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The Questionable Reliability of Feelings


By Christian McNeill

As a 3 Principles practitioner I am often pointing to the fact that – contrary to popular belief – my feelings are not an accurate reflection of reality. They are actually only an infallible mirror of the quality of my thinking. Recently I stumbled across a different but very practical example of this.

Some time ago I resolved to increase my cardio-vascular fitness. Practicing yoga, flexibility and muscle strength are ok but I knew there was scope for improvement in the CV area. My plan was simple and sensible: walk briskly over mixed terrain for up to an hour most days. I love walking. As well as enjoying the physical activity, I love the opportunity for reflection if I’m alone, or conversation when I’m with friends. Easy peasy then. Except it wasn’t. 6 months on my resting pulse rate was up not down.

In my yoga classes I’d noticed people wearing fitness watches and was intrigued to try one. I bought a Fitbit. It measures steps, heart rate – resting and active – walking distance and sleep. During week one I was very active. In week two I realised what my problem had been over the previous 6 months. My perception and memory of the exercise I’d taken recently was hopelessly inaccurate. For example, If I was going on a long walk of several hours, unconsciously I was ticking the exercise box on the couple of days leading up to it, on the day itself, and on the subsequent couple of days. With the overall result that I did considerably less walking than I’d planned or realised over the week, even though I felt as if I’d achieved a lot. This was another example of my feelings not being a very reliable barometer of reality.

From that point on I’ve relied on the device to do the counting accurately and automatically, while I’ve enjoyed letting my mind be in free flowing, reflective mode during my walks. I’m loving the regime and walking at least 5 days a week. My sleep quality has improved and in the 3 weeks since I started, my resting heart rate has reduced from 69 to 62 BPM. And it feels effortless, in the sense that the whole process is so enjoyable.

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