March 18

Spring Clean your Habits!

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Reading time 3 minutes

Now that Spring is here, why not shake out the blankets of your habit cupboard!

We all have habits, they allow us to make short-cuts- to put your clothes on without thinking, or whilst thinking about something, to doing two things at once, drive whilst talking for example.

Some of you know I lived in Holland for a while in my twenties. I was learning Dutch at the time of this particular story, and about fluent. One Saturday I went with my friend Carl to learn how to roller-skate in the local park. I had ice-skated long ago, but never really did roller skating, but he was keen for me to learn so we could go together. Carl was trying to teach me the techniques of staying up, and stopping. Which was fine, but every time Carl spoke Dutch, I fell over.

Whilst I could speak it, my language skill wasn’t enough of a habit for me to multi-task. When Carl spoke Dutch to me I swallow dived to the floor, when he spoke English I stayed up! We tried it enough times to see the correlation, after which he switched to English. Although somewhat uncomfortable I was able to see the funny side. Neither skill was habitual yet. I needed too much computing power for both to do them together!

So habits are both desirable and necessary, but when we don’t examine them over time, we don’t know which aren’t serving us any more. Some we might know about- my habit of eating too much chocolate, but some are more elusive.

What habits would you like to spring clean?

And how do we work out bad habits if we can’t feel them? It’s important to remember that most of what we do is learned. We might not remember the learning of it, but that means we can relearn, or reshape what we do. One of the strategies of a Feldenkrais lesson is to lessen the effort used, so we can start to distinguish between efficient amounts of effort, and over-efforting.

In one Feldenkrais lesson on my training, I remember realising I was trying too hard, and had the realisation that that wasn’t a habit restrained to the Feldenkrais mat! My perfectionism got in the way of me not only doing what I wanted all of the time, but being more relaxed around others- it was simply a bad habit of my thinking, which also had physical habits of holding attached. It meant I added tension all of the time, which made me more uncomfortable than I needed to be, and life a lot more difficult.

The learning we do in Feldenkrais is self discovery- lessons are purposefully set up that way. If you discover something for yourself it’s so much more powerful than someone else telling you what you should feel, precisely how you should move. It’s more useful than copying movements of others, when you’re likely to copy their bad habits without even realising- learning from the outside-in. In the process of turning words into movements everyone’s brains have to work, and make connections: Feldenkrais is about learning from the inside out. I have literally seen people’s confidence shift within the hour as they realise they can do something about the situation they’re in. You make the discoveries, the changes, they’re yours, you’ve taken action, which is empowering, it gives you agency. You’re the agent of your own change.

But the paradigm of looking to move more easily, more gracefully is not we’re used with movement, so for some it can be challenging - to focus, and do less.

So how can we employ Feldenkrais strategies off the mat to spring clean our habits?

1. Create a learning environment: take time to explore ideas or movements, without looking for concrete answers or outcomes. Keep an open mind to what might be possible. In this “beginners mind” where we are open and curious, we can make space for ideas to come up, to create connections

2. Look to improve the quality of what you’re already doing: What great habits do you have? How can you learn from what you’re already doing well?

3. Lean into your bad habits- get to know them. Do you eat chocolate only at certain times of day, or when you have particular emotions, after you talk to certain people. (Substitute your own habits that you’d like to shift). The more three-dimensional the habit, the easier you can learn what the triggers are, and to provide an alternative.

4. Look for at least 3 options. Don’t think of it as just an on/off binary question. What are possibilities between 0-100? Perhaps (continuing the chocolate analogy) eating less milk chocolate, more dark - its harder to eat as much. Or confining oneself to certain times per day. One friend who’s a chocoholic only allows himself to eat chocolate at the weekend. Or making sure you have other snacks handy. The important thing being that there are at least 3 alternatives. Feldenkrais thought that only one option was pathological, and even two options wasn’t really a choice- you need three ways of doing things, minimum.

5. Create... Spring is about the newness of life, beginning again after the winter. And we’re all born creative. We can all create. Carve out an hour a week to do something creative for you, and see what it dislodges, where that little seed of creativity can lead. Allow yourself the freedom to be bad at what you’re doing, to make mistakes, and to enjoy the mistakes. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s good or not, we’re not doing it to be the next Picasso after all. But rather to introduce a little freedom, a little sense of making something, something that comes from nothing into being.

Feldenkrais thought that “Learning is turning darkness, which is the absence of light, into light. Learning is creation. It is making something out of nothing.” So any kind of learning is creative. We’re hardwired for learning, and creativity.

If this was interesting, resonated, or you have an opinion, I’d love to know. Get in touch.

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