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Does “Mind over Matter” Really Work?

woman in pink dress kicking foot with orange high-heel shoe up in the air

Today starts a series on the importance of dressing for success as a remote worker. Along with posts dedicated to the topic, The Work-at-Home Mom Blog will be launching a community challenge on social media called the #getdressedinitiative. Every day, we encourage you to “dress up” (doesn’t have to be full-on professional attire but definitely more than sweats or athleisure) for your workday at home. Snap a pic of yourself and tag us in your Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook posts using @thewahmblog and the hashtag #getdressedinitiative. We look forward to being inspired by your style and learning more about how what you wear affects how you work!

You work the way you feel, and you feel the way you look. There are exceptions to this, of course. However, I’m going to express an unpopular opinion here: Cartesian dualism is a myth. Allow me to get philosophical for a second.

You might recall René Descartes’s famous saying “Cogito ergo sum”—a Latin phrase typically translated into English as “I think, therefore I am.” In the 1600s, Descartes, a French philosopher, scientist, and mathematician, used this line to encapsulate his proposition that the mind/soul and the body are two separate substances that interact with each other but are not inherently intertwined and the mind/soul is what defines humankind’s rationality and, thus, humanity. This line of thinking creates a binary between mind and body, mind and matter—one that exists in a hierarchical ordering, with the immaterial valued over and above the material.

The result of Cartesian dualism becoming firmly entrenched in Western philosophy is that for hundreds of years, the mind has been valued as that which brings us closer to God and the body as that which tethers us to the earth. Consequently, we’ve spent centuries telling ourselves and others to “rise above” the physical realm and “overcome” any physical limitations—as if the body were something to be policed and repressed as a worldly remnant and signifier of our mortality.

Whoa, we got deep there, right?

The bottom line is this: while self-help gurus love “mind over matter”-focused comments, rejecting the role of the body in an individual’s overall wellness is unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst. How we feel in our skin, as embodied human beings, shapes how we feel in general, about everything—ourselves, our work, and our relationships. Focusing on “rising above” our body sets us up for failure, because we can ignore the physical for only so long.

Rather than rejecting the symbiotic relationship between mind and matter, we should take a more holistic approach, attending to the dynamic interplay between our emotions/psyche and our bodies. If we better understand how the physical shapes the psychological, and vice versa, then we can implement individualized strategies that optimize the relationship between the two and enable us to feel like unified beings ready to take on the world.

Today begins the #getdressedinitiative. We’ll spend the next 30 days getting “dressed up” (see definition above) for our workdays and journaling about how what we wear affects how we feel about our work and how we perform at work (from home). Please share your pics and reflections on social media using the hashtag #getdressedinitiative and the tag @thewahmblog!

What do you hope to gain from this month-long challenge?