Beyond Pet Peeves

Beyond Pet Peeves

I want to encourage you to lose your pet peeves – in fact, I’d like to encourage you to find more effective ways to channel frustration in general. When you’re frustrated, are you the sort of person who finds that getting really angry over what’s bugging you will make you feel better?

I learned that expressing frustration doesn’t work so well for me personally – in fact, it intensifies the frustration and makes it more likely for me to make additional mistakes. I also have a tricky time calming myself when I’m finally successful. I discovered this by what follows in this post. First, I followed a thinking skill listing and rating exercise about various ways to answer this question:

Exactly how do I get myself to “feel better” about whatever bothers or frustrates me?

(In fact – try making this list before you continue reading. Then rate each point on a 1-to-10 scale…)

Higher on my own list were such points such as:

• Taking a break by laying on my back semi-supine with my knees in the air. (A short nap also works for me.)

• Doing something more effective in a practical, problem-solving way that realistically solves the challenge, even though it may involve ongoing, cumulative or work yet-to-be determined.

• Reminding myself that I don’t need to expect myself to already know how to complete an unfamiliar task

• Making art – or doing other things that I generally enjoy as a daily practice so my general level of frustration is less

• Deliberately using “book-matched” breathing – (measuring my in and out-breaths and making them match each other in pairs. I was taught this effective strategy by Joanna Wyss as a handy technique for interrupting high levels of anxiety.)

• Refusing to think of and “adding onto” other situations or points that were negative to this irritating one

• Reciting to myself, “Patience!” really slowly.

• Asking myself, “Is this REALLY so important enough to get upset about?”

After making this list for myself, the: “Deciding to not associate this bad thing that is happening with other bad things that happened in the past” turned out to be an interesting point on the list I made. So I decided to expand and discuss this point further here. This point on my list generated some additional interesting observations and questions. (Maybe you have a point on your list that could also be fruitful to further expand?)

My first observation was how I already knew “State-Specific Learning” can both help and hinder skill expression. To use this concept, I had to consider expressing an angry frustration as a functional skill. For me, the most common situation where frustration emerged for me was when I was learning or trying to accomplish a goal and things weren’t working the way I’d hoped.

To do this, I had to ask myself some more questions…

In what situation does violent expression of frustration effectively work for me?

Maybe because in some situations, getting violent does work to “blow off steam” from volatile emotions – it definitely gets attention.

Can I think of how and why does this work?

Many decades ago, my small town had collected many junk cars that were to be towed away. My quirky friend decided it was a sales opportunity to “rent” people a sledge hammer and eye protection so they could pound on and destroy further these junk cars with abandon to make themselves “feel better.” Wish I could see that amusing video again right now! It appears that one of the techniques of comedy is to exaggerate complaints so that they become blown out of proportion.

This also made me realize how “better” needed to be defined. “Better” can be expressed as “happier” or as “more meaningful,” and these two are often mutually exclusive.

Now that I have my definition of “better,” I can observe how violence can be an effective way of bringing a serious complaint to the foreground so it becomes meaningful and even perhaps newsworthy. Crying has a cathartic function as a release for sadness and other overwhelming or conflicting emotions.

So, now I have a list of some more sources and situations that can help me decide if I should express my frustrations in some negative way to “make myself feel better.” Now that I’ve made this list, I can ask myself specifically, “Am I in those situations listed where expressing my frustrations are likely to be effective?”

For me, there was another notable feature on my list that was low on my ratings. Talking or writing about something that bothers me rates very low in it’s effectiveness to make me feel better when I’m frustrated or upset. But talking about what bothers us evidently rates high for most people! So high, that the whole field of talk therapy is based on doing it. Some people have a past problem or bad situation that makes them notable and in some cases, even makes them a living! But for me, talking about a situation “spends” the energy of it and functions sort of like releasing a pressure cooker valve. But this “release of pressure” is unsatisfying to me, because nothing changes because of having done it.

Yet, I write this blog! Is there something unusual or notable on the bottom of your ratings?

Nearly everyone has irritants or situations that bother them. Now that you’ve made this list, it also helps to ask yourself about if there’s a category or customary time for you when being upset commonly emerges. If you can anticipate you’re about to confront a circumstance where you’re likely to react, you can head your reactions off at the pass before these emotions spring out of nowhere on you.

For me it was, “How can I expand my lack of tolerance for unfamiliarity?”

If we know what situations are when our frustrations are likely to emerge, then we can design positive solutions that improve our circumstances in general over time. In come cases, we might be able to avoid those situations entirely if we think that’s OK. Personally, I want to continue to learn new things, so because of this, I’m forced to take gradual steps to improve my tolerance for unfamiliarity. I think that I need to take on my specific challenges gradually and build my muscles up about confronting my issues around unfamiliarity, now that I know my challenging circumstances.

So is there any advantage to minimizing our Pet Peeves – if that’s even possible once they are set into place? Given our history with them, how can we possibly deactivate a Pet Peeve? Is it even possible to imagine what life would be like for us beyond having been a victim of a bad experience, if a “Peeve” is so serious that it has become our sense of identity? Is it worthwhile to prioritize what concerns or frustrates us?

There’s a number of factors that are at work here, but first, let’s apply our thinking skills on this question:

What are the differing qualities between “hated” and “loved”?

Curiously, the feelings about what you “hate” are often intense, memorable and notable; whereas things, people and situations that are about what you “love” have subtle qualities that are sometimes tricky to even register on our own perceptual capacity. Realizing what we love sort of “sneaks up on us,” requiring repeated exposure. Most of us find it tricky to make as long of a list about the positive things that we actually want. But we can rattle off our negatives with no hesitation!

This suggests a strategic exercise that I learned from Barbara Sher, (1935-2020, author and “Godmother of Life Coaching.”) She called this exercise, “The Job From Hell.” But it works as an activity with any situation you hate, (such as what sort of house you might want, what sorts of relationships you might enjoy, etc.) not merely jobs.

First, you list what you “hate.” Then the more tricky part: imagine and convert things or situations on your list to contain the opposite of the features, qualities of the points you hated. Perhaps this “opposite” list will contain indicators of “what you love,” or at least “what you don’t hate.” Doing this exercise might in total help you uncover or design multiple positive features you might come to love in a situation, over time. When we did the last exercise describing Love & Hate, we uncovered that realizing what we love happens through repeated exposure and gradually increases as we note what we do enjoy.

Maybe you’re wondering, “How does this topic relate to Alexander Technique?”

One of the ways to express the Alexander Technique principle of Direction is to note how and where in your own body you’re already feeling easier (as opposed to sensing and noting relative tension.) Humans are wired to sense the relative contraction of their musculature, not the lengthening of muscles. Usually, lengthening only comes forward in our sensory capacity when there’s a big change from effort due to a marked release of effort. It takes practice to widen our field of awareness to sense muscular lengthening in other circumstances. AND it often takes movement to internally sense where or if lengthening is happening.

Turns out, it takes further practice to note not merely ONE spot inside our body that happens to feel easier with our own coordination – but multiple spots in our body where we can feel a sense of effortlessness. That’s why Direction is a practice and not something you do once and poof! “Changed forever after.”

What do I mean by “effortlessness?”  You can explore further with an experiment that will give you a sensation of a lack of effort here: https://myhalfof.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/dissonance-reveals-bias/

The curious effect is that the skill of sensing a lack of muscular effort will expand as you pay attention to it. Of course, this phenomena of expansion works with any specific you focus on – it expands as you turn your attention to it. Expanding whatever you notice is a feature of how humans brains work, termed the RAS. (Reticulated Activating System.) Essentially, we humans have an “important” list we can note in order to help us focus on what exactly are future priorities. For instance, if we invest time buying a car, this is why suddenly we notice the same models of the cars we’re considering – they suddenly appear everywhere.


Hope you’ve enjoyed my topic today. I know it’s three times the length of what people normally read online – thanks for using a quality of sustained attention to read it! Please continue it with your own observations, explorations, suggestions and comments…

How Does A.T. Change You?

What’s happening when a person learns Alexander Technique? What would they expect to learn? After having learned A.T. – are there requirements that must be done to continue to gain its benefits?

Part of this answer has to do with the nature of skill and practice itself. Turns out there are different categories of skills – I’m going to describe and contrast two of these: practice skills and perceptual skills. Some of the misconceptions about Alexander Technique has to do with not really knowing that different categories of learning results exist. To learn Alexander Technique means you gain both of these – but the most unusual is the perceptual learning skill.

Some of learning Alexander Technique can come purely through practice.
Of course, there are many skills requiring practice. These sorts of skills will be sensitive to cumulative effort. The quality, timing, direction, relationship and sequences of this effort will determine the nature, speed and the results of this practice.

There are also insights that need to be coupled with practice to get past the pitfalls of unintentionally installing the wrong routines. It’s a pitfall to unknowingly practice what you don’t want along with what you intentionally want, which can become a later nuisance – even to the point of pain. Not knowing what you want to train – (or just being a clueless newbie who mistakes blind repetition for practice) can get you into a double-bind corner. That’s why it’s an advantage to get some tips from someone who has previously gone down the road you’re about to travel. Of course, it becomes an advantage to recognize a potential mentor who is skilled at teaching as well as possessing the skill you want to learn.

What makes Alexander Technique unique is it offers is a tool to clear the slate of the unwanted effects that were installed through practicing by mistake.

As you gain some level of skill using practice, the basics tend to always stay with you. (Although when you haven’t been practicing, it’s often dismaying how far you have fallen behind what you used to be able to do.) Though the potential of where you can go with practice will fade when you stop doing what gives you more advanced advantages, having done the skill at all in the past gives you the understanding of the nature of practice itself. So you’re able to re-train yourself again if you lose your advanced abilities that you gained through practice – you’ll learn faster the next and subsequent times through too.

But – one of the features of this category of “practice” is you need to actually do the practice to get the benefits. The more time you devote to practicing and the high quality of practice you’re able to use, the further you get in rewards of skill.

So along this line – anything you can do to remind yourself to practice will offer faster results.

Perceptual Learning
More unusual, there are also types of skills that come under the category of Perceptual Learning. Examples are the ability to sex chickens and plane spotting, which are pretty specialized skills that most people might never want to learn. As a result, this type of learning isn’t really discussed very often and not much is known about how or if this sort of learning can be reversed. But what I do know that this sort of skill turns into a perceptual ability that cannot be so easily shut off. Strange issues can come from not being able to resist using a perceptual ability once it’s trained.

A personal example for me comes from a livelihood skill that got trained by my standing close to a wall and judging whether or not what I was doing on the wall was level in relationship to the building as I was doing it. I was a muralist, so this skill was very handy to have learned. This odd ability involving my peripheral vision judgment had a backlash. It caused me to not be able to tolerate a specific pupil distance measurement common in my eyeglasses. If this measurement is not therapeutically widened beyond it’s intended function of centered pupil distance, I get headaches. I bless each day the ophthalmologist who discovered this solution for me!

My point is this: perceptions can open and remain open once this sort of perceptual learning has been accessed, like a door that you cannot lock again after it has been unlocked. With this type of learning, it’s as though you’ve been initiated into a whole new world that contains a capacity that feels as if you’ve always had it. It involves a reaction chain on a basic level that “gets an update.” Once you have perceived these perceptual differences and learned to respond to them, you cannot close up this perceptual capacity. (Or perhaps there are ways to close off this perceptual learning that I’m not familiar with. I imagine it would need to work underneath the perceptual reaction to somehow refuse to “go there.”)

This sort of learning seems to happen like magic – one moment you couldn’t do it, and the next you could with increasing accuracy. Even a master of an ability in this category might not really know exactly how they do this thing, but they can demonstrate their ability to do it.

How do you gain this sort of learning? One way this sort of learning is taught by guessing in the presence of someone who can do it successfully. They give you feedback whether you’ve done it or not done it successfully in a binary way. At some point, you gain the ability to give yourself this mysterious perceptual feedback you got from your teacher – then you “have” this skill, poof!

Of course, skills can be a mixture of these different categories. Alexander Technique is like a “hack” for practicing that also affects your perceptual abilities – the kind of perceptual learning that opens your awareness in an irrevocable way.  Alexander Technique allows a shift in a mysterious change in perception of ones’ own ability to internally sense and influence internal perceptual response strategies. It’s like your awareness of a sixth sense inside yourself has gotten turned on. It offers a way to attend to yourself as the instrument that drives the result of your desire, somewhat like the benefits of meditation – only you gain the capacity to apply this change with a paradoxical surrender of your goal while in action.

The other curiosity is how immediately A.T. integrates into whatever else you want to affect. To get the benefits of it after you invest in learning A.T. doesn’t need to involve a big time sink. It needs only momentary, pin-pointed intention, like a handy tool you carry in your back pocket. The best time to use this tool is right before you go into action. It involves a tiny, specific perceptual shift of potential self-awareness and a follow-through of action you can use to free yourself that “sets the stage” for success. This action is an intentional physical lengthening of yourself, a sort of system reset order that’s guaranteed to free your own habitual responses. You’d couple A.T. with a specific goal because you want to refine, improve or build it. A.T. also works to sift, mitigate or prevent what you didn’t want that got accidentally mixed up with what you wanted. Or you might just want to change your consciousness.

