Beyond Pet Peeves

Beyond Pet Peeves

I want to encourage you to lose your pet peeves – in fact, I’d like to encourage you to find more effective ways to channel frustration in general. When you’re frustrated, are you the sort of person who finds that getting really angry over what’s bugging you will make you feel better?

I learned that expressing frustration doesn’t work so well for me personally – in fact, it intensifies the frustration and makes it more likely for me to make additional mistakes. I also have a tricky time calming myself when I’m finally successful. I discovered this by what follows in this post. First, I followed a thinking skill listing and rating exercise about various ways to answer this question:

Exactly how do I get myself to “feel better” about whatever bothers or frustrates me?

(In fact – try making this list before you continue reading. Then rate each point on a 1-to-10 scale…)

Higher on my own list were such points such as:

• Taking a break by laying on my back semi-supine with my knees in the air. (A short nap also works for me.)

• Doing something more effective in a practical, problem-solving way that realistically solves the challenge, even though it may involve ongoing, cumulative or work yet-to-be determined.

• Reminding myself that I don’t need to expect myself to already know how to complete an unfamiliar task

• Making art – or doing other things that I generally enjoy as a daily practice so my general level of frustration is less

• Deliberately using “book-matched” breathing – (measuring my in and out-breaths and making them match each other in pairs. I was taught this effective strategy by Joanna Wyss as a handy technique for interrupting high levels of anxiety.)

• Refusing to think of and “adding onto” other situations or points that were negative to this irritating one

• Reciting to myself, “Patience!” really slowly.

• Asking myself, “Is this REALLY so important enough to get upset about?”

After making this list for myself, the: “Deciding to not associate this bad thing that is happening with other bad things that happened in the past” turned out to be an interesting point on the list I made. So I decided to expand and discuss this point further here. This point on my list generated some additional interesting observations and questions. (Maybe you have a point on your list that could also be fruitful to further expand?)

My first observation was how I already knew “State-Specific Learning” can both help and hinder skill expression. To use this concept, I had to consider expressing an angry frustration as a functional skill. For me, the most common situation where frustration emerged for me was when I was learning or trying to accomplish a goal and things weren’t working the way I’d hoped.

To do this, I had to ask myself some more questions…

In what situation does violent expression of frustration effectively work for me?

Maybe because in some situations, getting violent does work to “blow off steam” from volatile emotions – it definitely gets attention.

Can I think of how and why does this work?

Many decades ago, my small town had collected many junk cars that were to be towed away. My quirky friend decided it was a sales opportunity to “rent” people a sledge hammer and eye protection so they could pound on and destroy further these junk cars with abandon to make themselves “feel better.” Wish I could see that amusing video again right now! It appears that one of the techniques of comedy is to exaggerate complaints so that they become blown out of proportion.

This also made me realize how “better” needed to be defined. “Better” can be expressed as “happier” or as “more meaningful,” and these two are often mutually exclusive.

Now that I have my definition of “better,” I can observe how violence can be an effective way of bringing a serious complaint to the foreground so it becomes meaningful and even perhaps newsworthy. Crying has a cathartic function as a release for sadness and other overwhelming or conflicting emotions.

So, now I have a list of some more sources and situations that can help me decide if I should express my frustrations in some negative way to “make myself feel better.” Now that I’ve made this list, I can ask myself specifically, “Am I in those situations listed where expressing my frustrations are likely to be effective?”

For me, there was another notable feature on my list that was low on my ratings. Talking or writing about something that bothers me rates very low for me in it’s effectiveness to make me feel better when I’m frustrated or upset. But talking about what bothers us evidently rates high for most people! So effective, that the whole field of talk therapy is based on doing it. Some people have a past problem or bad situation that makes them notable and in some cases, the bad things that happen to some people even makes them a living. But for me, talking about a situation “spends” the energy of it and functions sort of like releasing a pressure cooker valve. But this “release of pressure” is unsatisfying to me, because nothing changes because of having done it.

Yet, I write this blog!

Is there something unusual or notable on the bottom of your ratings?

Nearly everyone has irritants or situations that bother them. Now that you’ve made this list, it also helps to ask yourself about if there’s a category or customary time for you when being upset commonly emerges. If you can anticipate you’re about to confront a circumstance where you’re likely to react, you can head your reactions off at the pass before these emotions spring out of nowhere on you.

For me it was, “How can I expand my lack of tolerance for unfamiliarity?”

If we know what situations are when our frustrations are likely to emerge, then we can design positive solutions that improve our circumstances in general over time. In some cases, we might be able to avoid those situations entirely if we think that’s OK. Personally, I want to continue to learn new things. Because I feel that learning new things is valued, I’m forced to take gradual steps to improve my tolerance for unfamiliarity. I think that I need to take on my specific challenges gradually and build my muscles up about confronting my issues around unfamiliarity, now that I know my challenging circumstances. I need to build so incrementally that the fearful resistance doesn’t activate.

So is there any advantage to minimizing our Pet Peeves – if that’s even possible once they are set into place? Given our history with them, how can we possibly deactivate a Pet Peeve? Is it even possible to imagine what life would be like for us beyond having been a victim of a bad experience, if our “Peeve” is so serious that it has become our sense of identity? Is it worthwhile to prioritize what concerns or frustrates us?

There’s a number of factors that are at work here, but first, let’s apply our thinking skills on this question:

What are the differing qualities between “hated” and “loved”?

Curiously, the feelings about what you “hate” are often intense, memorable and notable; whereas things, people and situations that are about what you “love” have subtle qualities that are sometimes tricky to even register on our own perceptual capacity. Realizing what we love sort of “sneaks up on us,” requiring repeated exposure. Most of us find it tricky to make as long of a list about the positive things that we actually want. But we can rattle off our negatives with no hesitation!

This suggests a strategic exercise that I learned from Barbara Sher, (1935-2020, author and “Godmother of Life Coaching.”) She called this exercise, “The Job From Hell.” But it works as an activity with any situation you hate, not merely jobs. (It works for what sort of house you might want, what sorts of relationships you might enjoy, etc.)

First, you list what you “hate.” Then the more tricky part: imagine and convert things or situations on your list to contain the opposite of the features or qualities of each point of what you hated. Perhaps this “opposite” list will contain indicators of “what you love,” or at least “what you don’t hate.” Doing this exercise might in total help you uncover or design multiple positive features you might come to love in a situation, over time. When we did the last exercise describing Loves & Hates, we uncovered that realizing what we love happens through repeated exposure and gradually increases as we note what we do enjoy.

Maybe you’re wondering, “How does this topic relate to Alexander Technique?”

One of the ways to express the Alexander Technique principle of Direction is to note how and where in your own body you’re already feeling easier (as opposed to sensing and noting relative tension.) Humans are wired to sense the relative contraction of their musculature, not the lengthening of muscles. Usually, lengthening only comes forward in our sensory capacity when there’s a big change from effort due to a marked release of effort. It takes practice to widen our field of awareness to sense muscular lengthening in other circumstances. AND it often takes movement to internally sense where or if lengthening is happening.

Turns out, it takes further practice to note multiple spots inside our body that happen to feel easier with our own coordination – where inside ourselves that we can feel a sense of effortlessness. That’s why Direction is a practice and not something you do once and poof! “Changed forever after.”

What do I mean by “effortlessness?”  You can explore further with an experiment that will give you a sensation of a lack of effort here:
https://myhalfof.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/dissonance-reveals-bias/

The curious effect is that the skill of sensing a lack of muscular effort will expand as you pay attention to it. Of course, this phenomena of expansion works with any specific you focus on – it expands as you turn your attention to it. Expanding whatever you notice is a feature of how humans brains work, termed the RAS. (Reticulated Activating System.) Essentially, we humans have an “important” list we can note in order to help us focus on what exactly are future priorities. For instance, if we invest time buying a car, this is why suddenly we notice the same models of the cars we’re considering – they suddenly appear everywhere.


Hope you’ve enjoyed my topic today. I know it’s three times the length of what people normally read online – thanks for using a quality of sustained attention to read it!

Please comment with your own observations, explorations, suggestions and comments…

How Does A.T. Change You?

What’s happening when a person learns Alexander Technique? What would they expect to learn? After having learned A.T. – are there requirements that must be done to continue to gain its benefits?

Part of this answer has to do with the nature of skill and practice itself. Turns out there are different categories of skills – I’m going to describe and contrast two of these: practice skills and perceptual skills. Some of the misconceptions about Alexander Technique has to do with not really knowing that different categories of learning results exist. To learn Alexander Technique means you gain both of these – but the most unusual is the perceptual learning skill.

Some of learning Alexander Technique can come purely through practice.
Of course, there are many skills requiring practice. These sorts of skills will be sensitive to cumulative effort. The quality, timing, direction, relationship and sequences of this effort will determine the nature, speed and the results of this practice.

There are also insights that need to be coupled with practice to get past the pitfalls of unintentionally installing the wrong routines. It’s a pitfall to unknowingly practice what you don’t want along with what you intentionally want, which can become a later nuisance – even to the point of pain. Not knowing what you want to train – (or just being a clueless newbie who mistakes blind repetition for practice) can get you into a double-bind corner. That’s why it’s an advantage to get some tips from someone who has previously gone down the road you’re about to travel. Of course, it becomes an advantage to recognize a potential mentor who is skilled at teaching as well as possessing the skill you want to learn.

What makes Alexander Technique unique is it offers is a tool to clear the slate of the unwanted effects that were installed through practicing by mistake.

As you gain some level of skill using practice, the basics tend to always stay with you. (Although when you haven’t been practicing, it’s often dismaying how far you have fallen behind what you used to be able to do.) Though the potential of where you can go with practice will fade when you stop doing what gives you more advanced advantages, having done the skill at all in the past gives you the understanding of the nature of practice itself. So you’re able to re-train yourself again if you lose your advanced abilities that you gained through practice – you’ll learn faster the next and subsequent times through too.

But – one of the features of this category of “practice” is you need to actually do the practice to get the benefits. The more time you devote to practicing and the high quality of practice you’re able to use, the further you get in rewards of skill.

So along this line – anything you can do to remind yourself to practice will offer faster results.

Perceptual Learning
More unusual, there are also types of skills that come under the category of Perceptual Learning. Examples are the ability to sex chickens and plane spotting, which are pretty specialized skills that most people might never want to learn. As a result, this type of learning isn’t really discussed very often and not much is known about how or if this sort of learning can be reversed. But what I do know that this sort of skill turns into a perceptual ability that cannot be so easily shut off. Strange issues can come from not being able to resist using a perceptual ability once it’s trained.

A personal example for me comes from a livelihood skill that got trained by my standing close to a wall and judging whether or not what I was doing on the wall was level in relationship to the building as I was doing it. I was a muralist, so this skill was very handy to have learned. This odd ability involving my peripheral vision judgment had a backlash. It caused me to not be able to tolerate a specific pupil distance measurement common in my eyeglasses. If this measurement is not therapeutically widened beyond it’s intended function of centered pupil distance, I get headaches. I bless each day the ophthalmologist who discovered this solution for me!

My point is this: perceptions can open and remain open once this sort of perceptual learning has been accessed, like a door that you cannot lock again after it has been unlocked. With this type of learning, it’s as though you’ve been initiated into a whole new world that contains a capacity that feels as if you’ve always had it. It involves a reaction chain on a basic level that “gets an update.” Once you have perceived these perceptual differences and learned to respond to them, you cannot close up this perceptual capacity. (Or perhaps there are ways to close off this perceptual learning that I’m not familiar with. I imagine it would need to work underneath the perceptual reaction to somehow refuse to “go there.”)

This sort of learning seems to happen like magic – one moment you couldn’t do it, and the next you could with increasing accuracy. Even a master of an ability in this category might not really know exactly how they do this thing, but they can demonstrate their ability to do it.

How do you gain this sort of learning? One way this sort of learning is taught by guessing in the presence of someone who can do it successfully. They give you feedback whether you’ve done it or not done it successfully in a binary way. At some point, you gain the ability to give yourself this mysterious perceptual feedback you got from your teacher – then you “have” this skill, poof!

Of course, skills can be a mixture of these different categories. Alexander Technique is like a “hack” for practicing that also affects your perceptual abilities – the kind of perceptual learning that opens your awareness in an irrevocable way.  Alexander Technique allows a shift in a mysterious change in perception of ones’ own ability to internally sense and influence internal perceptual response strategies. It’s like your awareness of a sixth sense inside yourself has gotten turned on. It offers a way to attend to yourself as the instrument that drives the result of your desire, somewhat like the benefits of meditation – only you gain the capacity to apply this change with a paradoxical surrender of your goal while in action.

The other curiosity is how immediately A.T. integrates into whatever else you want to affect. To get the benefits of it after you invest in learning A.T. doesn’t need to involve a big time sink. It needs only momentary, pin-pointed intention, like a handy tool you carry in your back pocket. The best time to use this tool is right before you go into action. It involves a tiny, specific perceptual shift of potential self-awareness and a follow-through of action you can use to free yourself that “sets the stage” for success. This action is an intentional physical lengthening of yourself, a sort of system reset order that’s guaranteed to free your own habitual responses. You’d couple A.T. with a specific goal because you want to refine, improve or build it. A.T. also works to sift, mitigate or prevent what you didn’t want that got accidentally mixed up with what you wanted. Or you might just want to change your consciousness.

For me, practicing Alexander Technique enhances pretty much everything else I can do. It’s true multi-tasking in the form of practical mindfulness that refines whatever I’m becoming.

Benefits of Alexander Technique

 

I suspect that once you read this, it will make Alexander Technique sound like snake oil. But think about it for a moment. Imagine if you could get a user manual that would sharpen your own fallible human perception while providing easier movement. Wouldn’t that be a useful foundation for the unlimited learning of anything skill you’d want to do?
It’s tricky to put Alexander Technique into words, but here are some ways to describe it…

  •  Learn living anatomy and effortless control of freer movement. By uncovering what’s in your way that you have forgetfully only gotten used to doing.
  •  Learn to refresh muscle memory, so you can respond to what’s new instead of reacting with the old same thing.
  •  Gain insight, impulse control, evoke flow, & speed up training & practice time
  •  See where someone is going to move next, (great for being behind a video camera.)
  •  Get more benefits & discoveries from practicing your favorite skill by using effortlessness. Experience a signature feeling of a “flow or lightness” during lessons and practice.
  •  Find out how to learn new tricks, even when you feel like you’re an old dog. Find out how to get better at what you love, even if you’ve given up on it!
  •  Uncover strange, new abilities and senses that you never knew you had – by freeing your perceptual assumptions.
  •  Sharpen impulse control, go beyond conditioned reactions and assumptions and set aside negativity – all by making a physical movement in an easier way.
  •  Get a first-hand experience of directed body-mind unity, “flow,” a peak experience!
  • Aside from time it takes to learn, benefits of Alexander Technique carry into any other activity. To use it, you “direct” yourself differently; no special practice hour once you know the skill because it combines with every action.

