intelligent work

Photo by Tania Melnyczuk on Unsplash

unpolished thoughts 7/28/2019

Sometimes things are easier when you work harder – if you also work more intelligently.

Most of us work too hard all the time, but this doesn’t mean that working less is always the solution. It’s part of the solution, but not the whole thing.

Making something easier than it used to be means working harder and working less. In other words, it means redistributing your efforts, working more intelligently.

Yes, part of the problem is that you are overworking. But why are you overworking?

You are overworking because of all the places where you aren’t working at all – or perhaps where others around you do little or no work. In order for the places that you overwork yourself to experience relief, some other places must begin to do their share.

Moshe Feldenkrais demonstrated this idea concretely, again and again, in the Awareness Through Movement lessons that he created.

For example, there is an exploration known as “Frog Legs” where you lie on you back with the legs long, then roll one foot out to the side until your knee bends, drag your heel up the floor to bend the knee further, and then finally stand the foot.

Sure, you can probably “succeed” in making this movement on your first attempt, but that’s not the point. The real question is, how hard do you have to work?

If you actually lie on the floor and begin to investigate, the answer is simple: how hard you have to work is represented by your experience of the weight of the leg.

As you follow the guidance the lesson offers you, you discover the foolishness of thinking that what you are doing is just “moving your leg.” Because if you forget about the rest of your body, what quickly happens is that the muscles that contract to bend the knee pull the rest of your body towards your leg.

It’s just like when you go to lift a suitcase that is heavier than you anticipated and rather than removing it from the floor, your effort pulls you downwards.

However, if your pelvis isn’t pulled towards the leg, if your spine isn’t pulled downwards, the same contractions in your leg, draw it up towards the rest of your body. But in order to maintain the position of your pelvis (or even set it in motion, rolling upwards and pushing your spine upwards), you must do more work – in your other leg, in your back, around your shoulders, many places.

What’s happening here? Are things getting easier?

Well, just listen to the weight of your leg as you move it. Is it heavier or lighter?

It could be that the process of making your leg light involves turning on efforts in many places that you thought had nothing to do with the task at hand.

The deeper lesson becomes the recognition that there is no task that gets easier by dividing yourself into parts that participate or don’t. Working more intelligently means evenly distributing the muscular tone throughout your body.

It could also mean more evenly distributing the responsibilities between two parents or among the various players on a sports team or the staff of a research group. This doesn’t mean that what each person does is the same, but rather that each one has sufficient support for their efforts because others are backing them up in various ways.

Of course, life is rarely so neat and tidy. So the next level of understanding is to carry the principle of even distribution of efforts with you. It means maintaining enough attention on the overall system so that both unnecessary work and unnecessary slack are quickly identified and adjustments can be made.

How intelligently does your life work?

Where could you stand to work a little more?

Where could you stand to work a little less?

Where could you stand to pay a little more attention?