Friday, November 11, 2011

A Book Post

My family went to Disney last week!  It's the first time we've been there since the older kids were younger than this set is now   That's why I wasn't blogging.   But this post isn't about Disneyland.   I am suffering from The Flu That Stayed Too Long, the same one that's been attacking me ince early October, and so yesterday I was lying around recuperating.  

Since I was taking advantage of my enforced idleness by updating my IPhone's operating system and didn't feel good enough to read any of the heavy books on my bedstand, I checked a couple of books out of the library.

One was called "Fiction Ruined My Family."  Great title and nice cover.   The memoir of a youngest daughter of four who grew up with a defeated writer Dad and a onetime child equestrian/debutatnte mom who has become an alcoholic.  I didn't finish it.  The part when she was a child was rather interesting though cynical but when she got out of high school the book just got grim.   To me, anyway.   I was hoping it would be sort of like one of Anne Lamott's books -- another girl with a writer father who goes on to tell her own story -- but the writing was much less clever   She doesn't have the turn of phrase and insight that Lamott does, at least not yet.  She was not getting across a message of real humanity under the dysfunction of her family as Lamott does   At least, it wasn't working for me.   

The other book was called The Rules of "Normal" Eating:  A Commonsense Approach for Dieters, Overeaters, Undereaters, Emotional Eaters and Everyone Else in Between .  Another food book!  I checked it out from the library because (1) it was immediately available and (2) I was curious about "Normal".

Anyway, this turns out to be quite a helpful book!

For one thing it made me realize  rather sadly that I don't really have many food/eating/weight issues anymore  She wrote out lots of lists of irrational beliefs and feelings in regard to food issues and I saw ones that I used to have but hardly any that I still really feel.   I am just one of those middle aged people that can't rely on my metabolism like I used to.   But basically I am what she calls "normal" in quotations because of course, there is no one "normal" -- there's a range.

It's slightly sad because those issues were a significant part of my life for so long that I miss them.

On the other hand, I should be proud because I've spent so many years working on changing and apparently, I've accomplished the bulk of it.    I guess that shows that you really can change over time.  As the book points out, it's not a fast process most of the time and probably for good reasons.  If you could change yourself right away, you would lose stability.  

So I didn't feel like I needed the eating advice so much anymore, but as an introduction to 21st century operative theories of habit forming, this book is quite accessible and clear, at least so I found it.   I noticed several times that her method for working on Beliefs/Feelings/Behavior is not too different from Charlotte Mason's.   So the book, or another like it, would probably be useful for someone trying to get a better grasp of what habit is and how to change habits.

This author pictures Beliefs, Feelings, and Behavior forming a triangle.  Beliefs influence feelings and behavior, Feelings influence beliefs and behavior, Behavior can influence beliefs and feelings.     She points out that when we have a strong feeling, a belief is often tied to it.  If I'm enraged by some bad driver on the road, it's because I have a belief that bad driving is an intolerable insult.  Then I may do something as a result, like drive too close or shake my fist or swear at the driver.   Feelings can also affect beliefs and behavior.   If I'm already high on adrenalin and rage after the traffic experience, I might think some incidental thing at the workplace is way more important than I would have if I had come to work in a happy mood 

The book points out that we can modify these influences -- we don't have to just react.   Engrained habits are difficult to break -- if I always head for the donuts to calm down when I'm in a rage, I will feel that pull to the donut tray, but if I replace that habit with another one, like some stretching exercises, a new track will start forming.   Eventually if I persist this track will be deeper than the old donut one.

Feelings are just inner sensations like our outer senses.  They are meant to make us aware of what we should seek and avoid, and they also increase our awareness and understanding in general, just as our outer senses help guide us to learn and stay safe in doing so. 

Behavior is what results from our feelings and beliefs.   Behaviors never come out of nowhere.    They can be traced back to our feelings and our perceptions of what they signify, our beliefs. 

I think Beliefs (as the author calls them) are the strongest influences, since they have a way of justifying our feelings and behaviors.    Especially, she says, "core" beliefs can affect our working beliefs.  So if you have a belief that you are basically unworthy, you might end up with a working belief that you don't deserve good food, or that your body isn't worth taking care of.

When she talks about "beliefs" there is some ambiguity because of course, "belief" can mean lots of things.   But I think she is talking about them as "operative assumptions" rather than doctrines or statements of Faith.  They are the messages we grow up with.  Often our parents are our deepest influence, but there are other influences too, including our own temperaments.     I don't think it's quite the same thing as our "will" but perhaps it is the content that forms our wills.  

