Do You Know the Devil on Your Shoulder?

Pepper the pup — because she’s a cute little devil

Sometimes I wonder if all wellness professionals live perfectly healthy lives, free of cravings and vices and all of the “bad” things you’re not supposed to do.

Do nutritionists even notice when there’s a bread basket in front of them? Are meditation teachers always super chill, even when the train is late? Is a super athlete ever tempted to stay in his/her cozy bed and just skip the damn workout??

I wonder because I’m supposedly one of those wellness professionals — but a complete optimal living is not my experience.

As the common adage in behavior change goes, I know what I should do but I definitely don’t always do it. Figuring out what choices align with my wellbeing and actually following through is really freaking hard.

Most recently, I was humbled to be on the receiving end of coaching when I embarked on a journey to improve my digestion.

My first habit: eat an earlier, lighter dinner.

Easy, right?

Right.

I typically cook vegetarian meals for myself, which are inherently lighter, so I figured this wouldn’t be very difficult.

I just needed to eat earlier and eat less and not pile on a bunch of cheese atop those veggies even though I totally deserve that cheese and it’s been a long day and I WANT CHEESE.

That’s all I had to do. No cheese.

It also meant that I “closed the kitchen” at 7pm and couldn’t spend the remainder of my night partaking in my favorite nighttime activity: snaking. A bite of chocolate here, a few crackers there, steal some of my husband’s burrito, now I need more chocolate... Etc., etc., etc.

As I started to “deprive” myself of these simple joys, I witnessed how attached I was to these habits. I faced my cravings head on and saw how I rationalized EVERYTHING — even manipulating my knowledge of Ayurveda to make it seem like having a cookie was the right thing to do (“I had a long day, I need some sweet heaviness to ground me”).

I noticed that when I wasn’t eating at home, I didn’t even try to adhere to the habit. There’s no use, people don’t even meet for dinner until 8pm — and ordering soup at a restaurant is boring. Can I live??

I was popping out all sorts of excuses.

And it was fascinating experience to observe.

I started to pay attention and get curious about my excuses. I imagined a little gremlin inside typing away, proudly announcing her latest masterpiece that was super convincing.

I pictured my gremlin as the Mucinex blob adorned with a princess crown. She was both a terrible virus and tyrannical brat yelling “I don’t care if it makes you sick, I want cake damnit!”

And I would listen to her — mainly because I believed she was me.

Ms. Grem

The next morning the gremlin (let’s call her Ms. Grem) would be nowhere to be found. Presumably passed out, peacefully slumbering after getting her way. My higher self would then show up, observe my uneasy belly, and wonder why? Why hadn’t I stuck to the plan?

That’s when I realized that my gremlin was a case of false identity.

I was not the gremlin, I did not need those snacks — Ms. Grem did. She was another form of my lower ego-self showing up and convincing me that these fleeting sensations were necessary to my happiness — maybe even my survival!

She was a habit. An urge. The devil on my shoulder. My lower, primitive brain who’s demands only got louder the more attention and validity I gave them.

Once I started to see my urges for what they were (a habit literally etched into my brain, not an emotional or physical necessity) I was able to separate myself from Ms Grem.

I knew Ms. Grem was driven by sensory experiences, much like the ego is driven by external validators, and was only telling me what she thought I wanted to hear.

With this perspective, I started to appreciate her and all the clever tricks she’d come up with to keep my higher-self at bay.

I’d talk back to her, lovingly, like I do to my new puppy: “I know Ms. Grem, you’re very excited but you’re just going to have to settle down. Not tonight.”

Calm detachment would eventually quiet her clamor and allow my higher-self to appear. When I didn’t agree nor argue with my primitive brain, the urge would start to slip away and the decision to have a cookie became a conscious one as opposed to an automatic reaction.


So after three months of attempting this new habit, I’m still working on it.

I’ve not yet mastered discernment between my lower-self compulsions and my higher-self needs—and I know taming Ms. Grem will be a lifelong process— but simply acknowledging that she’s not actually me has been helpful.

What I’m most interested in is how to keep her from getting so loud in the first place. How does one stay attuned and aligned with their higher-self more often than not? How do you keep that devil off your shoulder?

For now, I’ll leave that for you to contemplate!