Friday, January 16, 2009

Treat yourself as others like to be treated


A little sigh reveals a lot about our nature. This expression of concern comes out when a friend tells you his or her woes. Along with positive emotions like laughing, compassion for others is wired into our nervous system. As Dacher Keltner writes in "Born To Be Good: The Science of Meaningful Life," it's encoded in our genes. His new science is named in honor of the Confucian concept of jen, the idea that a mixture of kindness, humility and respect brings out the goodness in others.

But what are your own feelings of self-nurture? Are you also concerned for your own well-being? How is your self-esteem? And are you sighing and feeling deflated two weeks into your New Year's resolutions?

With healthy self-esteem you have a realistic grip on both your shortcomings and your accomplishments. You can face what life throws at you, whether it's more honest relationships or making us less judgmental and more accepting, less lonely or more resilient under tough times. But when it comes to changing some things about ourselves, why are we all so resistant to it? Why is it sometimes so difficult to effect a positive change?

Harvard teachers who help business administrators and leaders explore this dilemma are Robert Kean, a clinical psychologist, and Lisa Lahey. Co-authors of "Immunity to Change," they have a theory about our reluctance to change our behaviors. They discovered that at the root of all our good intentions is a low-voltage anxiety; our brain gets a little uneasy with anything new or unfamiliar. It's not a bad thing—it serves us well if we're at risk—but often this inner racket distorts reality.

Kean says we resist changing because it's hitting a spot where we feel vulnerable, for whatever our personal reasons are. When you start to be honest with yourself, with how things really are, is the time when change can begin, bit by bit.

Just recently a woman I'll call Jody walked into a gym for the first time in her life, at the age of 50. She was tired of convincing herself it was OK to let yourself go a little as she got older. She also was anxious. What if she looked ridiculous in her old sweats, would everyone stare at her? Once Jody bravely stepped inside the Y doors, she felt like a million.

One of the best ways to feel better about yourself is to get a little exercise and fresh air. There is no doubt that positive emotional and psychological benefits result from physical exercise. This includes activities like nordic or alpine skiing, walking, swimming, yoga and resistance training with weights or bands.

Affirm that you are funny, patient, protected, calm, optimistic, worthy, talented, alive, energetic, decisive, self-assured, fortunate, brilliant, balanced, capable, creative, productive, courageous, dedicated, optimistic, strong. You get the picture. Sigh and take a deep breath, then say these words to yourself (and friends), as Gandhi did, "We must become the change we seek in the world." Happy 2009!

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine health fitness specialist and an IDEA elite certified personal trainer. She's located at High Altitude Fitness and the YMCA in Ketchum.

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