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Archive for the ‘learning as loss’ Category

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!

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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.

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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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This post will be hopefully one of many 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 be better and make your living doing it, feel free to run with these ideas!

This week, here’s a video of a woman speaking on a social justice topic, about ethics and true responsibility for working as an authority. In content, it’s one of the best piece of inspirational activism speeches that I’ve ever come across. However, the speaker’s presentation and speaking skills could use help.

There are many reasons that someone needs to specialize in teaching Alexander Technique to this group of people who are speakers.

  • Appeals for ethics should not be merely an Internet fad on a video.
  • Persuasiveness ability hits the heart of the source of every social service livelihood, sense of duty, community participation and personal ethic.
  • Learning speaking ability should be more commonly offered, as it listed as the number one fear of the highest percentage.
  • Imagine the person who comes to the end of their rope from the disappointments of being an activist saying, “Well, at least I learned Alexander Technique from all of that.”

Isn’t there an Alexander Technique teacher in each country who could address the challenges of supporting activists? Out there must be at least one Alexander Technique teacher who could devote their life to specializing in helping regular citizens with a burning desire for social justice to become better at doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today I was listening to a conversation with Michael Frederick that was recorded as a podcast on Robert Rickover’s blog post about Marj Barstow. I got to the 29 minute point. Here is when the discussion turned to a question a student had asked Marj Barstow in one of the many workshops. “Why don’t you use inhibition when teaching?” Marj answered carefully, “Everything I teach is inhibition.”

What does “inhibition” mean? In a classic sense, inhibition is interrupting what you don’t want to continue to do, so you can do what you want. Alexander Technique students are literally taught to actually stop what they were about to do and pay attention to what they are doing with themselves before resuming action. Marj Barstow had a very different interpretation of the principle of inhibition. She saw it as indirect prevention. I’ve heard her say that inhibition means…

“Inhibition is prevention. Inhibition is any action that prevents you from doing what you don’t want. Inhibition continues within movement; you don’t want to get stiff. A person can change what they’re doing while in action, stopping is not required. Inhibition is positive. Going in the direction you want stops by elimination how you have been going wrong. You can’t commit to going in two directions at once…”

Well, you can try going in both directions at once. Pain is eventually the result, because it pulls everything that is you out of whack. Your poor body will try to accommodate your conflicting commands as best it can, which isn’t best.

Rickover offered an interesting metaphor for what we call inhibition in Alexander Technique to explain the attitude of Marj Barstow about how she expressed it in her work. His metaphor was something like this:

Let’s say that you’re driving and you realize you’ve gone the wrong way. To correct your course, you might make a U-turn, you might come to a complete stop while doing so, or not. By turning around you can retrace your steps to where you lost your way and continue on from there.

I’m going to continue that metaphor… What if you have a map? Alexander Technique the way Marj Barstow taught us was like having a map of principles about human reaction and response. With a map and the ability to observe where you are oriented, you can plot how to get back on course strategically – without having to retrace your steps. The direction you were conditioned to go in your childhood doesn’t matter. You can start from where you are and go the way you want to live your life from this point forward.

The idea of inhibition is interesting. You need inhibition just like you need the presence of mind to remember you did not want to turn down the same road to go home when you don’t want to go home yet. Of course it’s tricky to be aware in moments where you’re not aware. There are steps for suspending what you don’t want and instead doing what you do want.

The first step is self observation. You become aware of how your habits knock you off course. You learn to perceive the habitual pattern and recognize when it will likely kick in. Then you can design and follow a way to carry out a new logistical strategy to stop it. It turns out that brain science says whenever we go into action, we’ve already prepared quite a bit before we know we are choosing to do something. The only choice we have is to interrupt or redirect our preparations. We’ve got 1/64th of a second before we must do what we’ve prepared ourselves to do.

So interrupting habits is a skill that takes timing and awareness. Remember all those things you were sold on being socially unacceptable? You can use them to inhibit your unwanted habits. You want to cheat, lie, outsmart, fool, detour, side-step or preclude the trained, habitual urge you have installed to steer you wrong.

