(Part 2 of Are Your Ideas of What’s Right Leading You Astray?)
The Desire to Fix Ourselves Runs Deep
How many years have you spent intentionally trying to correct something about your posture or how you move?
In the last post, I talked about our ideas about how our posture (or strength, flexibility, gait, etc.) “should” be, and how those can lead us astray from what we actually want or need.
Now I’d like to pose another question: “Is the approach you’re taking to get what you want the best way to go about it?”
An Exercise in Futility
If you’re like most people, you’ve been consciously “correcting” yourself:
- “I remind myself to engage my core and stand up straight.”
- “When I catch myself slumping at the computer, I sit up straight.”
- “My right foot turns out when I walk, so I consciously turn it in.”
If this approach has produced positive results for you, congratulations! You are one of the fortunate few. But for most of us, this method is an exercise in futility. The old adage “what you resist persists” comes to mind.
Purposefully arranging parts of ourselves into the place we think or have been told they should be is like playing with a Gumby doll. You can stretch and twist him all you want, but as soon as you stop, he’ll return to his original shape.
There are many reasons why the conscious approach doesn’t work. For starters, it doesn’t address why you say, slump in your chair or walk with one leg turned out, in the first place.
Imagine if, when the “Check Engine” light came on in your car, your response was to upgrade the wiring in the dashboard. The light would continue to beam because the issue isn’t in the dash—the real issue is somewhere else in your car.
There’s a Better Way to Change Your Habits
So, what can you do about postural and movement habits that aren’t serving you? The best way I’ve found is so antithetical to our usual way of thinking that you’re likely to dismiss it outright: Instead of trying to “correct” your habit, Go with it!
Your body has an innate intelligence (after all, it has the benefit of millions of years of evolution). By better understanding what you’re currently doing, you put yourself in a powerful position to change.
Often the simple act of bringing your attention to what you’re doing generates a positive shift without you needing to make anything happen. For example, you might spontaneously take a deeper breath, release some extra work in your neck muscles or have a helpful thought bubble up in your mind.
Say your neck and shoulders feel tight and sore after working at the computer. You notice you tend to hold and hunch shoulders. Instead of consciously reminding yourself to relax or pull your shoulders back, what if you hunched more?
A Little Shoulder Experiment
Try this out now, sitting in your chair:
• Enjoy Doing the “Bad” Thing! Intentionally hunch your shoulders. Make it enjoyable. You might even exaggerate the hunch a little so you can feel it clearly.
• Use Your Awareness for Good: There are many ways to hunch—what’s your personal style? Notice details such as the shape of your chest and back or the distance between your chin and chest. Is one shoulder lower or more forward than the other?
• Vary Your Hunch: What subtle changes can you make to your hunch? Perhaps you could make it a little bigger or smaller? Could you make it lazy or elegant? What’s it like to hunch just one shoulder at a time?
• Use More of Yourself: Now invite more of yourself into this shape. Let the hunching of your shoulders begin a movement of rounding your whole back. Let your pelvis roll back and your head look down, then return to sitting upright. Slowly repeat this rounding a few times as smoothly and effortlessly as possible.
• What’s Changed? Pause and just sit naturally—that is, neither hunching intentionally nor trying to sit “correctly”. How do your shoulders rest now? Without consciously positioning yourself, perhaps your shoulders are more comfortable or you’re sitting more upright?
Let Your Body Change You
Using this kind of gentle, exploratory path gives rise to incremental change with lasting value. Movement variations nourish your nervous system with new and forgotten options. Rather than resisting and forcing, you begin to tune in and be with what’s happening in the present moment.
“In the environment of this kind of warmhearted awareness, the organism will tend toward its optimal functioning.”1 In other words, when you bring your attention and curiosity to something, beneficial changes can happen automatically.
This idea of going with, instead of contradicting, your habit can be applied to just about anything in your life—daily activities, relationships, habits of thinking, etc. This approach is not only more effective, but it’s also more fun than continually correcting yourself!
Try It and Share What You Find
So the next time you feel the urge to position yourself “correctly”, I invite you to try this alternative approach. I’d love to hear how it goes. Leave a comment below or send me an email!
1. Russell Delman, radio interview, March 30, 2013, KOWS FM.