Once again I’m up early and I’m feeling the all-too-familiar feeling of disaffection and disgust. I’m in the upstairs bathroom and I’m standing on the electronic scale. It measures weight in pounds or kilos, if I’m feeling especially European in this morning’s disgust. One third of the weight I managed to lose in order to teach my Weight, Weight, Don’t Weigh Me class have made a creepy, surreptitious return: the number 222 is flashing brightly back in my face! It feels like the Devil’s working hard to get me to 666!
“It’s not you, it’s your brain,” I have to firmly remind myself. And it is: my structurally less-than-perfectly-functioning brain. I console myself by calling up and rereading this study, which serves to remind me that I’m in massively major good company with my weight management struggle: 99% of overweight people who gain weight and then lose it, gain it back and more over 10 years. 99%!
I also remind myself that my brain has once again allowed me to fall victim to The Empowerment Delusion.
The Empowerment Delusion
The Empowerment Delusion seduces people into believing that they can create health or wealth or anything material by willing it, declaring it, or petitioning God to make it so. A corresponding belief is the delusion that poverty or sickness is my own fault: my bad thoughts, negative ideas, stinkin’ thinkin’, lack of faith and such cause all my misery. These condemnations obviously fail to take into account not only the unfathomable complexity of my daily life and the environment I live it in – with all its compelling allurements – but the similar complexity of my own brain and body. An essential, critical fact that science reminds me of over and over is: Whatever I Might Believe … It’s Probably a Bit More Complicated Than That.
The multi-billion-dollar self-help industry (of which weight management is a hefty component) is largely driven by The Empowerment Delusion: the false belief that feeling empowered, or believing you are empowered, means that you are empowered. Prosperity preachers like the Reverend Ike or Joel Osteen sell you religion as a way to exploit this brain vulnerability. We buy the hope and the promise rather than the truth of just how much time and focus and commitment and hard work success requires. I’m frequently reminded of a statement by a member of Mahatma Gandhi’s inner circle: “It sure takes a lot of money to keep Gandhi living in poverty.” The corollary for me might be: “It sure takes a lot of calories to keep Mark working hard to lose weight.” As any knowledgeable neuroscientist will tell you, feelings are real, but they are also very fleeting. Just like your net worth will be if you fall victim to The Empowerment Delusion.
The Time of Our Lives
Most significant behavior change takes time. Acquiring knowledge and skill takes repetition and practice. Physical cells in our brain and body need to be born, grow wires, make increasingly greater connections. Other cells have to disconnect and die (old learning that no longer serves us) to make room for the new ones. You can see the actual physical process of that happening at the microscopic level in this 2 minute video.
Of course, one challenge with much of this material is to find the middle path
between increasing our sensory capacities to apprehend the multiple levels of the real world and falling victim to the Empowerment Delusion. Not an easy path for many of us to navigate skillfully. Reverence for the extraordinary beauty, complexity and intelligence operating in the world will probably serve us well as a part of that path. But first we have to grow the network capacity to fully apprehend it and then greatly appreciate it.
The Three C’s
What might truly help us accomplish this remedial growth? What might be most worth our time and our brain’s energy to pay increasing attention to? If we’re to believe someone generally recognized as safe and spiritually mature, Shinzen Young might have some good advice for us. He suggests we are well-served spending the time of our lives cultivating concentration, clarity and calmness. Just ten minutes a day he claims can end up allowing us to live twice or three times the life we might otherwise just in terms of the depth of meaning and fulfillment we’re able to attain.
Is Shinzen offering self-help? Actually, he’s offering pretty much the opposite, because if you sincerely take his guidance to heart, what you’ll end up with is a “self” that is left with little concern about getting help at all. The self you’ll end up with will be one mostly concerned with selflessly helping others!