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!

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