 

 

Six lessons will get you a taste, and usually in less than thirty lessons you can have a useful skill for life.  Sign up for and experience an Alexander Technique lesson series or workshop today!

Discovery Steps

A feature of Alexander Technique is that it teaches the ability to tap the unknown for new information. These points outlined below can be applied generally to any discovery process. In Alexander’s case, his interest was how to learn a new way to speak onstage how he loved to do, despite having learned to unintentionally repeat what brought his performance to a standstill and appeared to actively sabotaging himself by losing his voice.

Exactly how do people handle what is challenging, a bit scary and undefined? What makes people become ready and willing to question their own ways of doing what they do? What are “questions that matter” and how do we learn to form them for ourselves?

  • How Can I Make It Safe?
  • Identify and suspend former conclusions and partial solutions
  • Ridicule self preservation so you can increase your ability to take risks
  • Physical safety – just a bit of “insurance”
  • How Can I Make My Experimenting Memorable?
  • Characteristics of making discoveries about the unknown – so you can recognize them when they happen
  • Using more senses will make learning faster – cross-referencing perceptual senses will help reveal physical assumptions trained unconsciously by repetition
  • Record yourself, keep a journal, use technology, use another person, even just a mirror is useful for feedback on what’s happening
  • How Can I Observe to Perceive What I May Be Missing?
  • Change the speed of the action
  • Description blow-by-blow what’s going on, as it’s happening
  • Humor and paradox are also a feature of discovery; make it laughable
  • What’s a Better Question?
  • Learn the lingo – if you don’t have words for factors, tricky to ask about them
  • Interesting – clueless – many-faceted – there are many flavors of questions
  • How Am I Concluding, and Despite What?
  • Describe what happened that you didn’t think was useful – what’s implied?
  • After describing contractions, objections, go again to “check out” your conclusions
  • Rinse, Wash, Repeat
  • Take breaks, pause.
  • Ask, “What happened before my discovery happened?”
    “What can I do to take this discovery further?”

So – I’m curious what else might work for you to evoke new information or experiences?

 

Cumulative

One of the central principles of how Alexander Technique works is based on the concept of a domino effect. Small actions, (in the form of tiny routines) pile up and become powerful influences. “You become what you repeat” is one way of expressing this often skipped-over super power to both suffer and affect change in yourself.

A studied ability to perceive subtle foundation movements is what seems so magical about how an Alexander Technique teacher can pull the rug out from underneath apparently self-caused difficulties.

An example comes from the situation of professional performing musicians. At what age did the musician learn to hold their musical instrument? How big was it then – and how big were they as kids when they first learned to make sounds with it? Height might be a factor; certainly hand and arm size; what sort of reach was possible? Put the answers to these questions in perspective, and issues with repetitive pain injury can sometimes be solved with immediate practical ergonomic adjustments.

Because of the power of our self-confirming misconceptions, humans will move the way we imagine that we are able to move. How to approach this bias? We can change this effect through questioning and insight as in the musician example above. We could used hypothesis, comparing by remembering what our situation was like for us in our past. Then we can craft experiments with what we uncover. This might lead us to even better questions, such as: How far across was that goal post area when we first got played in a standard sized soccer field when we were kids? How high was that basketball ring when first learning compared to how tall we are now?

Another way to influence change is to design many different ways to practice whatever we have discovered. If it can be counted, it can be made into a game, right? But be careful what you count, because this focus is what will quickly jump out to become priorities.

Another technique for sifting out an unwanted effect from an already learned routine is to slow down. Varying the rate of the activity will reveal formerly unnoticed differences. Once these often crucial differences have been revealed, they can be incorporated into a faster paced action.

Best chance for change needs about three weeks of commitment to install new habits. It takes around seventy repetitions to make a new skill reliable; although after around seven or eight times even the most awkward and strange movements will begin to feel “normal.” Perhaps collect game pieces that symbolize achievements as “rewards?” Logging practices has been shown to be effective, as has practicing just after performance when “mistakes” are fresh in your mind.

To wrap up – piled up tiny actions can become exponential. If you’d like to reveal these mysteries, you can go slower, you can examine your foundation assumptions you can work on practice design. Once you know what is happening underneath your assumptions, you can redesign a way to practice your desired new improvements, given you can partly do what you imagine is possible. If you cannot yet do what you want, you can work on your foundation mannerisms as a whole and you can ask for help from an observant coach or Alexander Technique teacher. Once you have ways to practice, you will uncover perceptual discoveries as well as progress in your goals. Don’t just skip over these perceptual curiosities! Reflect on these surprising discoveries to put them to best use, or you may unintentionally practice mistakes. This is how you’ll get more benefits from practice as never before – Better yet – record and share your discoveries in some way – then the processes you followed will become as valuable as your results.

Why Observe?

Key to getting past self-imposed limitations is the ability to interrupt unnecessary habits of going into action.  We’d would do this in preparation for our “best efforts;” so we can investigate if there might be an easier way to proceed, after we put on pause our self-interference. It’s like a re-fresh or re-boot for our strategies of learning – not just this time, but as a revision of a template or a franchise of learning.

But…doesn’t anyone do this as they learn?

It’s tricky to not get distracted by specific content. What results we are able to get because of our methods? Our literal & goal oriented preferences often skips over how method or mannerisms fuels or limits possible results.

It’s not merely all about getting ourselves to substitute some potential improvement we think will work better. Isn’t it sort of a hamster trap to train a supposedly “better” replacement routine, only to find later that what seemed “better” has now become yet another rut that needs addressing? Why not learn a process like Alexander Technique that can be applied to better any workable solution – a process that will not be short-sighted?

OK, let’s say we’re convinced that observing is a good idea.

First, it helps immensely to establish some criteria for successes, so we can recognize improvements on the front end when it might happen unexpectedly. It’s handy to have multiple ways to spot what we want, to recognize potential. We’ll want to know whenever we stumble on something potentially valuable in a nascent form. The reason this is so essential is because if something that happens is really new, it might slip by unnoticed by us, underneath our radar. Plus, we might dismiss it’s usefulness purely because of it’s quality of unfamiliarity.

To recognize and measure potential success, I want to sell you on the value of noting what feels effortless. When we’re after “effortlessness,” (or efficiency) what we are after is subtraction, clearing, to get less, even to get…nothing. When doing new things, carving new pathways in our brain while learning, commonly people experience drawing a blank – and this is a good thing. Blanks are areas where we can learn from.

So, how do we tell the difference between “no results” and less unnecessary effort, which has characteristics that feel like…nothing?  Thinking skills help fill in blanks here.

You can use strategies such as populating establishing observational categories. It’s trickier working bare bones with features that we normally don’t notice when we just ask ourselves, “What did I notice?” With categories, you can go down the list and compare for matches… Categories such as:

  • Qualities – What qualities did my experience have?
  • Priority Sequences – What came first, next and how does time of arrival affect results?
  • Timing – Are there things happening together regularly that determine results?
  • Direction – where am I located? Can I conduct or control the situation?
  • Relationships – How do all factors work together? Best recombination possible?Filling in the blanks from these categories will help you sort out what happened that offered that strange feeling of effortlessness…

Self-observation helps us to notice differences between “before” and “after.” Being able to describe the “before” part is useful. For this to happen, we also need to put on pause the former solutions that have partially worked previously. I like to think of these former solutions as “working titles” hanging on the wall, so they can be suspended temporarily.

Then…we craft a suitable experiment. We conduct our experiment. We observe what happens… Decide how we can use results. Rinse and repeat…

This is some of the writing I’ve been doing on a series about how to get benefits from practice based on the working principles of Alexander Technique. Of course, I fill in the missing siplifications in the above paragraph in future posts.

What do you think? Is it useful so far?

Template For Change

I’d like to tell you how Alexander Technique worked for me to uncover & cope with my own underlying psychological motives and assumptions. This strategy solved a firmly entrenched childhood impasse that was causing me irrational social problems.

I’d like you to take the time to consider this because this same strategy has since worked for myself and other to solve many uncontrollable emotional issues where the source of the emotional motives were hidden or masked.

My own issue was blurting out shocking, hurtful diatribes at an inappropriate time. What sorely needed updating were my outbursts designed in childhood to avoid my wounded feelings of isolation and exclusion. But I didn’t know this on the front end. My childhood solution was such an effective denial that I never felt the original emotion that drove me to design the reaction of “bring out the club” when the polite conversation was fencing at a dinner table. My saying something “shocking” was designed to stop the conversation and avoid feeling my emotions. It worked too well! Without knowing what was behind the reaction, change was unlikely. What was going on was an over-sensitive trigger recognition system that worked splendidly…yet the problem was it was on too much of an over-sensitive, uncontrollable hair-trigger to be at all reasonable…and it was getting worse!

I believe the Alexander Technique is an essential tool to get such answers to such these complex psychological issues. The strategy is something that works on any psychological impasse of self-influencing “bad” behavior:

  • 1. Identify the situations where this objectionable irrationality is happening that involves “jumping to conclusions” that triggers the behavior.
  • 2. Use self-observation to trace back to become aware of oneself the moment before the conclusive, reactive “jump” happens… (Warning! There will be lurking the uncomfortable motive for acting unreasonably, and this emotion will embody a physical postural attitude & will be intense!)
  • 3. Free up that posture connected to the wounded feeling physically using Alexander Technique; breathing or whatever else you think might work. If it doesn’t, find something you can do in that moment that will work.
  • 4. There’s a reason that Alexander Technique was so handy. This discipline allowed me a true physical change of postural expression of this unwanted emotion. What you want to get is an awareness of your reaction that keeps getting triggered to go off in certain situations that will offer you new ways to address the issue & your own objection & drive to change it. If you don’t know how to use Alexander Technique, you might try something different to influence the situation in a more positive and effective manner. (But you will probably have to experiment to find something that truly works.)
  • 5. To design another alternative, identify the positive desire for a solution that contains positive values for everyone, not just the absence of your own suffering.
  • 6. If you trust the people present, announce your motives. If not, try out one of these possible solutions covertly to see if they might work to bring about positive, mature ways to influence your emotionally challenging situation. To the extent you are successful, you’ll be able dispense with the old, inappropriate childish reactions to uncomfortable situations. You may even reveal a talent you didn’t know you had.

Here’s How I Did This:
My first job was to note what situation was going on when I’d blurt out shocking, snide remarks. At first I was so blinded, that I only figured out I’d “done it again” by the comments of people days later. So my job became to catch myself doing it closer to the moment I was about to do what I didn’t really want to do.

Once I questioned whether I needed to use such an intense reaction in obviously inappropriate situations, I found I couldn’t redirect it until I uncovered my motive’s origin. I could temper the effects of what I’d said after the fact, maybe I could hit a “pause” button after I launched into doing it & turn it into a joke…but that didn’t change the problem that kept causing this reaction to come up. The moment before I opened my mouth contained the hidden, denied root of emotion.

To find all this, I had to trace the reaction back to when it started – this is what took some time & practice. How do you pay attention to something that happens when you’re not paying attention? I turned the challenge into a personal, ongoing project.

When I finally got to catch this unwanted reactive habit of mine, at the moment ~before~ doing my habitual solution, what I found was so uncomfortable that it was extremely dismaying to avoid repeating the habitual solution that I did not want to do. My impasse & emotional pain that I was feeling (about being excluded in this case) was expressed in the habitual postural attitude of my body. Oh, was it uncomfortable to hang out there! My body showed me how I felt emotionally with very physical signals of a hole below my rib cage that I sagged to cover.

But I had a tool – Alexander Technique. Without a way. to be able to physically move away from these limitations, I would be stuck feeling these awful, gunky routines of complex historic hurts. I could justify whatever I thought I needed to do to deal with this bad feeling, blaming & inciting others to hurt me further as I lashed out. The additional pain I could create with these hurt reactions made it worth this trouble to change.

Avoiding hurting emotionally would be a completely understandable justification for repeating the habitual remedy that I wanted to update. I suspected that my childhood ways of dealing with this pain was unnecessary, ineffective and an overcompensation for the problem.

Hanging out in the moment feeling these awful feelings, I realized how ANY remedy would be justified if an emotion feels extreme enough. Feeling angry feels more powerful than feeling sad. This would especially be true if a person doesn’t have an effective enough tool for dealing with their “stuff.” (I believe this sort of impasse is what drives people to kill!)

Using Alexander Technique allowed me to pop out of the physical reaction of how I was expressing the emotional hurt and be able to perceive it for what it was – It was the outdated adding together of insults. I could now so easily understand and compassionately forgive myself, (even congratulate myself) for designing such an effective coping mechanism when I was just a kid, even if it was something I needed to change now. Since I could recognize the core motives now for what they were and also how I feel now, I could freshly choose a more global and compassionate way of dealing with all these factors that could take into account other people and not just my own self-involved feelings.

My problem had been I blurted out snide remarks designed to hurtfully shock others who I thought were excluding me from their conversation. My own positive core motive that I could now experience was a burning desire for everyone to be fair, to include everyone present and to nurture feelings of playfulness and belonging together to maybe build something new.

After I described what I positively wanted, I had an idea. I assumed these people weren’t trying to be mean to me on purpose. Maybe I could insert whatever I had to say into the conversation, matching the faster pace… Then slow my own talking speed very slightly and bring the conversation around to gracefully include myself again. Since I was being left out of the conversation accidentally on purpose, the other people accepted me including myself again an all was well.

Strangely enough, this worked. My reaction stopped happening too, once I had an easier way to express how I felt.

In retrospect, I was lucky – my first idea of how to influence the situation worked. But I believe that with so much riding on the outcome, as I used this same process again on other issues – it also worked again. From these successes, I now have the track record and the persistence to keep going with additional possible solutions if the first strategy would not have worked.

Please take my experience and use it for your own purposes as a Template For Change!

Fooling Ourselves

For those who wonder, “What is Alexander Technique?”
Find a narrow door…stand in the doorway. With the back of your hands, palms inward, push outward and count to 30 seconds.
After that, walk away from the doorway and wave your arms around…they will feel light and as if they’re rising by themselves.
Before you put your own explanation on what just happened, imagine this for a bit…

When you pushed, you applied force long enough to “get used to it,” then you stopped using that force…so you experienced the lack of force with your sense of weight in your arms. This sensation is a sensory indicator that you’ve changed something, it doesn’t happen unless something has been changed. This sense of lightness and effortlessness is the indicator you’ll learn to spot as proof you’re using Alexander Technique to undo cumulative, collected unnecessary effort. The tricky part is it will not happen unless you have made a change comparatively big enough to evoke this lightness.

