routine. It is almost as if the depression has a voice that says “don’t do it, you will only feel worse.” 

 

I’m reminded of the saying “if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.” Nothing could be more true when it comes to depression. 

 

We must realize that when we have depression, our mind is sick. It is no longer serving us, and the messages are coming from crossed wires. In order to uncross those wires, we must physically and literally put one foot in front of the other and re-engage in those activities that we know from the research lend to a sense of happiness or at least contentment. 

 

Below are some examples of behaviors, taken from my first book - Happiness in B.A.L.A.N.C.E : What We Know Now About Happiness 11. :

 

  • Benevolence - reaching out to others and getting out of our own head, focusing on how to make someone else’s life or day better through connecting or giving

 

  • Play- engaging in something that requires enough effort that we can’t run old unhelpful tapes (I’m not good enough, other people must be more disciplined than me, things will never change, etc), but provides us with enough fun that we leave the activity feeling light, like surfing, artistry, building, writing, playing an instrument, etc. 

When we are kids, we spend about 95% of our day playing and even trying to find play in our responsibilities (have you ever watched a kid brush their teeth or get dressed? it is never a straightforward buttoned up process). Yet, as adults - we flip that on its head and spend 95% of our time being a human doing vs. a human being. 

 

  • Learning- engaging in novelty is something our brain requires to feel happy and fed. It could be as simple as learning a new card game, all the way to enrolling in an MBA course. When we allow our minds to do what they are best at- our minds give back to us. 

 

  • Connection- We are social creatures by nature. There is a physiological rewiring process that occurs as result of being in near proximity to other humans 12. It is how we survived so long ago, and our minds still provide the payoff. 

We are not meant to live in isolation, yet so many of us drift in this direction when they are depressed. Even introverts requires some social connection. While extroverts tend to thrive and recharge their batteries on social connection, it is true that introverts recharge in their solitude. 

However, there is a difference between being alone vs.  lonely. As introverted as you may think you are, none of us are immune to going from alone to lonely if we don’t make time for some social connection.

 

  • Exercise- There are about 99 reasons to exercise and a happiness is one. I’m not going to waste space and wax poetic about the many benefits of exercise, because I’m sure you’re well aware. But in addition to producing endorphins that have been proven to make us feel better, as far as weight loss goes- it also makes us less likely to put junk in our bodies. Ever do an intense sweat session and then make a beeline to the nearest McDonald’s? I didn’t think so. 

 

Thoughts to Repair the Self

 

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is a 25 cent term to describe the process of looking at the old tapes we run in our minds day in and day out for years upon years, and stopping them in their tracks, and replacing them with new ones. 

 

A hallmark approach in Byron Katie’s book “Loving What Is,” is to continuously challenge one’s thoughts by asking “is that really true?” 13 If we deem that we can’t say with absolute certainty that a thought is true, then we can replace it with a more constructive thought. 

 

For instance, if we find ourselves with a running narrative that goes something like “you are just never going to be someone that stands out, it’s ok you have other good traits,” then what is the behavior and feelings that it produces? Perhaps the person goes on feeling invisible like many people who are overweight feel. Maybe the person gives up on trying to stand out in the way they look and participate in life. 

 

However, if we question that thought and say “can I know with absolute certainty that I will never stand out?” then the answer is “no.” An alternative thought becomes, “I may have felt invisible leading up to this point, but there is no time like the present to make my mark. It is through my choices that I stayed in the shadows, but it will be through my new choices that will bring me back to life.” 

 

You can see how the latter alternative thought could bring forth a much different behavioral and feeling outcome. Is this hard work? Yes. Has anything worth getting in life ever come easy? 

 

The good news is that the more we train the brain to think differently, the more differently we think, and the easier it becomes to think differently 15. Recalling the tri-directional cognitive triangle mentioned above, thinking differently means behaving and feeling differently.

 

We have to curate our thoughts the way we curate our clothes. If we are mostly sad and hopeless in our lives, then we are bad dressers. We have to go into the closets of our minds and pull out the silkier more colorful thoughts.

 

Depression and anxiety are diseases of passivity, rendering us even more incapable of feelings of efficacy and internal control over our lives. However, it is only us that can pull us up from the depths of our despair by taking the reigns of this cognitive triangle by the horns.

 

Feelings to Repair the Self

 

The feeling component of the cognitive triangle is perhaps the most elusive. How do we make ourselves feel a feeling? 

Research has shown that the simple behavior of smiling can induce a feeling of joy. So again the multi directional dynamic of the cognitive triangle is demonstrated. 16 

 

In fact, emotional pain like sadness and stress can be lessened through the act of smiling. If you are still skeptical about how our behaviors can change the tides of what often seem to be overwhelming emotional currents, try this exercise:

 

The next time you notice yourself feeling stressed or defeated when you get on the scale and notice it hasn’t moved. Stop. Don’t allow the mind to go down the well beaten path of beating yourself up. 

 

Instead, immediately pull out photos of something that makes you happy, while playing upbeat or soothing music. You can go through a Digital album on Facebook or instagram, or even a physical album you have at home. Really focus on the details of those photos. Maybe it was a special trip you took with your mother, wife, or child. Maybe it was the birth of one of your children. Maybe it was the day you bought your first house.  

 

Notice how differently you feel? Doesn’t it feel a little bit powerful to know how much we steer the ship when it comes to our feelings? 

 

Additionally, we can influence our feelings by the thoughts we have. Obviously, if we have a running no-good narrative, playing on repeat, we aren’t going to feel super awesome by the end of the day. But, if we start to employ Byron Katie’s method of stopping and asking “do I know this to be absolutely true?” then we create room for change. An opportunity to feel differently and behave differently than we ever have before. 

 

Mind Meal Challenge

 

Sit down and list the thoughts, feelings, and behavior triangles you believe to contribute to your unhealthy relationship with food. Try doing at least one that starts with your thought, one that starts with a behavior, and one that starts with a feeling. 

 

Examples could be :

 

1. thought: I come from an overweight family, it’s just our culture.

feeling: hopeless, defeated

behavior: Give up on trying to exercise or change eating patterns.

 

2. behavior: skipping the gym for two weeks

feeling: lethargic, tired, fatigued

thought: I don’t feel like working out.

 

3. feeling: sad

thought: I don’t want to be around anyone today.

behavior: skipping out on planned events with friends and family

 

Next, practice replacing the thought or behavior with a more silkier, colorful thought (recalling the clothes metaphor). 

 

 

1. behavior: skipping the gym for two weeks

feeling: lethargic, tired, fatigued

thought: I don’t feel like working out

 

*Alternative behavior: making myself go to the gym

 

 

2. thought: I come from an overweight family, it’s just our culture.

feeling: hopeless, defeated

behavior: Give up on trying to exercise or change eating patterns.

 

*Alternative thought: It is time for me to finally break the cycle and be a positive role model for my parents and my children.