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The biggest flaw with personal development

I will say it right away: the biggest flaw with personal development is thinking that it’s all in your mind! If you lack the motivation to do anything or you are stressed out by even normal situations, motivation techniques and stress management seminars might not be the very first things you should consider.

In personal development it is common for various teachers to mention that mind and body are interconnected, and that your thoughts can affect your body. There’s nothing wrong with that. Most people would agree that mind and body are intertwined. The problem comes when you start emphasizing the mind and neglecting the body – mind over matter way of thinking – which is a widespread viewpoint with personal development teachers and followers.

The Law of Attraction, a popular belief in personal development and self-help community, assumes that your predominant thoughts and feelings determine your destiny, that you can “manifest” anything you put your mind to, using various visualization techniques and affirmations and holding unwavering faith in reaching your goals. Taking this to the extreme, some authors state that your entire physical existence is the sum total of your past thoughts and feelings.

This doesn’t apply to all personal development information that is out there, but it sure does apply to a large subset of gurus that believe that physical body is just a vehicle for the spirit. Well, it’s not. I won’t go into a philosophical debate on the existence of soul, but the fact is, that your psychological processes depend on your nervous system that is governed by complex biochemical reactions in your body. You see, the interconnection of mind and body is a two-way route. Sure, negative thinking can get and keep you sick and depressed, however, the state of your body can affect your mind as well.

You may have chemical imbalances in your body due to poor nutrition or environmental factors and that can negatively affect your nervous system and consequently, your mind. Of course, for teachers who believe that mind is more powerful than matter this is hard to swallow. So they don’t emphasize enough the importance of taking care for your body physically: eating healthy food, being physically active, having access to clean water, minimizing exposure to harmful chemicals present in air and consumer goods (like artificial dyes and other additives in food and in pharmaceutical drugs), and so on. Even teachers that do mention these things as the things you should be doing to improve your general health, almost never discuss how these things can negatively affect your mind.

Luckily, there are other camps out there that you can learn from, and they focus on physical aspects of healthy living: vegetarians, vegans, raw-foodists, paleo-diet advocates and various fitness enthusiasts. They are not in agreement on what the best food choices are, though. I think that’s partly because different people respond differently to certain foods. In addition, some people have undiagnosed food allergies and intolerances (to dairy, eggs, gluten, etc.), which are more common than people think, they are difficult to diagnose, and they can cause a host of health problems, not just physical but also neurological and behavioral problems.

As there is no single solution for all, everybody has to find out for himself his best diet style (maybe with a help of medical or other professional). The common denominator is that if you predominantly eat processed and fast food, drink too much alcohol, smoke, don’t exercise, work a sedentary job under artificial lightening and don’t sleep enough then you are just asking to get sick or depressed.

So, if you are constantly tired or depressed, maybe it isn’t because your chakras are not cleansed – it could be that you don’t get enough nutrients with your food, so your body is chronically undernourished, lacking certain vitamins or minerals. And visualizing having a healthy body probably won’t help much if you don’t simultaneously improve your diet. It’s not that visualization is useless; visualization can help you stay motivated with your new diet style, so that you don’t succumb to peer pressure and you turn down that sugary dessert that they offer you at the birthday party you attend, even though you risk being labeled as a health nut.

I believe that’s how The Law of Attraction really works in the first place. It is not some mystical, unknown force that manifests your thoughts; it’s your actions that bring about change. And your actions – deliberate or spontaneous – are guided by your goals, your habits and your state of mind.

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Medicalization vs. lifestyle changes

Medications save lives, no doubt about it. In case of emergency or when nothing else can be done, properly prescribed medicine is a wise choice. However, the predominant belief in our modern society, that there is a pill for every ill, and furthermore, that there is never a better alternative to pharmaceutical drugs, is deeply flawed.

First, most drugs have various side effects, which can vary from minor annoyances to death from medication. And here I am not even talking about the consequences of abuse or overdose. Next, a lot of medications are full of various additives and fillers, including artificial dyes. A lot of these substances can be harmful to health, so it is really ironic that you can find them in the very products that are supposed to help you. Lastly, a lot of drugs prescribed for chronic diseases, don’t really heal you, but are merely treating the symptoms of an illness. You feel better, but the underlying causes are not addressed at all.