For me, practicing Alexander Technique enhances pretty much everything else I can do. It’s true multi-tasking in the form of practical mindfulness that refines whatever I’m becoming.

Benefits of Alexander Technique

 

I suspect that once you read this, it will make Alexander Technique sound like snake oil. But think about it for a moment. Imagine if you could get a user manual that would sharpen your own fallible human perception while providing easier movement. Wouldn’t that be a useful foundation for the unlimited learning of anything skill you’d want to do?
It’s tricky to put Alexander Technique into words, but here are some ways to describe it…

  •  Learn living anatomy and effortless control of freer movement. By uncovering what’s in your way that you have forgetfully only gotten used to doing.
  •  Learn to refresh muscle memory, so you can respond to what’s new instead of reacting with the old same thing.
  •  Gain insight, impulse control, evoke flow, & speed up training & practice time
  •  See where someone is going to move next, (great for being behind a video camera.)
  •  Get more benefits & discoveries from practicing your favorite skill by using effortlessness. Experience a signature feeling of a “flow or lightness” during lessons and practice.
  •  Find out how to learn new tricks, even when you feel like you’re an old dog. Find out how to get better at what you love, even if you’ve given up on it!
  •  Uncover strange, new abilities and senses that you never knew you had – by freeing your perceptual assumptions.
  •  Sharpen impulse control, go beyond conditioned reactions and assumptions and set aside negativity – all by making a physical movement in an easier way.
  •  Get a first-hand experience of directed body-mind unity, “flow,” a peak experience!
  • Aside from time it takes to learn, benefits of Alexander Technique carry into any other activity. To use it, you “direct” yourself differently; no special practice hour once you know the skill because it combines with every action.

 

 

Six lessons will get you a taste, and usually in less than thirty lessons you can have a useful skill for life.  Sign up for and experience an Alexander Technique lesson series or workshop today!

Cumulative

One of the central principles of how Alexander Technique works is based on the concept of a domino effect. Small actions, (in the form of tiny routines) pile up and become powerful influences. “You become what you repeat” is one way of expressing this often skipped-over super power to both suffer and affect change in yourself.

A studied ability to perceive subtle foundation movements is what seems so magical about how an Alexander Technique teacher can pull the rug out from underneath apparently self-caused difficulties.

An example comes from the situation of professional performing musicians. At what age did the musician learn to hold their musical instrument? How big was it then – and how big were they as kids when they first learned to make sounds with it? Height might be a factor; certainly hand and arm size; what sort of reach was possible? Put the answers to these questions in perspective, and issues with repetitive pain injury can sometimes be solved with immediate practical ergonomic adjustments.

Because of the power of our self-confirming misconceptions, humans will move the way we imagine that we are able to move. How to approach this bias? We can change this effect through questioning and insight as in the musician example above. We could used hypothesis, comparing by remembering what our situation was like for us in our past. Then we can craft experiments with what we uncover. This might lead us to even better questions, such as: How far across was that goal post area when we first got played in a standard sized soccer field when we were kids? How high was that basketball ring when first learning compared to how tall we are now?

Another way to influence change is to design many different ways to practice whatever we have discovered. If it can be counted, it can be made into a game, right? But be careful what you count, because this focus is what will quickly jump out to become priorities.

Another technique for sifting out an unwanted effect from an already learned routine is to slow down. Varying the rate of the activity will reveal formerly unnoticed differences. Once these often crucial differences have been revealed, they can be incorporated into a faster paced action.

Best chance for change needs about three weeks of commitment to install new habits. It takes around seventy repetitions to make a new skill reliable; although after around seven or eight times even the most awkward and strange movements will begin to feel “normal.” Perhaps collect game pieces that symbolize achievements as “rewards?” Logging practices has been shown to be effective, as has practicing just after performance when “mistakes” are fresh in your mind.

To wrap up – piled up tiny actions can become exponential. If you’d like to reveal these mysteries, you can go slower, you can examine your foundation assumptions you can work on practice design. Once you know what is happening underneath your assumptions, you can redesign a way to practice your desired new improvements, given you can partly do what you imagine is possible. If you cannot yet do what you want, you can work on your foundation mannerisms as a whole and you can ask for help from an observant coach or Alexander Technique teacher. Once you have ways to practice, you will uncover perceptual discoveries as well as progress in your goals. Don’t just skip over these perceptual curiosities! Reflect on these surprising discoveries to put them to best use, or you may unintentionally practice mistakes. This is how you’ll get more benefits from practice as never before – Better yet – record and share your discoveries in some way – then the processes you followed will become as valuable as your results.

Why Observe?

Key to getting past self-imposed limitations is the ability to interrupt unnecessary habits of going into action.  We’d would do this in preparation for our “best efforts;” so we can investigate if there might be an easier way to proceed, after we put on pause our self-interference. It’s like a re-fresh or re-boot for our strategies of learning – not just this time, but as a revision of a template or a franchise of learning.

But…doesn’t anyone do this as they learn?

It’s tricky to not get distracted by specific content. What results we are able to get because of our methods? Our literal & goal oriented preferences often skips over how method or mannerisms fuels or limits possible results.

It’s not merely all about getting ourselves to substitute some potential improvement we think will work better. Isn’t it sort of a hamster trap to train a supposedly “better” replacement routine, only to find later that what seemed “better” has now become yet another rut that needs addressing? Why not learn a process like Alexander Technique that can be applied to better any workable solution – a process that will not be short-sighted?

OK, let’s say we’re convinced that observing is a good idea.

First, it helps immensely to establish some criteria for successes, so we can recognize improvements on the front end when it might happen unexpectedly. It’s handy to have multiple ways to spot what we want, to recognize potential. We’ll want to know whenever we stumble on something potentially valuable in a nascent form. The reason this is so essential is because if something that happens is really new, it might slip by unnoticed by us, underneath our radar. Plus, we might dismiss it’s usefulness purely because of it’s quality of unfamiliarity.

To recognize and measure potential success, I want to sell you on the value of noting what feels effortless. When we’re after “effortlessness,” (or efficiency) what we are after is subtraction, clearing, to get less, even to get…nothing. When doing new things, carving new pathways in our brain while learning, commonly people experience drawing a blank – and this is a good thing. Blanks are areas where we can learn from.

So, how do we tell the difference between “no results” and less unnecessary effort, which has characteristics that feel like…nothing?  Thinking skills help fill in blanks here.

You can use strategies such as populating establishing observational categories. It’s trickier working bare bones with features that we normally don’t notice when we just ask ourselves, “What did I notice?” With categories, you can go down the list and compare for matches… Categories such as:

  • Qualities – What qualities did my experience have?
  • Priority Sequences – What came first, next and how does time of arrival affect results?
  • Timing – Are there things happening together regularly that determine results?
  • Direction – where am I located? Can I conduct or control the situation?
  • Relationships – How do all factors work together? Best recombination possible?Filling in the blanks from these categories will help you sort out what happened that offered that strange feeling of effortlessness…

Self-observation helps us to notice differences between “before” and “after.” Being able to describe the “before” part is useful. For this to happen, we also need to put on pause the former solutions that have partially worked previously. I like to think of these former solutions as “working titles” hanging on the wall, so they can be suspended temporarily.

Then…we craft a suitable experiment. We conduct our experiment. We observe what happens… Decide how we can use results. Rinse and repeat…

This is some of the writing I’ve been doing on a series about how to get benefits from practice based on the working principles of Alexander Technique. Of course, I fill in the missing siplifications in the above paragraph in future posts.

What do you think? Is it useful so far?

Template For Change

I’d like to tell you how Alexander Technique worked for me to uncover & cope with my own underlying psychological motives and assumptions. This strategy solved a firmly entrenched childhood impasse that was causing me irrational social problems.

I’d like you to take the time to consider this because this same strategy has since worked for myself and other to solve many uncontrollable emotional issues where the source of the emotional motives were hidden or masked.

My own issue was blurting out shocking, hurtful diatribes at an inappropriate time. What sorely needed updating were my outbursts designed in childhood to avoid my wounded feelings of isolation and exclusion. But I didn’t know this on the front end. My childhood solution was such an effective denial that I never felt the original emotion that drove me to design the reaction of “bring out the club” when the polite conversation was fencing at a dinner table. My saying something “shocking” was designed to stop the conversation and avoid feeling my emotions. It worked too well! Without knowing what was behind the reaction, change was unlikely. What was going on was an over-sensitive trigger recognition system that worked splendidly…yet the problem was it was on too much of an over-sensitive, uncontrollable hair-trigger to be at all reasonable…and it was getting worse!

I believe the Alexander Technique is an essential tool to get such answers to such these complex psychological issues. The strategy is something that works on any psychological impasse of self-influencing “bad” behavior:

  • 1. Identify the situations where this objectionable irrationality is happening that involves “jumping to conclusions” that triggers the behavior.
  • 2. Use self-observation to trace back to become aware of oneself the moment before the conclusive, reactive “jump” happens… (Warning! There will be lurking the uncomfortable motive for acting unreasonably, and this emotion will embody a physical postural attitude & will be intense!)
  • 3. Free up that posture connected to the wounded feeling physically using Alexander Technique; breathing or whatever else you think might work. If it doesn’t, find something you can do in that moment that will work.
  • 4. There’s a reason that Alexander Technique was so handy. This discipline allowed me a true physical change of postural expression of this unwanted emotion. What you want to get is an awareness of your reaction that keeps getting triggered to go off in certain situations that will offer you new ways to address the issue & your own objection & drive to change it. If you don’t know how to use Alexander Technique, you might try something different to influence the situation in a more positive and effective manner. (But you will probably have to experiment to find something that truly works.)
  • 5. To design another alternative, identify the positive desire for a solution that contains positive values for everyone, not just the absence of your own suffering.
  • 6. If you trust the people present, announce your motives. If not, try out one of these possible solutions covertly to see if they might work to bring about positive, mature ways to influence your emotionally challenging situation. To the extent you are successful, you’ll be able dispense with the old, inappropriate childish reactions to uncomfortable situations. You may even reveal a talent you didn’t know you had.

Here’s How I Did This:
My first job was to note what situation was going on when I’d blurt out shocking, snide remarks. At first I was so blinded, that I only figured out I’d “done it again” by the comments of people days later. So my job became to catch myself doing it closer to the moment I was about to do what I didn’t really want to do.

Once I questioned whether I needed to use such an intense reaction in obviously inappropriate situations, I found I couldn’t redirect it until I uncovered my motive’s origin. I could temper the effects of what I’d said after the fact, maybe I could hit a “pause” button after I launched into doing it & turn it into a joke…but that didn’t change the problem that kept causing this reaction to come up. The moment before I opened my mouth contained the hidden, denied root of emotion.

To find all this, I had to trace the reaction back to when it started – this is what took some time & practice. How do you pay attention to something that happens when you’re not paying attention? I turned the challenge into a personal, ongoing project.

When I finally got to catch this unwanted reactive habit of mine, at the moment ~before~ doing my habitual solution, what I found was so uncomfortable that it was extremely dismaying to avoid repeating the habitual solution that I did not want to do. My impasse & emotional pain that I was feeling (about being excluded in this case) was expressed in the habitual postural attitude of my body. Oh, was it uncomfortable to hang out there! My body showed me how I felt emotionally with very physical signals of a hole below my rib cage that I sagged to cover.

But I had a tool – Alexander Technique. Without a way. to be able to physically move away from these limitations, I would be stuck feeling these awful, gunky routines of complex historic hurts. I could justify whatever I thought I needed to do to deal with this bad feeling, blaming & inciting others to hurt me further as I lashed out. The additional pain I could create with these hurt reactions made it worth this trouble to change.

Avoiding hurting emotionally would be a completely understandable justification for repeating the habitual remedy that I wanted to update. I suspected that my childhood ways of dealing with this pain was unnecessary, ineffective and an overcompensation for the problem.

Hanging out in the moment feeling these awful feelings, I realized how ANY remedy would be justified if an emotion feels extreme enough. Feeling angry feels more powerful than feeling sad. This would especially be true if a person doesn’t have an effective enough tool for dealing with their “stuff.” (I believe this sort of impasse is what drives people to kill!)

Using Alexander Technique allowed me to pop out of the physical reaction of how I was expressing the emotional hurt and be able to perceive it for what it was – It was the outdated adding together of insults. I could now so easily understand and compassionately forgive myself, (even congratulate myself) for designing such an effective coping mechanism when I was just a kid, even if it was something I needed to change now. Since I could recognize the core motives now for what they were and also how I feel now, I could freshly choose a more global and compassionate way of dealing with all these factors that could take into account other people and not just my own self-involved feelings.

My problem had been I blurted out snide remarks designed to hurtfully shock others who I thought were excluding me from their conversation. My own positive core motive that I could now experience was a burning desire for everyone to be fair, to include everyone present and to nurture feelings of playfulness and belonging together to maybe build something new.

