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What Colour is Your Clockwork?

GrandfathersClockThere were me, that is Ulf, and my friend Christian sitting in that restaurant near Basel, having lunch together and talking about behavioral change, something easy like changing a habit of oneself in a flash, pwah…  e.g. changing the habit of lifting things off the floor with ease and style as opposed to bend over and behave “old”…

We were exchanging our impressions that behavior sometimes seems even robotic and that we also encounter difficulties ourselves in dealing with habit and change. And the impressions when looking at politics in this context are really not suited to calm down our… concerns

I like to use a bar graph to show the relationship between stimulus and response in this way:


This representation is quite appropriate when we talk about our habitual reponse to anything. Considering the immediacy of most of our reponse to any stimulus, the sudden transitioning of stimulus into the repsonse side of the diagramm is representing quite well our habitual conditioning. In that sense we might even speak of our behavior being “robotic”.

We have yet to learn how we could establish a space between stimulus and response and exercise our freedom to choose our response. In other words though we theoretically have the freedom to choose our response, we practically never claim this freedom. We certainly didn’t learn it at school.

The Marshmallow Test

You may have heard of the Marshmallow Test. Daniel Goleman brought it to my attention only in the nineties, but actually it was first performed in my childhood in the sixties (at Stanford University). The test serves to demonstrate our ability (or the lack thereof) to delay gratification and it has even some predictive value for later “success” in life. When looking out into the world it looks to me like we are eating more Marshmallows than we produce! We want to have the result, and we want to have it right now. If you reason it out, striving for immediate gratification makes only for robotic behavior. Old fashioned marketing would like that because it counts on conditioning “reflexes”, creating habits and automated behavior.

S&R&WedgeBut the question is critical: How can we drive a wedge, so to speak, between the two halves of the bar diagramm, between stimulus and response?

Frederick Matthias Alexander was passionate about this issue. On educating the children (remember that we all are a children, simply having had a couple of additional brthdays?) he maintained: “Give a child the ability to adapt himself within reasonable limits to his environment, and he will not suffer discomfort, nor develop bad physical habits” [… By using time, thought, and creativity] we may train the child to win its own conscious control, and rise superior to any probable limitations imposed by ordinary school fittings. For the problem to be solved in education is that same problem which needs solution in the social, political, religious, industrial, economic, ethical, aesthetic, and other spheres of […] progressive human activity. ( in “Man’s Supreme Inheritance” 1910 / 1946 Ed.)

F.M. Alexander was so spot on that I wonder why he wrote such a brand new idea already 100 years ago?
In response to this idea my friend Christian came up with his wonderful image of

Taking apart the Clockwork

Out of mere interest, years ago Christian took apart one of those grandfather clocks where weights on a string or chain actually make the clock hand move forward.
After having mounted it together again, he should have put back the pallet lever (In German called “Anker”).

Pallet-LeverThe pallet lever is an integral component of a mechanical watch. Its purpose is to release the escape wheel one tooth at a time, at each swing of the pendulum.
The lever is shaped like a ‘T’, and is pivoted in the center; in operation it rocks back and forth. On the arms of the ‘T’ are angled surfaces (pallets) which alternately engage the teeth of the escape wheel, hence pallet lever.

But he forgot and by having forgotten this minor detail, the clock hands now were rushing through the minutes and hours, moved by the weights that continually and rapiidly were moving down till they reached the floor.

And this equivalent reminded him of the importance of taking the time to reflect and plan our actions, how we want them to be and how we need to shape them to increase the likeliness of a desirable outcome.

The impact is far reaching, I mean faaaaar reaching:

In his book “Blue Zones” (a book written about people having become older than 100 years and still leading an active lifestyle and participating fully in life) Dan Buettner points out that for becoming a centenarian there does not exist a magic bullet, but a confluence of healthy practices. And in this book he quotes a Sardinian centenarian, Raffella Monne, : “Life is short. Don’t run so fast you miss it.”
Another great point Christian’s metaphor alludes to.

Re-claiming your very own space of freedom between stimulus and response is critical and can only be done by something that Alexander tackles in his groundbreaking work.


A cautious estimate on the effects of changing our lifestyle – which essentially means changing habits – means adding easily another 10 years to our life expectancy, compared to pursuing an average western life style.

Growing older is inevitable for all of us, but how we will be growing old (and frail) is in good part a matter of our choices — or: the way our decline unfolds is up to us.
Dan Buettner (and the demographers and medical scientists he accompanied) make the compelling case that we can live a shorter life with more years of disability (an idea that public health tracks down with the concept of QUALY – the Quality Adjusted Life Years and that basically measures the disease burden of a group of people.) Or we can live the longest human life possible with fewest bad years possible. That requires our creativity and in the end our mental discipline to carry decisions for adapting and implementing healthier life habits.

