Ban Useless Effort


Dr. Feldenkrais once said that the point of his work was to bring about awareness in action. Just like my grandfather who said all things in moderation, but especially sugar and debt, Dr. Feldenkrais said many things about his method but he especially emphasized this so it's worth paying attention to. 

He goes on to say that awareness in action is the ability to make contact with your muscles, your skeleton, and the environment all at the same time.

The aim is not complete relaxation but healthy, powerful, easy and pleasurable exertion. The reduction of tension is necessary because efficient movement should be effortless. Inefficiency is sensed as effort and prevents doing more and better. The gradual reduction of useless effort is necessary in order to increase kinesthetic sensitivity, without which a person cannot become self regulating.

What does that even mean? It means we are all trapped by our compulsive, inefficient behaviors and we can't stop doing the things we are compulsive about until we reduce unnecessary effort. And only when we sense how we're uselessly efforting can we even begin to allow ourselves to stop.

A simple example: Let's say your parents always told you to stand up straight but the way you found to do that is incredibly painful. How long before you stop doing it and find another way? How long before you allow yourself the option of not being compulsive about it? How long before you start listening to yourself and not to someone outside of yourself?

Without playing the dramatic card too heavily, I have always found this aspect of Dr. Feldenkrais's work to be a beam of hope when I felt most trapped by old patterns. There is a way off of the sticky spot of my compulsive, effortful behavior and it lies on the floor, increasing kinesthetic sensitivity.

Obviously, if we reduce useless effort we will be more effective in carrying out our intentions. This is true for all things, at work, in relationships, or in cleaning the house. So it goes with our movement: we can intend to do one thing and end up doing a plethora of unhelpful actions that at worst cut across our trajectory and at best do not contribute to it.

The problem is that useless effort is often compulsive. Why would we choose to tense the jaw with stress, crinkle the forehead with worry, or grip the steering wheel with anxiety if we could help it? In fact, a great deal of physical pain comes from what we call in the business cross motivation. It also happens when we fully intend to do a grown-up, positive thing and find we are engaged in an old, negative, inhibiting pattern. Not surprisingly, pain ensues from these kinds of cross-motivations.

When we learn to ditch the useless effort by increasing kinesthetic sensitivity we can reduce the compulsion. Less encumbered, we can carry out our wishes, desires, and dreams. That is self-regulation.