After I described what I positively wanted, I had an idea. I assumed these people weren’t trying to be mean to me on purpose. Maybe I could insert whatever I had to say into the conversation, matching the faster pace… Then slow my own talking speed very slightly and bring the conversation around to gracefully include myself again. Since I was being left out of the conversation accidentally on purpose, the other people accepted me including myself again an all was well.

Strangely enough, this worked. My reaction stopped happening too, once I had an easier way to express how I felt.

In retrospect, I was lucky – my first idea of how to influence the situation worked. But I believe that with so much riding on the outcome, as I used this same process again on other issues – it also worked again. From these successes, I now have the track record and the persistence to keep going with additional possible solutions if the first strategy would not have worked.

Please take my experience and use it for your own purposes as a Template For Change!

Fooling Ourselves

For those who wonder, “What is Alexander Technique?”
Find a narrow door…stand in the doorway. With the back of your hands, palms inward, push outward and count to 30 seconds.
After that, walk away from the doorway and wave your arms around…they will feel light and as if they’re rising by themselves.
Before you put your own explanation on what just happened, imagine this for a bit…

When you pushed, you applied force long enough to “get used to it,” then you stopped using that force…so you experienced the lack of force with your sense of weight in your arms. This sensation is a sensory indicator that you’ve changed something, it doesn’t happen unless something has been changed. This sense of lightness and effortlessness is the indicator you’ll learn to spot as proof you’re using Alexander Technique to undo cumulative, collected unnecessary effort. The tricky part is it will not happen unless you have made a change comparatively big enough to evoke this lightness.

Humans can “get used to” everything! But…what does Alexander Technique have to do with this experiment?

Imagine that you’re about to apply force that isn’t necessary to merely inhabit your body and walk around, talk, lift your arms, etc. Because you do this all the time, you don’t realize you’re applying this force. Preparing to go into action with a certain amount of force present has become “customary effort” that exists in every movement you make.

It is force that you’re not aware of using, so you cannot know that you’re applying it where it doesn’t have any effects you want.

 

Essentially, humans are capable of fooling themselves once they get used to doing whatever they have adapted to do.

 

How can you stop what you cannot tell you’re doing or not?
What way do you proceed to deal with that?

That’s what Alexander Technique answers!

 

Alexander Technique makes unnecessary stress disappear, making whatever you’re doing (or not doing) easier to perform.

Alexander Technique gives you another way to “talk your walk.” You may imagine possibilities and know better, but with A.T. you can actually do as you intend.

 

  • It’s taught using a combination of a few types of education. These include:
  • sharpening impulse control,
  • how to “see” potential movement in other people
  • practical training of fun strategies that undo habitual limitations,
  • animal training applied to humans (sort of like Karen Pryor’s TAGteaching,)
  • some knowledge about living anatomy & cognitive brain science
  • how perception & adapting works in different situations.
  • how innocently deceptive our sensing of “required” effort is and how to sensitize it
  • and in person, hands-on guided modeling shown by a qualified A.T. teacher.All of this is meant to be put into action in a whole package when we do anything we’d like to improve or through gradual, cumulative improvement.

    Using Alexander Technique results in discoveries, epiphanies, intuitive insights and “talent” where we imagined we limited.  (An added benefit for many is regaining lost height!)

Assumptions

What does Alexander Technique have to do with assumptions?
Rather than replacing “bad” habits with “good” ones, using and learning Alexander Technique frees up how you assume you “must” move.

If you study, what will you be doing?
Beyond the teacher’s selection using the examples of a routine activity such as walking, rising from a chair, or using your voice, other goals of “where else do I apply this?” are often left to the student.

Because the public is literal and goal oriented, Alexander Technique teachers are often urged by marketers to pick a specialty. This special interest is built into the educational process as a niche to attract students. Students later find out they can apply what they learn to any activity and gain additional benefits.

You may not know all about what Alexander Technique is. But if you like to sing or do your favorite hobby…you know you want to enjoy that more often with benefits and insights. Certainly everyone could use more stamina at the end of the day after work and less stress while working. Alexander Technique is also a solution for people with physical movement limitations, if these issues originate or get worse from repetition.

You Were Sold On Reading…
The reason to learn Alexander Technique is sort of like learning to read. Imagine if you didn’t know how to read and you had to be sold on the benefits of reading? Imagine if someone said, “Everyone needs this! You can apply this skill to exploit any interest!” Would you be skeptical? Because, like reading, Alexander Technique is the real deal – but it takes education and commitment…and using it. (Fortunately, it doesn’t take special practice time, but only extra awareness to integrate A.T. into any movements!)

Unlimited Applications – Open-ended Progress
Alexander Technique comes from the performance art field of acting. If you were an actor, being able to assume other postural mannerisms of a portrayed character should be part of your skill – otherwise you are “type-cast” as a “one trick character.”

If your interest was horseback riding, you can imagine how studying your part of the relationship between horse and rider can allow the horse to perform better. Because then your horse doesn’t have to compensate for an imbalanced or fearful rider. Animals “read” your body language, so Alexander Technique helps the animal understand what you mean when you are giving training indicators to them too.

Are you giving examples as a coach or teacher to others? Alexander Technique will make your examples more refined for your students. You’ll find out how to get better at your skill, even if you’ve gone farther at it than anyone else.

Do you talk or must sell yourself as part of your job? You can learn speaking & communication skills that involve body language.

Do you speak a language that’s not your native one? You can minimize an accent and learn new mannerisms that are consistent with your non-native language.

Do you play a musical instrument? You can clear away whatever mannerisms you accidentally retain if you’re always learning to play new tunes – or new instruments, or digital support for your musicianship. Alexander Technique also works to revise the way you learned to hold and practice your instrument that may be self-limiting your progress.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t do any of those things.” But, now that you’ve got some examples, can you imagine how these points would benefit any sport, hobby or skilled work – because all of these benefits involve the study of physical mannerisms…?

What’s your interest? Whatever you enjoy doing or work at doing, you can have more stamina and continue to get better at doing it…once you make the commitment to study and use the Alexander Technique.

Train Your Courage

Operating Manual 
This Alexander Technique, like the ability to read, is a skill with abstract but unlimited applications. What I mean by “abstract” is it’s designed to be tailored by you to anything you’d like to improve, just as what you read about can be used to benefit any interest.

Alexander Technique is learning how to learn. This involves understanding and using the process of gaining mastery over yourself. You practice on yourself, by updating your mannerisms of movement response.

It’s my job here to sell you on the benefits of moving easier to respond to your goals so you can improve in the short run – AND continue making discoveries that have the potential for unlimited improvement!

“How” Is The Question, Not “What”
Usually the reason why a student wants to do any particular activity isn’t judged by their Alexander Technique teacher.
Of course, some A.T. teachers have their own personal opinions they advocate to their students, (such as avoiding high heels.) But one Alexander Technique teacher specializes in teaching women how to walk in heels without suffering! Usually, your A.T. teacher is only concerned with how you carry out your ideals & goals, not what your values or motives are.
What is sold by all Alexander teachers are a collection of principles, taught using specific examples of easier movement. These principles might be a bit mysterious if you haven’t studied a course of lessons….but they are:

  • mind-body unity
  • self-observation & awareness
  • the power to revise even pervasive, “innate” habits
  • practice design and ways to note and gain cumulative progress as you practice
  • a unique, functional model of self-judgment used to gain conclusions & insights.

Since your mannerisms are present in how you respond and react to what comes at you in every moment, it follows that every move expresses your motives within your mannerisms to some degree or another. Best examples to use for experimenting are those that involve changing physical balance –  you’re trying to get somewhere or do something.  (However, the one exception is whistling;  it is tricky to use as an activity. You must position your lips in a certain habitual way to “get” the sound and can’t really change that around to do it differently.)

Psychological and Philosophical 
Alexander Technique also has similar features and benefits to uncovering assumptions of thinking in the field of psychology. Once you design and train a habitual response, motives can become fused into the response and disappear.  This disappearing act that habits have make it useful to become aware of your original motives. Once these assumptions are revealed, then you can decide what you want to do about them. You can fulfill your motives in alternate ways that don’t contain the design problems of answering short-sighted goals. So if your doctor has said, “Don’t DO that activity that causes you pain,” there is usually an educational way around. Using the Alexander Technique philosophy can offer psychological insights because practical, physical mannerisms have an effect on social interaction and self-image.

Perceptually Relative Effort

Mostly people taught themselves about how they need to move to direct their actions. These “educated guesses” contain assumptions that can be mistaken as to amount of effort. Commonly, effort levels are unnecessarily heavy-handed, because we can over-ride our natural coordination if it’s “important.” We were probably given that capacity by adapting to survival. Putting activities on routine status saves energy. But, habits can become outdated and exaggerated…”Practice Makes Permanent.” You originally trained yourself to move a certain way because your priorities were “important.” You imagined you “needed” to move in a certain way to get your goals when you were using trial and error for a way to learn the required skill or action, which everyone does. So you justified feeling a bit awkward because you assumed your goal had to be done in this way. Repeat doing anything strange more than five times and it won’t feel so awkward.

Keep What’s Innate? Or Update?

As you train yourself effectively, the goal is for the skill to become innate, (no matter how awkward it feels at first.) Just like computer updates, if you do not use continued learning or something like Alexander Technique to update your skills, it’s seductive to forgot what habits you already were doing. You can seductively leave in-force a standing order to continue a habit indefinitely. In these common situations, you can unknowingly move in opposing directions in ways that are stressful on the body long enough to cause pain. Over-riding natural movement capacity against the structure of how humans are designed to move can cause people to unintentionally cause themselves pain. A little education with the operating manual of living anatomy is handy.

Warning! There’s a Cost!

In theory, updating “better” ways should be applied selectively, keeping the best and streamlining the rest. But movement memories seem to be wired together seamlessly. When you’re dealing with revising habits of movement, in the process of figuring out what is going on, you can disorient your sense of balance or even your sense of your own self-image. It can be a very strange sensation. You’re actually carving new brain pathways. It might make your sleepy, but it also might put you into a distress zone. One where you can’t quite make the new ways fly yet, but the old ways feel discomforting too. Retraining an ingrained habit of movement that has disappeared and become innate requires a willingness to tolerate and use unknown or unexplained results. But how does someone get that willingness?

Courage Training
What you are getting that causes strange perceptual sensations are body alarms about experiencing too much freedom. (For some rare people, all their self-preservation alarms might go off at once!) The teacher or situation must reassure a student that nothing dangerous is happening – when really, the unfamiliar *is* exceptionally dangerous. But how else do we learn, if not from the unknown?

A teacher of Alexander Technique, (or a teacher who deals with situations that *are*  factually dangerous) knows ways to make it quite safe so that anyone can feel just a little bit strange. They provide a “safety fall-back” so the old habit is always available if the student needs to retreat.

To want to experiment takes daring and fearlessness or maybe some community support. Of course, some people must train to extend their courage. It’s daring to speak or move easier in spite of fears about what it means to you – (despite not feeling like yourself!) This courage can be a new skill that can be “conditioned” and learned as any other skill.

Really, this odd sensation of effortlessness is weird, but it is the signal you’re heading into new territory. If it has a characteristic of more freedom, then you might be able to make a discovery. That’s a challenge! This new state often doesn’t provide you with words to formulate the new information – that will come later. You cannot decide beforehand what the unknown will be “like.” Each time you’re heading out into new territory.

Of course, the next challenges are to determine the ways to apply discretion and judgment as you select from all those weird, new feelings which results that will help you and which ones to intentionally disregard as random & inconsequential.

We’ll cover that next…

Snake Oil

While learning and practicing Alexander Technique, meaning comes all at once from multiple avenues:

  • paying attention to the “how” of what you’re intending,
  •  the thought processes you follow in preparation & during the launch,
  • …and the physical responses that you are actually doing to express these preparations and intentions.
  • Something happens. Maybe it’s something new? New feels a bit odd, but easier.
  • Then reflecting on what happened, why it happened and where and when it can be influenced to happen how you guess is possible.

Alexander Technique came from applying the empirical scientific method to one’s own strategies, ways and intentions. Because its development also answered a need, (it was: better performance) a physical demonstration had to follow so these ephemeral intentions had ways of practicing successes. Plainly, pure intentions of thought are usually too tricky to witness, (in person, without an MRI.) The hypocritical nature of habit that operates in cognitive bias also makes intentions and motives tricky to discern as they fly by.

Those of us who are designing ways to teach A.T. needed to orchestrate a situation so we can perceive how our students’ intention plays out. (Otherwise the teacher can’t help the student not hoodwink themselves.) For this purpose, most of us Alexander teachers use this feedback ideal of physical effortlessness. Our ideal of effortlessness is an experience embedded within the structural mannerism of how people can move – many cultures share it. To the extent any person uses this “mechanical advantage” idea of physical effortlessness as a signal something new happened, their discovery, success and mastery is more likely. They’re also bettering the improvisational skill of tapping the unknown.

When Alexander Technique teachers declare that what they teach isn’t posture control or movement re-education or physical therapy…or musicianship, equestrian connection or better golf swings, this is what they mean.