For all of these reasons, you should not fool around with any medication. Always take only as much as your doctor prescribed you. And if you are on some long-term medication you should discuss with your doctor if there is any alternative way – a lifestyle change – that could eventually eliminate the need for taking drugs.

You see, a lot of modern day, chronic, degenerative diseases are really a consequence of poor health habits, a bad lifestyle. Unhealthy food choices, smoking, too much alcohol, not enough exercise or sleep – this all adds up to poor health. All of these are obvious and any doctor will tell you so. Here, however, I want to tell you about my own little lifestyle change that solved my own – very little, but very real – health problem.

A few years ago I had a bacterial infection of the ear that got treated with antibiotics. But that was just the beginning. Because of the use of antibiotics, a fungal infection followed, and I was prescribed another, anti-fungal medicine. This drug really screwed up the skin in my ear canals and I developed chronic eczema there. Then I had recurring inflammation/infection of the ear canals for a few months and therefore I was prescribed yet another medication: a prescription ointment containing a corticosteroid and an antibiotic.

This drug worked wonders – finally I had my problem under control. Unfortunately, I became dependent on this drug to control eczema in the ear canals. I had to use it every few months or so, and that went on for several years.

Then my health worsened and I researched on the internet the medication I was taking, because that could be one of the possible culprits. I found out that corticosteroids, especially if used on areas with thinner skin (like in the ear canal), and for long periods of time, can cause a lot of problems to your system. Long-time use of antibiotics can be problematic, too. After learning about these potential complications I stopped using my prescription ointment right away.

However, I knew that I needed to do some lifestyle changes as well: I had to do everything that was in my power to prevent another inflammation of the ear canals to develop. I recalled that my doctor told me that shampoo or shaving cream could sometimes cause irritation, if it got into ear canals. So, I took extra care that no shampoo was coming into my ears when I was washing my hair – I started to use waterproof earplugs. Furthermore, I stopped using cotton swabs for cleaning my ears, because of mechanical irritation they produce. Usage of cotton swabs is not medically recommended method for ear cleaning, anyway. If I had gotten a lot of wax in my ears, I just used a soft paper tissue to clean it. Finally, I started to apply aloe vera, and occasionally jojoba cream, to outer parts of my ear canals to prevent dryness and itching.

Even though I believe now, that my medication was not the sole reason for worsening of my health back then, I am happy that I got off of it. I don’t use earplugs anymore, but I still take care not to shampoo over my ears, I still don’t use cotton swabs, and when necessary, I apply aloe vera or jojoba cream. If I went back to the old ways of doing things, eczema could return one day.

The point I am trying to make is that with a few simple changes I was able to cease using potentially troublesome medication, without my old symptoms coming back. However, the important thing to remember is that permanent results only come from permanent lifestyle changes.

Dangers of food additives

I have known for a long time that certain food additives can have a detrimental effect on your health, but until recently I haven’t put much attention on this issue, as I thought that there are more important things to focus on. However, in the past few months I have had some negative experiences that I can attribute to various food additives with great certainty. I don’t think anymore that food additives are only a minor issue.

To be clear, I do believe that sometimes food additives are necessary: for example, preservatives must be added into some food products, to prevent them to spoil, as food poisoning can be lethal. In such cases, it is necessary to consider both benefits and possible risks of a particular food additive and choose the safest additive that will do the job.

However, a lot of additives are totally unnecessary as far as safety is considered, and their only purpose is to make food more appealing in some way, so it sells more. Artificial sweeteners, flavorings and colors can make some junk, which you would otherwise not even consider eating, look and taste good. But, there is a price to pay, as many of these additives can have negative effect on your health. Sure, they are present only in very small quantities, but consuming them year after year, from various foods, their combined effect can be too much for your body, especially if you have other health issues as well.

Which brings me to drugs and dietary supplements. Believe it or not, they can also be jam-packed with various food additives, which makes me furious. People that take drugs and supplements are usually the people who are already sick and the last thing they need is to be gobbling down even more harmful substances!

