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 for me 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 effective, 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, the bad things that happen to some people 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 some 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. Because I feel that learning new things is valued, 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. I need to build so incrementally that the fearful resistance doesn’t activate.

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 our “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, not merely jobs. (It works for what sort of house you might want, what sorts of relationships you might enjoy, etc.)

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 or qualities of each point of what 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 Loves & Hates, 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 multiple spots inside our body that happen to feel easier with our own coordination – where inside ourselves that 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:

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 comment with your own observations, explorations, suggestions and comments…

Teaching Attention

Observation is the perceptual ability to collect first-hand information. It’s determined by the way a person uses their mind and attention to direct their investigating. Similar to the way that the selection of a question directs the mind toward where to gain results, attention has qualities of perception that direct the way it can may be used.

The most simple way to use your observation is to just do it. But often people find they don’t notice anything; nothing “stands out.” This is why it pays to be able to shift your attention on purpose to generate new, creative ways of observing.

Sometimes, it’s not what the content are of what is being observed that needs consideration. How attention itself gets directed is important to learn about. Most people in our Western culture have honed their attention to be used as a selective searchlight, but that is only one possible means. There are probably as many ways of using attention as there are cultures. Attention can assume the investment of cultural or personal interest, as if it is being directed through a magnified or many faceted lens. Attention can skip and select using varied criteria. Its priority may also be reordered to fit the situation on the fly. Attention can inhabit different points of view through psychological projection or imagination. Attention can allow itself to be deliberately suspended; attention can coerce and leave no choice because of the rate of pace toward a goal. Attention can be diffused; attention can be used in a broad, general connective sense as if merging into a figure-ground relationship. Necessity directs attention for safety’s sake or in service of a specific goal that directs a course of action. In service of the needs of others and communication is another motive that warrants honing specialized skills of paying attention.

Whatever it is you do, most people have a routine of various selected ways of using their attention; these routines often use a only a few ‘favored’ qualities. This short list suffices, so new means are not often intentionally created. In fact, when asked about how many ways are there to pay attention…most people can’t think of more than a few.

Consider the quality of attention mentioned of a figure-ground relationship. This particular kind of attention would be appropriately used by an artist of any medium who is noting and bringing forth certain desired qualities without translating their meaning into words. This artistic mode of perception has quite different qualities than the kind of attention used by someone who must imperatively decide if a priority action is about to be immediately required for self-preservation motives quickly. However, if you were hunting or hiding for self-preservation, then skill at this same sort of attention would allow scanning the view to spot the location of what is being obscured by scenery. Having many qualities of attention is handy to know.

It is possible to train attention. Of course, in the doing of different skills & activities, some qualities of attention are developed and exercised in context, and this can be their largest value. There are also many philosophical essays on attention, but ideas profit from having a form for practice. Meditation practices feature attention training specifically, but these practices often contain a culturally defined prescription of how the ability should affect other values.

Purposeful Freedom Of Allowing and Leaving Out

Beyond selling the value of constructive effortlessness and patience, Alexander Technique trains attention without a prescription of what goals & content should be pursued. Although Alexander Technique uses specific examples in context to conduct a lesson and has the obvious purpose of freeing posture and gaining poise as a by-product, it is designed to be abstracted into all general contexts involving movement response. The ability to observe and choose appropriate qualities of attention tailored to certain purposes should be free from any specific context of how it was learned. This requires the ability to abstract.

Another Reason Why Alexander’s Work Is Notable
Alexander Technique is fascinating partly because it requires training attention, as well as an ability to describe what goes on inside that is not often brought to light. There are not many words for the proprioceptive sense of balance, location and relative effort in English, so the search for meaning and description can be poetic fun. Alexander Technique is a handy form for learning because it creates a circumstance where thinking has a specific physical expression that can be factually witnessed in how a person moves. Having a real example that can be used as a hypothesis shows off or proves how much the person was able to do as they intended. It’s also a medium for shining the intuitive sense buried underneath what is usually hidden by habit. Shaping expressions of intent is, in a sense, a performance art and a chance to tap the unknown for whatever you guessed might exist…so you can pay attention to what’s new!

For example, most people are not used to perceiving their proprioceptive sense. Many have never before heard of the word “proprioception”. This is defined as our sense of location in space, judgment of weight and the amount of effort it takes to perform an action. (This sense is even skipped over in the list of the 5 senses.)