Form, (which can be any action) isn’t the content. It’s the process behind the curtain that we’re after. Alexander Technique is an extension of thinking skills translated into movement responses. It’s Jungian individuation in action. It’s how you might connect your body-mind to be able to better “walk your talk.” But it’s also how to practice effectively, how to get learning done faster and how to attain transcendent goals of getting better at doing a beloved passion – without being limited by a glass ceiling. 

Neuroscience and cognitive bias exist now. They didn’t when A.T began. That means now, teachers of A.T. are able to steer its original presentation from its former respectable science roots toward the fuzzier marriage of intention and action and still preserve the spirit and respect of its origin.

But – the introduction of the value of A.T. is still tricky. I believe the trickiness is in the sequence of presentation. As sales presenters, if we start with the world of intention, confidence and belief, how are we not much different from being advice columnists? How do you sell something when people don’t know if they want it or not because they don’t know what it is? How can a newbie appreciate how A.T. works before they learn it?

The problem appears to be as if A.T. teachers are selling a kind of snake oil – because what we are selling can be applied so widely!

Without our physical discipline of educating living anatomy, the philosophy of A.T. gets lost in being yet another “thought affects everything” motivational morass. The very real effects that come from practicing A.T. accumulate over time  – but on the front end, these wildly differing beneficial effects are pretty much unbelievable.

So – what differentiates A.T. from being a “snake oil” swindle?

Well, it’s history comes out of the empirical scientific model. To learn to teach it requires years of education (1600 hours.) So there must be some reason people devote their lives to learning something that takes so long to qualify for. It has been around for more than a hundred years. Essentially, others respect it.

But why not accuse that A.T. is merely a pseudo-science? OK, let’s list its offerings…

First, A.T. teaches observation. A.T. teachers are professional observers, noticing factors of movement responses and evident intentions that others miss. This extraordinary skill to spot what is ‘missing’ is part of what makes A.T. teachers remarkable – and also what makes people misunderstand why learning A.T. is valuable. (It also makes people a bit scared of what Alexander teachers can see about them that they miss.) From my knowledge, there are not many ways to learn observing, let alone self observation. (Especially without any religious and/or cultural proscriptions attached.)

Second, A.T. has to offer is it teaches impulse control – without prescribing what is supposed to be done instead beyond physical efficiency. We term it: “inhibition.” The word was selected (before Freud) from biology: how an animal inhibits its natural hungry urges to strategically plan the hunting attack. Other terms that might describe the same A.T. use of the word “inhibition” that have been used in other disciplines are

  • “pausing in order to deliberately choose another response,” (“Going to the balcony” in negotiation skills)
  • “suspension” (David Bohm dialogue)
  • or merely “Considering All Factors,” (Edward de Bono thinking skills.)

Third, Alexander Technique offers that is rare is how to reverse engineer an ingrained habitual physical routine that has become a nuisance. Every other advice about this involves, “do something else.” Imagine there’s another way to side-step what has become a deceptively self-imposed limitation, without giving up a beloved art, hobby, skill or job!

Fourth, A.T. teaches the ability to abstract. The classic method of Alexander’s work was taught very repetitively using a mundane action, (sitting and standing.) Intentions were revealed in the slightest changes of balance anyway, right? Certainly a student couldn’t figure that a “better” way to be sitting and standing was the whole point. Students were left to turning their experience into something useful in other situations. To do this, abstraction of context had to happen.

Just those four points – do you think they read like snake oil?

Sensory Dissonance

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!

Dissonance Reveals Bias

Mistaken traps of logic and thinking skills continue to deceive our human ability for reasoning.

Have you ever run into the terms “Cognitive Dissonance” or “Cognitive Bias”?

This phenomena was first described and researched by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman starting in 1972. They originated the term “Cognitive Bias” to describe how and why people didn’t use rational thinking in making choices. Kahneman received a Noble prize in 2002 related to behavioral economics by later developing his theory into a predictable research heuristic. Their confirmed findings grew into a psychological field, explored by researchers and popularized by authors such as Cordelia Fine, Scott Pious, the writing of Thomas Kida, (Don’t Believe Everything You Think”) Stuart Sutherland, (“Irrationality”) and Kathryn Schulz, (Being Wrong) among many other authors.

OK, so then… Cognitive Bias

This is certainly an important and interesting issue to learn about if you’re sketchy on the subject. Cognitive Bias runs through large scale cultural manipulations in corporate and political power plays, advertising and within business ethics relationships; it’s embedded within education, persuasion and in marketing techniques. It is even a big factor in causing conflicting personal relationship issues.

What I read in this .pdf download (see it yourself the end of this post below) was a handy collection of many factors of mistaken assumptions that were neatly codified into categories with icons. The aim of creating this list was to help the reader learn the surprising extent that cultural and human misconceptions are still a driving cause for irrationality in human behavior. (Which strangely enough, works its deceptions even among smart and educated people like yourself.)

What was my sub-cultural history? I was raised in the culture of the U.S. in the Southern CA region by immigrant parents, (I now reside in Hawaii.) When I traveled to Denmark (where my father was born,) I was surprised to discover that what I assumed were merely my father’s idiosyncratic personal preferences were instead, a reflection of his Danish childhood. Possibly because I had experienced myself as an “alien” (because of a huge need for an extensive study of communication skills,) it led to me rejecting many of the favored attitudes and values of my culture and to study thinking skills, innovation and creative insight of individuation – as well as Alexander Technique.

I was struck with what had been left out of this list. Nowhere did I see the specific observation that a form of dissonance occurs concerning the direct human perception of movement; that overlooked sense of judging relative location, effort and weight. It was interesting to me how some of these Cognitive Bias points seem to be based on built-in perceptual misconceptions, but there was not a separately grouped “Perception” category.

Of course this oversight is understandable. Humans take for granted their perceptual capacities. Factors related to a sense of “touch” have been lumped together with a sense of emotional “feeling.” What most people imagine when you refer to ‘feeling’ is the sensation of being contacted on your skin by something outside of you – or emotions. Rarely do people consider the kinetic sense running inside that shows where limbs are located and judges relative effort that needs to be expended to perform an action. The fact that the word “feeling” is the also same word meaning “an emotional experience” also confuses many useful distinctions even further. Add onto that how tricky it is to describe dancing or other movements in English without inventing specialized terms – and how tricky it is to observe yourself while in action – no wonder!

Try This Perceptual Motion Dissonance Experience
You can experienced this overlooked perceptual motion dissonance with a simple experiment. Stand in a (narrow) doorway and push your arms outward against the door frame for a thirty seconds – (yes, using a stopwatch feature is handy.) Aim your hands toward your sides. When you release and step away from the doorway, your arms will feel as if they are floating upward, even though they are merely hanging at your sides doing nothing. You can also experience a similar movement illusion by hefting a child on your shoulders for a ride. After you get the kid off your shoulders, you’ll feel lighter.

Quite a remarkable movement sensory illusion, isn’t it? But it’s not just a curiosity. The saying, “Seeing is believing” isn’t true anymore, (movies and Photoshop have disproved that axiom long ago!) Somehow still sanctified, our senses about movement make us convinced that what we feel is completely factual – when perceptual feedback is always relative to habitual behaviors. Sensory Dissonance is a factor in self-training a habit involving any collection of sequenced, chained-together behaviors. It’s an important principle to know about and use in reliably possessing any movement skill.

Oh, and if you’d like to study up with that huge list of cognitive biases, the .pdf download of it is here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/30548590/Cognitive-Biases-A-Visual-Study-Guide
Read on to the second half of this article to get suggestions about suggestions of what to do when you run into this most interesting “Sensory Motion Dissonance.” Which is at: https://myhalfof.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/sensory-dissonance/

 

Readiness Is All

The Readiness is All

“The attempt to bring about change involving growth, development and progressive improvement in the [movement,] use and functioning of the human organism, calls necessarily for the acceptance, yes, the welcoming of the unknown in sensory experience; and this ‘unknown’ cannot be associated with the sensory experiences that have hitherto ‘felt right’.” – F.M. Alexander

Decades ago, I got to browse a copy of F.M. Alexander’s book that had been given to Marj Barstow. After looking at the many hand-written edits in the book that were made by F. M. after the book was printed, I turned to the first few pages to read what Alexander had dedicated to her, the first graduate of his first teacher training program. Above his signature and dedication to his first graduate, F.M. had written: “THE READINESS IS ALL”.

This quote from Shakespeare has given me many occasions to think about what motivates people to dare to want to tap the unknown.

What gets people in the mood to question their own ways of doing things?

I guess the short answer is that certain conditions for readiness to change need to be in place for different people. More often, challenges to questioning the way one does things can be met with often violent, self-preservation-like resistance that dramatizes habits into having a sense of identity – when these habitual ways of thinking and doing things really don’t add to anything beyond merely being customarily familiar. I’ve learned to become suspicious for the need for change when I would find myself reciting a spirited ritual justification to myself or others. I have begun to accept this question of what “READINESS” means as a virtual question; a type of question that I will often ask with fruitful results.

There must be some general conditions that allow people to dare to face the unknown, a readiness to maybe learn something right now. Certainly, no matter how much anyone knows, there is always something more to learn – if not only how to recall and put into use what is already somewhat known to make it richer and more sophisticated.

What helps me as a learner to be willing to voyage where I’ve never gone yet – and really be willing to take on learning something totally unfamiliar or developing something that was merely a nascent idea? While thinking back to situations where learning became fun, exciting or drew out your fascination… What helped you get ready to take on a challenge?

Perhaps a first condition is to provide safety. Somehow it has to be safe to fall on ones’ face and make mistakes – to do the wrong thing. How can it be OK to ask the wrong question? How can it be not so much of a disaster to try out doing something that will probably not work as intended? Without experience and a sense of safety, nobody can expect themselves to be able to foresee everything going perfectly well. Even if it does happen perfectly the first time through, who can continue from there and continue going forward? (I’ve never seen it happen yet.)

I once had a man on a hitchhiking trip tell me a story about the first time his wife played golf. She hit a “hole in one” in every green on the whole 21-hole course, verified by the caddy and the owner of the golf course who were playing with them both. Unfortunately, his wife opted to never play another game of golf after that splendid success. She was willing to walk into the unknown for only a limited time of the 21-hole course; she thought it wiser to “rest on her laurels” forever after. Her husband declared to me that she didn’t think it was safe for the marriage to handle her being a better (or luckier) golfer than he was!
People love to hear someone’s story about how they began to become interested in their passions; how they started their business, how they came up with a unique idea, how they first applied new information as they discovered it.
Certainly every business has a “back-story” that makes their solution understandable and hopefully desired by a potential customer. Upon hearing a story of challenges like these, following along gets exciting. The learner-investigator asks unique questions that are probably also their own listener’s current questions. I like following someone’s continuity of inquiry without having to do the hard work of making the mistakes and experiencing the frustration that they did. I find myself searching for how my own unique knowledge and abilities could add to their questions, answers and challenges as I follow their progress. Experiencing first-hand what makes someone’s point of view unique can be motivating to learn from and in tandem with them.

For most learners, it’s helpful to have a framework to hang information onto, even if it’s just a list of the number of items or points to expect.

(BTW, this article has about 1800 words. You’re a little less than halfway through it.)

Also what learners often need is some way to correct for time of arrival of this new confusion that is going to be coming in from the teacher. If the teacher doesn’t provide this framework, can the student be expected to build this framework on their own? Many do, but the first time through a learning experience, most students will expect to miss most of what is being delivered. This means much of what is new will be ignored or go unremembered. The student will get to a state of “Too Much Information” overload really fast and the teacher must be alert to this state in their students. Students will have to take a break to integrate new and unusual information has just been delivered, or they may need to tune out and ignore the rest as they chew on a certain new part.

Reverse Learning

Some teachers have found that learning backwards is a splendid way to address this issue – For instance, if what needs to be learned is sequential such as a play, a piece of music or a series of Tai Chi moves, starting at the end and working gradually toward the beginning may work well. Then once the student is able to start at the beginning, they will be working towards what has been practiced the most often.

Flipped Learning

Recognizing this challenge, here’s another way of confronting “information overload” has emerged in traditional classroom teaching of high-content subjects such as chemistry classes. It involves switching the lecture-homework conventions, termed “Flipped Classes.” From a necessity to help students who had to miss class to catch up, teachers hit on the idea of recording their lectures and spending class time tutoring during what was normally spent as homework. Now all students can play classroom lectures as their homework on DVD or .mp3 players. Instead of lectures during class, time is now spent with the teacher doing “homework.” Think about it; who’s the most knowledgeable about the subject and would be best capable of tutoring during the real learning process? What a pleasure it would be for a teacher to actually teach!

Communicative Learning

Perhaps if a lecture format must be used, giving students a chance to indicate where they are losing what the teacher has to say would be handy to have in place. Feedback is most useful when it is in “real time.” Pass out cards to students they can hold up that indicate to the teacher, “I’m lost;” “I get it, go on to the next step before I get bored;” and the most important one: “My brain is now on overload.”
A solution for this was put into place in a large co-housing group – a kind of “condo-mune.” A group of people had to make many construction decisions about the unique ways they were planning for how their unique apartment housing was going to be built. Decision makers were given colored cards, signifying “Agree,” “Block,” and various gray areas, such as: “Disagree but will not block” and “Agree with additional conditions.” There were also “Suggestion” notices that could be combined with other cards that indicated a possible solution idea or other contribution that might enhance the currently nominated decision as it stood.