Personally, I had a bad experience with a red artificial color best known as “Ponceau 4R”, which has a code E124 (“E number”). This is a food color additive that is commonly used in the European Union (EU), but it is not approved in the United States. Ponceau 4R is considered carcinogenic in some countries and has other harmful effects as well. I am very disappointed that EU, where I live, allows this additive in food. I am pretty sure that this artificial food coloring caused me irregular heartbeats on two different occasions: two years ago I was taking dietary supplement in the form of red capsules (dyed with E124). Irregular heartbeats started after a few months of taking the supplement and stopped within a week after I stopped taking it. Three months ago the problem repeated with a different product: I had sore throat and was taking red throat lozenges for a few days and I developed exactly the same symptoms, which also went away soon after I stopped taking the medication. Not surprisingly, the one (and only) substance that both products have in common is red colorant E124.

I also developed eczema a month ago on one of my fingers. The culprit is less obvious, but I suspect it was caused by sodium benzoate (E211), a preservative that was in a juice that I was consuming for about two weeks every day before this happened. Sodium benzoate was present also in my toothpaste.

Since then I became super cautious and I read all labels on food, drugs and dietary supplements, and even on cosmetics. If possible, I choose products that have no artificial sweeteners, flavorings, colorings or preservatives. I changed my multivitamin brand because the old one contained blue artificial colorant indigo carmine (E132), which can also be problematic according to some sources on the internet, and might had contributed to eczema on my finger. I could care less if my vitamin pill has a nice blue color. But I sure want it to be non-toxic!

Avoiding certain food additives is not an answer to every problem related to food, but it is a good start. I think the following link offers a fairly good introduction to the dangers of certain food additives: Your print out guide to the dirty dozen food additives. For more in-depth reading have a look at this link: Chemical Cuisine – Learn about Food Additives.

Do your own research on food additives. However, beware that food can be unhealthy even if it contains no additives whatsoever. It can contain pesticide residues, unhealthy fats, loads of refined sugar and so on. Moreover, food flavorings are generally not regarded as food additives – typically they do not need to be listed on the label by name as they are considered to be a trade secret.

So, the best advice of all is to eat as much unprocessed and organic food as possible.

What’s going on with this blog?

I haven’t been posting much lately, because I have had some health issues. I intend to write more frequently when I get better. I will definitely not quit writing for this blog, but I may have longer periods without posting anything.

I have written already that I have problems with stress and anxiety, and even a mild OCD. These psychological issues certainly had a toll on my physical health as well. (One of the main reasons for starting a blog on personal development was, that I am in search for solutions for myself!)

However, now it seems likely that I have a deeper issue – deeper even than psychology. There are some indications that I might have gluten sensitivity, and possibly some other food allergies, though not much has been proven yet.

One of my relatives has celiac disease (which is genetically predisposed disorder) and since I am very skinny and have had some digestive problems, I suspected that gluten is a problem for me too. I wanted to test it for myself and went on a gluten-free diet, but unfortunately I got even sicker. The problem was that instead of bread and pasta, I started to eat more dairy and nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.) and after a few weeks my health deteriorated. I developed heart palpitations and felt very tired. First, I suspected that dairy is the problem, so I cut it out of my diet, but it didn’t help. In fact it probably even made it worse as I lost some weight. Only after I stopped eating nuts did palpitations decreased. I have gone to the allergy specialist and done the skin prick test – it showed a mild reaction to peanuts, so allergy to nuts in general seems plausible. Or it might be that I just ate too much nuts, for whatever reason.

In addition, it is possible that my symptoms were worsened because of the use of prescription ointment (containing a corticosteroid betamethasone and an antibiotic), that I used occasionally in the past four years, because I had recurring inflammation/infection of the ear canal. Even though it is a prescription medication I never thought that it could be a problem, because I used very small quantities of it, and only occasionally. However, I searched on the internet and I found that topical corticosteroids are not so innocent, especially if applied on the areas where the skin is thinner, like in the ear, and for prolonged periods. Even though I had no proof that this medication had a negative effect on my health, I stopped using it immediately after learning that it is potentially very problematic.

These developments are going to change the orientation of this blog a bit. In the past I have been writing mostly about personal development in the sense of psychological balance – like staying motivated, focusing on your priorities, living in the now. However, there can be no personal development without physical health. Health is a complex issue and different factors are interconnected – body and mind affect each other in ways that even modern medicine does not understand fully. Stress can affect your physical well-being, but biochemical processes in your body have effect on your nerves as well, and consequently affect your psychology.

Health requires a holistic approach: from food and physical exercise, to stress management and personal happiness. So, in the future I will focus on other issues as well, not just on personal development in the narrow sense.

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