Impulsivity, masking as spontaneity, has been the cause of many woes, including a propensity to drink. Having grown up on the bread line, so to speak, I rushed into adulthood, gratifying my urges left, right and centre, and I indulged on whatever I felt had missed out on as a child. I justified my indulgent behaviour as 'permitting myself to be spontaneous', based on the fact that spontaneity was one of my core values. The end gain of my spontaneous decision was always the reward of satisfaction, which perpetuated the behaviour and turned it into a lifestyle that I deeply identified with, and in which I had pride.
Around the time that I was rushing into adulthood, I was also training as a dancer. My teachers at the time introduced me to the Alexander Technique (AT). As a young student who just wanted to kick his legs up and impress people, I didn't have the wherewithal to appreciate the power of subtlety that came with AT. I had decided ahead of time that AT was 'thinking stuff' and that it wasn't for high-kicking dancers like me. It took thousands of pounds worth of coach training, an MA research dissertation in psycho-physical practices, and a very generous boyfriend, to draw me toward the idea that AT was life-altering. And it is.
And so it was that F. Matthias Alexander posthumously introduced me to Inhibition; A practice of correcting the physical body by preventing (inhibiting) an incorrect movement pattern from being executed. The technique appeals to my rebellious spirit because when the AT instructor issues a direction, I am supposed to respond by doing nothing. The teacher then uses hands-on instruction to guide the correct physical movement. The premise of the work is that the process of Inhibition interrupts the person's habitual movement patterns, and a correct healthier one is left in its place. In other words, the work is applied to the psycho-physical body or, the self-image. There is a requirement of deep awareness in AT, one needs to be paying close attention to one's thoughts and the sensations that are experienced, but the payoff for the investment of attention is profound.
As I learned more about AT, I made more and more connections and link-ups with the practice of life coaching. I started to apply the concept of Inhibition to any mental blocks and disruptive behaviours that I had been uncovering through my journaling exercises. Over-drinking was one such behaviour. My friends know me for 'enjoying a drink', and as I said before I identified with the party life. Still, the self-development work I was doing around burnout, kept telling me that the hedonistic lifestyle wasn't serving me. Then one day, whilst drinking, I injured myself quite badly. It's an embarrassing and hurtfully amusing story that I will save for another blog. The bottom line is that I ended up needing surgery. Surgery, of course, meant time off work and time away from what I love doing. And I decided it was time to inhibit this behaviour.
Inhibiting social behaviour is not dissimilar to interrupting the physical, postural behaviours as in AT. However, I had to be my own instructor in this. The process was about bringing acute awareness to the behaviour I was exhibiting and interrupting (inhibiting) them at the decision point. What I noticed, and it seems obvious now, is that the physical action satisfies the urge. The urge, in turn, was created by my the way I was thinking. So I started to interrupt myself at the urge stage ahead of the decision to drink, wondering what might happen if I didn't play along with the habit?
I practiced feeling the urge and paying close attention to it. I used many questions; What is it about? What is the essence of it? And Why is it here? This then turned into a practice of wanting, and I started to realise that it's actually ok to want something and not have the desire satiated. I found that inhibiting my actions could be enjoyable, there was something pleasurable in the anticipation, and I enjoyed being in the place of unsatisfied desire. I noticed that many of us are in a real rush to possess things, to achieve instant gratification, and fulfilment of desire despite there being equal, if not greater, satisfaction available to us in the gap between the wanting and the having.
I realised that what at first I called spontaneity, and later accepted as impulsiveness, was, in fact, compulsive behaviour and in the end, reducing my alcohol intake was the easy part. The challenge was in realising that I had so many other compulsive behaviours that included overworking, overspending, overeating and identifying as a course-junkie. I was over-consuming many things, not taking any time to appreciate them. I was consuming from a place of scarcity, from a place of 'never enough' and this lack mindset turned out to be the root cause of my burnout. Yes, burnout is not really about how much we do, but the mentality in which we do it.