Illustrated or Story Learning

To make learning easy, the most useful tactic to note is that examples and stories connect former experiences to new ones. For each point you want to teach, find a starting place that is commonly understood and go from there toward what you’d like to illustrate that is unique and unfamiliar. The more examples, the better and faster your students will learn. Think in terms of prerequisites; for instance, if you’re a kid learning about circumference, it’s essential to already have the experience about how long the outside of a circle really is. Sometimes you really need to have the students guess and to take a real string and wrap it around a bottle, your wrist or your neck – were you surprised?

A good teacher will choose examples that interest their particular students; memorable examples that gradually lead their students’ thinking along a path of first-hand discovery. The more of these illustrations there are, the more a splendid teacher will make their students imagine they “already knew” that which most people would consider to be difficult or complicated.
In my first year in college I had a teacher who got me to agree to study Chinese with him since I already knew the content of the class I was enrolled for. After hearing about the way I memorized songs, he selected one very complex Mandarin character three or four times a week and broke each of the parts of the character apart, linking the various written marks that made them into a historical song-story. This not only taught me a whole group of “character families” at the rate of thirty to forty characters a week, but led me on a fanciful and entertaining romp through Chinese historic stories, songs and fables. If you add that up, it meant had I been able to continue, I would have become literate at writing and reading 3,000 characters in less than two years – (an unheard of pace for learning any language, let along that one.)

Learning from an Inspired Teacher

Lastly, if you notice a brilliant teacher in action, don’t be shy to learn whatever it is they love to teach. It will become memorable, no matter what the subject is. You’ll learn much more than content, if you’re paying attention. Probably you’ll learn about patience, about lessons you will be able to apply broadly to lessons of life, and there is the potential to learn about yourself. Hopefully there is the chance you’ll learn something about the way you learn best – and that’s one of the most valuable lessons you can gain from any experience.

“Now be quiet, be still, and allow for it, for the unknown. Not in your wildest dreams can you imagine what it will be like.”

– Margaret Goldie, F.M. Alexander’s niece and later teacher of his Technique for 40+ years.

Describing A.T.

We who teach A.T. have this tool that allows us to bring to expression our most cherished values. We have a means that bring under our influence the most subtle of indicators that run “under the radar” of our intentions. If that’s not accessing the ability to be “spiritually meaningful,” I’m not sure what is… In fact, I’m kinda proud of my lack of certainty. Hopefully it indicates I’m still capable of learning.

All humans have an “explanation problem,” but it’s especially true in trying to explain why Alexander Technique means so much to those of us who have discovered its value. Our education and familiarity with what we’ve gained from learning A.T. can get in our way of making it accessible to others. For many, noting your passion about something becomes a red flag that they might have to fend off a ranting “true believer.” In fact, almost any scent of marketing scares people away because they are constantly bombarded with so much of it everywhere they turn.

Persuasion seems to be a skill in a standard by itself. Perhaps appealing to the desire people have to help those they know would be a more indirect means?
Maybe the most simple and accessible descriptions might go like this template, where you can fill in the blanks:

You know how you feel when _______?
(think of an example that makes you feel lighter, like carrying a weight for awhile and then putting it down. Or use an example that creates ‘flow’ or being in love; or use a release of pressure that can be created deliberately, such as by pressing your arms outward against a doorway for a whole 30 seconds and then stopping.)
Well, what I can offer is a way to create that and apply it to everything you do. Only it’s different because of the way ___________.
Here are some benefits________.
The reason it works is ________.
Why it’s important and meaningful is because of ____________, and _______.

Here’s an example of filling in these blanks that I told the local librarian…

Learning Alexander Technique is as useful as learning to read. Perhaps think of it as movement literacy. Like reading, you can apply it to deepen any specific subject or goal you happen to become interested in or want to gain benefit through. It’s like getting a benefit through the study of how to practice. Unlike something you do, like practicing a specific somatic discipline like Yoga, you can get its benefits (aside from the time it takes to learn it) without devoting an extra dedicated hour out of your day to specifically practice it. Alexander Technique only demands remembering to use a moment of well-timed extra thought; a bit of awareness, a new intention or imagining an experimental question.
Using Alexander’s Discoveries will improve other factors as well: decision overload, directing attention, gaining better impulse control, expanding perceptual sensitivity, getting a more patient and longer learning capacity, improving practice quality. But the thing it offers that nothing else does is the ability to clear muscle memory nuisances when you’ve learned to unintentionally repeat what you don’t want to do. It gives you the power to change anything about your previous conditioning that you’d rather avoid, such as clearing unnecessary affectations of physical poise, self-image, talent or stamina.
How it works is by learning to quiet and subtract the unnecessary effort going on underneath your “radar.” It’s not substituting a supposed “better way.” on top of a “worse” one that will only need to be later revised. Instead learning A.T. works by subtracting what is unnecessary extra effort so a default physical grace can re-emerge.

What does using Alexander Technique feel like? Let’s say you’ve been carrying a kid on your shoulders for awhile and finally the kid wants to walk by themselves again. You would feel lighter without the kids’ weight, right? So, imagine if you could put down the extra unnecessary effort you are using to make every move that is going on underneath your radar. You’ll feel a similar lightness and ease of motion. Wouldn’t that be worth learning?

Now it’s your turn. How would you describe Alexander Technique to a curious open-minded person?

Transcendent Goals

This post is related to “Sense of Rightness” previously posted in Aug. 2014. There we discussed some of these issues; we made suggestions how to get past comparing a sense of “rightness” as a standard when attempting to progress from practice.

Here we’re going to bring up and make suggestions that give a better, faster means to progress when your goals are transcendant – such as learning a skill that has the potential to become an art or the intention to learn by having a new experience. In this case, your intention is to discover or progress, (rather than recreate or match some standard you have in mind.) First it will be most useful to clarify your definition of what it is to “progress.” If you’re trying to go somewhere new, the old standards of what you’re looking for will not be in effect. Many situations can benefit from this approach. For instance, everyone has experienced the “plateau effect” in practice – meaning no matter how hard you try, your effort doesn’t lead to much of a change.
Why not apply your usual ideal standards when attempting to progress? The danger in applying specific standards, goals or priorities is you missing what might happen if something new does happen “accidentally on purpose.” Because you’re focused on an activity of matching for an intended result of what feels “right” that has become a standard or priority that you were able to sense and remember, if you apply this comparison of remembered “rightness,” it’s most likely you’ll skip over or entirely miss anything happening that doesn’t match. This new event might look like something strange or funny; perhaps it will be a tiny, insignificant happening that will take development to turn it a significant, meaningful discovery. (It may be only a tiny improvement right now that needs development.)

So – to get out of this trap, you’ll want your intention to have a new experience to agree with your goals on the front end. You’ll also want to come up with a practical way to carry this out, which can be adjusted to the situation if it doesn’t lead to the success you have in mind. Here’s a couple of situations where that would be a handy strategy…

For instance, in a dialogue situation, the intention might be for you with the group to go somewhere new rather than just revisit, repeat or recreate what is already known by any particular group member. You’d want everyone to go somewhere new as a synergistic experience. As a way to carry out going in new directions, how would you proceed? Perhaps instead of using the indirect way of bringing up a subject by quoting authors – participants could speak directly about their own beliefs or values and relate stories about how their values and opinions were formed. Trading personal stories may lead to the discovery of the significance of reinterpreting old experiences in new ways, because each participant can imagine themselves having a similar experience.  The challenge would be to listen to these core experiences of other people, to imagine you have had these experiences…Then anticipate about how these experiences would have affected your own values. Of course, they may come to different conclusions, but that is part of what makes people unique.

Another instance, if you are in a practice situation such as learning an instrument…and your intention is to get and sustain a unique tone all your own using a wind instrument or your own voice. Let’s say your goal was to recognize your own quality of breathing to bring it forward as a unique style as a musician. Your idea about how to carry this out could be to think of an emotionally charged moment in your memory, turn on the recording machine to help you listen, to make sounds and note what happened.

Whatever it is and however your hypothesis about how to carry your goal out, success in each case means that your usual standards (of what is worth your interest when evaluating) must be adjusted to accommodate the new experience’s unique discovery nature. You would want to mark exactly when the novelty you want actually does emerge as a new experience. It may be valuable to describe what these new qualities are, so you can be able to notice them.

I suggest that if your new experience involves movement and gaining a benefit from practicing that your new evaluation for desired results includes the question, “…Was this easier?” Because we know it will feel a bit strange, because of being new.

I suggest that if the new experience involves other people, noting ones’ own reactions will be an indicator that something new happened. Defensiveness, objections, wanting to add or advance the conversation – all of these might be indicators of interest that something new has emerged.

If your example involves other people, handy would be to choose an appropriate means to progress that can be changed by their multiple suggestions. In the example of the David Bohm-style dialogue group above, appropriate would be and activity such as temporary suspension of the directive to “not impose your own agenda on the group.” Another would be to actively refuse to apply the customary ‘matching’ activity. Instead of “matching” for an ideal standard or directive such as “suspend your agenda” – how about… “contrasting” to reveal any differences or something new that happened…?

Some of these options would be to describe the nature of what’s new also helps to spot it soon after it’s happened. The brain has superb recognition capacity. An example of this activity would be to note characteristics such as:

  • feels unfamiliar,
  • cognitive distortion, cognitive bias,
  • a thought which jogs defensiveness or compels you to suddently disagree,
  • something that incites another reaction such as curiosity,
  • makes you suddenly aware of what you didn’t notice previously…

(perhaps – add to this list with your comments?)

Dare to Ask

How can a teacher get around student’s misconceptions about the nature of authority, for instance, without inviting disrespect? (We’re talking about adult learners here – who have already been trained into a lifetime of politeness about how to treat teachers.)

Instead of my lecturing, here’s an account from many years ago about a teacher of mine who I considered to be a master. In this case, she was teaching Alexander Technique, but this relates to asking questions concerning any skill.

My teacher was in her late eighties here. Her name was Marj Barstow. She was almost five feet tall. Classes could be huge; sixty to eighty people in one room. The advantage was that the workshop lasted for weeks. The disadvantage was that people imagined it was too early in the workshop to dare to risk anything chancy in front of everyone else.

My teacher was too polite to be overt about what must have been some frustration beyond kidding the group, “What do I have to do to get some questions and thinking out of more of you people, do a jig?” Most often you’re laughing, but no daring questions. Humor does loosen up students to take more chances.

The experience of getting a new perceptual assumption is unsettling to many people. A master of an art can sometimes come across as personally threatening. In this case, the class was a bit awed and intimidated. This little old lady could shake people’s foundations; her work in dispelling postural movement assumptions could pull the carpet out from underneath their very sense of self. So the group treated her with “respect.” This turned out to be a kid-glove sort of childish unquestioning loyalty and lip-service agreement.

This little old lady hated that. She had a number of ways of dealing with it though. One was to invite different people to get up in front of the class for a “private” lesson with her, with everyone else watching. While working with someone she would ask, “So you see that little difference? Can someone describe what they see?” She wouldn’t go on until someone in the class described it, even if the “victim” was left mutely amazed.

We didn’t know it at the time, but what she was teaching all of us was to see very subtle indications of motion or a lack of movement. We were learning what subtle indications meant in each specific situation with each different person. Hopefully that observational ability was going to carry over to observing ourselves while doing something that was important to us.

She might ask the group to move in slow motion to illustrate a crucially pivotal point that influenced that entire outcome. She showed us how these special points were integrated with the whole, normally paced action again.

Hopefully for you, these examples of techniques to encourage questions are, (or should be) commonplace to any teacher.
If you’re interested in this teacher’s subject, here’s a short eight minute video about how she discovered her interest in what she taught and some of why she taught the way she did.

The tip I’ll tell you about next surprised me; I regarded it as being positively sneaky.

My teacher took me aside and told me that she appreciated having me and a few other people in the class. She said that it was because we’d pipe up with questions that nobody else would dare ask. She then told me a story about how she didn’t understand when another student accused her of putting them on the spot by singling them out, inviting their participation.

This is what made me realize that she was asking me permission to single me out in order to put her “on the spot” by bringing up what may be forbidden as defined by our class. This little old lady had some unusual ideas in her field about how her skill should be taught. People seemed to be avoiding asking her specifically about what made her ways different, and she wanted me to break the ice, so to speak.

Essentially, she encouraged me to plant myself for her as a sort of “sacrificial fool” in the forbidden questioning department. People would stare at me with open mouths and shocked looks on their faces when I’d fire off these questions that nobody else would dare say.

It pleased the two of us immensely. After those questions were in the air, class would get much more interesting. Other students would then start to ask the questions that were very important to them personally.