Humans can “get used to” everything! But…what does Alexander Technique have to do with this experiment?

Imagine that you’re about to apply force that isn’t necessary to merely inhabit your body and walk around, talk, lift your arms, etc. Because you do this all the time, you don’t realize you’re applying this force. Preparing to go into action with a certain amount of force present has become “customary effort” that exists in every movement you make.

It is force that you’re not aware of using, so you cannot know that you’re applying it where it doesn’t have any effects you want.

 

Essentially, humans are capable of fooling themselves once they get used to doing whatever they have adapted to do.

 

How can you stop what you cannot tell you’re doing or not?
What way do you proceed to deal with that?

That’s what Alexander Technique answers!

 

Alexander Technique makes unnecessary stress disappear, making whatever you’re doing (or not doing) easier to perform.

Alexander Technique gives you another way to “talk your walk.” You may imagine possibilities and know better, but with A.T. you can actually do as you intend.

 

  • It’s taught using a combination of a few types of education. These include:
  • sharpening impulse control,
  • how to “see” potential movement in other people
  • practical training of fun strategies that undo habitual limitations,
  • animal training applied to humans (sort of like Karen Pryor’s TAGteaching,)
  • some knowledge about living anatomy & cognitive brain science
  • how perception & adapting works in different situations.
  • how innocently deceptive our sensing of “required” effort is and how to sensitize it
  • and in person, hands-on guided modeling shown by a qualified A.T. teacher.All of this is meant to be put into action in a whole package when we do anything we’d like to improve or through gradual, cumulative improvement.

    Using Alexander Technique results in discoveries, epiphanies, intuitive insights and “talent” where we imagined we limited.  (An added benefit for many is regaining lost height!)

Assumptions

What does Alexander Technique have to do with assumptions?
Rather than replacing “bad” habits with “good” ones, using and learning Alexander Technique frees up how you assume you “must” move.

If you study, what will you be doing?
Beyond the teacher’s selection using the examples of a routine activity such as walking, rising from a chair, or using your voice, other goals of “where else do I apply this?” are often left to the student.

Because the public is literal and goal oriented, Alexander Technique teachers are often urged by marketers to pick a specialty. This special interest is built into the educational process as a niche to attract students. Students later find out they can apply what they learn to any activity and gain additional benefits.

You may not know all about what Alexander Technique is. But if you like to sing or do your favorite hobby…you know you want to enjoy that more often with benefits and insights. Certainly everyone could use more stamina at the end of the day after work and less stress while working. Alexander Technique is also a solution for people with physical movement limitations, if these issues originate or get worse from repetition.

You Were Sold On Reading…
The reason to learn Alexander Technique is sort of like learning to read. Imagine if you didn’t know how to read and you had to be sold on the benefits of reading? Imagine if someone said, “Everyone needs this! You can apply this skill to exploit any interest!” Would you be skeptical? Because, like reading, Alexander Technique is the real deal – but it takes education and commitment…and using it. (Fortunately, it doesn’t take special practice time, but only extra awareness to integrate A.T. into any movements!)

Unlimited Applications – Open-ended Progress
Alexander Technique comes from the performance art field of acting. If you were an actor, being able to assume other postural mannerisms of a portrayed character should be part of your skill – otherwise you are “type-cast” as a “one trick character.”

If your interest was horseback riding, you can imagine how studying your part of the relationship between horse and rider can allow the horse to perform better. Because then your horse doesn’t have to compensate for an imbalanced or fearful rider. Animals “read” your body language, so Alexander Technique helps the animal understand what you mean when you are giving training indicators to them too.

Are you giving examples as a coach or teacher to others? Alexander Technique will make your examples more refined for your students. You’ll find out how to get better at your skill, even if you’ve gone farther at it than anyone else.

Do you talk or must sell yourself as part of your job? You can learn speaking & communication skills that involve body language.

Do you speak a language that’s not your native one? You can minimize an accent and learn new mannerisms that are consistent with your non-native language.

Do you play a musical instrument? You can clear away whatever mannerisms you accidentally retain if you’re always learning to play new tunes – or new instruments, or digital support for your musicianship. Alexander Technique also works to revise the way you learned to hold and practice your instrument that may be self-limiting your progress.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t do any of those things.” But, now that you’ve got some examples, can you imagine how these points would benefit any sport, hobby or skilled work – because all of these benefits involve the study of physical mannerisms…?

What’s your interest? Whatever you enjoy doing or work at doing, you can have more stamina and continue to get better at doing it…once you make the commitment to study and use the Alexander Technique.

Train Your Courage

Operating Manual 
This Alexander Technique, like the ability to read, is a skill with abstract but unlimited applications. What I mean by “abstract” is it’s designed to be tailored by you to anything you’d like to improve, just as what you read about can be used to benefit any interest.

Alexander Technique is learning how to learn. This involves understanding and using the process of gaining mastery over yourself. You practice on yourself, by updating your mannerisms of movement response.

It’s my job here to sell you on the benefits of moving easier to respond to your goals so you can improve in the short run – AND continue making discoveries that have the potential for unlimited improvement!

“How” Is The Question, Not “What”
Usually the reason why a student wants to do any particular activity isn’t judged by their Alexander Technique teacher.
Of course, some A.T. teachers have their own personal opinions they advocate to their students, (such as avoiding high heels.) But one Alexander Technique teacher specializes in teaching women how to walk in heels without suffering! Usually, your A.T. teacher is only concerned with how you carry out your ideals & goals, not what your values or motives are.
What is sold by all Alexander teachers are a collection of principles, taught using specific examples of easier movement. These principles might be a bit mysterious if you haven’t studied a course of lessons….but they are:

  • mind-body unity
  • self-observation & awareness
  • the power to revise even pervasive, “innate” habits
  • practice design and ways to note and gain cumulative progress as you practice
  • a unique, functional model of self-judgment used to gain conclusions & insights.

Since your mannerisms are present in how you respond and react to what comes at you in every moment, it follows that every move expresses your motives within your mannerisms to some degree or another. Best examples to use for experimenting are those that involve changing physical balance –  you’re trying to get somewhere or do something.  (However, the one exception is whistling;  it is tricky to use as an activity. You must position your lips in a certain habitual way to “get” the sound and can’t really change that around to do it differently.)

Psychological and Philosophical 
Alexander Technique also has similar features and benefits to uncovering assumptions of thinking in the field of psychology. Once you design and train a habitual response, motives can become fused into the response and disappear.  This disappearing act that habits have make it useful to become aware of your original motives. Once these assumptions are revealed, then you can decide what you want to do about them. You can fulfill your motives in alternate ways that don’t contain the design problems of answering short-sighted goals. So if your doctor has said, “Don’t DO that activity that causes you pain,” there is usually an educational way around. Using the Alexander Technique philosophy can offer psychological insights because practical, physical mannerisms have an effect on social interaction and self-image.

Perceptually Relative Effort

Mostly people taught themselves about how they need to move to direct their actions. These “educated guesses” contain assumptions that can be mistaken as to amount of effort. Commonly, effort levels are unnecessarily heavy-handed, because we can over-ride our natural coordination if it’s “important.” We were probably given that capacity by adapting to survival. Putting activities on routine status saves energy. But, habits can become outdated and exaggerated…”Practice Makes Permanent.” You originally trained yourself to move a certain way because your priorities were “important.” You imagined you “needed” to move in a certain way to get your goals when you were using trial and error for a way to learn the required skill or action, which everyone does. So you justified feeling a bit awkward because you assumed your goal had to be done in this way. Repeat doing anything strange more than five times and it won’t feel so awkward.

Keep What’s Innate? Or Update?

As you train yourself effectively, the goal is for the skill to become innate, (no matter how awkward it feels at first.) Just like computer updates, if you do not use continued learning or something like Alexander Technique to update your skills, it’s seductive to forgot what habits you already were doing. You can seductively leave in-force a standing order to continue a habit indefinitely. In these common situations, you can unknowingly move in opposing directions in ways that are stressful on the body long enough to cause pain. Over-riding natural movement capacity against the structure of how humans are designed to move can cause people to unintentionally cause themselves pain. A little education with the operating manual of living anatomy is handy.

Warning! There’s a Cost!

In theory, updating “better” ways should be applied selectively, keeping the best and streamlining the rest. But movement memories seem to be wired together seamlessly. When you’re dealing with revising habits of movement, in the process of figuring out what is going on, you can disorient your sense of balance or even your sense of your own self-image. It can be a very strange sensation. You’re actually carving new brain pathways. It might make your sleepy, but it also might put you into a distress zone. One where you can’t quite make the new ways fly yet, but the old ways feel discomforting too. Retraining an ingrained habit of movement that has disappeared and become innate requires a willingness to tolerate and use unknown or unexplained results. But how does someone get that willingness?

Courage Training
What you are getting that causes strange perceptual sensations are body alarms about experiencing too much freedom. (For some rare people, all their self-preservation alarms might go off at once!) The teacher or situation must reassure a student that nothing dangerous is happening – when really, the unfamiliar *is* exceptionally dangerous. But how else do we learn, if not from the unknown?

A teacher of Alexander Technique, (or a teacher who deals with situations that *are*  factually dangerous) knows ways to make it quite safe so that anyone can feel just a little bit strange. They provide a “safety fall-back” so the old habit is always available if the student needs to retreat.

To want to experiment takes daring and fearlessness or maybe some community support. Of course, some people must train to extend their courage. It’s daring to speak or move easier in spite of fears about what it means to you – (despite not feeling like yourself!) This courage can be a new skill that can be “conditioned” and learned as any other skill.

Really, this odd sensation of effortlessness is weird, but it is the signal you’re heading into new territory. If it has a characteristic of more freedom, then you might be able to make a discovery. That’s a challenge! This new state often doesn’t provide you with words to formulate the new information – that will come later. You cannot decide beforehand what the unknown will be “like.” Each time you’re heading out into new territory.

Of course, the next challenges are to determine the ways to apply discretion and judgment as you select from all those weird, new feelings which results that will help you and which ones to intentionally disregard as random & inconsequential.

We’ll cover that next…

Timing

Let’s say we have put all this energy into learning constructive, new innovations we’d like to do for ourselves. But after spending some time learning, now we could use a way to practice whatever we can do. Designing a way to practice that works to improve gradually is key. We want to reinforce the new, unfamiliar behavior so it develops into a new routine,  so we can say we really “know it.”

But training a new, constructive habit is tricky, because our ways of gaining a new habit might be suspect. Slowness is an important tactic in designing a new habit to better ourselves. We would want to prevent ourselves from repeating what we know we don’t want to do, and this often takes going slowly. To the extent we can avoid doing what we don’t want, then our new routine will not merely be “Good enough for Rock’n’Roll,” It will truly be “Practice Makes Perfect.”
That saying is deceptive because most often, “Practice Makes Permanent.”  We need to be careful of what we allow ourselves to repeat. Best if each repetition is its own mini-experiment. It’s even best if the opportunity to experiment arrives unexpectedly!

  • There is this Aldous Huxley novel titled: “Island” where wild parrots have been taught to randomly squawk, “ATTENTION! Attention! HERE and Now! Here and NOW!”

     

  • What that would be like, to have a suggestion to experiment?
  • What if it happened at unexpected moments?
  • What if I could set up some sort of random notification to use to remember what I know how to do  – so it could happen more often?

So I went looking. I found this cute little app for my smart phone called “Enlighten.” It was made as a meditation timer. But I’ve begun to use it for so many other purposes.  (My phone is Android, but I selected this one from a wealth of others, so I’m sure you’ll find one for yourself if you have another brand of phone.)

Enlighten for android 

This little app for a smart phone is pretty cool because you can type in any sort of random provocation or saying into it. What you typed then re-arrives somewhat unexpectedly as a notification and/or sound.
(Would be great if you could enter in a list of varied provocations into the app, without knowing which one would come up. Also if you could choose the sound. But those aren’t a feature yet.)
Since I like to apply Alexander Technique principles, I set the notification to say:

“A bit freer?”   

This reminds me in unexpected moments to lengthen my whole body and make whatever I’m doing more fluid and fun.

There’s also a “temple bell” sound in the “Enlighten” application that can be set to go off in intervals that’s not very intrusive. For my students, I’d recommend to figure out how long you can sustain your attention and set the timer to go off just beyond it.

It works great! I look around and notice …how this moment is different.

 

Obscure Alexander Technique

Why is the Alexander Technique not that well-known?

Multiple reasons, actually.

First off, students who are introduced to the discipline of Alexander Technique are traditionally not given many words by their teachers to describe what they’re learning. It’s tricky to find words to describe how you are being taken to underneath the edge of your customary perceptual sensitivity levels. A.T. teachers read a students’ subliminal signaling like an open book, but you cannot…because you’re not trained to see it yet.

Also, the ability to tolerate perceptual unfamiliarity is unsettling to most people, but it also fascinates too. Some people are superstitious that if they describe it, the magic will go away. It’s awhile before you can evoke this “magic” on your own.

Second, most students of A.T. are not clear that that they are getting a “How” and not a “What.” As far as I know, there are very few value judgments of content that A.T. teachers are selling. They mostly include how wonderful effortlessness and efficiency are and how strong the power of repetition is. This is one of the nicest features of AT – its lack of cultural value system “requirements” you must accept as a student that most mind/body disciplines demand. Where else can someone learn impulse control without being slapped down?

Also, AT people forget the big thing that makes A.T. different & unique is that it is designed to be used on improvised action. Whereas ALL the other supposedly related methods need that extra practice or therapy hour set aside for their routines & “exercises.” It’s true that if you don’t practice, it won’t work – but practicing A.T. takes only a thinking moment as many times a day as you can muster. This is much less time than, say, going to the dojo or doing yoga every day.

People most commonly assume what they feel is FACT, but it’s not. Human sensory feedback is completely relative, (remember the last time you got out of the water in a breeze and decided to get back in?) Sensory feedback is rampantly misinterpreted by most adults to varying detrimental effects over a person’s lifetime.

Also, A.T. feels strange, because whatever is new feels unfamiliar. Most A.T. teachers downplay the important principle of motor sense amnesia as if it’s merely “special effects” that deserve to be ignored while “sticking to process” is admonished. The fact that kinesthetic sensory capacity is distorted (for MOST people) is a huge selling feature that the public is NOT aware they are missing! Doing A.T. is a completely natural high.