Everyone has "beliefs" in this sense, including materialists and rationalists who don't have any religious faith   They can be irrational (distorted) or rational (informed by reality).    They often go way deeper than our cognitive processes and in fact almost shape our thinking in some ways, providing a "framework" for perception.   Charlotte Mason talks about this a bit in her work on the insufficiency of formal reasoning  

The author says that it's important to keep examining our "beliefs" especially when they seem to be affecting our behavior in ways that we don't like.    For example, if I have an engrained notion that I MUST clean my plate or I will be wasteful, and wastefulness is bad, then it may be good to "reframe" that belief.   Perhaps I can realize that it's just as wasteful to eat food in excess of what is good for me.   Then I may adjust my behavior -- choose smaller servings, plan to eat only half of what's on my plate at the restaurant and save the rest for later, or whatever.

The author says that you can usually tell nonfunctional beliefs by their rigidity and negativity, by their "all or nothing" approach and by the way they trigger panic and shame.   Related to this is mental "chatter" which are those voices you hear in your head that send you negative, scolding, often ridiculous messages that are still very powerful.  

Basically, she makes a case for informed intuition.   Most people tend to shut away their perceptions, their inner sense of what is good or not good.    So they eat and do other things according to rigid rules that aren't in accordance with reality.   Rules aren't bad in themselves.   But some kinds of rules are ineffective because they try to override where they shouldn't   

There is way more.   As with most books of this kind, there is nothing professedly Christian, but the advice tends to implicitly cover ground already broken by Socrates, Aristotle, Aquinas, Ignatius of Loyola, Francis de Sales, and other past thinkers with an interest in human psychology.  Buddhism is invoked as a kind of doctrinally neutral self-optimization wisdom, but not as frequently as in many self-help books.  

The author also mentions the work on Rational/Irrational beliefs done by Albert Ellis.    Someone called Maxie Maultsby formulated a system for reflecting on and reframing faulty beliefs For some reason, after reading  The Abolition of Man and The Grand Design, I have been sort of skeptical of anything called "rational".    This term seems to be itself a cloaking device for another set of assumptions.   But with that reservation,  I think it can be helpful in living an "examined life".   The set of assumptions need to be thought through, and this is something the author recommends -- thinking through and tailoring for oneself, since a key trap for distorted thinkers is following someone else's "system" without thinking it through, and expecting some kind of magical result.  It seems to be a peculiarity of our free will (this is me talking) that it has to be home-made, a matter of relationship, not "mere" rules.   We don't seem to be able to just lift "what works" from someone else's life -- the results will be different   That doesn't mean we don't learn from each other, but there's a difference from learning and just sort of accepting. 

I suppose we all accept many, many things because I've found it's mentally exhausting to work through EverySinglePremise in my life, at least, but when something isn't working, again and again, it may be time to think of changing.    She makes the point that Discomfort + Awareness =  Change.  In other words, you may be uncomfortable, but until you become aware of your discomfort and have the ability to do something about it, change probably won't happen.  She uses an exercise to show this.  Are you sitting comfortably right now?  Perhaps if you were watching a gripping movie, you might not notice your arm was going to sleep.  But if something made you aware, you might try to shift your position to get more comfortable. 

Long, rambling post, sorry!  After I've been away from blogging for a while, I have trouble getting back into the swing of it.   

I also finished reading Quo Vadis, but this is already too long to talk about that.   I liked it, though.


  1. I've finished Quo Vadis too. Thanks for the recommendation! Apart from many other things, I learned that my Kindle pronounces 'Caesar' as 'Kezzer'. (And thanks to The White Company, I now know that 'mon' is pronounced 'Monday'. It makes for awkward French, monday ami! Oh, and the Keeping House book is coming ILL. You are keeping me supplied with good books, and I thank you.

  2. Monday Ami! Cracks me up! I never would have guessed : ).

  3. I read The Forever Young Diet on my Kindle app when you reviewed it and mentioned it was a free download. It was quite good, though more extreme than I'm willing to go. But I need to make the mental shift away from postpartum weight loss and toward lifestyle -- sigh, forever -- changes. I'll look into this book, too. :)

    My weight went up again when I reached a good-enough weight goal, so I'm trying to get back on the bandwagon, realizing that I'm always going to have to be paying attention and aware. I'm keeping a food diary on to help with that.

  4. Speaking (or rather writing) of diet books. You should look at GAPS (which has the pithy meaning of Gut and Psychology Syndrome). It explains the relationship between intestinal health and brain/nuerological function with emphasis on autism. It's fascinating (despite the blah title).

  5. This sounds like an intriguing book. I like Albert Ellis' ideas, though he was a terrible therapist. :-D We saw a video of him in action when I was in grad school and he would holler and harangue his patients.

    I am so sorry you have this lingering flu. :( I've been sick for several weeks, too. This bug just won't give up the ghost. I hope you're well soon!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!