Like Pogo, Walt Kely’s porcupine character, says to Porky: “Yep son, we’ve met the enemy, and he is us”

Becoming Your Own Best Friend

Are you ready to take this a step further, towards a healthier life and would you like to see how applying it to your life looks like?

Commit to action on creating better habits. If improving movements seems a feasable way to get hooked on this, then I have a thrilling offer to make: click on this link  and participate in my prize draw that by the end of this month, in a couple of days, comes to an end.
I  can offer this programme throughout Switzerland and in the Greater London Area. So when you are geographically in this area (or you are in another place, but you don’t mind to travel to Zurich or London) you are very welcome to participate. And if the July prize draw has gone you can click  here to find the prorgramme to  get you started – your Personal Refrresh Button Programme. I’ld be thrilled to see you on the other side.

Let’s get you started, don’t stay your own best enemy but become your own best friend.

See you in a fortnight again

  • Ulf
  • Updated 4 years ago

Giving Space…Yourself and Others

Reasoning as a Source for Guidance

The use of reasoning as a means for getting along in life is something I like very much. I mean developing the discipline to think things through sequentially makes a lot of sense to me. And sometimes I am up the walls, when people just don’t seem to use their brains.

What I mean by sequential thinking is that very often in life there are things that have to come first before you do something else. It is so obvious that you can’t pour the tea in your cup when you still have to take your cup out of the cupboard and put it on the table or counter. It is so obvious. But in other matters we sometimes seem to believe in woo-woo. As if things would ever manifest by themselves just because we already have wished them to be so.

When Emotions are High…

My partner and me were having disputes and discussions some days ago, and in the course of events I asked her to bring me that jug of water from the living room, please. “Yes“ she answered and when she did, she distracted herself from completing that task, went first on to do „quickly“ something else before then finishing that task, hurrying to bring me the jug, bumping into the door frame, hurting herselfmaybe good for surfing but… very insecure water – all of which was unnecessary. And I was bitching to myself, that she would not have bumped into that door at all if only she simply completed that task straight forwardly. It was upsetting and hurtful at the same time to see this happening and seeing her bumping into the door frame.

My Motorboat…

And I then changed my attitude, because to expect from my partner to act reasonably was – at that point in time – just inappropriate. I had to admit to myself that reasoning may be a great tool, but before starting to act in a reasonable manner, we have to become able to access our reasoning. Me too. And it makes sense to me that we do not and maybe cannot access it all of the time. That key step, that transitioning moment, accessing some X-factor that enables us to start using our reasoning is something that I yet have to discover. Or maybe we can use it increasingly more often – like training or educating ourselves towards that?

What I reverted to, at the time of the event above was the only thing that I could imagine doing – i.e. expressing my love for her – as I do love her. But… (and the motorboat went on and on in my head: but but but but but but but but .…)

In Communication with Our Reason

I really like this sentence where Frederick Matthias Alexander defines what makes it special to being human. In the human realm  “… its members are in communication with their reason“. I love this wording – to be in communication with – and it is not  the other person first – but we, I as much as anybody else, need to communicate with our faculty of reasoning first, before interacting with others; and more generally speaking before interacting with the outside world. This rings true for me and it hurts me when I see that reasoning is not the primary source of guidance. It does not seem to be the prevailing one.

offering Flowers…… and Space

We all need to find the time and the space to make that switch in order to become able to start reasoning. Somehow it is sad for me to admit this, but at the same time it is a good thing because it forces me to act with more humility and kindness towards my partner and towards others in general.

There is another side remark of F. M. Alexander in his chapter «Incorrect Conception» in his second book where he states, that “it is absurd to try to teach a person who is in a more or less agitated or even anxious condition. We must have that calm condition which is characteristic of a person whose reasoning processes are operative.“ For a moment let’s not get hung up on the fact that the situation I described was not in a teaching context, though Alexander refers in his statement to such a context. But even Alexander says half a page before that statement that he himself may make shipwreck against this kind of rock when encountering it in a teaching context.

How Do You Handle Situations like these?

I believe this is not a problem that only I experience, but we all are confronting this issue from time to time, every now and again and I am genuinely interested how you handle these moments. What “techniques” do you use to find a “calm condition”? I guess you all do have similar experiences. What solutions have you found? I’ld love to hear from you, how you deal with this question and how you act in a similar situations. Share your ideas here! Comments will be moderated in person.

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  • Ulf
  • Updated 4 years ago