Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Cheap Luxury We Really Can't Live Without

 pretty much knew before I read this article that horses were not the item.  There's nothing cheap about them, and only non-horse people consider them a luxury item.  We horse folk know that they are a total necessity, right up there with food, water, TiVo, and Ariat breeches.  So of course I had to try to guess what the "cheap luxury" in question might be.  Boxed wine?  Burgers not served through a window?  

Go ahead and guess.  I'll wait.....

The Cheap Luxury Americans Can't Live Without

Okay, how many of you horsey types guessed it would be manicures?  I'm still laughing at the idea that my discretionary income might be targeted at some cute young technician who has my hand trapped under a lamp for an hour.  I will confess to enjoying the occasional pedicure, but I do not have the patience for a manicure.  Tried it.  I was a dismal failure.  You can't even turn Equus magazine pages with your hands under a dryer!  And how long does a mani last in the barn?  My do-it-yourself version is nearly impervious, mostly because I use clear nail polish that's a version of the laquer used to seal the outside of an airplane, because the first time you scritch that cute equine under the chin, the sandpaper that is his hair simply peels lesser polishes right off.

All of this made me wonder about the internal dialogs we carry on.  I won't go into the whole "bubble" thing again.  You know your sphere of reality is yours alone, yada, yada, yada.  To complicate things even more, each of us has a story that we tell ourselves that makes it possible for us to get through our day without killing ourselves or someone else.  Have you ever thought about what story you've decided to own?  I have.

So today we're going to discuss "redirecting", which is a not-so-new concept in psychology related to "reframing" and closely allied with "denial" but more positive in effect.  We're going to start the discussion with a book recommendation:  Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, by psychologist Timothy D. Wilson.  No, I'm not going to make you go order it and read it while I wait.  I'll trust you to do that later as homework.  

And that right there is some prime redirecting.  By telling you I trust you to do that, I call on the story that you've put in place that tells you who you are (an honorable, responsible, and intelligent human being) and how you respond to things around you (with perfect elan at all times).  Cool?  You betcha!
"My inner narrative says that I reflexively take responsibility
for your decision not to jump this very intimidating
obstacle, and that I'm okay with that."

Briefly, redirecting is not much different from the concept called "reframing" in NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming), but everything is new when you change the name a little.  It means putting a positive spin on something not-so-positive to make it fit in with your personal narrative, the story you buy into to make sense of your place in the world.  For some, that's a religion-based tale.  For others it's whatever makes it possible for you to move forward out of the cycle of regret and pain that often accompanies trauma no matter how mild.  You got yelled at yesterday by your boss/spouse/child/random service representative.  That sent you into a mild depression as your negative self-talk ("I'm such a slug!) threatened your Queen of the  World persona (okay, maybe that's only my persona).  To move forward out of that cycle, you had to reframe the situation ("He's such a turd!  He yelled at me because he's jealous that I'm Queen and he's not.") or you had to redirect the situation to whatever narrative you've adopted ("I will let this go because I know and he knows that in the Great Plan of the Hairy Fungerer of the Universe, I will eventually be promoted and he will die an unruly death at the hands of the HR bitch.")

That's Psych 201, Advanced Service to the Ego.  

As applied to horse people, the issue becomes just how far will you go to explain away your inability to ride Turkey Trot today?  Do you have a story that accounts for your absolute abject terror at the very idea of hopping aboard a snorting, wild-eyed maniac horse who has your demise in his sights, and do you really need anything more than "My children would miss me if I broke my body before I made dinner"?  How about the one that gets you out of riding that 30-year-old former trail horse on a drizzly day?  What's in your narrative to cover the 50 extra pounds you've put on that keep you from getting into your riding clothes?  And is there something about your allergic  reaction to the word "exercise"?  

For many people, the Will of a Deity is sufficient explanation and narrative to cover pretty much every eventuality.  But you, my faithful and highly intelligent reader, are prepared to delve into your inner self.  

It may seem elementary, but the things we tell ourselves to help us survive life on this big blue ball affect us in ways that are often counter-intuitive.  Some of the research revealed in Timothy Wilson's fascinating book indicates, for instance, that parenting is not nearly as intuitive as we thought, and that our narratives, adopted from various sources for various reasons, can make us fail dismally.  Perhaps the most intriguing study cited involved post-trauma patients who were asked to either join a group counseling setting and discuss the trauma or go home and write about the incident in private.  Conventional wisdom says that talking it out is the key to getting past the trauma.  But...not so!  Going home and quietly reframing and redirecting the story until it fits with your personal narrative turns out to be far more effective.  The group didn't move forward.  The private writers did.  

So when you're faced with one of those equestrian situations that threaten to destroy your confidence and shake your self-image, instead of calling all your horse buddies and whining and ranting and sharing Idiocies From My Past, try writing about it.  Reframe the hell out of it until you can make sense of what happened, then go forth and try again.  The cheap luxury you can't live without is insight into who you really are and why you do what you do.  Only You Can Prevent Meltdown!


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