The Paradox of Gripping Tightly

Imagine this scenario.  You’re doing something, and you find yourself tensing really hard. A little investigation decides it’s nothing to do with any specific activity; it’s more of a general, underlying behaviour trait.  Sounds familiar?

It happens to Alexander students a lot.  There are some favourite underlying causes.  And one of the big ones is the need for control.

So how do you define control?   Not ‘how does one’ or ‘how does the dictionary’ but ‘how do YOU’?

Well, if you are over-tensing in order to achieve it, your definition probably runs along the lines of ‘a tight grip’, or maybe ‘a good hold on things’.  And being pretty determined, you will be gripping tightly.  Really tightly.  In fact, in order to make sure you’ve got a tight grip, you’ve probably turned on every single muscle in that part of your body to its absolute maximum.

This has consequences.  On the plus side, your grip is indeed tight.  You feel secure and solid.  On the negative side, you’ve just thrown all chance of speed, subtlety, accuracy and adaptability out of the window.  Think of it like this.  You’re typing at a keyboard.  Got that?  Now put on a pair of thick sheepskin mittens.  Not gloves, mittens, like the ones in the picture.  Now type.

33 gripping pic1

Going well?   I didn’t think so.  You can’t separate out the components (in this case, fingers) that need to work separately.   Small movements don’t register, it’s hard to bend the joints, and you can’t really feel what’s happening.   It’s a good model for what happens when you turn on all those unnecessary muscles.  A high price to pay for feeling secure.

So how about this for a different definition of control:
The ability to influence the outcome.

This means just using enough effort to make the movement you need, and no more.   Moving fast enough and small enough to perform the task, and no more.  Being accurate and adaptable, and no more.   Setting events in motion and no more.  Allowing the results to happen, rather than forcing your iron will upon them.  And giving up on the idea of ‘a tight grip’.

You can’t have ‘and no more’ while you’re gripping tightly.  You have to choose between them.   One or the other.

CNHC and ITM registered Alexander Technique teacher.

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Posted in asking questions, effort, feeling
5 comments on “The Paradox of Gripping Tightly
  1. Love the mittens analogy 🙂 Thanks Karen.

  2. Minna says:

    Hi Karen, thank you for this wonderful post! Mittens analogy worked for me just magnificently 🙂 You write great examples about everyday life. I am a beginner (I’m taking lessons in Alexander Technique) and I love reading your blog. For example your previous writings about ‘force’ and also that funny dot coming closer to letter ‘A’ were very helpful to me. And this post about control is absolutely the best. Thanks again and Season Greetings from snowy Finland! – Minna

    • Hi Minna, thank you for your comments, and welcome. As far as I’m aware, you’re my first commentor from Finland (it’s not always possible to tell where people are writing from). I’m so glad the blogs are helping. The more we can find different ways of explaining these ideas, the more we can open them up to greater numbers of people. I hope you are enjoying your lessons. A very Merry Christmas. Karen

  3. Sonia says:

    Hi Karen – thinking about this led to pondering a related problem (you know I always want to rush on to the next thing!). When I feel myself slipping on mud, ice or whatever I ‘freeze’ in an attempt to regain stability. Now part of my brain (rational bit??) knows that this is a bad strategy most likely to lead to me ending up on my bottom. It would be better to go with the flow and regain ‘control’ through movement. But in the moment of slipping another part of my brain takes over …

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