Friday, April 15, 2011

Change for the Better -- In 3 Steps

Change happens to us. Sometimes change happens through us. Occasionally, we stop in the midst of change and direct it for our own purposes. Many of my clients are frustrated with changes that are happening to them. While most people hope the cause of their affliction will stop, life doesn't always work that way. What does work is to follow a process for transformation. I recently learned that this process has a name, Maslow's Four Stages of Learning.

Everyone stands dozens of times a day with little or no awareness of their posture. When we do an assessment in a structural integration session, most people are surprised to find that their toes and knees don't face forward, their pelvis is not level and, most commonly, the hips are forward of the ankles so the low back sways to counterbalance. That is an opportunity to move from the first stage of learning, Unconscious Incompetence, to the second, Conscious Incompetence.

Being aware of the problem is the first step toward having control over change and leads naturally to the third step. Conscious Competence is the ability, with awareness and concentration, to put a new skill into place, such as lining up feet and knees, dropping the pelvis to level, and bringing the hips back and chest forward. People are pleased to gain tools that give them some control over their symptoms, such as standing or sitting in alignment, using the core to protect the low back, or adding fluid movements to counteract repetitive motions. But these new behaviors take time to develop and the body-mind reverts easily to the unconscious pattern that created the problem in the first place. A client told me of a conversation overhead in her physical therapist's office of another patient who was discussing his shoulder problem. He was frustrated when he frequently fell back into old movement patterns that exacerbated his shoulder injury. This is true for everyone in this stage.

After the elation of the first couple of sessions, most clients want to know, "When will my new posture become automatic?" It takes much practice in the Conscious Competence phase to get to the fourth, Unconscious Competence. Repetition is necessary and reminders are helpful, one reason why I give the little movement homework handouts at the end of most sessions. For myself, I also use sticky notes, like "Sit Bones" on the computer or "Balance" on the bathroom mirror.

Most powerful of all is to demonstrate and explain the new skill to someone else. I implore clients to teach their children how to sit in alignment, to help their kids and to strengthen their own kids and to strengthen their own competence. Eventually, one will notice that they are in alignment without any effort - a cause for celebration! Then it happens more often. The old patterns return sometimes and that's OK, because we have the tools to bring about change for the better.

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