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What Does Change Feel Like?

Posted Sep 13 2008 12:48am
I joined a conversation over at the Shift in Action website which was hosted by a member named Rod Sherwin. He posed a question about how we can know when shifts in consciousness -- personal or societal -- are happening. How can we know when we experience not just big dramatic shifts in our ways of being, but even the little movements that might take us from 3 out of 10 on some scale of change to 3.5 out of 10?
In working with people's brains using nonlinear methods of feedback, it is very common indeed that people experience changes - shifts in their ways of being, thinking, feeling, and/or acting - that they are just not aware of at the time of the shift. Every neurofeedback practitioner I speak to has stories of people changing in all sorts of both subtle and dramatic ways, but not seeing the change themselves or not realizing how big or important a shift it is.

I think this is partly the effect of changing the part (i.e., the brain) that would itself be able to become conscious of the change - often this is hard to detect from the inside ;-). It may also be the result of early shifts or the tiny movements toward a noticeable/conscious shift being things that happen at a more physical or other nonconscious level as "preparatory" nudges for any whack-you-in-the-face-can't-miss-them changes. It is also the effect of "living with the change" - we quickly get used to a new "standard" and miss the larger degree of change actually accumulating. (For example, people with migraines that rate them as 10/10 for severity and have to take strong medication - after HEG training, they may still rate any headaches as 10/10, but don't have to use medication and don't even have to stop work. Clearly, one 10 does not equal another 10 -- this would be their "new standard".)

So how might you finally notice these potentially subtle yet powerful shifts? Here a few ways I've noted over the years:
- Other people notice and say something to you
- Other people start responding to you differently (even if they don't seem to be able to label the change either -- it's just that as one part of the "system" or "network" changes, the ripple effects have an impact on others as well)
- You find yourself doing something differently or responding differently to "typical" situations (e.g., "...and I stayed so calm, that's not like me, I would usually have burst into tears")
- You enter a situation you haven't been in for awhile and discover something about it doesn't bother you any more (or delights you in unexpected ways)
- You talk about "feeling" different -- in the beginning you might not be sure if this is real or imagined, but then as you "watch" it oversome period of time, it seems to suddenly pop over into a solidly felt change.

My favorite story is not my own, but is about a woman who came to neurofeedback with a fear of driving over bridges. She had to cross several bridges to get to her appointments, so always had her husband drive her. Several weeks into her training, the provider came out to say hello to her husband -- who was not there. The woman looked at him quizzically saying "Why would my husband be here? He's at work..." It turned out that she had been driving herself to appointments -- across the bridges -- without even noting it as a change that might be worth sharing with the provider!
Bill Scott, the creator of the BrainPaint system, has a video on their website in which a young women tells such a story about herself. You can view the whole story in the first video on the Video and Downloads page. She started neurofeedback with periods of road rage so severe she would actually follow other drivers off the highway until she could catch them at a stop and tell them off., yet here you hear her describing the shift as if she didn't even remember the full emotional impact of how she used to react.
In general, I find people aren't -- and maybe can't be typically - aware of the 3.0 to 3.5 kinds of changes, unless they are simple task-based changes or "satisfaction" estimates or where observable symptoms (headaches, panic attacks) "disappear" - where they can be counted and noted to be decreasing. In the realm of mini-movements, shifts seem to be more of the "hmmmm, is it changing or not?" variety. This happened for me when I started my own training. I thought nothing was happening...nothing was happening ...hmmm ...maybe my sleep pattern is changing???....maybe??.....whoa! my sleep pattern is Different!

Significant shifts seem to be more of a bifurcation -- a sudden divergence from the way things/me have always seemed. And even then, the shift may be at some physical/foundational level that isn't necessarily noticeable until they enter the "right" situation to elicit the change/bring it to awareness. (I never knew my tendency to sea-sickness was gone until I was on a boat months after I stopped regularly training myself..)

I suspect this pattern isn't just true of neurofeedback-supported changes, but is the result of the way our brains function as a nonlinear, parallel-processing, complex (in the physics-sense) system. What are your experiences of how important personal shifts happen? Let's compare...

If you are intrigued by the idea of this kind of conversation and of social and personal evolution generally, you might want to check out the Shift in Action website. While you can tour around quite a bit for free, it only costs $1 to become a member for a month and be able to sample more fully (and get a "free" copy of the book The Intention Experiment by Lynne McTaggart, author of What the Bleep). Hope to see you there ;-)
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