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Default Settings

One of the ways to view human programming is that we each have default settings, ones we return to over and over unless we are able to override them. Overriding takes a great deal of effort and can only happen when we realize that we’ve slipped back into default and that functioning in this mode is not in our best interest. The good news is that when we recognize and reprogram automatic responses, the sky’s the limit.

We all have to pay attention to our reactions 24/7 (yeah, it’s a drag, but it’s a must do) in order to identify what our default settings are, to assess whether they enhance our lives or we need to change them. For example, say you generally don’t have faith in people helping you with distressing feelings because your parents weren’t exactly there for you and you pretty much had to lick your own emotional wounds. Your default setting might be: I don’t need help and I can take care of myself. So, when your boss chews you out unfairly, your partner cheats on you, or your kids get into trouble in school, you swallow hard, stiffen your upper lip, and tell yourself you’ll handle everything on your own.

By not reaching out, you’re doing what was adaptive in childhood and helped you survive. Had you kept pestering your parents for comfort, they might have gotten angry or shamed or punished you. Instead, you acted wisely (then) and took care of business yourself. Because this behavior was adaptive, it became your default setting—fearing burdening other people, you manage yourself. You may not even realize that this is your automatic response. Or you may realize it and think it’s healthy. Only those people who can adapt according to changing circumstance not only survive but thrive. That means you need to stop reacting from an old, out-of-date response system—your faulty default setting. In terms of evolution, flexibility rules.

So, what does this have to do with dysfunctional eating? Most people I treat are stuck in a default mode: they turn to food, not people, when they’re upset and have other outmoded, irrational beliefs that promote an unhealthy relationship with food. Take a minute and consider what your default setting is responding to distress. Do you immediately circle the wagons? Would you rather be run over by a truck than share a “shameful” secret? Are you automatically suspicious when folks are nice to you? Do you fear burdening people? Can you honestly say that your world today consists of people just like your parents who won’t be there for you? After identifying your default setting as irrational and outmoded, it’s time to reprogram yourself. Notice when you start to react automatically, then press your reset button and respond more effectively.