Exercising more choice over how you come across

April 13, 2011

Conversation
Many people are unconscious of the postural habits that take over when they’re in conversation. (Image courtesy of *clairity*, Creative Commons Attribution licence).

It’s often fascinating to be shown how you can exercise a greater level of choice over how you respond to situations, and to be less of a slave to unconscious habit.

This has far reaching implications, from improving posture (and ridding yourself of problems like a sore knee or back) to approaching situations of all kinds in a more spontaneous, fresh and creative way, including social situations.

Just to give a concrete example: I used to find myself gesturing compulsively with my hands when I spoke. It was something that people often commented on, but I didn’t think there was much wrong with it. I felt it helped me get my points across if I had to make a speech, for example.

It wasn’t necessarily a problem except that it had become a habit which I had less and less control over, so that even when lying down, supposedly still, in an Alexander Technique session, my hands twitched and moved a little as I spoke. I wasn’t aware of this until it was pointed out to me.

I think it’s reasonable to say that you want to find yourself doing things because you’ve chosen to do them, rather than just because you’re in the grip of an unconscious habit. And I realised that my relentless gesturing had become something slightly robotic and compulsive.

On a postural level, this is obviously particularly relevant to actors. If you habitually hunch your shoulders and slink your head and neck forwards as you speak then that’s no use to you unless you’re playing the role of a slightly shy, fumbling person (notwithstanding the fact that this fixed way of holding neck and shoulders will be contributing to a general sense of postural collapse, affecting breathing and increasing your likelihood of developing back problems).

So if this is your tendency, for example, experiment with stopping it. Perhaps if you find yourself in a slightly dull conversation where your mind is tending to wander, you could practice this skill while you listen. Notice your tendency to do whatever your postural habit might be in conversation – whether it be hunching the shoulders or nodding compulsively or tightening your neck – and see if you can stop it or do it less.

You might notice some slightly uncomfortable feelings coming up, such as a fear that you are being rude or that you look odd. See if you can just calmly observe these feelings while carrying on the conversation, and see if they gradually pass. Or they might alert you to some problems you have with social anxiety that you want to work on.

If you want to go back to the habit of hunching your shoulders or whatever, then try to do so only as a conscious choice. On the other hand, you might notice that you feel a bit less tense and a bit calmer letting yourself quieten down these compulsive muscular responses. It might be something you want to carry on with, or adapt into your movement repertoire.

And if you practice Alexander Technique already, you’ll find it a bit easier to let your whole body just come into a natural, non-held state of poise.

So it’s useful to keep an eye on your postural habits and consider whether or not you want to carry on with them, particularly in social situations – which tend to cause most of us to stiffen a little, especially in the neck region. You don’t need to spend your life in the grip of unconscious habits. As well as improving your poise and general well-being, making you less prone to feeling tense or stiff or tired, this kind of practice is also cultivating your natural spontaneity and ability to respond to situations in a fresh and considered way.

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One Response to “Exercising more choice over how you come across”

  1. melie said

    I appreciate the information that you have provided. It is very rare that I leave comments on any of the myriad of websites that I come across, but today I make an acception.

    After reading thousands of self-help books, I finally came across a small book (less than 100 pages) that was able to put into practical down to earth terms, a new way of perceiving life which became a new way of being. I think that you will find this simple book very complimentary to your ideas.

    The book is called The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner.

    Sincerely,

    Melie

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