We are creatures that like to talk. We like to be right. We like to have control and tell other people what to do.
And yet, we’re surprisingly inept at listening. Communication is a two-way street: you can’t speak effectively if you’re not listening intently.
But, out of habit, we only like to listen to messages that affirm what we already think, or messages that entertain us. In other words, this is why the majority of us are fat, unhealthy, broke, and divorced.
The idea of listening is something that I’ve been thinking about all morning – the importance of listening and paying attention to our actions in different aspects of our lives. But the one I kept coming back to is the importance of listening to our bodies.
Our bodies are packed with information. We are vehicles with elite reporting systems that we all-too-often ignore. Nerves are jammed into almost every part of our body. Our organs can send messages to the brain almost instantly. We’re always getting feedback. And yet, we ignore it out of convenience and/or laziness.
I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I’ve had it for over 5 years now. And while many people close to me poke fun at me for it, saying I have the “poopies”, it’s actually a legitimate condition that has a serious, painful impact on the quality of my life.
See, the human body’s digestion system is a very tightly-calibrated machine. It’s a sophisticated work of art, and when it’s firing on all cylinders, it can handle just about anything. However, when one thing goes wrong, the whole system collapses.
Think of the cliche of your plumbing system. A good water pipe needs to be angled properly, glued together, and vented the right way so that air can get behind the water. If these things aren’t done, you have blockages, leaks, and thousands of dollars in damage.
With IBS, it’s not that I have the “poopies”. It’s not that I spend a lot of time in the bathroom all the time. It’s more that the timing of contraction in the muscles of my intestines can get thrown off at the drop of a hat. As a result, some stuff gets moved through my system too quickly, and some stuff gets caught up in traffic.
I tried pills to control it, but the GI doctor has specifically banned those substances from ever being ingested, because he said it will completely throw off my system (which it has).
So why am I talking so much about my digestive system? The moment I started figuring out how to deal with IBS was a watershed moment for me – I had to start listening closely to my body. I needed to learn what foods and activities and lifestyle choices were aggravating the condition, and what things I can do in my daily life to keep my body running properly.
As a result, I have fairly good control over my IBS without needing to take medication. I do have fiber pills that I can take, but I do not even rely on them anymore. I learned regular exercise, controlled portions of food, healthy dietary choices, and stress reduction were all crucial in keeping me from stabbing pains in my abdomen that kept me from sleeping and functioning productively.
Different Ways You Should Be Listening
Your body is talking. You need to be quiet and listen.
- Sleep. Few activities give you more feedback than sleeping. Your body should be waking up refreshed. You should be able to make it through the day without relying on 18 cups of coffee. Your body should get tired at around the same time every night. If it’s not doing these things, it’s not running properly.
- Eating. Digestion is not an uncomfortable process. If going to the bathroom is unpleasant for you, something’s not right. If you are lacking in energy, it could also be the result of the food you’re eating. Food is fuel.
- Exercising. If running down the mailbox or climbing a set of stairs leaves you winded, your body is talking again. You should be able to do moderate exercise without problems. The same goes for muscle pains and cramps. That means you’re either not doing it properly or you’re not moving in a way that your body is designed to. Back it off.
- Doing stupid stuff. Drink too much and you’ll feel like crap the next day. That’s your body saying, “Knock it off! I don’t like that!”
Think long-term, not short-term
Those beers are flowing steadily, and you feel great! But that’s not going to help you tomorrow morning. Think beyond the moment.
These other areas of concern, like sleeping and your diet, are all dangerous in the long-term as well. They have lots of negative effects on your health and your body is going to wear down a lot more quickly.
Ways to Help You Listen
In order to listen to our bodies, we need to get quiet and pay closer attention. This can take some effort, but some things can make it easier for you:
- Meditation. I’m not talking about “ommmmmmm…” type of stuff. I’m talking about just sitting down in a quiet place for 5-10 minutes and listening, both to your body and your mind (remember, your brain is a muscle and part of your body too!). You can learn how to do this for free for 10 days at Headspace, which I’m currently doing. Ten minutes a day for 10 days. I’m already more in tune with my body than I used to be.
- Logs. Take a cheap notebook or a piece of paper and keep track of whatever it is you’re keeping track of. But pay attention to lots of things: like your energy levels, your mood, and your environment. I did this when changing my sleep schedule, and the data was easy to track and invaluable when I had to make tough decisions.
- Keeping it simple (stupid). The ol’ KISS method. Do things one at a time and don’t overcomplicate it. You’d be surprised how much insight you can get just by paying simple attention to a few things.
At the end of the day, your body is a great barometer for how you’re living. If you’re relying on medications and other substances to get through your day-to-day life, that means something’s out of whack. Look at natural solutions – not all of them are going to work, obviously, but there’s some merit to what they’re trying to promote.
Pay attention. Listen. Fix.