From Preference to Skill

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It’s a miracle that I never threw my computer out the window when I was building my web site. Not a Mother Theresa kind of miracle, but a miracle nonetheless.

All I needed was a simple site where I could tell people about my teaching and events, showcase my writing and art and maybe, if I wanted to get fancy, take payments for my work. The site-building platform ad said “the simplest way to create a beautiful website.” Simple and beautiful was what I wanted. The ad said I could have a site up in 15 minutes. I’m not a dimwit. I am well aware that I’m a not-tech-savvy middle-aged artist. I figured it would take me 45 minutes. Maybe 50.

It took me weeks. Weeks and weeks. I watched dozens of tutorial videos starring hip groovy people younger than my step kids. I looked at pages and pages of templates. I had an intimate relationship with the help desk. (Those poor people must have seen my facile messages come in and arm wrestled for who had to respond to me. They were always kind and cheerful, bless them.)

I didn’t want to build a web site. I would have preferred to hire someone to build it for me. But my business is small and not only did I not want to spend the money on a designer, I wanted to have the flexibility to make changes and additions on my own.

It took me weeks and weeks to build my site. I swore a lot. And more than once I really really wanted to throw my computer out the window. But I didn’t. And now I have a simple site where I tell people about my teaching and events, showcase my writing and art, and it even takes payments.


Here’s how I like to do Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana): I like to put my elbow on my bent leg and extend my top arm over my head. Annoyingly, my teacher Kelly often has us do the pose differently. Sometimes, she’ll have us “cactus” the top arm so the shoulder blade draws toward the spine, opening the chest. Sometimes, she has us lift the bottom arm so it’s parallel with the top one to build core and side-body strength. I hate it when she does that.

Here’s what she says when I make grumpy faces at her: “Move into skill by moving away from preference.”


In his fascinating book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg says that 40-45% of what we do every day is habit. Many of those things feel like decisions, but they are actually deeply ingrained unconscious patterns.

Habits are the brain’s way of being more efficient and saving energy. But if we want to keep our brains and bodies strong and robust, we have to be willing to recognize and break habits. Or as Kelly says, we have to be willing to move into skill by moving away from preference.

Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author, essayist and poet, Dr. Norman Doidge explains in his book, The Brain that Changes Itself that

…just doing the dances you learned years ago won’t help your brain’s motor cortex stay in shape. To keep the mind alive requires learning something truly new with intense focus. That is what will allow you to both lay down new memories and have a system that can easily access and preserve the older ones. (p. 88)

This is why mindful, attentive movement is more beneficial to the whole body-mind system than mindlessly watching TV or texting while on the treadmill. It’s not just the muscles of the body we want to keep strong and healthy but the “muscles” of the mind/body system.

Feldenkrais, one of the foundational movement forms of The Nia Technique focuses on moving out of habit and preference and into a wider range of possibility. By paying attention to the details of how we do what we do, we can recognize parts of the self that are not moving, efforting unnecessarily, or are out of awareness. As the brain recognizes additional possibilities, the new information is organized and distributed through the whole body leading to overall improvement of ease in the nervous system. Practicing mindful movement like yoga, Feldenkrais and Nia helps us live more fully, comfortably, and effectively by expanding the repertoire of possible ideas, options, and movements.

Paradoxically, moving away from preference (and perhaps through some uncomfortable computer-throwing moments) not only moves us into skill but into greater health and ease. Move into skill by moving away from preference.
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