pattern practice

Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash

unpolished thoughts 3/27/2019

You work hard.

How’s that working for you?

The habit of working hard would seem to be a good habit. Isn’t that what culture taught us?

“Work hard. Get ahead.”

But sometimes there is an obvious disconnect between the two. You work hard, but don’t seem to advance.

For a while, you just blunder along insanely (as so many of us do), hoping that more of the same will produce something new. But then you realize something is wrong. You know you can’t continue like this.

What will you do instead?

Because – in classic fashion – there is still a part of you that can’t fathom how to step outside of the stream of the momentum of everything you’ve always done up until now.

It might be hard to keep this up, but it feels even harder to give it up.

Something I find useful for making a change is to only look at one tiny slice of the thing I’m doing – the way we begin.

What is the very smallest recognizable motion that you can still recognize as the beginning of an action?

You can observe just this little slice of experience and discover all kinds of things that you didn’t realize were part of what you were doing. Once you become aware of all these variables, you can play with them, changing not only that little moment, but the overall experience of the action when it is fully expressed.

Keep reading and I’ll lead you through a simple process based on this idea.

But before you try it, keep in mind that it will only be useful if you understand that what you are doing is an experiment – not an exercise.

That’s important because moving with curiosity leads to insight, while moving mechanically might just lead to neck pain.

In fact, moving mechanically – and the entire experience of working too hard for a less-than-satisfactory result – is exactly the thing you are trying to leave behind here.

Make sense? OK, here ya go:

Sit in a chair and turn to look over your shoulder many times. Take your time and pause between movements. If you pay close attention, you will notice many things.

Go through the list below, making one or two gentle movements for each question. Stay within an easy range of movement and don’t try to “correct” anything as you go.

(It should take you at least 2-3 minutes to get to the bottom of the list if you are engage with the kind of the quality of attention that will make this experiment useful to you.)

  • Am I breathing?
  • Do I move on the inhale or the exhale?
  • What is the path my nose travels through space?
  • What is the path that the back of my head travels through space?
  • Does one ear go higher than the other?
  • What do my eyes do?
  • What do I feel on the left side of my neck?
  • What do I feel on the right side of my neck?
  • Can I feel a movement of my shoulder blades?
  • What do I do with my breast bone?
  • What do I feel in each side of my ribs?
  • Where do I shift my weight on the bottom of my pelvis?
  • Does my left knee move – and, if so, in what direction?
  • What about my right knee?
  • Does the pressure between my feet and floor change as I move – and, if so, how?

By the time you have repeated the movement enough times to answer all these questions, it’s likely that the way it feels has already changed.

It’s also likely the the image of this movement – the picture of what you are doing in your head – has changed as well. By noticing how each of these individual places participate, you likely now have a much clearer idea of how your entire body makes the movement.

In order to take your understanding to the next level, your next step is to find out how small can you make this movement and still answer all the questions above?

In other words, if you felt one side of your neck contract when you turned your head, can you feel that contraction if you only turn your head an inch?

What if you only turn it a half an inch?

What if you only turn it a millimeter?

What’s the smallest movement you can make and still notice the same patterns you have already identified (in terms of the participation of your shoulders, your breast bone, your knees, your feet, etc.)?

What is especially potent about this process is that if the larger version of this movement causes you any discomfort or difficulty, you can make modifications that could make things easier at this microscopic level where, generally speaking, you are likely to feel safer and more sensitive to small details.

A very good place to start would be to ask yourself a few more key questions, and find the answers by experimenting in movement, safely and with attention:

– As I turn to look behind me, do I get shorter or taller?
– What is the smallest movement I can make to feel clearly if my head rises or falls?
– If I’m shortening, where inside myself do I feel that shortening occur?
– How can I move so that I feel myself getting taller from the very first moment?

Whenever you feel yourself shortening, stop right there – you’ve already found the place where you need to make a change.

(Going further is actually a bit insane. You won’t learn anything except how to continue being frustrated by the results of your efforts.)

If you want to continue experimenting, keep repeating the smallest, possible movements, but now introduce new variations. For example, perhaps try changing the direction where you shift your weight on your pelvis or do something different with your eyes.

Don’t make the movement bigger, but give yourself a different experience of how the movement begins.

You can even disappear all visible movements and work in the imagination, playing with different ways of mentally rehearsing the action. Even here, change can take place.

In fact, the further you move away from the moment of initiation in the direction of your end range, the more difficult it becomes to change your course of action.

When you are working too hard for an insufficient outcome, and then try to solve your problem by working harder, this is exactly what you are doing.

You aren’t actually changing anything useful by adding more force. More effort might solve an immediate problem in some instances, but over time it will chew you up.

It’s much more potent to start by asking yourself detailed questions about the overall direction of your trajectory. Then you’ll know whether or not it makes sense to turn up the volume on your efforts.

Your strength is a gift, but it works against you when you apply it in a direction that doesn’t lead you directly towards your goals.

Instead, what would it look like if your actions were in perfect alignment with your intentions?

How could you imagine that from the very beginning?

(By the way, you can try this experiment in your thinking as well as in your physical movement.

Can you imagine that, too?)


Would you like me to lead you step-by-step through a process of identifying your personal movement patterns in order to create the possibility of shifting them to a more comfortable place?

I recently created a 5-part video training for movement teachers that makes it simple, but I later realized that this process could help anyone.

I’m planning to create a new and expanded program, but you can experience this training right now at a fraction of it’s value.

Interested? Click here.


Want to dive even deeper into understanding your patterns and how to shift them?

That’s what my 2019 online program ¡Reimagine Yourself! is all about: 

How to make your movement practice into a vehicle for rewriting the story of how you move through the world.

Module 1, “Tapping Deep Body Wisdom” starts today Monday, March 25.

(But if you don’t make the first class, you will still get the recording and can easily catch up!)

To learn more about ¡Reimagine Yourself!, click here


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