Archive for February, 2014

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

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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.

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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!

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This post is another one of many ongoing suggestions for those Alexander Technique teachers who want to find their niche. These are ideas for someone trained in Alexander Technique to consider making an ongoing topic for their life’s work. If you are an Alexander Technique teacher who is searching to specialize with a unique group of people to help them learn how to make their life, hobbies, work skills and performance abilities better and make your living doing it, feel free to run with these ideas!

Alexander Technique has much to offer those who want to change the way they speak. Not public speakers, (which is an optional niche in itself,) but just regular people who are not performers who want to change the way they speak from day to day forever after.  For the sake of improving at their jobs, to transform the first impressions of others, to be better understood by others.

I originally applied Alexander Technique to changing the way I spoke to solve the challenge of an unusual vocal mannerism. I used to say everything with the up-and-down story-telling modulation tones grown-ups often reserve for speaking with children. (Also I let out my breath before I spoke to make what I was about to say less threatening.) When it was time for a business person to give me money, my up-and-down way of speaking made me appear to be unreliable.

Learning from Alexander Technique the ability to speak in more of a monotone gave me a significant and instant advantage. Those who were about to give me half of my estimate before I started their job began to willingly hand over money to seal the contract. It was a striking success!

So – one market possibility could be body language an elocution for salespeople.

But wait – here’s another even more lucrative market that is slightly related.

Think of all the telemarketers and worldwide customer service representatives in the world with a barely understandable ability to speak English because their thick accent. They have learned what to say, but don’t yet know HOW to say it so they can be understood easily. This training isn’t available to them. All of those people could benefit from a course with you teaching them Alexander Technique to refine their ability to speak English without an accent. (This is especially viable as a livelihood if you speak a second language yourself.)

But it’s also not a bad choice if English is your native language and there is another culture you’d enjoy immersing yourself in. Perhaps if your native language is English, you might have never thought much about how much of an advantage you have over someone who must learn English as a second language.  This niche also has the advantage of the situation of who you get to work with. Working with ESL students is one of the most gratifying and appreciative ways to spend your time, reputed to be on par with the consistent appreciate working with animals can give.

This is a market with tremendous potential. Every company that uses telemarketers wants their service people to succeed. Probably you could make arrangements with the company itself to conduct classes and not worry about spending your time attracting the students directly.

Anyway – two more viable suggestions for someone who teaches Alexander Technique to use as a niche for where to point or how to expand their rare skill of being able to teach F.M. Alexander’s discoveries. Of course, you’ll need to do much more in-depth research to pull off such a thing. But, I hope you’re enjoying these suggestions and would consider making use of one of them.

Please be in contact with me personally if you would like further ideas about how to make your niche work.

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