“Your diet is not just about what you eat. It’s what you watch, what you listen to, what you read and the people you hang around. Be mindful of what you put into your body, physically, emotionally and spiritually.” — author unknown
Yup. Your brain will automate and keep efficiently reinforcing, whatever it’s repeatedly exposed to — for better or for worse.
So if you’re EARLY in your personal growth work and in the early stages of retraining your emotional response to be more centered and calm …it can be really helpful to make thoughtful choices about music, TV shows and even the people you surround yourself with. In the early stages.
But a word of caution: don’t stay there forever.
This is a big mistake people who are working on personal growth and change can make.
Some social media ‘guru’ tells them to find “their tribe” or surround themselves with “like-minded people”. Which can be very helpful up front. But then they end up STAYing there indefinitely, ‘othering’ or labeling everyone outside their ‘tribe’ or from their past life as ‘toxic’ or unhealthy. Why do we do this? Because it’s safe. And feels good.
“So.. what’s the harm in that?”, you may ask. The harm is….it’s not REAL life.
And staying too long where you’re comfortable and unchallenged stops being growth.
In fact over the long-term, eliminating challenge and difference in our life actually weakens areas of our brain that thrive on diversity, newness and choice-making. And studies have even suggested that the oxytocin that comes from in-group bonding can actually contribute to ethnocentrism.
An analogous example.
Think of starting an initially cleansing food diet — one that’s strict, pure and requires semi-bland cooking in order to jump-start healthier eating long-term.
I get it. That can be helpful in the beginning.
Swinging wide to the opposite extreme is sometimes needed to get that initial ‘big push’ of momentum when it comes to changing anything that’s become too familiar.
But the real world of food involves restaurants. The real world involves eating at other peoples homes. Not to mention, the wonderful array of foods that are out there in the world to enjoy. The goal is not to have to stay on that strict, bland or limited diet forever, or to stay in your home and never venture out to eat.
The goal is to develop enough of a healthy center and baseline relationship around and with food, so you can venture into the real ‘eating’ world knowing you won’t be thrown off simply by a change in menu, or the location of where you eat.
Plus, none of us can influence change within a like-minded group. We only get reinforcement and affirmation there. Which is great, in the beginning. But if you really want to contribute, make a difference or be part of seeing something you care about change? You need to diversify who you hang our with. You never know who may be influenced by your lifestyle, words or behavior. Using our ‘food diet’ example, you just might positively influence someone else, as you make healthier food selections from a ‘real-world’ menu.
It’s no different with personal growth or emotional re-centering
My emotional nervous system used to be dysregulated in high-arousal. This meant that for decades of my life, I lived with high-functioning anxiety. ‘High-functioning’, because the coping or skills I had developed to manage it over a lifetime were ones that the professional working world compensates highly for: constant busyness, over-performance, perfectionism, an inability to set personal boundaries around work expectations and hyper-vigilance. (aka “an attention to detail” ). I was paid well. But my emotional response dysregulation and the strategies I used to manage it, eventually led to career burnout.
So, in the earlier stages of my own emotional nervous system retraining, I took a break from things like working from a schedule, using a watch, watching action-packed movies, and listening to repetitive, fast-tempo music. And I took a break from a few people in my life who struggled with anxiety, or in whose presence I became activated. At that time, I needed an environment where I could get started, with fewer external challenges. The work of retraining my system was hard enough on its own.
And I admit, once I started getting traction it was tempting to stay in that environment, only surrounding myself with what was ‘good’, ‘calm’ and seemingly ‘healthy’. It felt so nice there. And it was sooo much easier to just hang out with people who lived, talked and acted just like me, and represented this new life that I was creating. It felt like ‘home’.
But long-term, similar to our own home, unless we venture out and fly from that ‘nest’, we only create a limited ‘bubble’ and echo-chamber that weakens part of the brain. And like our own home, although we like to return to it for restoration… it just doesn’t represent the real world we live in or the variety of people that we live with everyday.
We live in a diverse world, made rich from our differences. Avoiding it to stay ‘healthy’ is simply another coping mechanism in disguise. One that can become limiting if we stay there too long simply because it feels good, and it’s safe.
Being in a different state makes a big difference.
To my surprise, once my nervous system began to center itself, and I was more skilled at flexible thinking… and as I worked myself back to a more diverse environment and the multi-faceted people that represent the real world I live in.. I found that I could more easily accept where different people were in their own process, without being impacted by it. And when someone else’s viewpoint, experience or behavior did challenge me, I began to see it as ‘practice’ and an opportunity to hone my skills.
In other words, I found I could still thrive, remain grounded (or at least rebound quickly to center) even amidst the struggle or diversity of others. This is the essence of RESILIENCE and it’s finally allowing me to fully experience life! Why is that?
Because I’m no longer dependent on my environment, or the people in it, to be ‘a certain way’ in order maintain my center. My CENTER is becoming ‘a certain way’, which allows for more diversity in my life and environment.
So although you may need to be ‘strict’ with a mental, emotional and spiritual ‘diet’ initially, I highly recommend to not stay exclusively in that environment forever.
Not only does it weaken areas of your brain that thrive on diversity, challenge and choice-making, but its limiting by nature because it blocks us from experiencing the beautiful complexity and diversity that makes our lives rich.
Long-term, it makes life far more interesting and fun… than only surrounding yourself with ‘like-minded people’.
Learn more about what it takes to develop resilience in the foundational class Whole-Brain Relationships -What it takes to become more calm, confident and connected at work and in love.
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The Human Infusion Project is philanthropic, personal development platform that draws from the combined fields of modern brain science, applied psychology and spiritual philosophy. Our mission aims to augment and supplement the work of professional practitioners in simplified, practical and affordable ways. 100% of all course profit funds the Wellness Assistance Grant.