In my teaching room, I have a cupboard. It has two main uses. Firstly, it stows my computer away out of sight. This is its practical use. But it has a far more important function than that.
It stores all of my students’ sticks.
Sticks? I hear you ask.
Yes, sticks. The sticks they beat themselves up with.
Obviously I don’t mean actual physical sticks. I’m talking about something far more insidious, though just as damaging. I am talking about the things that people believe about themselves and say to me during their lessons.
“I have such terrible posture.”
“I sit really badly.”
“My right leg is okay. But my left leg is really bad.”
“I know that my walking isn’t good, but there’s nothing I can do to make it better.”
“If my furniture at work was better, I wouldn’t have this neck pain.”
Why these statements are sticks
1. They are examples of what I was talking about last week: they are examples of thinking that is stuck in a groove. They are conclusions masquerading as statements of fact, and the reasoning on which those conclusions are based has long been forgotten. The assumptions are hidden. And hidden assumptions are dangerous!
2. They are conclusions that assume that improvement is impossible. When someone says “I have terrible posture,” typically the unstated ending to the sentence is something like “and it can’t change.” And the student sincerely believes this, because so far they haven’t been able to change what is bothering them. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t change.
3. Because these statements assume that change is impossible, they are a means of abdicating self-responsibility. Think about it. If something can’t change, the how much responsibility do we need to take for changing it? None! Instead, we claim the apparently unchangeable behaviour and use it to make ourselves feel bad.
Give up the stick!
This is what I tell my students. I fact, I hold out my hand and require them to give them up! Here is why.
1. Change is possible.
2. Change begins by owning up to the things that we do to ourselves. Or as FM Alexander would put it, we need to “acknowledge in fact that [we] suffer from mental delusions regarding [our] physical acts.” *
3. Doing this is not an admission of failure. It is an admission of power. As soon as we stop beating ourselves up and own up to the unnecessary muscular activity we are doing to ourselves, we have gained power over it. We are no longer slaves to discomfort. We have, in fact, taken the first major step to mastering it.
So give up your sticks. Send them to me – write them down in the comments and leave them there. And then you’ll have taken a leap away from discomfort and towards everyday happiness.
* FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.59.
Image by Mati Martek, stock.xchng