Last week Dawn, another student in my writing class, disclosed her lack of esteem for her work, which in my opinion, is excellent. While she didn’t disparage her writing with actual words, she quite clearly conveyed a dismissive view the moment she started to read aloud from a book she had written on Mexican food and culture. She wrote with great expertise on the subject, her knowledge having been acquired over many years of learning from the actual people and places she wrote about, and by cooking up authentic dishes for her Mexican husband. Yet when she read, she skipped whole paragraphs, and sped through what she did read like a tourist zooming though the long expanse between attractions. She punctuated these scans and skips with the words, “blah, blah, blah,” frowning at her pages.
Others saw this, too, and offered that an attitude adjustment towards her work was in order, demonstrat-able by a change in her reading style. Dawn knew that questioning the quality of her work and her reading style went hand in hand, but didn’t quite know what to do about it. She wondered aloud how to change an attitude that was so pervasive, a question I have wrestled with myself lately.
Since my cancer diagnosis, I have struggled over this nagging sense (and burgeoning proof) that self-esteem and cancer are related. If a poor attitude towards self has allowed the cancer, how to change it? How does one begin to see their very being differently when everything seems to support an existing attitude? (By the way, if you question that poor self-esteem can contribute to cancer, read Cancer as a Turning Point by LeShan, PhD, or Getting Well Again, by Simonton, Matthews-Simonton, and Creighton.
While I can’t always find my own answers, I can offer more clarity where others are concerned. I see, for example, that Dawn can simply start to read her written words more lovingly, demonstrating to self and others the esteem that she seeks. When a change in attitude is sought, a “fake it ’til you make it” approach can be quite helpful. Change the tone of voice, slow down, voice enthusiasm and positive emotion, and a more positive attitude will follow.
Research has uncovered an interesting phenomenon: even a change in posture will help adjust brain chemicals so that you exhibit more confidence. Over time, a physical demonstration of confidence with not nary a change in self-talk, will improve the thoughts about self dramatically.
Can our bodies actually change our minds? Absolutely, according to current research by Amy Cuddy and others. A posture change lasting only two minutes reconfigures the chemical balance of your brain from those linked to lack of confidence, adjusting to a balance of hormones which make you feel more assertive, confident and comfortable. If you question whether this could be true, look at her Ted Talk. Totally convincing. Plus, it’s fun to see her replicate the gender-rooted Type A postures she’s frequently witnessed in her classroom.
In my case, I’m working at that very posture change Amy Cuddy talks about. After years of a low-confidence slouch and client face-to-face sessions done from a C-curve over my laptop in a plumphy armchair, I’m standing and sitting taller. I’ve adjusted my car seat so it’s dead upright, and when standing, I occasionally remember to adjust my shoulders back, facing the outside world with my heart front and center. A direct anti-cancer benefit: my more open chest allows by lungs to fill up with air and exhale deeply, adjusting my internal PH balance back to optimal. (Okay, so I can’t see in there to know this is happening, I’m trusting what I learned recently from Lisa Bjornson (Kairos), and long ago from the Acid-Alkaline guru, Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D). She says in an article called Acid and Alkaline–An Overview that a good balance of the in-and-out breath keeps the pH stable. (Did you know that Breathing out more creates alkalinity by ridding our system of carbonic acid through the carbon dioxide we breathe out?)