Designing a way that works to inhibit requires careful thinking. When the habit starts is a factor, because once it gets going it’s harder to interrupt. You might have to try different strategies if the first or second or third possibility doesn’t work. Happily, you don’t have to figure out what to do as a replacement once the unwanted routine releases it’s control. Other more constructive solutions will rise to the occasion once the habitual interference is gone.

It takes practice, and it’s sometimes tricky. You’re catching what you can’t normally perceive that’s operating under your radar. Habits are tricky enough to try to preserve the need for themselves, just like bureaucracies. You put your strategic plan into practice in the important moment of choice by practicing doing it in moments when it’s not so important and commonplace.

Of course it sometimes results in strange, even fearful new sensations. The uncertainty of a new direction can be disorienting. But that’s not so much of a problem. You can get the old habit back any time you wish. The habit remains in your “bag of tricks” as an option, but since you’ve worked to allow another more efficient route to get to your destination, the habit doesn’t go into action irresistibly every time you want to get somewhere.

To continue the metaphor, if you use the awareness of inhibition…you’ll have a “new way home” that is more direct, takes less time and costs less energy to get there. It’s like riding on an empty freeway after being in a traffic jam. Wheeeee!

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Language is an encyclopedia of ignorance. Words and concepts become established at a period of relative ignorance – which each period must be, compared to the subsequent period. Once the perceptions and concepts are frozen into the permanence of language, they control and limit our thinking on any subject because we are forced to use those concepts. – “I Am Right – You Are Wrong” by Edward de Bono, one of his 80+ books on creative thinking

How do you go about extracting concepts from literal experiences that are “stuck” into a already-assembled package?

Decades ago, before I had really learned to write, I was assigned the job of describing Marj Barstow’s new innovations about teaching Alexander Technique to groups. It was quite a difficult job for many reasons. Learning Alexander Technique occurred on many levels for a student – everyone was located along a continuum of the learning process – but this process of learning the subject was not linear…and everyone followed a different pathway.

To complicate this, my teacher was also quite literal, very specific and a superb editor. She was so much of an editor, she couldn’t write for herself. There was something wrong with everything because it didn’t contain the whole. So my job became to write, write, write and allow her to cut up whatever I had written to shreds…and go back and write some more, undaunted. To complicate matters, nobody else but the founder had written about his own driving conceptual & innovative principles, although everyone acknowledged their importance who had experienced the power of his teaching. It was a little like daring to describe what nobody else would touch.

Since I knew that compiling was a much easier job than the simplifying of concepts that I really needed, I started out by collecting selected “impressions” my teacher’s students had written to her. There were interesting quotes from people that I selected, assembled and grouped so they “flowed” in topic. The sequence of the topics were arranged to match my teacher’s introductory presentation sequence – because they had to posses some sequence. At the time, it seemed to be an arbitrary selection of deciding what quote should follow the next. The learning process and application of the skills of Alexander Technique was so subjectively circular. What organization would be best for introductory teaching?

My attempts were widely distributed among her students for feedback. The acknowledgment came back from her more experienced students: the sequence I stumbled on was the same one they had been effectively using in action to teach others. So, now I had a sequence to present content (that I had arranged so “arbitrarily”) and it had turned out to be in agreement with what others who did not write had learned.

Now I was ready to write a “concept synopsis” where each topic changed into the next. To simulate the out-of-sequence form of learning, I split the conceptual chapter headings from the raw quotes and added some experiments for examples. The idea of a tri-sectioned book emerged to allow the information to be read out of sequence as well as in sequence.

the cookbook style thing, divided in three separate books bound together into one book was funny to read in practice. It frustrated people who wanted to read it in sequence.

So – that was how I took one very complex subject that didn’t have a conceptual organization and simplified it.

Hope that my story from my experience in Alexander Technique inspires for you how to extract concepts from literal experiences and express them successfully in words.

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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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