So if you are a teacher, don’t be above encouraging one of your students to act as a ‘secret planted bomb’ in the classroom!

Certainly – if you’ve got any comments or questions to ask me – please speak up now!

 

 

Sense of “Right”

The alignment of intention to a result is symbolic of integrity. “Walking Your Talk” is impressive. It’s also the way to get mastery from practicing, whether it comes from gradual improvement or insight or a combination. To correct for what happens despite intentions can be measured by various standards and priorities, depending what those priorities about standards are.

But how regularly do we ask ourselves if our sense of “right” is accurate? Human ability to measure itself is at the basis of self-deception, self-justification and even arrogant self-righteousness.

These “evils’ aren’t purely to blame as a fault of character as often as you’d imagine. Instead they are innocently connected to the nature of how humans adapt to build skills.

Think for a minute about how habits are formed. Habits disappear so their routines can become innate so the building blocks of skills may be strung together, so the new part of the skill can be added. This is how humans create reliable behaviors such as complex motor skills. When an external signal of need is recognized by the mind, the habit goes off automatically as a practiced whole, even though it was trained as a sequenced string of responses.

Unfortunately, it is also true for operative nuisance habitual assumptions that can cascade out of control when habits are trained. “What fires together, wires together” is a brain science fact.

The disappearance of sensations when using a habit is another factor. As we’re sifting, measuring or matching what we notice in front of us now, our very real and useful skills that habitually worked previously for us in the past in other contexts will tend to make us miss a sense of our own involvement. For instance, if you spend lots of time with small children simplifying the way you talk, our adult friends might feel insulted!

It’s a commonly recognized phenomena that our emotional investment in our goals influence what we feel is happening. This is part of why people are suspicious or ignore anyone who rants or holds the conviction that they’re “right” from personal experience or belief. We feel we must discount their personal investment.

Our sensory felt sense of us “doing” something to respond (along with how we may skew noticing the results) is hidden from us by the routine we trained that was buried during the learning process. Strangely enough, our having learned a complex skill hid it from our sense of feeling. Hiding the “learned” part is how our habits work to simplify it for us as we’re turning the overwhelmingly complex strings of responses into an automated, whole action. Sensory dampening is the price of simplifying and convenience.

So – how do we get past this feature of having dulled perception because of learning or using skills? What can we do, given our tendency to skip over new occurrences because we tend to match what is expected or desired?

We may resume conscious control by taking back the reins from habitual routines by paying attention to what we would usually ignore. We can sharpen our own relative perceptual capacity too by learning how to “clear the slate” perceptually. Using any mindfulness technique helps with that – as simple as taking a momentary break.

Using something or someone outside of ourselves to cross-reference or measure can also help the ability to spot and verify factual results. Getting ‘truer’ results works more reliably if you cross-pollinate feedback from various sources: various people, shifting perceptions, various points of view, various tools – rather than merely to rely on duplicating the memory of your past ‘felts’ of the standard or priority you wanted to apply. Using other technological feedback sources is valuable too – such as mirrors, video or other recordings, or just using something as mundane as a tape measure.

All these can offer some degree of objectivity to judge the success or failure of our expectations and correcting for the disappearing act that’s the cost of using habits. The ability to confidently question ourselves is a useful part of the ongoing exercise of cultivating an open-minded attitude.

State-Specific

There’s an important factor in learning and practicing that I’d like to bring to your attention. The scientific description is called state-specific learning. What that means is the content of what gets learned will be tied to the literal circumstance where you learn it. Context is important.

State-Specific learning is so effective that it’s actually used in animal training to solve behavior problems. If your dog is digging holes in your garden, you would deliberately train the behavior of digging on purpose while you’re located somewhere else (such as at the beach.) Then don’t give the command for the dog to dig at your house. The dog gets the idea that it’s only in sand that digging gets your approval, so there’s no use in making holes in the garden at home anymore because that results in your disapproval. You would turn the unwanted action into a command and then it has meaning when you don’t give the cue.

Most teachers assume that if you are an adult learner, you have the capacity to abstract what you are learning in their classroom or lessons in order to apply it to other instances that importantly similar. The factor of State-Specific learning works against this possibility. It’s a leap to abstract what has been learned; just because people can abstract, WILL they abstract? It’s an act of intelligence to notice the possibility to apply what was learned elsewhere exactly when this similarity of knowledge could be quite useful in this specific circumstance that’s a bit different. The ability to abstract takes observation, lateral thinking skills, memory and presence of mind. That’s why it’s important to directly consider the ability to abstract and apply what just was learned and to discuss the capacity to do so with your students if you’re a teacher.

For instance, I just published a story on my blog about how thinking about the lengthening phase of a motion while riding a bike helped me to refresh my range of motion in my leg strength while riding uphill. The comment of a reader who didn’t understand the abstract generalization of my message was, “I’ll do that the next time I ride a bike.”

“But that idea of using the lag in a phase is useful generally during any routine!!” I declared. “If you choose a ‘slack’ moment when you are gathering your energy to focus on in a cyclical phase, the other part (when you’re applying effort) will take care of itself in an easier and less stressed way.”

Unless you point to that concept specifically, it’s not a guarantee that people will make the abstract connection on their own.

So to do that now – (let’s say you’re reading stuff on the computer, right?)  You would observe routines that you do while in that activity, and choose one that isn’t imperative – so you can design a ‘resting’ moment into it that could offer a slight renewal for increased stamina over the long term. For instance, how about when you move your hands from the keyboard to the mouse or touchpad? (Or if you’re on another device, the time when you pick up your hand to use your finger to interact with the screen.) Why not use that moment to look away from the screen for a moment, perhaps look up and blink and momentarily rest your eyes and slightly turn your head. This only takes a moment, right?

By doing something like this, you’ll begin to be able to apply whatever you learn in one situation to other situations that do matter to you personally. Now that you understand whatever you experience can be applied elsewhere abstractly, you will be providing for the  limitations of State-Specific concerning anything you already know.

Can you think now of an insight or significant discovery you made that would be handy if it could be applied elsewhere?

 

Uphill

Getting Past the Ruts
Getting Past the Ruts

ANOTHER TRUE STORY: BIKE RIDING UPHILL

Pedaling up to the stop sign, with my newly repaired 5-speed bike, I was thinking of walking. My legs were tiring fast, even though low gear was finally working. I couldn’t help but think, “Here’s a great time to apply somebody else’s bright ideas. Whatever I’m doing, there’s room for vast improvements before the top of the hill. I think I’ll use Alexander Technique right now.”

WHAT’S GOING ON: WATCH WITHOUT JUDGING
Resisting my urges to adjust and compensate instantly (I’d already tried that) or lashing out at myself for being obviously “out of shape,” (I hadn’t done any real exercise in much too long, which is why I repaired the bike,) I only heard myself panting. I knew the more articulate I could be about myself, the more useful data I’d have to work with and change around. I paid attention again without changing what I was doing. Twenty strokes later, I noticed I was moving in a series of stroke! stroke! encouragements, timed on each pedal’s downswing. Gasping for breath, I was tipping my head back, locking my neck and back to lever my weight against the unsuspecting pedals. You guessed it, the pedals were winning.

HURTLING HEAD FIRST
Eager to apply Alexander’s bright idea that we begin interfering with our innate effectiveness by moving head first, I wondered: Would it be possible, right now on this here hill, to resist my way of locking my neck and back that I thought I must do to avoid falling over? Possibly to definitely convince myself that this was the culprit, I exaggerated the very motion I didn’t want. Yup, I didn’t want to do that. So far, I felt as if I HAD to brace myself in order to apply what I thought was the ample amount of “strength” I imagined would get me up the hill. Did I really have to?

NEW MAY FEEL STRANGE
To see if it would make any difference, I decided to choose the moment I went to stand up on the pedal as the point where I would move as easily as I could head first. I knew I did something different because something unexpected happened. “AHA!”, I realized, “No wonder the muscles in my legs are just getting tighter and tighter”. My mind, with its crazy encouragement regimen of stroke!, is really telling my legs to tighten!, tighten!, without giving them any chance to spring back into their lengthened range of motion. And – the length of my muscles were rapidly losing my resiliency because of what I was doing. No wonder I was getting tired fast.

PARADOX OF STROKE! VERSUS PAUSE.
This discovery suggested the reversal of my timing techniques. I used a more purposeful, and less predictable sense of determination to really carry out the new accent on my timing. I had to re-decide to not let my habit sneak in…while I continued to move in my new way with my head leading. It took another twenty strokes before I could think and move how I wanted. (That isn’t a whole long time, but I had changed my habits like this before and I knew how insistent habits are.)

HERE’S WHY IT WORKED
Pretty soon the stroke! stroke! I’d thought was the only way up the hill turned into rest ~ rest ~ rest, accented on the leg that should be doing just that. Surprise, surprise, paying attention to the pausing rest let the stroking part take care of itself. Wheeeee! I found myself up the hill in no time, through the worst part of the hill was near the top of the uphill curve. It took much less time to think through and do everything, than it did to read it here. The cars passing me didn’t notice me doing anything weird at all, unless, riding all the way up the hill on a heavy 5-speed, was funny. I was, after all, grinning.

Remembering to Wake Up

Kathy In the first post titled, “Sense a Wake-Up” promised were more factors for remembering and recognizing a need to take the reins back from routines and go into action. Here’s more about that.

Significance that is gradual, (that happens in increments or over time) doesn’t seem to register very well on the human sensory system. Humans are much better at the “put out the fire” attitude to get motivation for doing something to address what has been obviously staring them in the face for some time. People slip gradually into decline without noticing because they’re able to ‘get used to’ just about anything.

Since a gradual slippery slope was how it started, it must be possible to slip gradually out of a limitation too, but this slip out needs to happen by deliberate design. One of the obvious tactics to affect change is to create this resolve to change your circumstances on purpose. Then try out  options to find what is most effective. Be persistent if your first ideas don’t work so well.

The ability to comprehend and put together the writing on the wall from a gradual worsening of circumstance seems to be determined by three factors:

First would be the readiness, willingness or resistance of the person who would get the possible benefits from a new experience. Sneaking past a sense of “Danger! Danger!” is one of the techniques that incremental improvement offers. But at some point, you’re going to run into resistance to any change whenever you try to improve things for yourself – so have a strategy ready for dealing with this nuisance of resistance.

Then there’s how open, distracted or habituated the person is starting from. Raw sensory information, (no matter how important!) can be selectively ignored it if it doesn’t obviously match expectations, self-image, the goals, or what the customary state of affairs.

Finally, there is the context, feedback and judgment of how things are happening. It’s an advantage to be able to revise and design as the experiment happens, but do this deliberately and not as a knee-jerk reaction to instant judgments. You’ll want to shape what might be more effective for change as the experiment is being conducted.

Addressing the last factor first, the most important thing to do on the front end is to guarantee safety. Set up the experiment so that the reasons to do so are not going to hurt or embarrass. Find a confidante or group of people who appreciate what you’re attempting to change. It’s hard to go it alone.

There’s a deceptive pitfall in the second factor. The more auto-pilot activities that are in place as habitual routines, the less new sensory information will be available for your ability to sense what is really going on. Nothing will stand out. That disappearance is the whole the point of having a routine – it simplifies what would become overwhelming so new processes can be added together during skill building. Think of when you first learned to drive a car; what was overwhelming at first became commonplace. It’s easier to add something onto the front or back of an established habit than it is to refuse it. But if you need to refuse a habitual reaction, it’s easiest to do this before it gets started in full force.

Unfortunately, that “disappearing” effect is also how the dulling of sensing sensory information happens. If frogs are famous for sensing only that it’s just getting a little bit hotter in the gradually heating stew pot (until it suddenly being too hot to jump out) – why should humans be different?

Perhaps jadedness and unreliability of sensory feedback also depends on how many habits someone has trained themselves to use, tolerate or select from. Especially when having to deal with pain, opposing directives will seem to flood or shut down the sensory system. Humans find it challenging to make a choice from too many options, so paint a black and white picture for yourself to quiet the urge to recite old self-justifications.

One of the strategies for getting a benefit out of gradual improvement is to note literal, incremental progress as if you were doing a research study. Note-taking and other factual documentation will show gradual progress that isn’t obvious through moment to moment sensing. This is very handy when you’re making such long-term changes such as getting skinnier or recovering from a serious injury. Celebration of little milestones is in order!

But if you’re not the “documenting research” type, you’d better get more strategic about resharpening your senses. You can do this by learning the ability to observe yourself, or by using tools or other people that you think are great observers to give you trustworthy feedback.

There are many types of resistances to self-improvement. Sometimes we want something so much that we can’t bear to be disappointed again. Of course, there are many more reasons why we resist doing what is good for us.

Alexander Technique is great because it sneaks under the radar and affects the building blocks of results below the level of what you would imagine should matter. There’s also something Alexander people call “Directing” that is designed to influence the background readiness humans use as a prerequisite for decision-making and going into action.

The action can be as simple as a shake of your head.

Now all you have to do to start is to set up the factual feedback situation or find a great observer, right?

Oh, that’s simple. That’s an Alexander Technique teacher.

