Archive for August, 2009

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It’s tricky to perceive what’s going on with thought and actions, because everything happens at once – and fast.

You have done it a million times. The most familiar way to suspend what you do not want is to do something else. Fire off another cue and change the channel. Time to go on to the next thing.  Once people get a cue, their urge to respond to it is very strong – hopefully strong enough to face down continuing to do the previous routine.  Brrrrring, the phone rings. Pooof! Stimulus for new behavior. A person can be SCREAMING; their phone rings and suddenly, this tiny, sweet, polite “Hello” voice comes out. They were trained by the bell to offer a new behavior. This is the mind’s superb recognition system in action.

People know that changing from one action to another works. The thinking strategy here is to install a new habit to take the place of the old one, and fire off the next trigger.

But – what happens when the previous state of mind gets in the way of the next? It acts like a problem with inertia – hard to start the ball rolling, and hard to stop it. The person picks up the phone call and they growl at the caller on the phone instead of being civilized. Even though the person on the phone doesn’t deserve it or they may take the insult personally, the previous mood or attitude of the person who answered runs over into the next activity. The poor caller is guilty by association of their bad timing.

This spill-over also happens quite innocently when training oneself to do a skill.  There is learning the intended skill… Also comes extra, unnecessary things done during the training process. These get accidentally get trained into the skill along with what is intended.

So, self-control would be handy, but too much control can be too heavy-handed. In the tiny moments most people witness themselves doing what they don’t want to do, they immediately change what they’re doing as a reaction to the witnessing. They want to “fix things” immediately – fix whatever is happening that they deem is “Wrong or Bad”.

Policing yourself is firing off the behavior of self-judgment. This is what most people call “to be inhibited.” The act of policing oneself irresistibly pops out as what is unwanted or don’t like is noted. Policing oneself works, but it stops everything indefinitely. The dam is held back until it bursts or pops off like the opening a soft drink that’s been shaken. The issue becomes a vicious circle.

I like tell another story about my own sweet mother – she could not get a photo of herself that really looked like her. Each time the camera came out, she would compose her face into an uncharacteristic expression to “get her picture taken.” Something about looking in the mirror would have the same effect. She would compose her face or her posture in a funny, uncharacteristic way. It was a sort of self-consciousness many people get today when they are filmed or during public speaking. One day I tricked her into thinking I wasn’t ready to snap her picture. Finally there was a photo of herself that she liked.

How to get past the vicious circle of assuming the only choice you have is to train and switch?

F.M. Alexander invented the idea. What he invented is a method of subtraction. Rather than adding a new behavior and firing that off to replace what it is you don’t want, merely subtract what is unnecessary.

This approach is particularly effective when one triggered behavior can’t stop the next – they run together. As in when the person who answers the phone punishes the caller by growling – who has no idea what is in progress.

So, now you’re wondering, how can the habitual routine be merely disengaged or stopped? It turns out, that a little unnoticed action of change can fly “under the radar” of the unwanted, coercive reaction. The trick is finding this something to detour the unwanted habitual reaction. It’s a design problem, finding this something. Alexander teachers specialize in being great observers to find such a thing for you. But you can do a bit of it yourself by being sneaky with your habits. Use a low-stress activity, one that makes little difference. Reassure the old habit that nothing terrible is happening. Then do the steps you imagine will get you where you want to go, bit by bit. As you unlock the skill of suspending a routine and as you practice this ability, that trickery can be used as a training tool for the ability to change routines during more important situations.

When you want to suspend a habitual routine, that’s the time to use all those nasty things you have been told that you must never do. You want to lie, cheat, fake it out, make it wait, slap it down, tickle it, distract it, etc. That’s the time to be devious. Your ability to rebel, veto, buck the system, subvert the dominant paradigm… this is what will work best on re-routing a conditioned set or routine. It’s very difficult to directly fight routines that have crystallized into habits once they get going. But you can tease them into submission by fooling them, lying to them, sneaking around them. It works best if you can catch them the moment before they go into action. The best time to do this is right before the routines get started.

The first practice of learning this skill is something most people can do. It is to refuse to do the act of self-judgment. Can you sense and witness yourself without changing or “trying to fix” what you usually do to fix the problem?

It is possible to both watch yourself do what you are doing AND also allow the event to occur anyway without your interference of self-judgment. With practice, it becomes even more possible. Perhaps it is so difficult to do such a thing because nobody has ever thought of asking people to do it. Asking in a way that worked. They ran into self-consciousness, which is a form of self-judgment, and they give up.

