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There's an idea that's been in my head for the past few weeks, and… - John [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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[Apr. 25th, 2004|12:26 pm]
There's an idea that's been in my head for the past few weeks, and today I'm going to try to put it into words.

I'd been trying to think about how one controls once brain, and one's thoughts. A lot of people have "criticism tape recorders", that keep playing back the same criticizing messages over and over again.

(side note: there are times when I don't like the term "criticism" in this context, because criticism can be *good*... but I think everyone knows that I'm referring to the not-good kind here)

In a similar vein, I have attacks of bad memories coming back, and causing pretty nasty emotional responses. I also have ADD, which means that I have a hard time focusing on things, which includes the inability to dismiss certain things that have caught my attention.

(For anyone who hasn't heard this little speech from me before, ADD is really about having a problem with control of focus, rather than a problem with focus itself. A person with ADD can't control what he or she finds interesting, and thus can be distracted easily, or can get so pulled into something that it's nearly impossible to distract them from it. So, when a parent says that a child couldn't have ADD because the child can play video game for hours on end, that's not true. I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts the child has gotten into a state of hyper focus, and won't notice anything besides the video-game. Well, I'll make that bet if there are enough indicators of ADD already that the diagnosis should be seriously considered, but the parents are hesitating because "s/he *can* focus on video games (or whatever)..." )

What I've realized is not exactly something to do with learning to control one's mind, but is more about the idea of controlling one's mind.

There are a lot of fundamental things, very basic things, that truly can't be taught or communicated. They are too deep down, too personal, and too much the result of experience. You can't explain how you move your arm, for example. If a person is having difficulty moving their arm, they simply have to practice. A person may be able to inspire, or give good ideas to, another person but they can't teach "how to move the arm".

Controlling one's mind is very similar to this. There are ways to do it, but they're not ways that can easily be explained in English.

So, what it comes down to is that it's an individual skill that a person needs to learn, primarily by doing it.

There are some rules for learning skills like that.

First, you want to approach them as a sort of clean slate. You don't want to go in with preconceived expectations, because you're trying to learn something new.

That also means that you do not want to go in thinking that you should already be able to do that. That's like saying that you should be able to perform a complicated gymnastic maneuver, or a beautifully flowing martial arts kata, without having actually trained your body to do it.

And, note, training one's body is training one's mind as well. When it comes to doing something that require some level of precision, you're teaching your brain to send the right signals to your muscles.

OK, clean slate first ... Next, you want to be patient. When you're trying to learn a new skill of this form, you can't force it. You don't even know when it's going to be like when it's done, so trying to force it is foolishness.

Similarly, you want to be gentle with yourself. Well, there's two types of gentleness. A physical therapist can be gentle, in not causing unnecessary strain, or stress. But, the physical therapist will also push you, making you work at whatever physical task you're trying to recover, and so, will not be weak. Gentleness and weakness, are in no way the same thing.

So let's make that our fourth point. You'd need to use strength, which is different from force, and which is not the antithesis of gentleness, in trying to learn this.

I suppose a good fifth point would be that you want your mind to be at peace, as best as you can. You want to hear exactly what your brain is doing, you want to feel exactly what you're feeling, and you don't want anything external interfering with that.

I suppose the sixth point would simply be, keep practicing, and keep trying new things, so long as they seem to be bringing it closer. This, I suppose, is where a teacher would be most useful. Really, a better word would be "coach". It would help to have someone who can help you understand what ways have worked in the past, and what seems to be working, or seems to be not-working, for you.

I suppose I would have to turn this list upside down, or something, but I would say that the last point that I can think of is the most important one. You need to have faith the that you can do this. You need to understand that, even if you can never be perfect at this skill, you can probably get better than you are. And, you will never know what your limits are, until you've actually hit up against them.

PS: Anyone who feels that this is 'kinda neat' or 'interesting' or whatever, well, I always welcome comments on *anything* I write that strikes you that way. Today, it might be especially helpful for reasons I won't go into, because I hope to put them in the past tense.

[User Picture]From: juliansinger
2004-04-25 10:15 pm (UTC)
That also means that you do not want to go in thinking that you should already be able to do that. That's like saying that you should be able to perform a complicated gymnastic maneuver, or a beautifully flowing martial arts kata, without having actually trained your body to do it.

This is one of my major things I trip over. Because I'm so eager to be unkind to myself, I always wonder why I don't /know it/ already.


Good stuff. Thanks.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2004-04-28 06:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you for letting me know you liked it...

It's really hard for me to remember how things have to be slowly developed and ingrained... but I had a potent reminder when I tried to shoot an arrow for the first time in some 30 years, and realized that I had no idea how to aim, despite having thought I knew. The muscles didn't remember, and neither did the brain (nb: I'd only shot arrows in cub scouts and boy scouts; I was never any *good*, but I kinda-knew what I was doing). So, why should I feel bad if I have a hard time draining out excess anxiety, say, when I know damn well I could *never* do that, not even at the "ungifted amatuer" level?

If I berated someone else with so little experience for being that unskilled, I'd be a total asshole... so why be an asshole to myself?
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[User Picture]From: siliconshaman
2004-04-26 07:39 am (UTC)
Hmm that little list pretty much encapsulates any sort of self-development really. And is the most succinct way of putting it I've seen so far [in quite some time].

You are quite right about the harsh-critic tape recorders, we all have them to some degree I suspect.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2004-04-28 06:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks; it's applying to my magic work first and foremost, right now. I'm having a hard time because many writings aren't geared for ADHDers, and it's hard to tell when I should keep practicing to focus better on an exercise, and when I should say "that won't work for me; it requires something I can't do".

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[User Picture]From: kightp
2004-04-28 11:57 pm (UTC)
What you're describing here - the process - is the same thing that appeals to me about some Eastern spiritual traditions: The concept of "practice," in the sense of the old joke about "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" ("Practice, practice, practice.")

That sense of repetitive, intentional doing, beyond just thinking or studying, makes intuitive sense to me. It's how I learn mundane things (new software, for instance, or knitting), so why shouldn't it work for internal skills, too?

So, yeah, I do think this is "kinda neat" and interesting, not to mention insightful. I'd enjoy talking about it with you, if you're in the mood.

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[User Picture]From: eleccham
2004-05-02 03:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you, again... somehow, you seem to have a talent for putting those concepts into words which I have something of a grasp on but could never manage to verbalize if I tried.

The "self-criticism tape recorder" is definitely something I have a problem with; it's what I was talking about in this entry. It was interesting, in that case, to watch it "in action", as it were, and still not particularly be able to stop it. (It did actually help, though - that, and being able to talk through it with everyone and my psychologist; I don't think this one is going to get stuck on the "endless playback loop" in the future, as you describe.)
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