 

Unique

What makes Alexander Technique unique?

Everyone who reads my blog who has experience with A.T, let’s outline whatever you can think of that makes Alexander Technique stand out and be unique. Please add to the list!  It might be something trivial or funny, but that’s OK.

I’ll start with some of my own results, and then I’ll discuss some of the thinking skills that could be applied so you can continue. I have numbered them because you might want to refer to them in your comments.

  • 1. Because A.T. is meant to be coupled with any other action, no extra daily practice hour is required to get its cumulative and immediate benefits.
  • 2. Although the relationship is teacher/student – not therapist/client, the learning process also has a cumulative therapeutic effect until the student learns to bring about this benefit on their own.
  • 3. (You fill in this one with one of your suggestions…)
  • 4. Similar to the ability to think and reason, benefits of being able to update established routines relate to however the interested party applies the skill. (That’s why the list of benefits of learning A.T. sounds like snake oil if you don’t know what it is.)
  • 5. It has the proof of a factual, physical discipline to back up the functionality of it’s philosophical principles; teachers must “walk the talk” in order to do the job of hands-on guided modeling that’s the original core of the pedagogy.
  • Alexander Technique doesn’t merely give lip service to the unity of mind and body – it gives a first-hand demonstration of it as well as a tool to gain its benefits.

OK, now I’ll say a bit about how you could use thinking skills to keep going on this little brainstorming project. We’re going to use a website called http://www.practisethinking.com because it’s very simple and teaches tools by referring to other websites.
For instance, I found there a reference to a tool about how to extract concepts called a “concept fan.” It works like this:
http://www.toolkitforthinking.com/creative-thinking/concept-fan
You’d start by making a list of what occurs to you, and then step back to see if they are all related in some way. The example gives you an idea of how this works. The purpose of doing this is then you’re able to understand an assumption that wasn’t immediately apparent.

Here’s a thinking exercise that’s ever more simple: Read this sentence…and fill in the part after the “because.” I’ve done the first one, but there are many other ways to finish the sentence. What follows the  phrase starting with the word “because..” can mean “cause/effect;” it can also mean “comes from…” It can also mean,”essential ingredient.” Can you think of more implied meanings for the word “because…”? Use them to craft a phrase that answers the sentence.

  • 6. Skills that are sharpened while doing Alexander Technique are considered by those in its field to be the basis of education because……..
  1. movement is the way humans interact with their world, (well, other than sweating…

Hope you enjoyed this practical little ditty on thinking skills applied to Alexander Technique simplifications. Please report back!

Believability

English doesn’t have a convenient grammatical form to indicate or describe subjective experience. Describing the nature of reality seems to be one of the irresistible assumptions inherent within the structure of English, because there is no tense that expresses “from my point of view” – for instance, the way the Hopi language is structured. Everyone has an opinion that expresses a unique point of view. So this characteristic of language leaves English speakers to decide if and how much someone else is lying if a speaker expresses their point of view as “fact.” It may seem to be obvious fact for the speaker, but that sense of fact might not be shared by the listener.

This is part of makes it tricky to describe the subjective qualities of learning Alexander Technique. There are ways that English has qualifying phrases such as… “It seems to be,” “From my point of view” or “IMHO. ” These are examples that attempt to frame or signal that the speaker knows their certain point of view is going to follow.

 Uncertainty indicated by a writer is regarded by editors as “timid.” Writers will be admonished to come out and dare to make their definitive declarations. Editors will point out that using subjective qualifiers don’t adequately convey the writer’s motive of being certain that their point of view is a valid one. 

When I use the subjective attitude in my writing, it is not meant to be considered a rhetorical point delivered with uncertainty, self-effacement or with tongue-in-cheek. “From my point of view” is not necessarily another way of saying “I haven’t taken a poll or conducted my research properly.”

Instead, I regard using a subjective qualifier as a demonstration of conservatively stating the presence of uncertainty with an attitude of an eternally, questioning open-mindedness. 

When using those qualifiers, there’s always the possibility that a writer’s motive will be misunderstood. One solution to this is society has evolved various ways to assign believable need through specialization, degrees and qualifications that ares supposed to provide recognition – before education has happened. 

Misunderstandings have proliferated about my assuming this subjective point of view in my writing that I would like to clarify. Readers have reacted to my using language in this way by wondering if I’m obligated to talk this way legally. They wonder if I’m avoiding “making legal claims” that could be proved false, resulting in me possibly being sued for making promises I can’t keep by teaching Alexander Technique.

It appears we now have a culture subjected to an onslaught of advertising who suspects the relative truth of what everyone says, no matter their professional qualifications, skills or experience. The only mitigating factors for some decision-makers are consumer reviews and testimonials; a skeptic may even discount those. But when you think about it, a professional organization is merely a bunch of people who have gotten together, established guidelines and are charging membership dues.

In fact, scientific verification exists for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique. A study was published in Aug. 2008 by the British Medical Journal. This proved that getting an education in F.M. Alexander’s technique works very well to alleviate lower back pain. Other trials have proved various other applications, (Wikipedia has the links.) Because human relationship to intent, reaction and action is essential to every further success, there are unlimited applications. Perhaps it is the abstraction and scope of applications that make Alexander Technique questionable to decide to devote the considerable time, expense and effort to study.

Of course, in many cases suspicion is warranted. Being blind-sided by having too small of a sample to establish “fact” happens even to scientists who rigorously intend otherwise. Researchers recently came out with proof that some of the accepted psychological tests that are supposed to prove truths about human nature were too wide in scope. A case in point is the classic “Prisoner’s Dilemma. It turns out this maxim only works within a limited Western capitalistic culture. Results do not match if the same “scientific trials” are conducted among other non-Western cultures. Apparently the “scientifically conducted” findings that the results of these tests are “proof of human nature” appear to be only true within a certain limited cultural group.

However, my use of point of view qualifiers is not motivated by fears of legal battles. In education, results are dependent on the student applying themselves. Has anyone ever heard about how a teacher could be sued for not delivering a benefit that required the student to apply it? 

Big questions remain that concerns both potential students and the teachers who have an investment in convincing the advantages of what they have to offer. Would you like a stab at forming them? Here’s my attempts.,.

  • How does a potential student gain a belief, a conviction enough to make a long-term investment in learning a particular discipline? 
  • How does a person decide before they are certain it will work for them that any solution or benefit others have gained that they are being shown applies to them personally? 

Sensory Illusion

You’ve heard of optical illusions? This is a proprioceptive illusion!

I love neuroscience research facts.  Check out this little article about how the brain interprets where fingers are located in spacial orientation:
http://is.gd/idllch

This tidbit seems at first like mere random curiosity, but it’s actually a very important little piece of the puzzle for our human operating manual. It shows us how our senses give us us relative sensory feedback that is not truthfully factual. What that means for all of us is because of our human ability to adapt, what is far from normal can become commonplace without our realizing what is happening. You can be doing something to yourself that is potentially painful now or intermittently; it may culminate toward chronic pain as it becomes exaggerated over time. Because your brain can be fooled by the relative nature involved in judging spacial awareness like what is happening in this Fake Finger Illusion, it’s very likely that you will not know that a potentially bad thing is happening to you.

When the article says “the human brain uses sensory signals from what we see and feel to maintain and update an internal representation of the body…” Alexander Technique teachers call this “body-mapping.” If you move with a body map that doesn’t match the way things really are, there’s a cost if it goes on or if you’re asking yourself to do things that directly go against and physically conflict with your misconception. We’ve learned that adults tend to forget they can move in every possible way; they get stuck in harmful repetitive patterns without realizing what’s happening.

Alexander Technique teachers are like human gait labs. They can see in the habitual ways a person moves the potential for long-term, cumulative damage. It’s a good idea to get checked out to see if you’re one of these people who would benefit from some preventative education to deter future problems.

If you’re an Alexander Technique teacher, there is a fun and memorable way to demonstrate this A.T. principle of sensory illusions in your classes and to your private students. I collect these little ways to entertain and teach my students about motor sensory distortion. F. M. Alexander used to call it “debauched kinesthesia.”

It’s a pretty common feature of lessons in Alexander Technique. If someone moves in a way that leaves out their habitual routines at the level of innate posture reflex, they will commonly feel disoriented, strange and their spacial awareness will be reporting back signals of alarm or gross distortion. A look in a mirror will prove otherwise. This alarm motivates most people to return to doing their habits to “feel right” again. It doesn’t matter to the person’s distorted sensory feedback that this sort of “right” could be terribly wrong. It matches the brain’s expectations, so supposedly “all is well.”

You can have an experience right now of this illusion without the special equipment used in the research lab. It takes two people. Just have them put their hands together, their palm of the same sided hands (two rights or two lefts) to the back of the other person’s hand. Then one person takes their other two fingers of their free hand and runs their fingers along either side of the fingers that are joined together, from palm to fingertip. The sensation of expecting to feel the other side of your own finger will be so strong that it’s offset location that the other person’s finger creates will create a strange sensation.

Try this with a friend and be amazed at the first-hand experience of “debauched kinesthesia” – or motor sensory distortion.

Why High Content?

There was a pivotal moment when I decided I needed to write about Alexander Technique.

When I was still a trainee learning to teach Alexander Technique, (1982) I attended a conference that brought together various lineages of A.T. teachers in Ojai, CA. At the end of the conference, the group got together and asked the attendees if anyone had any questions. I did, and I had the nerve to ask my question too. I asked the whole group of teachers, “What are the principles that everyone who is teaching here has in common?”

Probably in an effort to avoid conflict among what was regarded at the time to be different styles of presenting Alexander Technique, all of the teachers dodged the question completely. Essentially they mumbled something about how important the principles were and pretended the question had been answered. For me it hadn’t, because they didn’t spell anything out. I already knew the question was important, that’s why I asked. What I wanted to know was: where’s the real content? Why is it people spend so much time telling you what they are about to say, how important it is, who else thinks it’s important, what it will mean for you, what you can do with it if you retain this vastly important jewel of usefulness… They seem to go on and on without offering a shred of actual content.

Personally, I did not regard these styles of teaching Alexander Technique that was presented at the workshop as being so very different. I could observe many commonalities, but I couldn’t articulate them very well in words at that point. The reason I had trouble with that is Alexander Technique experience tends to take you beyond having words for what you’re experiencing. It’s the lack of classification that is so fascinating about the experience. So much that you don’t want it to have words. That might bring down the experience toward earth, when it seems sort of unfathomable and elusive.

After getting such an unsatisfactory answer, I merely figured that I had to answer my question for myself, and for others.  Unfortunately, this meant that I had to learn enough about how to write to write about this particular subject in order to say something that didn’t give the wrong impression.

Well, it’s been a few decades since then. How have I been doing?

Head Moves

English is tricky when it comes to describing relative movement orientation. On this blog and if you have had Alexander Technique lessons, you’ve heard people mention something called “primary control.” Another name for it is, “Forward and Up.” Still another tag line for the same idea might be, “Head moves, body follows.”

So, what do all these mean? How could there be such different words pointing to the same quality of movement?

I’ve had the benefits of lessons with Patrick MacDonald. He had a nickname, “The Mechanic.” It wasn’t until I had a lesson with Patrick MacDonald that I understood what these words meant, because until then undoing the fixing of my neck was just a floating sensation without me knowing which way my head was going. Hopefully I can offer examples here to clarify what “head forward and up” actually means – without the benefit of having an Alexander Technique teacher’s hands to show you.

Let’s use two simple examples. “Head forward” means the first part of the the sort of movement that happens if someone is tipping their hat, as in nodding “yes.” “Head back” is that part of the same nod that happens as someone looks up, and the back of their head tips downward. Both motions involve changing the relationship of the head to the top of the spine, which can be pointed to by putting your fingers in your ears.

You can try this fingers in the ears thing, using the “yes” motion to indicate to yourself where the fulcrum of motion really is. Leave your fingers as the pointer in your ears and moving your head will allow you to hear if your head rubs against your fingers. The least sound indicates your pointing to the fulcrum. For some people, it’s a bit behind their ear openings and for others, a bit in front or below.

Of course, heads can move in many ways. “Head forward and back in space” means changing the orientation whether the head hangs out on front of the body or moves to end up more in line with the body. Here’s an example of a dance tutorial that illustrates it: http://youtu.be/rZcTrfvyLJc
The first half this video shows, “head forward in space” (in this dance move, the shoulders then move to catch up with the head) and then as the dancer reverses, “head back in space.” (The last half of the video become more complex and doesn’t apply.)

“Up” is always in relationship to yourself – as in “above yourself.”

Simple enough? Now if you tried something like this, let’s talk about the quality of movement you’d want to be using. The quality of the movement you want is easy and effortless, not full of conflict and pushiness.

Hope that helps!

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

This post is the last part in a series called NAMED. Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. Each letter of the word is a category for each of the steps. 

N…NOTICE On April 4th, 2012, starting with points about self-observation 

A…ASK Explored the “A” part of the mnemonic – on April 6th, 2013 

M…MOVE Read more about experimental moves on April 11th, 2013 

E…EVALUATE Exploring how to regard purposes, standards and timing and make conclusions – in three parts on April 14th, 15th, and 16th 

D…DIRECT – Today, the final post of the series – avoid training your mistakes, interrupting routines and today’s post is how to clear sensory feedback noise.