So – those who teach are swimming against a tide of ignorance. The public in general doesn’t know how much they need this education. People have no clue how important it is to stop the eventual and unnecessary physical decline of repeating harmful contortions & unnecessary habits by mistake every time they attempt to teach themselves or perform intended skills. The public only realizes they need something when they feel pain and no other alternative exists. We need to introduce people to A.T. as a tool to rebel against their own conditioning. Perhaps in high school or middle school when rebellion is natural?

When you explain it like this to people, they get more interested and see the usefulness of learning A.T. and how widely it could be applied.

Actually, I shudder to imagine A.T. pushed into the same narrow category with chiropractic or physical therapy now that we have scientific verified proof how A.T. works on lower back pain. (2008 British Medical Journal)

A.T. is so much more handy for generating creative thinking skills, as a spiritual form similar to meditation practice to “actualize your intent.” A.T. improves self-observation & descriptive ability as well as sharpening recognition & awareness; it’s great for learning sophisticated impulse control & how to suspend assumptions & judgments. A.T. works as a template for coaching & studying it frees non-verbal social communication styles beyond childhood & regional upbringing. Plus, where else can someone un-learn what they trained themselves to repeat by mistake? Is there anywhere to learn how to substitute a “better” revision for a procedure a person now does reflexively? Plus, freeing postural conditioning has been documented to strengthen will-power!

I could go on & on…

 

I think the last reason that A.T. is not that well known is that over 3/4 of it’s teachers are women – and women are culturally programmed not to “brag” about their consummate skills, (which are considerable.) There’s some remarkable women in the field. I used to review for STATnews and found a anecdote about how an A.T. teacher needed Scotland Yard to dust her place for fingerprints after she was burglarized. Curiously, none of her own fingerprints were found in her house, because she handled everything she owned with exactly the most delicate amount of effort to do the job.

Anyway, check out this amazing perceptual training ability you can learn that is the real deal. It will improve your will, stamina and ability to get results from practice as well has allow you to avoid many pitfalls of life.

It’s continued to fascinate me for over forty years now….and counting.

 

Snake Oil

While learning and practicing Alexander Technique, meaning comes all at once from multiple avenues:

  • paying attention to the “how” of what you’re intending,
  •  the thought processes you follow in preparation & during the launch,
  • …and the physical responses that you are actually doing to express these preparations and intentions.
  • Something happens. Maybe it’s something new? New feels a bit odd, but easier.
  • Then reflecting on what happened, why it happened and where and when it can be influenced to happen how you guess is possible.

Alexander Technique came from applying the empirical scientific method to one’s own strategies, ways and intentions. Because its development also answered a need, (it was: better performance) a physical demonstration had to follow so these ephemeral intentions had ways of practicing successes. Plainly, pure intentions of thought are usually too tricky to witness, (in person, without an MRI.) The hypocritical nature of habit that operates in cognitive bias also makes intentions and motives tricky to discern as they fly by.

Those of us who are designing ways to teach A.T. needed to orchestrate a situation so we can perceive how our students’ intention plays out. (Otherwise the teacher can’t help the student not hoodwink themselves.) For this purpose, most of us Alexander teachers use this feedback ideal of physical effortlessness. Our ideal of effortlessness is an experience embedded within the structural mannerism of how people can move – many cultures share it. To the extent any person uses this “mechanical advantage” idea of physical effortlessness as a signal something new happened, their discovery, success and mastery is more likely. They’re also bettering the improvisational skill of tapping the unknown.

When Alexander Technique teachers declare that what they teach isn’t posture control or movement re-education or physical therapy…or musicianship, equestrian connection or better golf swings, this is what they mean.

Form, (which can be any action) isn’t the content. It’s the process behind the curtain that we’re after. Alexander Technique is an extension of thinking skills translated into movement responses. It’s Jungian individuation in action. It’s how you might connect your body-mind to be able to better “walk your talk.” But it’s also how to practice effectively, how to get learning done faster and how to attain transcendent goals of getting better at doing a beloved passion – without being limited by a glass ceiling. 

Neuroscience and cognitive bias exist now. They didn’t when A.T began. That means now, teachers of A.T. are able to steer its original presentation from its former respectable science roots toward the fuzzier marriage of intention and action and still preserve the spirit and respect of its origin.

But – the introduction of the value of A.T. is still tricky. I believe the trickiness is in the sequence of presentation. As sales presenters, if we start with the world of intention, confidence and belief, how are we not much different from being advice columnists? How do you sell something when people don’t know if they want it or not because they don’t know what it is? How can a newbie appreciate how A.T. works before they learn it?

The problem appears to be as if A.T. teachers are selling a kind of snake oil – because what we are selling can be applied so widely!

Without our physical discipline of educating living anatomy, the philosophy of A.T. gets lost in being yet another “thought affects everything” motivational morass. The very real effects that come from practicing A.T. accumulate over time  – but on the front end, these wildly differing beneficial effects are pretty much unbelievable.

So – what differentiates A.T. from being a “snake oil” swindle?

Well, it’s history comes out of the empirical scientific model. To learn to teach it requires years of education (1600 hours.) So there must be some reason people devote their lives to learning something that takes so long to qualify for. It has been around for more than a hundred years. Essentially, others respect it.

But why not accuse that A.T. is merely a pseudo-science? OK, let’s list its offerings…

First, A.T. teaches observation. A.T. teachers are professional observers, noticing factors of movement responses and evident intentions that others miss. This extraordinary skill to spot what is ‘missing’ is part of what makes A.T. teachers remarkable – and also what makes people misunderstand why learning A.T. is valuable. (It also makes people a bit scared of what Alexander teachers can see about them that they miss.) From my knowledge, there are not many ways to learn observing, let alone self observation. (Especially without any religious and/or cultural proscriptions attached.)

Second, A.T. has to offer is it teaches impulse control – without prescribing what is supposed to be done instead beyond physical efficiency. We term it: “inhibition.” The word was selected (before Freud) from biology: how an animal inhibits its natural hungry urges to strategically plan the hunting attack. Other terms that might describe the same A.T. use of the word “inhibition” that have been used in other disciplines are

  • “pausing in order to deliberately choose another response,” (“Going to the balcony” in negotiation skills)
  • “suspension” (David Bohm dialogue)
  • or merely “Considering All Factors,” (Edward de Bono thinking skills.)

Third, Alexander Technique offers that is rare is how to reverse engineer an ingrained habitual physical routine that has become a nuisance. Every other advice about this involves, “do something else.” Imagine there’s another way to side-step what has become a deceptively self-imposed limitation, without giving up a beloved art, hobby, skill or job!

Fourth, A.T. teaches the ability to abstract. The classic method of Alexander’s work was taught very repetitively using a mundane action, (sitting and standing.) Intentions were revealed in the slightest changes of balance anyway, right? Certainly a student couldn’t figure that a “better” way to be sitting and standing was the whole point. Students were left to turning their experience into something useful in other situations. To do this, abstraction of context had to happen.

Just those four points – do you think they read like snake oil?

Snoring Observations

Can a person change their habitual routines  – while sleeping to prevent themselves from snoring? For most, that’s a pretty laughable sense of personal responsibility. It’s one of the odd “features” of Alexander Technique – that we are “responsible” for actions that are innate or autonomous.

Because using Alexander Technique requires awareness, I had assumed that it was not possible to use it when asleep. Sleep is a time when habitual routines have wrested control away from the possibility of conscious control…or so I thought. After some experimenting, now I think differently.

I advise my A.T. students to use their ability to influence their actions when they begin an action. It is the way someone begins an action that “sets the stage” for how it is possible to continue it. To create many “beginnings” is one of the easiest ways to practice and get the benefits of whatever you know about how to use A.T.

But – I had started snoring – when I never did it previously. This is a very common issue affecting sleep quality – but more important, it affects whoever else might be in the same room, (…or maybe in the next room if the snoring is loud enough!)

There are many logical reasons for snoring – a low grade allergy to dust or aging pillows, a reaction to smog, (or VOG in Hawaii, where I live.) There’s the possibility of gaining of weight and the sag of “aging turkey neck.” Maybe even sleeping with too many covers on or not drinking enough water for proper hydration or a low grade indigestion could also be factors.

After having addressed some of these, I wondered if a tendency to react by unnecessarily clearing my throat while asleep could be at fault?  Since when I’m sleeping nobody else exists,  of course “snorgling” seems like a good idea. Can someone have bright ideas while sleeping?

I decided to conduct an experiment, testing how far this A.T. idea of “personal responsibility” would work. Could I use A.T. to address my new snoring problem while asleep or partly asleep?

I couldn’t imagine that projecting suggestions would be effective while sleeping, (we call this “directing” in A.T.) I decided that giving the sleepless, disturbed party permission to poke me when I snored might work as pure animal training.  Fortunately, I fall back asleep easily, so all I needed to do after being alerted was to notice my head was scrunched in some way and undo that. Usually I had managed to scrunch up my throat area, causing my nasal passages to narrow. Undoing that part of my throat cleared the obstruction  – and I’d stop snoring. (Tried the “breath-rite” strips too, but they didn’t particularly solve my tendency to unconsciously tighten my throat.)

Another thing I discovered about my own snoring (that may be useful to others) is that snoring had to do with my jaw relationship to my throat.

It’s pretty much impossible for *me* to snore if my jaw is positioned forward. ( so my lower teeth assume a forward “under-bite” over my top jaw.) This suggests that designing a chin strap that pushes the jaw forward might work for others.  Of course, to use a remedy such as this, you’d have to already have a pretty free or “slack” jaw. I’d already spent a lifetime practicing for this slack-jaw freedom, because my own jaw wasn’t shaped by inherited shape in a very advantageous way.

Sure enough, there’s a “chin strap” product like this! (Of course, it’s ‘way overpriced for what it is. Being too close to a loud snorer makes those who don’t snore completely insane, making them willing to pay any price.)

My confused bedmate could not imagine why I could use this remedy of being woken at some moments and not others. Neither could I. Evidently I needed this “animal training” for around a month before it worked reliably.  Now my tendency to snore can be redirected – without me waking up too much. Not sure if my ability to solve this issue involves any discoveries that would work for anyone else. There are so many reasons for snoring.

(Checking out the chin strap solution might be worthwhile thought – if you do not have an issue with jaw tension.)

Perhaps, we can now add that A.T. can be applied as a remedy for snoring to the long list of advantages where it’s effective?

 

Sensory Dissonance

More than a hundred years ago, a Delsartean-inspired actor who figured out how to regain voice loss named F.M. Alexander noticed a principle of human nature related to movement perception and gave it a term: “debauched kinesthesia.”

A more modern term might be: “Sensory Dissonance.” It is what happens when there is a violation of the brain’s “predictive coding” processes that have been described by neuroscience in the Bayesian model of the brain. This model explains how we can instinctively work out whether there is time to cross the road in front of an approaching car or not. We make a prediction based on past experiences, with these predictions (hopefully) updated “on the fly.” Of course, if our “predictive coding” ability doesn’t match reality, our next reaction will depend on how we deal with being wrong. The confounding, irrational quality that a Sensory Dissonant experience seems to possess is related to points described by the terms: Cognitive Dissonance and Cognitive Bias. Denial is most common; (described in *THIS* collection as the “Confirmation Bias”) and accidents can result. If you haven’t read it yet, I have previously outlined in the first half (in the previous post below) the relationship of Sensory Dissonance to these latter categories.

Why Sensory Dissonance Is Important

Aside from avoiding accidents, many more advantages will come from further consideration of this topic. A most interesting area is performance – when you know how to do something, but can’t reliably do it when needed. Or when doing what you imagine you know how to do doesn’t get you where you want to end up.

What most people do about having experienced Sensory Dissonance after making a “mistake,” is to rearrange themselves back to where they believe they “should” be physically oriented. Returning to whatever you sense was the “normal” state of affairs will feel “right” merely because it is most familiar. Because noting your reactions about Sensory Dissonance may also contain an expression of “Cognitive Dissonance” it probably will also be somewhat uncomfortable. (Maybe not; some have learned to welcome and find excitement in what is unfamiliar and unknown.) There’s a payoff of predictable security to resume what is familiar for most people. Most people will be motivated when noting a mismatch to put themselves “right again.”

But should you? But what if your sense of “right” needs calibrating? What if you feel strange when there hasn’t been a kid on your shoulders or you have not done an experiment pushing your arms against a door frame? (Check out the examples in the *first half* of this article.)

When Sensory Dissonance pops into your awareness, there’s an advantage to purposefully allow yourself to feel “strange” and to take a moment to consider what you’re going to do about it. The experience of Sensory Dissonance is an important pointer. This “strange” feedback reveals previously unknown information about the nature of the real state of affairs that would benefit from your thoughtful consideration of what to do about it. It’s an opportunity, don’t ignore it!

Perceptual dissonance is a signal that something different from the norm has just happened. You have the option to act on having noticed a difference by taking the reins back from habitual routines. This calls for using some awareness, strategic thinking and perhaps serious study to revise the affected routines. Perceptual dissonance gives you valuable feedback about what you have been overdoing that might be unnecessary. Viva la difference!

It would be really crazy if every time you carried a weight for awhile, you wanted to put the weight back on again to avoid feeling Sensory Dissonance. But this is the understandable urge in certain situations.

An example: while swimming. Getting back into the water where it feels relatively “warmer” seems logical when the wind factor on skin makes you feel cold in comparison…until your submerged body temperature really drops to match the temperature of the water. Chattering from the cold, you pretty quickly realize that getting back in the water to “get warm” is a short-sighted solution. However, there are many other situations that don’t offer this obvious feedback of mistakenly having made that short-sighted choice!

Act Wisely on Sensory Dissonance

Next time you feel disoriented, consider what this means. Here is a potential for an insight. Maybe pause and consider what you’d like to do about having received a curious sensation of perceptual dissonance, instead of ignoring it and getting yourself back to where you “feel right.”

By deliberately experimenting with Sensory Dissonance, you’ll realize that human sensory orientation judgment is relative, not absolutely “True.”

For instance, if you often stand with your weight on the ball of your foot or on one foot and something gets you to stand with your weight on your heels or both feet, Sensory Dissonance will make you feel strange as if you are leaning backwards or to the “wrong” side. (Women who routinely wear high heels and walk mostly on the ball of their feet know this sensation.) Getting back into those high heels to feel “normal” or transferring all your weight to the other foot is like getting back into the pool to get warm – a short-sighted solution. But in this situation, there is no feedback like getting cold if you stay in the water to tell you that you chose wrong, (unless your feet or calves eventually start hurting or your knees start crumbling.)

