In our brain are many possibilities – some are binary, yes/no and on/off.
When we are wanting to change something, like a habit or a pattern of behaviour, we need effective access to this binary system.
When you want to change your reactivity to a stimulus and have some choice in how you might respond, this requires you to access a real No, or a full stop. This needs some practice.
Say you have a liking for buying more shoes than you can afford. You have set a budget, and pre-decided you aren’t going to buy any this month, and yet you spot the most amazing pair of shoes in the window and your impulse is to have them! You go into the shop, try them on, Wow they are amazing, so you go to pay, get out your credit card and wait in the queue, you have a chance to PAUSE.
During this pause, you remember your decision not to buy any shoes this month. You might start having an inner conversation about the pros/cons and why these shoes are special/different/essential. You remember you don’t have the money, but think you can pay off the credit card anyway because you’re worth it. You are at the front of the queue, you feel the pressure of people watching you, you un-pause, pay and go home with your new shoes.
And thats OK, if that is a genuine choice. You are an adult, you get to choose.
However, unless you can have a true No, you don’t get a real Yes.
Lets re-run this scene and see what happens when we put in a No and Stop.
You spot the most amazing pair of shoes in the window and your impulse is to have them! Stop. Say No. (At this point its necessary to return to your full stature by shifting your attention to yourself, encouraging yourself to decompress and release from the grip of what you see and desire. This desire has a physical impact on you, and you can choose to start letting it go. To feel the feelings without acting on them.)
At this point, you may stand and admire the shoes in the window, then walk away, leaving them in the shop.
Or… Your desire is still strong, you walk into the shop, just to see if they have them in your size, to hold them, to just try them on. Stop. Say No. Come back to yourself – decompress and release.
Now you have a choice – you can leave the shop, or carry on and try the shoes on. And so goes the process. you try them on and love them. Stop. Say No. Decompress and release. And if you can genuinely leave the shoes in the shop without paying for them, even when you get to the counter, then you are really choosing.
The difference between Pause and Stop is that with Pause you go on and do it anyway. With Stop, you can genuinely say No at anytime. Therefore, if you choose to say Yes, its genuine too.
During my clutter clearing yesterday, I came across this ancient artefact. Do you all know what it is?
Yes a Sony Walkman portable cassette tape player (other makes are available).
When you press Play, the tape plays. When you press Pause, it momentarily stops playing, BUT… and this is an important BUT, when you take your finger off the Pause – it carries on playing. So nothing fundamentally has changed. The habit continues. The reactivity to an impulse is just as it was before, only momentarily interrupted.
Now you press Play and the tape plays and you press Stop. Now what happens? It all stops. Now you have real choice. You can Fast Forward, Reverse, Play – or walk away in silence.
The power of Stopping is the power to say No, mean it, and carry on that new pathway. This starts in the brain, the body follows.
Lucy Ascham is an Alexander Technique Teacher who loves to share the powerful wonders of this work to empower people to make real choices, mind and body.
(For anyone with an eagle-eye for detail, you may notice this particular Walkman doesn’t have a separate pause button, you need to press Play to pause and Play to play. Exactly.)