How did we get to where we are today? The road has taken many turns but began with what we inherited through genetics and early life conditioning, or socialization. It is called nature and nurture. Genetics are the traits we are born with while socialization is what we have learned from observing others, believe deeply, developed from life experience, or have learned from media, among other things. It has helped us to develop our customs, beliefs, and philosophies about life. It is the environment that shaped us. It is the way we have been conditioned by family and culture, neighborhoods, schools and institution, and even ourselves. Socialization and conditioning teaches us how to act within a certain culture and shapes our views of race, the opposite sex, male/female roles, crime, employment, potential for success, and EVERY view of life, including the way we eat and our approach to exercise.
Scientific research has shown that being exposed to things both good and bad early in life is HUGE in our personal development and our belief system (National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Children, 2009). Many of us have been conditioned to eat in a certain way (we must eat everything on our plate), react in a certain way (I am being treated unfairly because of who I am or where I am from), or believe in a certain way about ourselves (I am limited in what I can do in life because of my family, neighborhood, ethnic background, cultural or racial heritage). It is VERY TRUE that some of us may start with a disadvantage in life. In a nutshell, it is no wonder that many of us have become the way we are today. For some, it is all that we know. Fortunately for us there are examples of individuals who have overcome the EXACT problem you are facing and been faced with the same disadvantages as you are encountering. How were they able to enact change and how can we create the transformation we seek? The answer—the same way we learned it. We just have to learn a different way to believe. We must change our core beliefs and the environment that we place ourselves in and what we place into ourselves. But what does that mean? Continuing to place ourselves in the same environments, relationships, and situations will only slow the change process. No duh right? Then why do we continue to engage in this? Because it is easier for most people to continue to react, behave, think, and continue on the same path that has brought them to where they are today, whether successful or not. It is hard to change the way we react, behave, and think but it will be a crucial component to the change process that you desire. “You are the company you keep” was no fluke. In the coming days and blogs, I will illustrate some ways and environments that you may have allowed to create the current belief systems that you utilize. I will start with family.
Family and Cultural Conditioning
As stated earlier, what we are exposed to early in life could impact us throughout life. For most of us, our family or who we were raised with were the first lessons of exposure in our life. These individuals taught us how to walk, speak a language, religious practices, prejudices in some cases, expectations of success or failure, being advantaged or disadvantaged, violence, drug/alcohol use, importance of love and relationships, eating and health practices, belief in oneself, and the list could go on and on and on. Here are some examples of how some of us could have been conditioned by family and those involved in our childhood upbringing.
- I have a close friend that was raised in a VERY strict religious manner. As a child, she was told to dress in a certain way, treat men in a subservient way, and worship God in a certain way. This created feelings of confusion and frustration for her that led to other excessive behaviors in areas of her life, especially the way she ate. She was able to overcome this, develop her own belief system about religion, spirituality, and God. She also uses the strictness of her childhood to be disciplined in her life with nutrition, exercise, thinking patterns, and to educate herself.
- I grew up in an area of many different ethnicity, cultural, and economic diversities. There were working poor, wealthy, people of every race including a large Native American population due to the small town’s proximity to two large reservations. My Native friends regularly ate fry bread, potatoes, and desserts. Often, meals were a celebration or family gathering. Many ate this way because of economic conditions and not knowing how to eat healthy on a tight budget. As a result, many of my friends developed diabetes and other health related issues due to obesity and other poor health practices. My friend Jeff was one of these people. After being diagnosed with type two diabetes and weighing 275 pounds at age 34, Jeff decided to make some positive changes with his health. He began to study nutrition and exercise moderately. He did not change where he lived or family. Although he had many struggles conquering his addiction to food because of his early life conditioning, he eventually won the battle and dropped 90 pounds. After one year, he had no signs of diabetes and ran his first half marathon. He did not love his culture or family less. In fact, many of his family have joined him in creating a healthy lifestyle and are making major changes themselves. He did not allow others to influence him, HE DID THE INFLUENCING!
And you can too. Please recognize how you may have been conditioned by your family to eat, exercise, respond to life events, reward yourself, punish yourself, see the world or any other way that may sabotage healthy lifestyle practices. Self-awareness of your choices because of family conditioning is so important to the change process. Also, if you are conditioning your family to make less than healthy choices please be aware of the consequences and take a different approach for the health of your family. No matter where you are you can change for the better. BE YOUR OWN MIRACLE!