What Sensory Dissonance Is Really Telling You

What you might want to do is to think a bit about the important information that Sensory Dissonance is offering you. It’s really saying that your habitual “normal” has been violated. Did you know you were actively doing something in the opposite direction of what Sensory Dissonance just revealed to you? You didn’t until now. Because of the Sensory Dissonance signal, you now have the option of taking the reins back from your habit by using some awareness and strategic thinking to consider changing some of those habits.

The actor quoted at the beginning of the article has solutions. His “Alexander Technique” method always contain this Sensory Dissonant signal that something different has happened. An Alexander Technique teacher gives experiences in classes and “hands-on guided modeling” that reliably feel as if something mysterious and lighter has happened to your movement coordination. It’s the only answer I know about for sifting out problematic features from previously ingrained habits “on the fly,” addressing performance issues involving postural mannerisms.

Hope this little article will lead you to question what you should do about it when you feel Sensory Dissonance. Surprising dissonant sensations can be used as important pointers to bring to your attention that what you just did, felt or experienced. What just happened was something entirely, originally new and different – for you. Here is something that could benefit from your serious attention and consideration – and maybe even be worth investing in long-term study of Alexander Technique!

Dissonance Reveals Bias

Mistaken traps of logic and thinking skills continue to deceive our human ability for reasoning.

Have you ever run into the terms “Cognitive Dissonance” or “Cognitive Bias”?

This phenomena was first described and researched by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman starting in 1972. They originated the term “Cognitive Bias” to describe how and why people didn’t use rational thinking in making choices. Kahneman received a Noble prize in 2002 related to behavioral economics by later developing his theory into a predictable research heuristic. Their confirmed findings grew into a psychological field, explored by researchers and popularized by authors such as Cordelia Fine, Scott Pious, the writing of Thomas Kida, (Don’t Believe Everything You Think”) Stuart Sutherland, (“Irrationality”) and Kathryn Schulz, (Being Wrong) among many other authors.

OK, so then… Cognitive Bias

This is certainly an important and interesting issue to learn about if you’re sketchy on the subject. Cognitive Bias runs through large scale cultural manipulations in corporate and political power plays, advertising and within business ethics relationships; it’s embedded within education, persuasion and in marketing techniques. It is even a big factor in causing conflicting personal relationship issues.

What I read in this .pdf download (see it yourself the end of this post below) was a handy collection of many factors of mistaken assumptions that were neatly codified into categories with icons. The aim of creating this list was to help the reader learn the surprising extent that cultural and human misconceptions are still a driving cause for irrationality in human behavior. (Which strangely enough, works its deceptions even among smart and educated people like yourself.)

What was my sub-cultural history? I was raised in the culture of the U.S. in the Southern CA region by immigrant parents, (I now reside in Hawaii.) When I traveled to Denmark (where my father was born,) I was surprised to discover that what I assumed were merely my father’s idiosyncratic personal preferences were instead, a reflection of his Danish childhood. Possibly because I had experienced myself as an “alien” (because of a huge need for an extensive study of communication skills,) it led to me rejecting many of the favored attitudes and values of my culture and to study thinking skills, innovation and creative insight of individuation – as well as Alexander Technique.

I was struck with what had been left out of this list. Nowhere did I see the specific observation that a form of dissonance occurs concerning the direct human perception of movement; that overlooked sense of judging relative location, effort and weight. It was interesting to me how some of these Cognitive Bias points seem to be based on built-in perceptual misconceptions, but there was not a separately grouped “Perception” category.

Of course this oversight is understandable. Humans take for granted their perceptual capacities. Factors related to a sense of “touch” have been lumped together with a sense of emotional “feeling.” What most people imagine when you refer to ‘feeling’ is the sensation of being contacted on your skin by something outside of you – or emotions. Rarely do people consider the kinetic sense running inside that shows where limbs are located and judges relative effort that needs to be expended to perform an action. The fact that the word “feeling” is the also same word meaning “an emotional experience” also confuses many useful distinctions even further. Add onto that how tricky it is to describe dancing or other movements in English without inventing specialized terms – and how tricky it is to observe yourself while in action – no wonder!

Try This Perceptual Motion Dissonance Experience
You can experienced this overlooked perceptual motion dissonance with a simple experiment. Stand in a (narrow) doorway and push your arms outward against the door frame for a thirty seconds – (yes, using a stopwatch feature is handy.) Aim your hands toward your sides. When you release and step away from the doorway, your arms will feel as if they are floating upward, even though they are merely hanging at your sides doing nothing. You can also experience a similar movement illusion by hefting a child on your shoulders for a ride. After you get the kid off your shoulders, you’ll feel lighter.

Quite a remarkable movement sensory illusion, isn’t it? But it’s not just a curiosity. The saying, “Seeing is believing” isn’t true anymore, (movies and Photoshop have disproved that axiom long ago!) Somehow still sanctified, our senses about movement make us convinced that what we feel is completely factual – when perceptual feedback is always relative to habitual behaviors. Sensory Dissonance is a factor in self-training a habit involving any collection of sequenced, chained-together behaviors. It’s an important principle to know about and use in reliably possessing any movement skill.

Oh, and if you’d like to study up with that huge list of cognitive biases, the .pdf download of it is here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/30548590/Cognitive-Biases-A-Visual-Study-Guide
Read on to the second half of this article to get suggestions about suggestions of what to do when you run into this most interesting “Sensory Motion Dissonance.” Which is at: https://myhalfof.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/sensory-dissonance/

 

Readiness Is All

The Readiness is All

“The attempt to bring about change involving growth, development and progressive improvement in the [movement,] use and functioning of the human organism, calls necessarily for the acceptance, yes, the welcoming of the unknown in sensory experience; and this ‘unknown’ cannot be associated with the sensory experiences that have hitherto ‘felt right’.” – F.M. Alexander

Decades ago, I got to browse a copy of F.M. Alexander’s book that had been given to Marj Barstow. After looking at the many hand-written edits in the book that were made by F. M. after the book was printed, I turned to the first few pages to read what Alexander had dedicated to her, the first graduate of his first teacher training program. Above his signature and dedication to his first graduate, F.M. had written: “THE READINESS IS ALL”.

This quote from Shakespeare has given me many occasions to think about what motivates people to dare to want to tap the unknown.

What gets people in the mood to question their own ways of doing things?

I guess the short answer is that certain conditions for readiness to change need to be in place for different people. More often, challenges to questioning the way one does things can be met with often violent, self-preservation-like resistance that dramatizes habits into having a sense of identity – when these habitual ways of thinking and doing things really don’t add to anything beyond merely being customarily familiar. I’ve learned to become suspicious for the need for change when I would find myself reciting a spirited ritual justification to myself or others. I have begun to accept this question of what “READINESS” means as a virtual question; a type of question that I will often ask with fruitful results.

There must be some general conditions that allow people to dare to face the unknown, a readiness to maybe learn something right now. Certainly, no matter how much anyone knows, there is always something more to learn – if not only how to recall and put into use what is already somewhat known to make it richer and more sophisticated.

What helps me as a learner to be willing to voyage where I’ve never gone yet – and really be willing to take on learning something totally unfamiliar or developing something that was merely a nascent idea? While thinking back to situations where learning became fun, exciting or drew out your fascination… What helped you get ready to take on a challenge?

Perhaps a first condition is to provide safety. Somehow it has to be safe to fall on ones’ face and make mistakes – to do the wrong thing. How can it be OK to ask the wrong question? How can it be not so much of a disaster to try out doing something that will probably not work as intended? Without experience and a sense of safety, nobody can expect themselves to be able to foresee everything going perfectly well. Even if it does happen perfectly the first time through, who can continue from there and continue going forward? (I’ve never seen it happen yet.)

I once had a man on a hitchhiking trip tell me a story about the first time his wife played golf. She hit a “hole in one” in every green on the whole 21-hole course, verified by the caddy and the owner of the golf course who were playing with them both. Unfortunately, his wife opted to never play another game of golf after that splendid success. She was willing to walk into the unknown for only a limited time of the 21-hole course; she thought it wiser to “rest on her laurels” forever after. Her husband declared to me that she didn’t think it was safe for the marriage to handle her being a better (or luckier) golfer than he was!
People love to hear someone’s story about how they began to become interested in their passions; how they started their business, how they came up with a unique idea, how they first applied new information as they discovered it.
Certainly every business has a “back-story” that makes their solution understandable and hopefully desired by a potential customer. Upon hearing a story of challenges like these, following along gets exciting. The learner-investigator asks unique questions that are probably also their own listener’s current questions. I like following someone’s continuity of inquiry without having to do the hard work of making the mistakes and experiencing the frustration that they did. I find myself searching for how my own unique knowledge and abilities could add to their questions, answers and challenges as I follow their progress. Experiencing first-hand what makes someone’s point of view unique can be motivating to learn from and in tandem with them.

For most learners, it’s helpful to have a framework to hang information onto, even if it’s just a list of the number of items or points to expect.

(BTW, this article has about 1800 words. You’re a little less than halfway through it.)

Also what learners often need is some way to correct for time of arrival of this new confusion that is going to be coming in from the teacher. If the teacher doesn’t provide this framework, can the student be expected to build this framework on their own? Many do, but the first time through a learning experience, most students will expect to miss most of what is being delivered. This means much of what is new will be ignored or go unremembered. The student will get to a state of “Too Much Information” overload really fast and the teacher must be alert to this state in their students. Students will have to take a break to integrate new and unusual information has just been delivered, or they may need to tune out and ignore the rest as they chew on a certain new part.

Reverse Learning

Some teachers have found that learning backwards is a splendid way to address this issue – For instance, if what needs to be learned is sequential such as a play, a piece of music or a series of Tai Chi moves, starting at the end and working gradually toward the beginning may work well. Then once the student is able to start at the beginning, they will be working towards what has been practiced the most often.

Flipped Learning

Recognizing this challenge, here’s another way of confronting “information overload” has emerged in traditional classroom teaching of high-content subjects such as chemistry classes. It involves switching the lecture-homework conventions, termed “Flipped Classes.” From a necessity to help students who had to miss class to catch up, teachers hit on the idea of recording their lectures and spending class time tutoring during what was normally spent as homework. Now all students can play classroom lectures as their homework on DVD or .mp3 players. Instead of lectures during class, time is now spent with the teacher doing “homework.” Think about it; who’s the most knowledgeable about the subject and would be best capable of tutoring during the real learning process? What a pleasure it would be for a teacher to actually teach!

Communicative Learning

Perhaps if a lecture format must be used, giving students a chance to indicate where they are losing what the teacher has to say would be handy to have in place. Feedback is most useful when it is in “real time.” Pass out cards to students they can hold up that indicate to the teacher, “I’m lost;” “I get it, go on to the next step before I get bored;” and the most important one: “My brain is now on overload.”
A solution for this was put into place in a large co-housing group – a kind of “condo-mune.” A group of people had to make many construction decisions about the unique ways they were planning for how their unique apartment housing was going to be built. Decision makers were given colored cards, signifying “Agree,” “Block,” and various gray areas, such as: “Disagree but will not block” and “Agree with additional conditions.” There were also “Suggestion” notices that could be combined with other cards that indicated a possible solution idea or other contribution that might enhance the currently nominated decision as it stood.

Illustrated or Story Learning

To make learning easy, the most useful tactic to note is that examples and stories connect former experiences to new ones. For each point you want to teach, find a starting place that is commonly understood and go from there toward what you’d like to illustrate that is unique and unfamiliar. The more examples, the better and faster your students will learn. Think in terms of prerequisites; for instance, if you’re a kid learning about circumference, it’s essential to already have the experience about how long the outside of a circle really is. Sometimes you really need to have the students guess and to take a real string and wrap it around a bottle, your wrist or your neck – were you surprised?

A good teacher will choose examples that interest their particular students; memorable examples that gradually lead their students’ thinking along a path of first-hand discovery. The more of these illustrations there are, the more a splendid teacher will make their students imagine they “already knew” that which most people would consider to be difficult or complicated.
In my first year in college I had a teacher who got me to agree to study Chinese with him since I already knew the content of the class I was enrolled for. After hearing about the way I memorized songs, he selected one very complex Mandarin character three or four times a week and broke each of the parts of the character apart, linking the various written marks that made them into a historical song-story. This not only taught me a whole group of “character families” at the rate of thirty to forty characters a week, but led me on a fanciful and entertaining romp through Chinese historic stories, songs and fables. If you add that up, it meant had I been able to continue, I would have become literate at writing and reading 3,000 characters in less than two years – (an unheard of pace for learning any language, let along that one.)

Learning from an Inspired Teacher

Lastly, if you notice a brilliant teacher in action, don’t be shy to learn whatever it is they love to teach. It will become memorable, no matter what the subject is. You’ll learn much more than content, if you’re paying attention. Probably you’ll learn about patience, about lessons you will be able to apply broadly to lessons of life, and there is the potential to learn about yourself. Hopefully there is the chance you’ll learn something about the way you learn best – and that’s one of the most valuable lessons you can gain from any experience.

“Now be quiet, be still, and allow for it, for the unknown. Not in your wildest dreams can you imagine what it will be like.”

– Margaret Goldie, F.M. Alexander’s niece and later teacher of his Technique for 40+ years.

Describing A.T.

We who teach A.T. have this tool that allows us to bring to expression our most cherished values. We have a means that bring under our influence the most subtle of indicators that run “under the radar” of our intentions. If that’s not accessing the ability to be “spiritually meaningful,” I’m not sure what is… In fact, I’m kinda proud of my lack of certainty. Hopefully it indicates I’m still capable of learning.

All humans have an “explanation problem,” but it’s especially true in trying to explain why Alexander Technique means so much to those of us who have discovered its value. Our education and familiarity with what we’ve gained from learning A.T. can get in our way of making it accessible to others. For many, noting your passion about something becomes a red flag that they might have to fend off a ranting “true believer.” In fact, almost any scent of marketing scares people away because they are constantly bombarded with so much of it everywhere they turn.

Persuasion seems to be a skill in a standard by itself. Perhaps appealing to the desire people have to help those they know would be a more indirect means?
Maybe the most simple and accessible descriptions might go like this template, where you can fill in the blanks:

You know how you feel when _______?
(think of an example that makes you feel lighter, like carrying a weight for awhile and then putting it down. Or use an example that creates ‘flow’ or being in love; or use a release of pressure that can be created deliberately, such as by pressing your arms outward against a doorway for a whole 30 seconds and then stopping.)
Well, what I can offer is a way to create that and apply it to everything you do. Only it’s different because of the way ___________.
Here are some benefits________.
The reason it works is ________.
Why it’s important and meaningful is because of ____________, and _______.