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

OK, so let’s say we have connected up the steps of the process to the effortless doing of an action successfully – preventing old nuisance habitual responses. (Please read the previous post if this doesn’t make sense to you yet.) This is preparation for Directing. The steps of the action can now be “actively” thought or said – but without the movement action attached.

Why connect the strategy of “directing” to non-action is in another brain fact. There’s a big signal-to-noise issue between feedback and active movement. To minimize this, it works to slow down the activity (or refuse what is unwanted entirely) and then recite or think a narration as steps for the new, improved process.

If you have been following previous posts – you learned the importance of connecting up these directions using a new way to prepare for action. These new ability to “Direct” are words or thoughts that will substitute for habitual movement preparation before you know you’ve decided to move. What you want to replace are the old preparations that go on in the brain and body responses before the choice to move happens. Directing is intended as a precursor behind the urge to move.

The reason for non-action is to prevent the habitual response from jumping in to answer the urge to “do it.” Replacing habitual preparation for movement with Direction is similar to visualization – only Directing uses a kinesthetic and/or verbal strategy.

Because Directions are done by thinking the steps of what you’re intending to do very deliberately – without doing them – that’s why it’s important to have already connected words to the steps of how you intend to proceed as we learned in our last post. We compose these words in the passive impersonal present tense to avoid any urge for over-doing these suggestions. Here’s an example of what we might say using an example from Alexander Technique :

“The neck frees and the head aims forward and up,

while the torso lengthens and widens.

Then the knees go forward and away… “

 

Then the new steps can begin that would carry out original goals with new starting point. It will also be possible to do something else instead as a fresh last-moment decision – turning on a dime.

Now – what happens? Probably something below the level of what you can perceive. That’s why Directions are repeated, surrendering the urge for feeling around to verify results. What we’re after is allowing the body to return to it’s resting length so a full range of action is available when we do respond in action. We’d like to be free of conflicted or outdated responses and free to improvise.

After using all the steps of Alexander Technique, when you do act, there is a significant “feeling” that happens. It’s a signature sensation that Alexander Technique teachers offer. With some practice and smart strategic thinking, you’ll be able to do it yourself. It’s this delicious sense of “flow.” Or as it used to be known among Alexander Technique crowd, “Do-Less-Ness.” It’s almost a religious experience, but without the cultural values attached.

What’s after this? You might make a discovery about the nature of you suspended goal. If you want more discoveries, well, do the steps again. Remember how you were NAMED!

  1. Notice
  2. Ask
  3. Move
  4. Evaluate
  5. Direct

 

This is the conclusion of a mini-course. We’ve been using NAMED to help Alexander Technique students remember the entire class content of using the Alexander Technique. Hope you enjoyed it!

 

 Happy Experimenting!

Directing by Interrupting Routines

This post is part of a series called NAMED.  Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. The letters of the word is a category for each of the steps.

N…NOTICE  On April 4th, 2012, starting with points about self-observation

A…ASK  Explored the “A” part of the mnemonic – on April 6th, 2013

M…MOVE   Read more about experimental moves on April 11th, 2013

E…EVALUATE  Exploring how to regard purposes, standards and timing and make conclusions – in three parts on April 14th, 15th, and 16th

D…DIRECT –  Again, in three parts – on April 25th: avoid training your mistakes…so today’s post is on: Interrupting Routines. 

 

Directing – Interrupting Routines

A saying from brain science is, “what fires together, wires together.” This same phenomena has a similar description from the field of animal training called,”building behavior chains.”

The individual parts of a skill are joined together as a chain of ingredients.This brings the advantage of first learning a sequence of simpler movements can be practiced individually. They then can be connected together so they will fire off at the order to “go” as one smooth continuum. Think of the timing of a fireworks finale that makes a picture in the sky, and you can appreciate how amazingly complex behavior chains are when combined into common skills such as walking on uneven ground. In fact, navigating uneven ground is one of the complex challenges for artificial intelligence robots.

There are a number of strategies to use if you’re having trouble improving an already trained behavior chain. If you have the sort of motion that needs to have certain qualities separated from “better” qualities, using a very slow speed will frustrate the old habit to wither away, so what is newer and better has a chance to happen.

You can also purposely put the trigger for the behavior chain on cue, and then don’t give the cue. Now go ahead and do the suspended action without feeling prepared. This strategy works with a really insistent habit. Actively refuse to give the order to “go” that encourages the whole “old'” behavior chained routine to fire off. Then you can originate a new firing sequence for the activity in a new way and substitute the new for the old. Or you can indefinitely continue to improvise, while continuing to refuse the old way, never going back to it. The last two are use the strategies of Directing.

Directing nips in the bud a very pervasive habit at its source that is below our level of perception. It’s how to stop doing a routine so deeply trained that you can’t even perceive you are doing in the first place. An example would be changing a speaking mannerism or habitual body language or the way you learned to hold a musical instrument or a tool.

Why does it work?

From brain science, preparation for movement happens a long while before people know they have decided to move. Measured MRI brain activity shows that humans are in preparation for a specific activity a long while before they know they have decided to act on it. There is only 1/64th of a second available to change, refuse or redirect the way we have been preparing to respond without being aware of this preparation.

This matches what F.M. Alexander observed when he tried to change his own speech problems. Humans don’t have “free will.” Instead, we have “free won’t.”

In Alexander Technique, we call this  substituting for the precursor of movement preparation to “Inhibit” and “Direct.” To use this strategy of “giving Directions,” takes two steps. First, we connect this “precursor of action” to words – without acting on them. We’re refusing old preparations to act, so it’s a paradoxical sort of an action – preparation to clear the ability to perceive by deliberately not acting, not expecting, not anticipating.

The last step in Directing is explained in the last post, coming tomorrow.

If this doesn’t make any sense to you – perhaps you’d like to get an Alexander Technique lesson from a teacher who can give you a demonstration using your own experiences? It minimizes mistakes to have an Alexander Technique teacher to guide this new connection so signal-to-noise feedback is minimized when you continue from Directing into activity.

 

More about the last step of Clearing Sensory Feedback in the final post of the series of NAMED – a mnemonic which helps students remembering to use all the steps of F.M. Alexander’s Technique.

Directing – Avoid Mistakes

This post is part of a series called NAMED.  Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. The letters of the word stand for each of the steps

N…NOTICE  On April 4th, 2012, starting with points about self-observation

A…ASK  Explored the “A” part of the mnemonic – on April 6th, 2013

 M…MOVE   Read more about experimental moves on April 11th, 2013

E…EVALUATE  Exploring how to regard purposes, standards and timing and how to get conclusions – in three parts on April 14th, 15th, and 16th

D…DIRECT –  Again, in three parts over the next three days – the first here is about how to avoid training your mistakes…

 

Directing – Avoid repeating mistakes

The Alexander Technique works if you follow the process using NAME – without the “D” on the end. But there are three more very powerful additional tips that work for very difficult habits. They can be remembered by using “D” for “Direction.”  They are: Avoid Mistakes, Interrupt Routines and Clear Feedback.

The word “direct” has a few meanings. In this step, it’s meant to direct yourself – as a conductor would direct a musical orchestra. After getting results using NAME, we use the “D” by Directing to consider and renew the vision of where we’re going. We make suggestions to ourselves what to do about our Evaluations, without repeating the unnecessary routines we just worked to avoid.

Of these points in that previous sentence, the trickiest and most paradoxical is “without activating unnecessary movement routines.”

Here is a brain fact that backs up the value of practicing avoiding habits in this indirect way. Measured brain activity shows that humans are in preparation for a specific activity a long while before they know they have decided to act on it. There is only 1/64th of a second available to change, refuse or redirect the way we have been preparing to respond without being aware of this preparation. This matches what F.M. Alexander observed when he tried to change his own speech problems. Humans don’t have “free will.” Instead, we have “free won’t.”

How to practice this indirect paradox of not responding with unnecessary routines? The most well-known strategy is to train a new habit and insert it in the place of the old habit. But even after you train a new habit, you still need to substitute the new routine in place of the old. Sometimes the old habit is too persistent and doesn’t want to let go.

This is because the new habit isn’t as strong as the old behavior. As a fact, it takes repeating something at least five times to begin to practice it. It takes somewhere around seventy times to reliably train and install a new routine. 

As an experiment – cross your arms. Now cross them the opposite way. Usually, one way of crossing your arms will feel a bit odd. It may actually be tricky to do instead of the old habit. Once you’ve been able to do this, now intentionally cross your arms the unusual way, going as slowly as you need to go to have positive experiences and gradually speeding up.

How many times until crossing your arms until the new way began to lose its sense of oddity? These numbers are slightly different for different people; but it’s somewhere between five and ten times when a person has begun to train a new habit. For most people, by the fifth time, any unfamiliar action will lose its sense of strangeness.

Regarding this fact from the other point of view, if you can prevent yourself from repeating a mistake less than five times – then you’re not unintentionally training yourself to repeat your mistakes. Useful fact to know, isn’t it?

Stay tuned for the final two posts in the series of NAMED tomorrow and the next day.
Directing: Interrupt Routines and the conclusion:
Directing: Clear Sensory Feedback… 

Move

This post is part of a series called NAMED.  Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. The letters of the word stand for each of the steps.

N…notice   This series was started on April 4th. 2013

A…ask    This post explores a bit the “A” part of the mnemonic.”Ask.”

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

MOVE!
Once you’ve got some observations and have asked some questions, it’s time to conduct the experiment.

You’ve probably got some ideas what might be a better way to accomplish the goals you have in mind. What we’re talking about here is how you might move to put these goals into action where the rubber meets the road…how you walk your talk, so to speak.

The usual way to accomplish goals is to become urged on to do so. This is a fine strategy when tiredness or overcoming resistance is a factor. But what if those are not the issue? Does urging help when there there is plenty of motivation, (maybe too much of it) – so much desire to succeed that the person is beginning to overdo, to fall over themselves or freeze up? What happens when there is so much value riding out an outcome? For instance, how can that experienced pool shark miss that “easy” shot merely because of the pressure of it meaning winning a tournament award?

Conducting an experiment means you’ve never done it before. You’re not urging yourself on to keep going, you’re urging yourself to dare to metaphorically jump off a cliff while paying attention.

In order to learn any skill reliably, it takes practice. Practice when the pressure is off, and when the pressure is on you’ll have much more of a chance to put it into action at a crucial moment.

So the first ingredient for conducting an experiment is to make it safe for yourself to take chances. Try to put in place various guarantees on personal safety, social consequences, to take responsibility for other people’s possessions and other concerns you might need to minimize risk or loss. Find the smallest chunk that doesn’t make the alarms go off that engages the habit.

Instead of substituting one “better” set of procedures for a “worse” out-dated ones, I’m going to suggest that you merely stop doing the outdated ones and see what happens. Perhaps you do not need the put in place any other substitutions.

Stopping what you had been doing that was leading you where you did not want to go is the first step – and sometimes the only step needed for improvements to arise spontaneously.

Give it a go!

Asking Questions

This post is part of a series called NAMED.  Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. The letters of the word stand for each of the steps.

N…notice   This post was published on April 4th. 2013

A…ask    This post explores a bit the “A” part of the mnemonic.”Ask.”

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

 

Ask

This is the stage where you come up with some constructive questions. If you know about forming questions, you probably know that which questions you ask help point you in a direction to possibly get some solutions. Perhaps your questioning could create more pointed ongoing directions that have the potential to make discoveries in some sort of experiment that you would design. Once you have been experimenting, sometimes forming further questions the second time around can put what you’ve recently discovered into practice.

We’re talking here not about coming up with questions that someone knows the answers to, but questions that we might be able to answer with our own experiences. Maybe nobody knows the answers yet!

So- let’s make some observations about what sort of qualities these questions might possess. Open-ended or strategic questions are useful. It’s most useful to form specific questions that don’t really have an immediate answer right now, but might have these specifics after we do something about answering them.

Think strategically about how these questions might be grouped into the design of an experiment that might give you some sort of answer – even if the answer is “no, not that one.” If you’re design of a series of questions doesn’t work to get the results you want, you can always change the questioning the next time through the process once you have more information about what might be a better question to ask.

Some examples of F.M. Alexander’s open-ended, strategic questions would be:


How much of what sort of effort do I really need to use to accomplish my goal?

Can I design a more efficient way to move that uses less effort for a similar effect?

If there were, how and when would this movement start?

Would I be able to sense what I’m doing, or would I need help perceiving this new way of moving? What sort of help would be the most useful?

How can I extend this new way of moving so that it happens for a longer period? How long can I continue moving in this new way?

What strategies can I use to prevent what I don’t want to repeat from happening that gets in the way of moving in this new way, so I can do more of what I do want and less of what I don’t want?

Get back to me on the results of forming your questions!

Continuing the series of NAMED, in our next post, we’re going to explore what might happen when we start to actually do the experimenting with a new way of moving…