If I ask someone to notice while they are taking a few steps what they are doing concerning the way they are moving, (even including causes, conclusion or judging in what they notice,) most people draw a complete blank. It helps to provide them with a list of words so they can come up with a ways to ask. They want to ask for the goal of obtaining any description, so they can compare results after experimentation.

In training the ability to observe oneself, it seems that adverbs are useful to jog and note how ones’ own perception works. It is best if that action is done playfully, because once the survival sense is active, it seems to cut off rather than open perception because attention is being used in service of an immediate imperative to act. In particular, four specific questions are help the ability to observe and describe for oneself. They are: quality, direction, sequence, timing, (in no particular order.)

Teaching Kids Abstract Thinking

Most kids are familiar with how things they want to do a certain way will sometimes happen as if by magic. But it can be very tricky for them to figure out how to duplicate what they want to happen again.

To rouse interest when presenting Alexander Technique principles to kids, using any action a kid is interested in will make learning fun. Use balancing or cumulative skills (- such as learning to throw a ball, hit a ball with a bat, or riding a bike) for illustrating F.M. Alexander’s principles.

Kids are learning machines anyway, so they are very fun to work with – but keep lessons short; perhaps ten to fifteen minutes. Showing them some tips about how to experiment so their experimenting goes faster and is more effective will be very useful to them.

As you teach, bear in mind that kids are not able to abstract principles into different situations, unless they are specifically taught how to do so in those situations. Kids are naturally literal thinkers. Helping kids become lateral (sideways creative) thinkers is a challenge. It’s up to the teacher to carry the thread of meaning and relationship from many specifically different activities. Draw the similarities between them for the kids.

Guess there are a quite a few grownups who could use this approach as well!

Also find that for kids a little older, say beyond 6 years old, it’s helpful to be using stories in familiar movies and fairy tales to illustrate teaching points. For instance, in the Fantasia Disney movie about Mickey Mouse who figures out how to do the magic spell with the brooms. The spell really gets out of control when Mickey doesn’t know how to undo it. This story can help kids understand the nature of training themselves to do a repeated habitual order that gets out of control when they can’t cancel it. In Alexander Technique, we call this distorted sensory appreciation, (otherwise known as debauchery.)

This helps teach the secret that if you have already taught yourself how to do something, it will take a little extra skill and time to unteach the old thing you already know. Habits are tricky and “relative” – meaning habits likely to tell you information about where you are and what you are doing with your body that isn’t really true!

Once taught a four year old about how much extra energy is required to compensate for balance and how he can adapt to anything by spinning him on an office chair. How dizzy it feels to stop spinning is a great situation to illustrate a number of points. How come grownups get so stiff thinking they are going to fall down when they’re not really falling?

I like to encourage kids to avoid becoming stiff like adults are, and to regard their natural flexibility as something valuable. Along this idea, it’s handy to ask such questions like “How do adults get stiff when they start out as kids, who are so flexible?” Of course, part of the answer is that grownups expect to be right, and kids expect to be wrong – so kids are more willing to experiment than most grownups. Also great to encourage kids to model the grownups around them who have better natural good use, so the kid doesn’t pick up postural sets from the grownups that they admire that are too extreme.

Most of the challenges for many kids that age, depending on the kid, is fear; they like predictability rather than facing the unknown. Doing what you are scared to do or what’s really new feels sometimes really weird, but exciting. So giving fun experiences that outline which sort of experimenting has the feelings of a fun kind of weird. Most important to illustrate is how can a kid make it safe to try something risky while they’re experimenting?
When they have just accidentally done a new thing, sometimes I’ll ask kids questions such as: how many times do you need to do that the way you wanted before you can do it anytime you want? That teaches them patience and persistence, if they know that they need to do something four or five times before they know it – or maybe it takes them six times before it doesn’t feel so strange. Also teach them incubation learning – to stop for a moment when they do something that impresses them so it can “sink in.”

A fun concept to play with is that muscles are similar to springs in that muscles return to their natural shape when you take the pressure off of them.  For this experiment, it’s handy to have a huge exercise ball, a trampoline or a pogo-springs stick.

Love to hear more suggestions about how to teach Alexander Technique concepts to kids. Have any?