I mentioned before how Alexander Technique can be used to help a person who has a specific idea about what they can do that will better their situation, but for some reason or another can’t put their bright new alternate into action. Here’s a bit about how that happens…

Let’s say that the medium is movement, how an intention translates into physical action. Maybe you have a goal in mind, a purpose about why you are wanting to improve the way you move. The challenge or proof that you’re doing as you intend could be to use less effort, more mechanical advantage, perhaps even an ideal economy of applied physical energy during motion. You’ve trained this “better” substitute skill from scratch – for instance, a different tennis swing, a new way of taking a breath during a swimming stroke. Now your challenge is to do the new skill instead of the old faithful routine in the crucial moment.

Now you are ready to confront the challenge about how to interrupt your old routine and put the new one into action.

I’ll explain what I mean by that last sentence. You want to do the new skill and not do the old routine. Going in one direction will, theoretically by default, “cancel out” the other. At the moment when you direct your whole self to go physically in one direction, the other possible options are de-selected. This will happen because, theoretically, you can’t go two places at the same time.

If you try that theory out by putting  a new improvement into action – you will probably attempt to “do” both at the same time. What is likely to happen is your old routines have the power to run interference on the new things that you really want. This happens because, most of the time, when a new part of a skill is added, it’s adding onto the existing skill and not substituted in place of it.

Stopping the old skill is what you want this time, but that’s not how people are usually wired. Depending if the skill is deemed “dangerous” for any reason, your habits are wired to perform the old skill as if it’s life itself that is at risk. What’s unfamiliar and new can be blown all of proportion by a habit as if it’s totally threatening.

Granted that some people can dare to leap… but in order to leap, they need a complete conviction that they don’t want the old same thing. Another way around that is to go bit by bit to reassure yourself, and the imperative protective alarms never go off. There are obviously more ways to make the unfamiliar less scary too…

It takes a clarity of intent to gather one’s sense of purpose and direct one’s whole self. People will say this takes patience; for instance when they see detail or time invested in the quality of a job. But within an experience of absorption, the thought of being patient doesn’t exist. Instead, you want your attention to become become fully engaged at the most important moment. So marking when that moment begins is a great first step.

This ability to direct one’s attention has many qualities – some work with your goals and some don’t so well.  I’m going to suggest you use the one that works that don’t focus on the goal – strangely enough. The admonition to “Just Do It,” will likely activate what is most familiarly trained and ingrained. This works fine once you know exactly how to do what you’re trying to do – like a music conductor who only needs to give the signal for parts of the orchestra to respond at the right time.

Strangely enough, the best route is indirect and paradoxical when attempting to get yourself to do an unfamiliar skill instead of a familiar routine. It is a brand of surrender or suspension of desire for your goal. It even works to use a brand of trickery: refusing to mentally say the “action word” and instead stick to the new steps of the improvement. You aim to have an empty pause before you put the new skill into action. So, find the important moment to pay attention – and stop what you would normally do in that moment.

You might find that inserting this pause takes out the complication of the habitual routines by itself. The pause itself might be all that’s necessary. Right after this refusal to do the routine is when you can insert the newly trained improvement, if it’s needed. Easy does it!  You may even discover in that moment an even simpler improvement. The action that follows will have a whole different quality. The goal you just surrendered may feel as if it is “doing itself” as the hindrances or complications of the old routine are removed. The experience of this happening is sometimes an odd feeling of emptiness. The “effort” you were feeling that you coupled together with the doing of the action was unnecessary, so now you can leave off the training wheels.

Why give up at the crucial moment when you want something bad enough you can taste it?  To do what you couldn’t do before.

2 thoughts on “Substitution

  1. Yes, Alexander Technique has been proven to be effective for improving low back pain by a study that was published in the British Med. Journal in Aug. 2008

  2. Firstly, I would like to thank you for the very useful info you blogged here about low back pain.
    I work as a professional fitness and pilates coach| and I have met people with
    low back pain. I myself had some problems with my back previously and I can tell for sure that
    active lifestyle will definitely help if you aware of methodologies or work with professionals

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