Find out if your oral habits are getting in the way of your goals. Srini Pillay, M.D. identifies common mistakes people make and how to reverse them in this guide to getting what you want.
In this world full of hacks and “seven ways to do this or that,” we are often tempted to confuse clarity with the truth and to label obscure ideas as “impractical.” Yet in psychotherapy and deep coaching sessions, it is often such ambiguous realizations that truly move people to change their lives.
One such realization is the mind-body connection, a deeply meaningful and complex relationship that can stand in the way of your goals, even when your goal is as concrete as a making $1 million.
The mind is defined as “responsible for one’s thoughts and feelings,” and it is directly associated with the brain. Furthermore, the brain plays a role in the functioning of your entire body, from movement to breathing and beyond. In fact, the connection goes both ways: The brain sends messages to the body, and the body sends messages to the brain.
In turn, your goals are thoughts that arise in your brain, and because your body sends signals to your brain, your body can have quite a profound impact on your goals. Now, your mouth is part of your body, and, in theory, it can impact your brain and thoughts, too.
The Psychoanalytic Mouth
The mouth is associated with a characteristic we call “oral,” and we use this to describe “oral character,” or how the ingestive functions of the mouth are associated with the development of the self. These oral preferences—talking, eating, etc.—can have much deeper ramifications for one’s psyche and, therefore, one's goals.
The psychiatrist Sigmund Freud believed that we develop our sexual drives and instincts when we are young, and depending on our experiences, we may or may not resolve conflicts at each stage adequately. When we do not resolve conflicts, this results in a non-resolution or fixation on specific bodily functions (e.g., oral fixation), which can turn into powerful unconscious influences that create barriers to our goals.
4 Ways Your Orality Can Help You Achieve Goals
In my work with patients, I have seen the possible connections described by Freud and other theorists on orality and behavior. To take advantage of insights about your orality and to use them to attain goals, consider the following framework:
1. Identify your habits.
Discern whether you eat, drink, smoke, bite your nails, emphasize oral sexual gratification, or grind your teeth. Look for signals that orality is part of your makeup, and then attempt to limit possible destructive behaviors with or without the help of someone.
Get started by maintaining a habit journal. In it, list all of the repetitive activities you currently engage in related to mouth. Of course, eating and brushing your teeth don’t really count, but if you stress-eat or brush your teeth too vigorously—both of which are destructive behaviors—those are important to track. Once you have this list, you can see what your oral behavior is like. This might seem juvenile, but give it a try, and go with the flow.
2. Recognize “turn against self” defense mechanisms.
It’s important to recognize that if you are prone to oral tendencies, you are more likely to use “turn against self” defense mechanisms, too. As a result, before you get to an action, you sometimes have to realize things more deeply.
Secure this realization by asking yourself some questions: In what way does my oral behavior work against me? Do I eat unhealthy things? Do I avoid dental cleanings? Do I raise my voice at people often? Next to each excessive behavior, note in your habit journal how these oral-themed actions work against you and why.
3. Examine your intuition.
Most likely, destructive oral tendencies come from excessive self-doubt. When you don’t believe that the answers lie within you, it’s common to look elsewhere for them. To combat this destructive thinking, remember that no one truly knows the road to your success, but you probably know it best of all, so trust your intuition.
For instance, say you believe that the proposed business plan at your company will fall short on attaining your quarterly goals. Write this down. Then, write down why you think this is true. After that, write down why you think this might be false. Compare both lists. Then, in conversations and meetings, explore each — one by one — so you can gather data to support or refute your intuition.
4. Turn your attention inward to the psychology of your mouth.
Looking inside might seem like a strange and vague exercise, but don’t be quick to write it off. Take an easy first step, and set a few minutes aside to daydream. However, not just any kind of daydreaming will be sufficient. In the ’50s, Jerome Singer discovered that positive constructive daydreaming (PCD) helps you find creative solutions.
PCD comes in the form of doing something low-key like knitting, gardening, or walking outside on a curved path. Then, while doing the activity, let your mind float away and notice oral images or verbal utterances. Write these down in your habit journal. Perhaps you see yourself talking to someone or you see yourself eating on a yacht. You don’t have to have some genius interpretation of this. The puzzle pieces will likely come together on one of your future daydreaming trips.
How you use your mouth is a clue to your underlying psychology. It's a clue to self-sabotage and self-doubt that may be in the way of that $1 million and other goals along the way. Now, if you’re one of the lucky few who has already accomplished high-reaching goals, consider that your unnoticed orality might be standing in your way from making that next $1 million down the road.
Srini Pillay, M.D., is the CEO of NeuroBusiness Group and the award-winning author of numerous books, including “Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind,” “Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear,” and “Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders.” He also serves as a part-time assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and teaches in the Executive Education Program at Harvard Business School.