How do you get to where you’re going if all you know is where you’ve been? Imagine walking up to a forest and there’s a clear path in front of you. Our natural inclination is to take it. But if you’re stuck – with physical pain, anxiety, or whatever else – you know where that path leads. Yet most of us go down it any way, repeating the same way of moving, behaving, and believing. So how do we go off the path and forge a new one?

There are always options, we don’t have to take the path we’ve already been down. © Seth Oberst 2016

Our bodies (which includes the brain) are dynamic systems which is to say that we self-organize around predictable and stable sets of behaviors.

For instance, if I go back down that path of tension, gripping, and pain I know what I’m going to get, more of the same.

We crave stability so much that these dominant behaviors will persist even if they’re no longer helping us. Holding our breath, clenching our jaw, looking down at the floor when we walk are all examples.

So in order to find a new way of moving and being – to get out from under the weight of our compulsions and habits – we have to start clearing a new trail.

And this takes some work.

It means we can’t just think our way thru it because if we use our past experiences to predict our future outcomes we will do what we already know how to do: tense our muscles up and hold our breath. 

DYI – A few ways to clear a new path of movement and behavior

1) Work on your attention — breath pacing is a great way to do so. Do not withdraw from your natural body functions and rely on your habitual mode of doing to run the show. How can you clear a new path if you’re so distracted looking over at the old familiar one? 
Practice exhaling slowly and pausing – how long can you pay attention to your sensations before the urge to breathe takes over or your attention wanders?

2) Be consistent but curious — try new ways of doing. Anything that is not the old way of moving works. Get on the floor or a new surface or a new environment and play around with different movements. Before you know it, you aren’t so stiff and painful. You are re-organizing in real-time.

Keep working on clearing a new trail until – bam! you’ve reached the other side and didn’t even know that this other side was possible (that’s called a phase shift, by the way, for the nerds reading this).

“Just as many systems cooperate to produce stable patterns, so many systems may be available to disrupt those that have become too rigid and maladaptive.”

Esther Thelen, PhD

​- Seth
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