The funny part here is giving up is exactly what works. Giving up the self-judgment works.

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For decades of my life I have specialized in adopting rather unpopular and sometimes “outdated” as well as completely new “cutting edge” ideas about ways of doing things. The value that attracts me has been that well-placed effort has a greater benefit and it is of greater benefit than a massive amount of misdirected effort. Less of doing what a person does not want will creatively provide a person with more of what they do want – as an effortless byproduct. This is especially true when small tendencies add up cumulatively over time.

These ideas of how to carry out my values of “doing less, more selectively brings more benefit” seems to be tricky to present to others for various reasons. Many other topics also posses this same challenge. Of course, this challenge of how “less is more” is at odds with the prevailing values of my American culture.
The value of timing a small effort, rather than offering a huge effort in an untimely way is an extremely interesting topic to explore. The interesting part is how to determine what is the appropriate time? It also has ramifications for the health of the planet, etc. The American ideals of “more and more is better and better” is going to have to undergo a significant change, if environmental concerns are going to be successfully addressed.

There are some factors in tactfully introducing an unpopular subject. It is handy to have foreknowledge of the various debate tactics people tend to use to dismiss the validity of your topic that you’d like people to value and/or take advantage of. With their mistaken assumptions about what something IS, people tend to want to fit what is unfamiliar into something familiar that they already know.

One of these debate tactics of dismissal is to say, “Oh, that old thing. We’ve already considered it. ” (Of course a rebuttal might be, “Perhaps there is a reason why that old thing hasn’t already gone away? Because people find it useful after all this time. So perhaps you mistakenly dismissed it before you learned enough about it to discern it’s value?”) Another categorization tactic: “That idea is exactly like this other thing…”

People when they find something new, they want to familiarize it. Perhaps having names for these debate tactics in a list would help us dispense with having to grapple with them over and over again? The debate model is an overused one. There are so many other thinking skills available than debate argument, such as lateral thinking.

OK, so HOW do you address uncovering problems that people may not want to know they have? How do you delicately and tactfully open “a can of worms” for people? Part of the reason people shrink back from admitting they have a particular problem is that they would not know how to solve it if they did acknowledge it!

When it comes to new processes, new ways of thinking, new ways of considering perception, new ideas, new inventions, these problems are common in presenting nearly everything unique, interesting and novel. These issues are also present in formerly useful practices and/or skills that were historically passed up, ignored and possibly forgotten. People might want to resurrect these “tried and true” solutions when the supposedly “better” improvement turns out to have unforeseen drawbacks.

So, I asked a very successful speaker how to deal with it. She’s Barbara Sher. She is a career counselor and speaker with multiple books under her belt in print for thirty years who now writing another book going into depth about the various reasons why certain unique groups of people do not figure out how to become a success. What she is describing as various ways of dealing with “resistance” sounds quite a bit like “inhibition.”

Her advice to me about presenting unusual topics was simple. The key presenting the solutions to unusual problems is to tell stories about why someone would need what I had to offer. These stories would illustrate why someone would want to bother to learn new ways of dealing with what has been more expediently dismissed or ignored. These stories would be about the often forgotten ways how people answered questions and designed solutions that were somewhat short-sighted at a time when they did not know what else to do.  Now circumstances have changed that encouraged new ways of doing things. Of course, eventually these “improvements” that are being designed now will also need to change.

These funny situations would illustrate universal human quandaries and paradoxes. You tell these stories and everyone laughs or cries or both. They can be self-deprecating stories or about other people who struggled and lost. But the common thread, which you spell out are that people dismissed any possibility of changing these problems because they assumed “there wasn’t a solution anyway.”

Then you offer your solutions that specifically addresses the problem. This creates hope for people that possibly there is a way out (or a return to previously valued ways) for the people listening. Their frustration level is not as great as they imagined at first, because if others have succeeded, so can they.

My story comes from a playground of my distant past when I was raising someone else’s six year old. The kid had done a pretty amazing series of moves on the monkey bar built on the side of a swing, sliding down to twisting into a wonderfully elegant twisting dismount from the swing. I had seen his antics, but he wanted to show his dad, who missed his pretty cool trick. Of course, when his dad was watching, the trick the boy had done the first time didn’t work out the same way. The poor kid was quite confused and embarassed. He had just done the trick once, why could he not do it again?

So – I’m collecting stories now. Little stories. Let me know if you have a good one.

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