Here’s an example of filling in these blanks that I told the local librarian…

Learning Alexander Technique is as useful as learning to read. Perhaps think of it as movement literacy. Like reading, you can apply it to deepen any specific subject or goal you happen to become interested in or want to gain benefit through. It’s like getting a benefit through the study of how to practice. Unlike something you do, like practicing a specific somatic discipline like Yoga, you can get its benefits (aside from the time it takes to learn it) without devoting an extra dedicated hour out of your day to specifically practice it. Alexander Technique only demands remembering to use a moment of well-timed extra thought; a bit of awareness, a new intention or imagining an experimental question.
Using Alexander’s Discoveries will improve other factors as well: decision overload, directing attention, gaining better impulse control, expanding perceptual sensitivity, getting a more patient and longer learning capacity, improving practice quality. But the thing it offers that nothing else does is the ability to clear muscle memory nuisances when you’ve learned to unintentionally repeat what you don’t want to do. It gives you the power to change anything about your previous conditioning that you’d rather avoid, such as clearing unnecessary affectations of physical poise, self-image, talent or stamina.
How it works is by learning to quiet and subtract the unnecessary effort going on underneath your “radar.” It’s not substituting a supposed “better way.” on top of a “worse” one that will only need to be later revised. Instead learning A.T. works by subtracting what is unnecessary extra effort so a default physical grace can re-emerge.

What does using Alexander Technique feel like? Let’s say you’ve been carrying a kid on your shoulders for awhile and finally the kid wants to walk by themselves again. You would feel lighter without the kids’ weight, right? So, imagine if you could put down the extra unnecessary effort you are using to make every move that is going on underneath your radar. You’ll feel a similar lightness and ease of motion. Wouldn’t that be worth learning?

Now it’s your turn. How would you describe Alexander Technique to a curious open-minded person?

Transcendent Goals

This post is related to “Sense of Rightness” previously posted in Aug. 2014. There we discussed some of these issues; we made suggestions how to get past comparing a sense of “rightness” as a standard when attempting to progress from practice.

Here we’re going to bring up and make suggestions that give a better, faster means to progress when your goals are transcendant – such as learning a skill that has the potential to become an art or the intention to learn by having a new experience. In this case, your intention is to discover or progress, (rather than recreate or match some standard you have in mind.) First it will be most useful to clarify your definition of what it is to “progress.” If you’re trying to go somewhere new, the old standards of what you’re looking for will not be in effect. Many situations can benefit from this approach. For instance, everyone has experienced the “plateau effect” in practice – meaning no matter how hard you try, your effort doesn’t lead to much of a change.
Why not apply your usual ideal standards when attempting to progress? The danger in applying specific standards, goals or priorities is you missing what might happen if something new does happen “accidentally on purpose.” Because you’re focused on an activity of matching for an intended result of what feels “right” that has become a standard or priority that you were able to sense and remember, if you apply this comparison of remembered “rightness,” it’s most likely you’ll skip over or entirely miss anything happening that doesn’t match. This new event might look like something strange or funny; perhaps it will be a tiny, insignificant happening that will take development to turn it a significant, meaningful discovery. (It may be only a tiny improvement right now that needs development.)

So – to get out of this trap, you’ll want your intention to have a new experience to agree with your goals on the front end. You’ll also want to come up with a practical way to carry this out, which can be adjusted to the situation if it doesn’t lead to the success you have in mind. Here’s a couple of situations where that would be a handy strategy…

For instance, in a dialogue situation, the intention might be for you with the group to go somewhere new rather than just revisit, repeat or recreate what is already known by any particular group member. You’d want everyone to go somewhere new as a synergistic experience. As a way to carry out going in new directions, how would you proceed? Perhaps instead of using the indirect way of bringing up a subject by quoting authors – participants could speak directly about their own beliefs or values and relate stories about how their values and opinions were formed. Trading personal stories may lead to the discovery of the significance of reinterpreting old experiences in new ways, because each participant can imagine themselves having a similar experience.  The challenge would be to listen to these core experiences of other people, to imagine you have had these experiences…Then anticipate about how these experiences would have affected your own values. Of course, they may come to different conclusions, but that is part of what makes people unique.

Another instance, if you are in a practice situation such as learning an instrument…and your intention is to get and sustain a unique tone all your own using a wind instrument or your own voice. Let’s say your goal was to recognize your own quality of breathing to bring it forward as a unique style as a musician. Your idea about how to carry this out could be to think of an emotionally charged moment in your memory, turn on the recording machine to help you listen, to make sounds and note what happened.

Whatever it is and however your hypothesis about how to carry your goal out, success in each case means that your usual standards (of what is worth your interest when evaluating) must be adjusted to accommodate the new experience’s unique discovery nature. You would want to mark exactly when the novelty you want actually does emerge as a new experience. It may be valuable to describe what these new qualities are, so you can be able to notice them.

I suggest that if your new experience involves movement and gaining a benefit from practicing that your new evaluation for desired results includes the question, “…Was this easier?” Because we know it will feel a bit strange, because of being new.

I suggest that if the new experience involves other people, noting ones’ own reactions will be an indicator that something new happened. Defensiveness, objections, wanting to add or advance the conversation – all of these might be indicators of interest that something new has emerged.

If your example involves other people, handy would be to choose an appropriate means to progress that can be changed by their multiple suggestions. In the example of the David Bohm-style dialogue group above, appropriate would be and activity such as temporary suspension of the directive to “not impose your own agenda on the group.” Another would be to actively refuse to apply the customary ‘matching’ activity. Instead of “matching” for an ideal standard or directive such as “suspend your agenda” – how about… “contrasting” to reveal any differences or something new that happened…?

Some of these options would be to describe the nature of what’s new also helps to spot it soon after it’s happened. The brain has superb recognition capacity. An example of this activity would be to note characteristics such as:

  • feels unfamiliar,
  • cognitive distortion, cognitive bias,
  • a thought which jogs defensiveness or compels you to suddently disagree,
  • something that incites another reaction such as curiosity,
  • makes you suddenly aware of what you didn’t notice previously…

(perhaps – add to this list with your comments?)

Dare to Ask

How can a teacher get around student’s misconceptions about the nature of authority, for instance, without inviting disrespect? (We’re talking about adult learners here – who have already been trained into a lifetime of politeness about how to treat teachers.)

Instead of my lecturing, here’s an account from many years ago about a teacher of mine who I considered to be a master. In this case, she was teaching Alexander Technique, but this relates to asking questions concerning any skill.

My teacher was in her late eighties here. Her name was Marj Barstow. She was almost five feet tall. Classes could be huge; sixty to eighty people in one room. The advantage was that the workshop lasted for weeks. The disadvantage was that people imagined it was too early in the workshop to dare to risk anything chancy in front of everyone else.

My teacher was too polite to be overt about what must have been some frustration beyond kidding the group, “What do I have to do to get some questions and thinking out of more of you people, do a jig?” Most often you’re laughing, but no daring questions. Humor does loosen up students to take more chances.

The experience of getting a new perceptual assumption is unsettling to many people. A master of an art can sometimes come across as personally threatening. In this case, the class was a bit awed and intimidated. This little old lady could shake people’s foundations; her work in dispelling postural movement assumptions could pull the carpet out from underneath their very sense of self. So the group treated her with “respect.” This turned out to be a kid-glove sort of childish unquestioning loyalty and lip-service agreement.

This little old lady hated that. She had a number of ways of dealing with it though. One was to invite different people to get up in front of the class for a “private” lesson with her, with everyone else watching. While working with someone she would ask, “So you see that little difference? Can someone describe what they see?” She wouldn’t go on until someone in the class described it, even if the “victim” was left mutely amazed.

We didn’t know it at the time, but what she was teaching all of us was to see very subtle indications of motion or a lack of movement. We were learning what subtle indications meant in each specific situation with each different person. Hopefully that observational ability was going to carry over to observing ourselves while doing something that was important to us.

She might ask the group to move in slow motion to illustrate a crucially pivotal point that influenced that entire outcome. She showed us how these special points were integrated with the whole, normally paced action again.

Hopefully for you, these examples of techniques to encourage questions are, (or should be) commonplace to any teacher.
If you’re interested in this teacher’s subject, here’s a short eight minute video about how she discovered her interest in what she taught and some of why she taught the way she did.

The tip I’ll tell you about next surprised me; I regarded it as being positively sneaky.

My teacher took me aside and told me that she appreciated having me and a few other people in the class. She said that it was because we’d pipe up with questions that nobody else would dare ask. She then told me a story about how she didn’t understand when another student accused her of putting them on the spot by singling them out, inviting their participation.

This is what made me realize that she was asking me permission to single me out in order to put her “on the spot” by bringing up what may be forbidden as defined by our class. This little old lady had some unusual ideas in her field about how her skill should be taught. People seemed to be avoiding asking her specifically about what made her ways different, and she wanted me to break the ice, so to speak.

Essentially, she encouraged me to plant myself for her as a sort of “sacrificial fool” in the forbidden questioning department. People would stare at me with open mouths and shocked looks on their faces when I’d fire off these questions that nobody else would dare say.

It pleased the two of us immensely. After those questions were in the air, class would get much more interesting. Other students would then start to ask the questions that were very important to them personally.

So if you are a teacher, don’t be above encouraging one of your students to act as a ‘secret planted bomb’ in the classroom!

Certainly – if you’ve got any comments or questions to ask me – please speak up now!

 

 

Sense of “Right”

The alignment of intention to a result is symbolic of integrity. “Walking Your Talk” is impressive. It’s also the way to get mastery from practicing, whether it comes from gradual improvement or insight or a combination. To correct for what happens despite intentions can be measured by various standards and priorities, depending what those priorities about standards are.

But how regularly do we ask ourselves if our sense of “right” is accurate? Human ability to measure itself is at the basis of self-deception, self-justification and even arrogant self-righteousness.

These “evils’ aren’t purely to blame as a fault of character as often as you’d imagine. Instead they are innocently connected to the nature of how humans adapt to build skills.

Think for a minute about how habits are formed. Habits disappear so their routines can become innate so the building blocks of skills may be strung together, so the new part of the skill can be added. This is how humans create reliable behaviors such as complex motor skills. When an external signal of need is recognized by the mind, the habit goes off automatically as a practiced whole, even though it was trained as a sequenced string of responses.

Unfortunately, it is also true for operative nuisance habitual assumptions that can cascade out of control when habits are trained. “What fires together, wires together” is a brain science fact.

The disappearance of sensations when using a habit is another factor. As we’re sifting, measuring or matching what we notice in front of us now, our very real and useful skills that habitually worked previously for us in the past in other contexts will tend to make us miss a sense of our own involvement. For instance, if you spend lots of time with small children simplifying the way you talk, our adult friends might feel insulted!

It’s a commonly recognized phenomena that our emotional investment in our goals influence what we feel is happening. This is part of why people are suspicious or ignore anyone who rants or holds the conviction that they’re “right” from personal experience or belief. We feel we must discount their personal investment.

Our sensory felt sense of us “doing” something to respond (along with how we may skew noticing the results) is hidden from us by the routine we trained that was buried during the learning process. Strangely enough, our having learned a complex skill hid it from our sense of feeling. Hiding the “learned” part is how our habits work to simplify it for us as we’re turning the overwhelmingly complex strings of responses into an automated, whole action. Sensory dampening is the price of simplifying and convenience.

So – how do we get past this feature of having dulled perception because of learning or using skills? What can we do, given our tendency to skip over new occurrences because we tend to match what is expected or desired?

We may resume conscious control by taking back the reins from habitual routines by paying attention to what we would usually ignore. We can sharpen our own relative perceptual capacity too by learning how to “clear the slate” perceptually. Using any mindfulness technique helps with that – as simple as taking a momentary break.

Using something or someone outside of ourselves to cross-reference or measure can also help the ability to spot and verify factual results. Getting ‘truer’ results works more reliably if you cross-pollinate feedback from various sources: various people, shifting perceptions, various points of view, various tools – rather than merely to rely on duplicating the memory of your past ‘felts’ of the standard or priority you wanted to apply. Using other technological feedback sources is valuable too – such as mirrors, video or other recordings, or just using something as mundane as a tape measure.

All these can offer some degree of objectivity to judge the success or failure of our expectations and correcting for the disappearing act that’s the cost of using habits. The ability to confidently question ourselves is a useful part of the ongoing exercise of cultivating an open-minded attitude.

State-Specific

There’s an important factor in learning and practicing that I’d like to bring to your attention. The scientific description is called state-specific learning. What that means is the content of what gets learned will be tied to the literal circumstance where you learn it. Context is important.

State-Specific learning is so effective that it’s actually used in animal training to solve behavior problems. If your dog is digging holes in your garden, you would deliberately train the behavior of digging on purpose while you’re located somewhere else (such as at the beach.) Then don’t give the command for the dog to dig at your house. The dog gets the idea that it’s only in sand that digging gets your approval, so there’s no use in making holes in the garden at home anymore because that results in your disapproval. You would turn the unwanted action into a command and then it has meaning when you don’t give the cue.

Most teachers assume that if you are an adult learner, you have the capacity to abstract what you are learning in their classroom or lessons in order to apply it to other instances that importantly similar. The factor of State-Specific learning works against this possibility. It’s a leap to abstract what has been learned; just because people can abstract, WILL they abstract? It’s an act of intelligence to notice the possibility to apply what was learned elsewhere exactly when this similarity of knowledge could be quite useful in this specific circumstance that’s a bit different. The ability to abstract takes observation, lateral thinking skills, memory and presence of mind. That’s why it’s important to directly consider the ability to abstract and apply what just was learned and to discuss the capacity to do so with your students if you’re a teacher.

For instance, I just published a story on my blog about how thinking about the lengthening phase of a motion while riding a bike helped me to refresh my range of motion in my leg strength while riding uphill. The comment of a reader who didn’t understand the abstract generalization of my message was, “I’ll do that the next time I ride a bike.”

“But that idea of using the lag in a phase is useful generally during any routine!!” I declared. “If you choose a ‘slack’ moment when you are gathering your energy to focus on in a cyclical phase, the other part (when you’re applying effort) will take care of itself in an easier and less stressed way.”

Unless you point to that concept specifically, it’s not a guarantee that people will make the abstract connection on their own.

