Reflections on “Suggestible” (Ditch skepticism, curiousity is more useful)

I had a conversation after Toastmasters this evening which had me thinking about the usefulness of persuasion and the power of positive thinking. As an academic I was taught to be skeptical. Skepticism was regarded the highest courtesy among my scientific peers. Tonight, after giving a speech which I intended to my audience to try out a service I was offering, my companion expressed nervousness over being inaccurately led to overcome pain or limitation. In this post I’m going to try to tackle this concern from two perspectives: from the “being misled” skeptic’s mentality and from a perspective of potential usefulness.

I certainly understand and share hesitation over a hard sell. When someone approaches me with a “purchase, or else” mentality I routinely take the “or else” option, sometimes even though I might have otherwise been interested. In this situation, though, we were talking about the potential for the free 3-4 minute movement lesson I taught to create false freedom from pain or inaccurate perception of increased mobility. I had fun exploring, fleshing out, and verbalizing my opinions on the subject. I hope this is useful to you, too!

The lesson I taught went as follows:

Please close your eyes. And notice how you are sitting in the chain right now. Notice the contact of your pelvis on the right side and on the left side. Notice where your spine is. Are you leaning into the chair, are you forward in your seat. Notice your head. If your eyes were opened would you be looking at the wall in front of you, at the floor below you, or at the ceiling above you. And place your left hand, specifically the top of your left hand, underneath your chin and support – just a little bit – the weight of your head with your left hand. And turn, slowly, using your left shoulder and your left arm, turn your head and your shoulder and twist in your spine a little bit, to look to the right. And then come back to the middle. And do this once more attending now to your pelvis in the chair, attending to your feet on the floor. What can you do, what can you twist, want can you turn, to make this movement so that it is not a turning sharply in your neck but a gentle easy twist through the whole length of your spine. And then come back to the middle. And we’ll do this just once more, this time take your eyes in the opposite direction. So as you twist to the right you’re going to take your eyes slowly and gentle to the left. Maybe think about following something, maybe a gecko, walk on the wall opposite you. So as you twist to the right you are watching this gecko walk slowly to the left, just a little bit! And then the gecko walks slowly back to the middle as you turn your head, and your chest, and your left arm to the middle. And then stop this. And let down your left arm. And rest in sitting, with your eyes closed still. And again notice the ease, the feeling you have in yourself. Do you feel easier in sitting now? Are you more aware of the contact of your spine with the back of the chair? The contact of your feet with the floor. The left side of your pelvis and the right side of your pelvis.

This is a directive movement lesson. I wanted participants to experience greater ease after the lesson is over. I invite them to feel more comfortable, more relaxed. My friend tonight was nervous though that she would experience these changes “inaccurately.”

If I were in a Spanish class and was told that my instructor wanted me to notice the difference between the sound of the word “ser” and the word “estar” that would be perfectly natural. My instructor is giving me two words which both mean “to be” and helping me to puzzle out the difference between these new sounds. However, if I am in an environment anywhere where someone is trying to persuade me of something, the instructor or salesperson wanting for me to create distinctions is what…? At least a reason for caution, often a reason to run for the hills. Why is this?

Back to my example of the evening. I asked participants to notice if they felt more easy, with the assumption that that was one of the possible outcomes. Why? Because when we are quiet, easy, and comfortable in ourselves our brains are primed for learning. We are literally more receptive. What this means is that neural pathways in the brain are more ready to spring into action, often in new and more efficient ways. My friend was skeptical that by my suggestion she might feel more comfortable. In academia I was taught that this might be a bad thing and that was what she believed. So in our conversation I explored this further. Say she feels more relaxed because I suggested it. She learns more because I said it was a possibility. Afterward she either leaves, goes home, and forgets all about it or (much more common among people I have worked with) she continues to experience small shifts, gets curious about them, and they magnify to become profound changes. I then took my extrapolation to athletes. An athlete is in pain, does some gentle movement, imagines that she feels easier, and thus learns to experience greater ease more often until she finally overcomes her injury. Or take a child with Autism. This child is – of course – suggestible. I can invite the child towards what I want: great communication and connect with his family and peers. By my belief and suggestion that such connection is valuable comes his interest in going towards such interactions. In my conversation tonight I then came back to myself. Five years ago I dislocated a vertebra in training for the circus. Medically speaking, I broke my neck. I haven’t been in pain in several years and have gone back to gymnastics in 2012. That said, am I suggestible towards pain? Yes! It would probably take me 10 minutes to put myself in an intense level of pain similar to what I experienced five years ago and I am sure I could do it. If I sat in a room with someone who told me to imagine my vertebra out of place and pain radiating down my spine, and if I did as this instructor suggested, I would end up hurting and probably remain in pain for several days thereafter. I am absolutely suggestible.

I understand my friend’s skepticism from the beginning of our conversation. I was trained to think that way, too. I do believe that profound curiosity is essential to the scientific process and skepticism is often used to reach a similar perspective. And I had delicious fun fleshing out my new beliefs about suggestibility tonight. I am absolutely suggestible. To a Spanish teacher helping me puzzle out the difference between two new words, for a child with Autism or a professional athlete, towards or away from anything that I want in my life I am suggestible and want to remain so! I have freedom from pain, enormous pleasure in my work and in my personal pursuits, and find myself happier ever day than ever before. I find deciding I’m going to live that way and persuading myself along the way to be the best route there is!

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