Interesting Thought: There is No Mind-Body Connection
I've written a lot about the mind-body connection. So it may be a bit surprising to hear that I no longer think such a connection exists.
Connection implies two separate entities: A mind, which most people think inhabits the head, or even more specifically, the brain. And a body; or everything else that "you" consider yourself to be.
But there is no "connection" between the mind and the body. They are one and the same. Everything that affects the mind also affects the body and everything that affects the body also affects the mind. Because the body lives in the mind and the mind lives in the body. Better than thinking in terms of a mind-body connection is to think in terms of an integrated mind-body organism.
Sure, this may sound esoteric, the stuff of philosophy and consciousness research, but I'd argue it's actually a practical, advantageous, and truer way to think about, well, everything.
A few examples:
Education: Imagine if the system wasn't so focused on the illusion of a separate mind, but instead on a mind-body. Students would probably exercise and sleep more, and also eat more healthfully. This, of course, would lead to a better functioning body. But it'd also lead to a better functioning mind. Because a better functioning body is a better functioning mind, at least according to loads of research. It is a better functioning mind-body.
Health care: So many of what we consider "bodily" ailments have roots in the mind. So many of what we consider "mental health" conditions can be caused and remedied by changes in the body. And, even the ailments that we consider to be purely "bodily," like cancer, certainly affect the mind too. Same goes in the opposite direction: diseases that are considered solely the domain of the mind, like schizophrenia, always affect the body as well. It's a false dichotomy. A change in the body is a change in the mind and a change in the mind is a change in the body. It's a change in the mind-body.
Workplace: Pain, fatigue, restlessness—pretty much anything in the "body" that enters one's field of awareness—impacts what many falsely think of as "mind" or "cerebral" work. Fix someone's back pain and their problem-solving improves. Make someone more mobile and their creativity sky-rockets. Everything, even writing this very newsletter, is mind-body work!
Athletics: There is no training the mind as if it is this thing that is separate from the body. How you train the body 100 percent impacts what happens in the mind. And how you train the mind 100 percent impacts what happens in the body. Is a distracted athlete going to optimally learn a new skill, or exert an appropriate effort? No. Is an overtrained athlete going to think straight or thrive under pressure? Of course not. The entire mind-body has to be accounted for.
It occured to me on a hike this weekend that I could go on with these examples forever. Because there isn't anything in the human experience that isn't mind-body. Perhaps the most basic definition of the human experience is the mind-body experience. We are the mind-body experience.
Now don't get me wrong: it can be helpful to separate the mind and body in certain circumstances. The type of physician who treats a broken arm needs a different skill-set than the one who treats bipolar disorder. But we should realize that the separation is an artificial one. It's a heuristic to help us navigate the world. The deeper, more fundamental truth is that it's all one. Not mind and body. Not mind or body. But mind-body.
The implication is that the physician who treats the broken arm should at least consider the patient's mind and the physician who treats the bipolar disorder should at least consider the patient's body. Because in reality, any time they treat a human being they are treating an entire mind-body system.
The gym teacher should understand how her class will impact a student's math and the math teacher ought to understand how the homework he assigns will impact a student's sleep. And the superintendent who sets the curriculum ought to understand both. Not because the mind and body are separate resulting in the need for prioritization and tradeoffs; but because they are so intimately tied together.
The corporate executive should realize that those who are physically well produce better work. And, equally important, that those whose work is tiresome and dull tend to become physically unwell.
Coaches should coach the whole athlete. Pre-race nerves and muscular preparedness aren't just connected. They are entirely interwoven.
Again, it's worth reiterating that an artificial separation of the mind and body can be useful. But it can also be dangerous, especially if we don't remember that everything ladders up to an integrated mind-body. And I worry that we've spent so much time thinking so hard about how to artificially separate the mind and body that we are forgetting that the truth is they are one in the same.
It is my hunch that if we considered ourselves as integrated mind-bodies we'd be better off. Better off in how we think about and care for ourselves. And better off in how we think about and care for others.
Coaching Corner: Chill the F*ck Out Parents, You're Not Doing Your Kids Any Favors
Wander over to any youth soccer or football field across America and a common scene presents itself. Parents screaming at officials and coaches, and yelling at their children as if winning the under-11 soccer championship is a career defining moment. Parents are signing their kids up for travel teams, hiring specialized private coaches or quarterback guru’s, and having overuse surgeries performed on their kids, all before they hit puberty.
The obsession is in search of that elusive college scholarship or maybe even a shot at the pros. Or, in some cases, it's parents living vicariously through their kids. No doubt, there are many self-driven 10-year olds running around, but I can’t help but feel that parents are blind to the potential damage they are doing, all in the name of performance.
We have an incredible ability to forget what it was like to be young or inexperienced. We often succumb to the Al Bundy syndrome of recalling our former sporting days as a glorious display of our near-pro level abilities. We whitewash those memories, forgetting the setbacks we faced and our inadequacy at the sport, all the while exaggerating our skills. Thanks to our faulty memory, many of us perceive our athletic abilities as better than they were. We’ve watched enough professional sports, so it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we know what it takes or have any clue in realizing if our child could ever get there.
In a recent Finding Mastery podcast, Michael Gervais made a great point in observing youth sports:
“It’s rarely the former pro athlete who is screaming at the refs or his child during the game. It’s the parents who never experienced that level.”
Gervais went on to explain how the former pros know the incredible amount of work and luck it takes to make it to that level. They understand that the drive has to come from the child, and that the parent driving the ship only creates poor motivation patterns.
According to the McAdams model of personality development, late childhood is when motives and goals are layered on top of our basic dispositional traits. Then, as we enter adolescence, those motives and goals aid to develop our personal narrative, our identity, which shapes how we see the world and our place in it. During these critical periods of development is when patterns become deeply ingrained. Our children internalize what matters, what should be valued, and how to live life.
So consider this: A father screaming at the ref during his 9-year old son’s soccer game; A mother ignoring her daughter's performance, whether it was good or bad, during the recent softball game because it should always have been better; A father spending the first 30 minutes after baseball practice critiquing every at bat his son took; Parents punishing children after losses and giving extreme rewards after wins.
Maybe these actions aren’t all inherently bad, but they all send a message. And if we aren’t careful those messages can be translated by a young child's mind into a set of poor motivational drives. Our child becomes driven to get the parent’s approval, or by external results, or that effort only matters if you win, or that mom/dad’s commitment to their sporting activities shows that sports matter more than anything else in their life. Many of these scenarios fit into what researchers call developing a contingent self-worth; a sense of worth that is dependent on successful performance or parental approval.
A contingent self-worth is NOT a good framework under which to live.
So what do we do about this? That’s a long and difficult question to answer, but it begins with awareness. Recognizing that what you say and how your actions demonstrate how much or little you value something goes a long way. In their fantastic book, The Playmaker’s Advantage, Leonard Zaichkowsky and Dan Peterson summarize one of the major issues in youth sports: parents “watching elite athletes and coaches on television or remembering their own sport experience contributes to treating their kids as ‘short adults’.”
In the final analysis, perhaps that’s the most important piece to be aware of. Your children are not short adults. They are not mini future professional athletes, or even the person you see in your head as the youth football/basketball/track star of yesteryear. They are children. Young. Vulnerable. Clueless. And figuring it out for themselves. Let them.
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