So to do that now – (let’s say you’re reading stuff on the computer, right?)  You would observe routines that you do while in that activity, and choose one that isn’t imperative – so you can design a ‘resting’ moment into it that could offer a slight renewal for increased stamina over the long term. For instance, how about when you move your hands from the keyboard to the mouse or touchpad? (Or if you’re on another device, the time when you pick up your hand to use your finger to interact with the screen.) Why not use that moment to look away from the screen for a moment, perhaps look up and blink and momentarily rest your eyes and slightly turn your head. This only takes a moment, right?

By doing something like this, you’ll begin to be able to apply whatever you learn in one situation to other situations that do matter to you personally. Now that you understand whatever you experience can be applied elsewhere abstractly, you will be providing for the  limitations of State-Specific concerning anything you already know.

Can you think now of an insight or significant discovery you made that would be handy if it could be applied elsewhere?

 

Trajectory

My colleagues and I have been discussing how we have acquired an interesting skill as a by-product of having studied Alexander Technique…

Catching a falling knife, it’s a poor practice. On Wall Street it means to buy on the way down. In a word, don’t. In the kitchen, well, that’s pretty obvious. Don’t try it at home kids—no falling knives—especially, if you’re like me, pretty uncoordinated, at least in the past. Today, I catch falling objects in mid air—no knives yet—with speed and accuracy, the top of a carrot, the very top, a sheet of paper caught in the wind and on its way down, a fork, a spoon, the very edge of wet dish. Now, why this new found aplomb? Unlike the rest of you, I am getting older, reflexes should be slowing down. I can only attribute this new reflexive sangfroid to study of the Alexander Technique. It has radically improved my over all coordination as well. When I go into a squat in class some people gasp. I do too. Crap, I think, just how old do these people think I am? So, study the Alexander Technique, and develop your own super-powers. Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Alexander Guy, flying without his pocket protector. Thrilling stuff!
– Alan Bowers, Alexander Technique teacher

I think that I know what has been happening.  Having been the former business owner of a sideline hobby making seed-filled juggling balls from velveteen, I’ve taught over 3500 people to juggle. One of the skills of juggling is judging where the ball is going to land so your hand can be there to catch it. Unbeknownst to most people, you do not have to “keep your eye on the ball” to be able to do this extraordinary skill of being there to catch something… You only need to spot the arc of theATprojectilePath ball in a glance. Otherwise, juggling would not be possible.

It works a bit like this rather scientific-like illustration…

However, there’s more to how this skill ended up in the pocket of those who study Alexander Technique.

Stand up, (you’ve been sitting awhile anyway, haven’t you?) Stick your fingers in your ears. Imagine the top of your spine ending there. Now, look up and feel how your head pivots at the point near where your fingers are pointing to.  Nod forward, as if you’re saying, “Yes.” Then look up again and allow the back of your head to drop down as you face comes up. Really look up, check out the ceiling. Now, nod “Yes” again. Now think about the moment around the tip top of the arc . Can you feel your balance changing in the rest of how your body responds to your head moving across that arc?

Now, isn’t that head nod that changes your balance sort of like the trajectory of an arc that a ball follows?

Like a ball arc, the greatest force that goes forward happens at the top of the arc. With the body’s capacity to move, around the top of the arc is the best time to initiate another action, such as to take a step or move your arms.

My Alexander Technique colleagues and I all agree that the top of the arc as heads are moving at the top of the spine is when it’s easiest for a body to go forward into action. As a group of Alexander Technique teachers, we don’t collectively advise head-nodding every time someone moves! This experiment is a short-cut example that you can try out that may work to illustrate this phenomena that we term, “Primary Control.”

When I teach people to look up and nod their heads, later I am careful to show how it’s practice can become more subtle. Eventually it remains as a “faded signal” of pure imaginative intention, timed at the moment just preceding any action. Faded signaling means in this case that the action of looking up and nodding forward is intentionally faded to the point where the actual movement is only a thought, not any overt action such as looking up and nodding forward as it was for beginners.

You’ll be able to sense this in your own body as your head moves over the point of balance if you’re able to pay attention to subtle changes. If you spot it, your balance will change in a sort of listing movement, (unless you’re so set in your ways that you’re a stalwart against any movement. It’s most obvious to perceive while standing.) The “listing” means you can go into action with a very poised ability to move lightly, as if your capacity to move were the clutch of a car that must be skillfully engaged before the accelerator is applied to “GO.” If you can’t sense this listing, try standing against a wall having your sleeve brushing the wall; perhaps you’ll be able to sense your own body movement as a skin sensation.

So – my theory is that because Alexander Technique teachers are in the business of paying attention to this crucial moment to go into action as a discipline, this is why Alexander Technique teachers have found themselves able to catch falling items without having studied that specific skill.

Their judgment of the arc has become incidentally educated to be able to predict the quality of movement of other items besides the way bodies move, as if by magic.  Good job!!

I was the total klutz when it came to sports involving catching balls. Now, I grab them out of the air. Every time I catch a set of keys, my husband says “How did you do that?” The answer can only be Alexander Technique! – Robbin L. Marcus, Alexander Technique teacher

Debt Of Gratitude

As a young person, I felt my ability to change myself around to adapt to others and the situation was objectionable. It was as if I was presenting myself dishonestly because I had no predictable, consistent persona to present consistently to everyone. Thankfully, I ran into a mentor who was much older with this same talent. He considered my “problem” to be a talent that was the mark of good teaching. Because of his opinion, I resisted settling on adopting a consistent way of presenting myself to the world. After observing how other people reacted to him, I found out that people weren’t really paying attention to inconsistencies of character anyway. They were mostly self-centered on their own concerns. (At least my young adult age group at the time was like that.)

Evidently what I went though wasn’t uncommon. Young people tend to feel a need to decide on what and how they’re going to present themselves to the world. Ritualized postural gestures are definitely one means young people “settle on” to carry this out.

As adults, teachers and mentors, we should target teens and young adults to help them influence each other about what is considered “cool.” This would detour the origin of how people get themselves stuck into postural contortions they can’t undo later. Of course, this means that we will need to know how to surpass the way that we get stuck into contortions we can’t get away from doing! For that life skill, Alexander Technique is the way to go.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to a compassionate boyfriend who used to reach over without a word and smooth away the gesture on my brow. I had developed this knitted-brow gesture to show concern when I spoke to others and did it far too often. If he hadn’t done such a sweet thing so often for me, I would have never known I was doing it to myself long enough to change it. At sixty as I look at my face now without the common care-lines of those my age, I sing his praises for the wonderful expression of caring he extended to me at exactly the time it counted.

I offer these stories from my own life as a way anyone can provide valuable feedback for those who are close to them, inspired by the principles of Alexander Technique. Of course you would do so with their consent and encouragement. I would encourage you to use an expression of compassionate action in a gesture as the best way to carry this out, because merely saying something can too easily become an admonishment of criticism. An affectionate gesture can also be done in polite company and is (usually) socially considered to be appropriate among family members and best friends. We don’t know exactly when we’re doing these things to ourselves – and that’s the sort of invaluable feedback that you can provide to your loved ones.

Uphill

Getting Past the Ruts
Getting Past the Ruts

ANOTHER TRUE STORY: BIKE RIDING UPHILL

Pedaling up to the stop sign, with my newly repaired 5-speed bike, I was thinking of walking. My legs were tiring fast, even though low gear was finally working. I couldn’t help but think, “Here’s a great time to apply somebody else’s bright ideas. Whatever I’m doing, there’s room for vast improvements before the top of the hill. I think I’ll use Alexander Technique right now.”

WHAT’S GOING ON: WATCH WITHOUT JUDGING
Resisting my urges to adjust and compensate instantly (I’d already tried that) or lashing out at myself for being obviously “out of shape,” (I hadn’t done any real exercise in much too long, which is why I repaired the bike,) I only heard myself panting. I knew the more articulate I could be about myself, the more useful data I’d have to work with and change around. I paid attention again without changing what I was doing. Twenty strokes later, I noticed I was moving in a series of stroke! stroke! encouragements, timed on each pedal’s downswing. Gasping for breath, I was tipping my head back, locking my neck and back to lever my weight against the unsuspecting pedals. You guessed it, the pedals were winning.

HURTLING HEAD FIRST
Eager to apply Alexander’s bright idea that we begin interfering with our innate effectiveness by moving head first, I wondered: Would it be possible, right now on this here hill, to resist my way of locking my neck and back that I thought I must do to avoid falling over? Possibly to definitely convince myself that this was the culprit, I exaggerated the very motion I didn’t want. Yup, I didn’t want to do that. So far, I felt as if I HAD to brace myself in order to apply what I thought was the ample amount of “strength” I imagined would get me up the hill. Did I really have to?

NEW MAY FEEL STRANGE
To see if it would make any difference, I decided to choose the moment I went to stand up on the pedal as the point where I would move as easily as I could head first. I knew I did something different because something unexpected happened. “AHA!”, I realized, “No wonder the muscles in my legs are just getting tighter and tighter”. My mind, with its crazy encouragement regimen of stroke!, is really telling my legs to tighten!, tighten!, without giving them any chance to spring back into their lengthened range of motion. And – the length of my muscles were rapidly losing my resiliency because of what I was doing. No wonder I was getting tired fast.

PARADOX OF STROKE! VERSUS PAUSE.
This discovery suggested the reversal of my timing techniques. I used a more purposeful, and less predictable sense of determination to really carry out the new accent on my timing. I had to re-decide to not let my habit sneak in…while I continued to move in my new way with my head leading. It took another twenty strokes before I could think and move how I wanted. (That isn’t a whole long time, but I had changed my habits like this before and I knew how insistent habits are.)

HERE’S WHY IT WORKED
Pretty soon the stroke! stroke! I’d thought was the only way up the hill turned into rest ~ rest ~ rest, accented on the leg that should be doing just that. Surprise, surprise, paying attention to the pausing rest let the stroking part take care of itself. Wheeeee! I found myself up the hill in no time, through the worst part of the hill was near the top of the uphill curve. It took much less time to think through and do everything, than it did to read it here. The cars passing me didn’t notice me doing anything weird at all, unless, riding all the way up the hill on a heavy 5-speed, was funny. I was, after all, grinning.

Remembering to Wake Up

Kathy In the first post titled, “Sense a Wake-Up” promised were more factors for remembering and recognizing a need to take the reins back from routines and go into action. Here’s more about that.

Significance that is gradual, (that happens in increments or over time) doesn’t seem to register very well on the human sensory system. Humans are much better at the “put out the fire” attitude to get motivation for doing something to address what has been obviously staring them in the face for some time. People slip gradually into decline without noticing because they’re able to ‘get used to’ just about anything.

Since a gradual slippery slope was how it started, it must be possible to slip gradually out of a limitation too, but this slip out needs to happen by deliberate design. One of the obvious tactics to affect change is to create this resolve to change your circumstances on purpose. Then try out  options to find what is most effective. Be persistent if your first ideas don’t work so well.

The ability to comprehend and put together the writing on the wall from a gradual worsening of circumstance seems to be determined by three factors:

First would be the readiness, willingness or resistance of the person who would get the possible benefits from a new experience. Sneaking past a sense of “Danger! Danger!” is one of the techniques that incremental improvement offers. But at some point, you’re going to run into resistance to any change whenever you try to improve things for yourself – so have a strategy ready for dealing with this nuisance of resistance.

Then there’s how open, distracted or habituated the person is starting from. Raw sensory information, (no matter how important!) can be selectively ignored it if it doesn’t obviously match expectations, self-image, the goals, or what the customary state of affairs.

Finally, there is the context, feedback and judgment of how things are happening. It’s an advantage to be able to revise and design as the experiment happens, but do this deliberately and not as a knee-jerk reaction to instant judgments. You’ll want to shape what might be more effective for change as the experiment is being conducted.

Addressing the last factor first, the most important thing to do on the front end is to guarantee safety. Set up the experiment so that the reasons to do so are not going to hurt or embarrass. Find a confidante or group of people who appreciate what you’re attempting to change. It’s hard to go it alone.

There’s a deceptive pitfall in the second factor. The more auto-pilot activities that are in place as habitual routines, the less new sensory information will be available for your ability to sense what is really going on. Nothing will stand out. That disappearance is the whole the point of having a routine – it simplifies what would become overwhelming so new processes can be added together during skill building. Think of when you first learned to drive a car; what was overwhelming at first became commonplace. It’s easier to add something onto the front or back of an established habit than it is to refuse it. But if you need to refuse a habitual reaction, it’s easiest to do this before it gets started in full force.

Unfortunately, that “disappearing” effect is also how the dulling of sensing sensory information happens. If frogs are famous for sensing only that it’s just getting a little bit hotter in the gradually heating stew pot (until it suddenly being too hot to jump out) – why should humans be different?

Perhaps jadedness and unreliability of sensory feedback also depends on how many habits someone has trained themselves to use, tolerate or select from. Especially when having to deal with pain, opposing directives will seem to flood or shut down the sensory system. Humans find it challenging to make a choice from too many options, so paint a black and white picture for yourself to quiet the urge to recite old self-justifications.

One of the strategies for getting a benefit out of gradual improvement is to note literal, incremental progress as if you were doing a research study. Note-taking and other factual documentation will show gradual progress that isn’t obvious through moment to moment sensing. This is very handy when you’re making such long-term changes such as getting skinnier or recovering from a serious injury. Celebration of little milestones is in order!

But if you’re not the “documenting research” type, you’d better get more strategic about resharpening your senses. You can do this by learning the ability to observe yourself, or by using tools or other people that you think are great observers to give you trustworthy feedback.

There are many types of resistances to self-improvement. Sometimes we want something so much that we can’t bear to be disappointed again. Of course, there are many more reasons why we resist doing what is good for us.

Alexander Technique is great because it sneaks under the radar and affects the building blocks of results below the level of what you would imagine should matter. There’s also something Alexander people call “Directing” that is designed to influence the background readiness humans use as a prerequisite for decision-making and going into action.

The action can be as simple as a shake of your head.

Now all you have to do to start is to set up the factual feedback situation or find a great observer, right?

Oh, that’s simple. That’s an Alexander Technique teacher.

 

Sense A Wake-Up

Students have complained that the Alexander Technique is too “mysterious.” Why do we have such trouble really knowing what happens as we get into habits? We can certainly feel the pain of going to far after it’s happened!

Maybe I’m not asking the most useful question. How about: It is possible to use what we can’t sense? If sensory events are taking place underneath our current capacity to sense it, how can we recognize an unfamiliar but meaningful change or sense the fulfillment of a string of gradual successes?

We use what we can’t sense every day. We believe what others tell us about the nature of how things work that we can’t see or understand from inventions and equipment. We are fascinated to gain the enhanced perception technology that inventors have offered humanity; those innovators, artists, authors and entertainers who pique our imagination. The telescope, microscope, cameras, MRI and X-ray; recordings, amplifiers and communication enhancements; maps, programs and models.

But what about our ability to sense ourselves in direct action without all this special equipment? Humanity hasn’t had a hardware update in movement sensory capacity in much too long. Movement is even a tricky thing to describe to ourselves.

Human ability to recognize improvement moment to moment while training sensory ability isn’t very precise by human design. This can be most easily demonstrated when it comes to the sense of establishing muscle memory, orientation and judging weight and effort. As fact, the kinaesthetic sense is taken for granted. It is truly our “sixth sense.” Seeing is believing; feeling seems like fact.

The secret most people don’t understand is all of our senses do not truly give us the facts. They are merely registering relative information that needs interpretation. It’s up to us to interpret what our senses say. Of course, an education can compensate, but where do we get this education? Education for has taught most of us to avoid mistakes at any cost. Putting together how to constructively use our mistakes or our successes is the challenge.

Here’s an educational secret: Human sensation registers differences that are notable as determined by the person who is experiencing it.

Awareness of what appears to be “notable” is skewed by a design feature of being able to adapt. This is a human strength in most situations. Adapting allows humans to habituate anything we can do. Adapting is a brilliant, indispensable advantage; it allows sophisticated skills to be learned by connecting new behaviors together in series as what is known as a behavior chain. Without habituation, it would be overwhelming to execute skills. (Surely you’ve had the experience during learning of: “my brain is full.”)

You’ll learn as you read more of this blog some unusual ways to deal with it that work without special training to improve this situation. Why this happens is an “aha” moment that more likely starts as a mystery. There is also a human sensory software update available that takes focused study over time called Alexander Technique, (also worth learning for other preventative health effects.)

So – the answer is “yes!” You *can* wake up and sharpen your sensory abilities, learn to observe yourself, spot what others miss and make anything that takes practice to learn to go faster. To take the reins back from habit – it takes awareness and the ability to observe yourself in action.

Stay tuned for the next part where more of your questions will be questioned!

Update Instinct

Optical illusions reveal habits of sight
Photo by Erwin Blumenfeld, at: http://www.erwinblumenfeld.com/

I’ve been recently reading this book titled, “You Are Now Less Dumb.” It’s a collection of brain science facts and research, put into context and stories by a journalist David McRaney. (Of course you can come by these brain science jewels on TED.com individually, but it’s fruitful for synthesis to read them in synopsis form close together.)

One caveat shows proof how humans resist any change; the conditioned system dramatizes retention of habits to be connected to survival itself. (I’ve been joking for years it’s as if Mr. Habit bureaucrat doesn’t wanna lose his job!) Another study shows how increasing the number of choices stresses our system, justifying the manufacture of habits to handle the overload. For instance, judges and jurors are more forgiving after having eaten lunch, and hand out more punitive sentences at the end of the day when hungry and tired.

It appears that those who study Alexander Technique “swim against the tide” of their cultural conditioning by dealing with self-protective resistance… But – isn’t that why you’re here?

I was musing, “How was A.T. student convinced in the past to subject themselves, (at great cost of stress as evidenced from these facts) to become willing to over-ride their habitual conditioning and increase their capacity for making aware choices?”

Well, focal was the empirical proof of having a new experience of freedom from habit. This was done by the Alexander Technique teacher “blowing the mind” of the student at the first lesson with hands-on guided modeling. I see this as an honored “tradition,” but it also had the unwanted effect of producing student dependence. Nevertheless, mind-blowing mystique was and is an important motive and classic A.T. selling strategy. Once the student has gained the conviction that there are multiple impressionable sensations and mystery advantages to stopping routines of “habitual instinct,” the teacher is recognized as having this special capacity and the student is willing to pay and become dedicated. (This was dedication lasting for a lifetime for some of us who adored Alexander Technique and those who eventually continued training to became teachers.) Unfortunately, this strategy tends to make students dependent on teachers rather than independent learners. (Although it was good strategy to retain students from the point of view of the teacher supporting themselves.)

The opposite of choice is NOT coercion; it is instinct.

 Gets you thinking, doesn’t it?

Perhaps we should hesitate to use the word “instinct,” or at minimum be much more careful in using it. Aside from being misunderstood as a ‘design flaw.’ The word “instinct” can be too seductively relegated to be confused with “habits” after the become innate and disappear. The word “instinct” might also stand for the protective and self-preservation resistance of “human nature,” (many of these “human nature” truths have been scientifically to the qualifier of: “True, but only for those people in a certain group that were specifically indoctrinated when young by their cultural motives.”)

 It’s similar to the dangers of using the word “easy” to in a sentence: “Descending into habitual addiction is easy.” I’d rather specifically reserve the “easy” word for a positive experience, with “easy” being the “magic question” used to filter results after experimentation.  Better to say, “seductive” or “tempting” when spelling out how some specific habits are powerful enough to pull us along and make us unaware of really, really bad consequences that accumulate over time. Alexander Technique teachers are really big on avoiding cumulative damage.

 My point is: doesn’t it feel to many if us who experience Alexander Technique in a lesson, as the habits are subtracted, the default coordination that resumes “as if by itself” is “instinctual?”

 Are we really going against “instinct” when we become more willing to take the reins from habit, to learn and adapt with our mindfulness, increasing our capacity to choose without getting tired and stressed from doing so?

 For some of us adults, that’s undoubtedly the challenge, but the younger we are…

Experience and another study confirms the assumption that the younger the person when they began learning anything, the less stress they will encounter in learning what adults would find challenging, (such as the capacity to over-ride the status quo of any conditioned behavior…as expressed in, say, learning to pronounce a new language.)

Addressing my colleagues here,what should also be covered by A.T. classes would be consciously designing flexible habits that can be updated and shaped to changing circumstances. (That’s what the A.T. exercise: Whispered Ah gives acknowledgment to doing.)

Perhaps learning Alexander Technique is a way for adults to return to the learning capacities of youth?

Perhaps this ability to over-ride our conditioning that A.T teaches is one possible means to regain the attitudes of the young and impressionable who are still forming these routines and aren’t settled in them yet so ferociously?

Adults might be able to learn this youthful attitude from their study of Alexander Technique for gaining their “fountain of youth.” All it takes is to be willing to tolerate a bit of stress while they are unraveling the confines of their buried routines.

That’s why F. M. Alexander was so fond of quoting Shakespeare: “The Readiness is All.”

Franis Engel

Change Denial (part two)

A “habit of my life” is to not look at what I do not wish to acknowledge. How can I go against the habit and change it if I don’t even notice it?

With the intro from yesterday, now you’re ready to pick and choose from these additional tips, depending on what might apply to your particular situation. This the concluding part of a two-part series.

Next tip:
Evoke your objections to changing on purpose so you can investigate its features and challenge your own assumptions. You would do this by deliberately engaging in an action that is sure to disturb you, and notice the resistances and reactions that come that you would usually want to ignore. Write down your objections and justifications for doing things the old same way. Once you have this list, use thinking skills to question assumptions and find new ways to fulfill the challenge. Don’t worry about it if the items on the list don’t make sense. Lots of feelings don’t make any sense, but they will still have just as much power over your choices.

Here’s another tip: Note the situation where it has happened or might happen again. Then install a reminder for yourself to notice what is happening and remember your reminder to be able to watch yourself do it as it starts to happen. You’ll find that at first you won’t be able to ‘catch yourself’ doing it until it’s done, but gradually, you’ll be able to notice it sooner and sooner in the process. Trace it back to right before it really begins. There will be your emotional reasoning and motive that installed the nuisance habit can be fulfilled in another way.

Questioning and trace the feelings back to its suspected origin is tricky. It will probably take repeated attempts that get closer and closer to the origin of when your habitual solutions that you’d like to change will “go off.” Question your own assumptions about these emotional origins until you actually are able to pay attention to what you feel right before you’re about to do the habitual solution. Don’t think you know it all.

Sometimes we come up with an explanation that’s not what’s happening or is a placeholder or only part of the real origin. Mistaken assumptions about origins and interpretations of them have the power to open up significant new insights. Stay with the unpleasantness the habit was designed to avoid, because there is a big, important reason the habit was installed. When you do find yourself there, it will be very uncomfortable. But we’re designed to cry to relieve stress.

Alternately, you could learn Alexander Technique so you know how to physically move out of feeling bad when you find yourself there. Knowing A.T. will wake up your senses so you can see new ways of providing for your needs when you arrive at that point. The advantage is the solution will work from that point forward, unlike solutions that require practice.

Or, try this solution: If you know what you prefer, do a few other variations that are what you don’t prefer and note your reactions somewhere where you’ll be able to read them later. Once you know what it is you’re willing to work on, wait until you see a chance to change it and jump in feet first to do it.

For example: It’s tricky to tell the difference between a prejudice and a “gut instinct” intuition. I didn’t want to know that I had a prejudice, but I did. I found I had it by questioning some part of me that instantly “wrote off” a person as untrustworthy, which seemed blatantly unreasonable at the time. By this chance I became aware of a prejudice I had toward people who had “wandering eyes.”

I got past this issue for myself by intentionally getting to know a person like this the next time I was introduced, instead of following my innate urge to ignore and avoid them. Getting to know them violated my ‘gut instincts’ but it really helped me to figure out what it was I was responding to in them. I found out that people who had “wandering eyes” weren’t untrustworthy liars.

Of course, for all of these you will forget and catch yourself after the crucial moment passes when you could have caught the habitual reaction. But, that is when to apply those wonderful character traits of patience and forgiveness. This time, you know these admirable character traits are not pulling the wool over your own eyes.

Change Denial (part one)

A “habit of my life” is to not look at what I do not wish to acknowledge. How can I go against the habit and change it if I don’t even notice it?

Mostly everyone acknowledges that self-perception is, at best, challenging – if not impossible. It’s much more common to see what is wrong in the behavior and situations of others than it is to gain perspective on one’s own habits and attitudes. How come it is so challenging to admit that our objections about other people are happening much closer to home in us?

The way most people resolve this issue is to remind themselves that nobody is perfect and apply self- forgiveness and acceptance. While admirable qualities, these strategies are also self-justifications for pulling the wool over our own eyes. There are other ways.

What if there were some real tips and tools that could help us to change specific issues that we don’t want to face about ourselves?

Meet Lynne. She’s got an issue involving self- perception that clearly did not come from any personal failings, (unless you count getting into an accident is a character defect.) She broke her leg skiing and hobbled around for more than a year while she recovered. While she was healing, she needed to protect her injured leg.

Now, according to her doctor, she is all healed. But her problem now is that limping has become part of her usual walk. She has learned to expect pain that never comes, without realizing she’s doing it.

Everywhere Lynne sees people who are twisted and limping and criticizes how old they look. Her friends reassure her, but they are lying to make her feel self-confident because they wonder if the limp that Lynne retains is a character failing on her part.

Meanwhile, Lynne is so impatient to be done with the recovery process. It’s already taken so much time out of her life that she wants to ignore the fact that her accident ever happened. She hates feeling like “damaged goods.”

How can Lynn possibly change what she doesn’t wish to see herself doing?

There are good reasons for denial. Denial is a self-preservation skill. Humans are wired to ignore what is unpleasant and to quickly forget their painful tribulations. We have (what is known from brain science) our RAS. (that’s our Reticulated Activating System. – It’s sort of the dark side of what has been sold as “The Secret” too.)  This allows us to notice whatever we have assigned to our “important” list and to ignore what is not on it.

It is frustrating to notice what could be personal failings when you’re convinced that there’s nothing to be done about them, or ignore solutions are too much trouble. Besides, a show of confidence will get you past tight places most of the time.

There are many other understandable situations that could benefit from asking these question of how to get past a problem that is being denied. What person would want to notice how they’re stressed, prejudiced, narrow-minded, trapped in being a ritualized creature of habit, impatient, angry or out of control? Why…a person who imagines it’s possible to change these things, that’s who!

Are you one of those people?

First, we are going to need some deliberate design skills to get past the side effects of denial. Of course denial exists “for our own good,” so the ability to deny is going to insist and complain if you don’t stick with the denial program. We need to shore up our courage and perhaps get some encouragement from others, because resistance will take us back the status quo.

Some people would rather it be bad and over than have things maybe work out for the better! Waiting in no-man’s land while things sort themselves out is just too unpredictable, unknown and ambiguous. It’s possible to get better at extending patience for what feels odd – because what’s new will always feel strange. 

First Tip: The evidence of this habit you have been intentionally ignoring will be hidden in the slightest mannerism or perception, especially if you habit that you don’t know you’re doing is a physical one. Lynne doesn’t realize she is still limping because she doesn’t intend to limp. Because you’re on the inside of yourself, it is tricky to notice how things are going. Handy to deal with this problem will be using a mirror, recording device or your other senses for feedback to verify you’re not fooling yourself. Or buddy up with someone who is observant but not judgmental – perhaps they have a similar problem they would like your help with.

Lynne was almost out of patience, so evidence of success had better come quickly. But how would Lynne know success if it happened? Luckily someone she respected gave her a recommendation how they were helped. She kept going until she found something that did work. In Lynne’s case, learning Alexander Technique in a classroom situation solved her problem of unintentionally limping, because she got the support of classmates and the teacher. They provided other perceptual means rather than “seeing” to help her notice what is going on as it’s happening. Learning A.T. gave her further improvements too, such as avoiding height loss, gaining grace and awareness without self-consciousness.

If you don’t have a limp like Lynne does, it might work to show yourself this important secret about perception right now by starting with your finger two feet away from your focus of vision and bringing it closer until your finger touches your face. Where did it touch?

Most people will unintentionally bring their finger to one eye because that’s their “dominant” eye. Did you know this eye was dominant? Experimenting is how you learn stuff that’s useful to help the situation. So, the first ingredient is to be willing to experiment.

Practicing is how you train the solution to over- ride the old limitation, once you know what to practice. You need to be careful what you practice, or it will become an unintended habit. This way you avoid the danger of training a new habit that will become unintentionally chained onto the old, so both will be happening at the same time which can pull you in opposite directions!

However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

What about if you begin to perceive what you are doing as you are doing it? The most elegant solution is to simply stop doing the old same thing and question the need to design and implement another habit to substitute for the unwanted one. It will feel a bit strange at first, but remember “strange” is the mark of what is genuinely new.

Stay tuned for more tips and experiments about more ways how to change a habit that you don’t want to face in the next installment tomorrow!