Upgrade Your Swiss Army Knife: A Metaphor for Transformation

Love, Grief & Luminosity: Teachings left behind by a small bird
June 6, 2012
Finding the Goodness
August 7, 2012

Part II: Turn Your SAK Tools Into Choices & Add New “Apps”

First, let’s review the Swiss Army Knife (SAK) metaphor for our already-embodied wisdom (also known as our automatic habits). The SAK metaphor invites us into a change in perspective. The new perspective might be expressed as “Hey, I never really noticed this amazing SAK in my pocket! What’s in it?”

When you open it up, you find many sophisticated tools. Take some time to get familiar with them. What do they do? Which tools have you been using the most? How have these tools helped you? How can these same tools get in your way? What other tools or “apps” would it be useful to add to your swiss army knife?

Turning Our SAK Tools (Automatic Habits) Into Choices

As mentioned in Part One, it isn’t helpful to judge or fight against what you already do. Every tool serves a useful purpose. But you want to be able to choose when you use your tools instead of unconsciously using them every time you are stressed.

How do we change these automatic habits into choices? To make them conscious, we need to befriend and appreciate them. Maybe even laugh about them. Then we can gradually re-shape our default habits.

Here are the steps to turn your current SAK tools automatic habits into choices:

1) Track your sensations whenever you use this tool
2) Thank your body for using the tool
3) Invite your body to the tell you the tool’s story of origin

1) Track Your Sensations Whenever You Use This Tool

Set the intention to recognize when you are using your automatic tool. Why is this so important? Think about what it takes to use a physical tool. To use a pen or a hammer, you first need to find it, pick it up and feel it in your hand. To manipulate that pen or hammer well, your hand needs to feel the shape and size and weight of that tool.

It’s the same way with automatic SAK tools. To use a SAK tool consciously, you need to be aware of know when you are “picking up” or “putting down” that tool. Your body’s sensations are the key to this awareness. Start noticing and tracking the sensations of your current survival strategies (SAK tools). As always, a curious attitude helps.

When you notice yourself behaving in any of the automatic ways associated with your SAK tool, go ahead and let yourself. Give yourself full permission to behave this way while paying attention to the sensations in your body.

Sensations can include temperature, texture, position, pressure or contact, a sense of movement or vibration or energy in your tissues or muscles, numbness, stillness, spontaneous imagery, or “mood.”

Be curious and gently ask your body questions:
Where in my body am I feeling this? What sound does this part of my body want to make? What animal does that sensation remind me of?

2) Thank Your Body for Using this Tool & Appreciate Specific Body Parts for Their Efforts

Your sensations point to the parts of your body that are participating in using the tool. Thank these body parts. You might say: “I don’t understand how yet, but I know you are trying to take care of me. Thank you for helping out.”

If you have an intuition about what your body is trying to accomplish, express it: “You are so brave. Thank you for protecting me.” You might say to your tight, exhausted shoulders: “Thank you for holding that burden so long.”

You could say to your chronically tight chest: “You are so persistent!” or, “You are so smart to protect my heart from being hurt. Thank you.” Your constantly-clenching jaw might appreciate hearing you say: “You are doing such a good job of holding it together.” Notice how your body responds to your words.

3) Invite Your Body to Tell the Tool’s Story of Origin

In comic books, every superhero has a story of origin, an incident (not always pleasant) which caused them to develop superpowers (you know how the Hulk became a Hulk, right?).

Your SAK tools are your superpowers! You are really, really good at using them on a dime, they are really useful, and–like Hulk–you don’t always control when you use them (yet!)

See if you can discover your SAK tool’s story of origin. If your superpower is an automatic ability to reach for ice cream when you are anxious, ask yourself, gently, when did I start using this tool? How old was I? What situation taught me that ice cream was comforting? How did that take care of me? Don’t worry if you don’t get an answer right away; trust your body to tell you the story when it is ready to.

A SAK tool’s story of origin always reveals a precise and intelligent choice of strategy, the best strategy we had available to us at that time, given the circumstance and our limited resources. Listening to your body tell the story of its SAK tool’s awakens spontaneous compassion for yourself and sincere appreciation of your resourcefulness.

Let’s follow these three steps using the SAK tool from Part One:
d) “I am good at not being noticed.”
Earlier we listed some automatic behaviors that someone could use to not be noticed. We will go through steps 1-3 with a few of these behaviors:

A) I get people to talk about themselves and take the focus off me.

1) Track the Sensations of This Behavior

I notice myself leaning my body towards the other person. I feel myself gathering my energy up and sending my attention away from me, over to them. It’s hard to feel my body, but I am very aware of theirs.

2) Thank Your Body

Thank you body, for hiding so well! You are so good at it!

3) Invite the Story of Origin

That’s ingenious. How did you figure out how to do that? How old was I?

B) I avoid eye contact.

1) Track the Sensations of This Behavior

My eyes start to feel heavy; I feel my gaze drop down to the right.

2) Thank Your Body

Thank you eyes! That is so smart.

3) Invite the Story of Origin

When I was a child, did my eyes ever feel this way? What was happening?

C) I curl my body up to make myself smaller.

1) Track the Sensations of This Behavior

I tighten my throat, crane my neck forward and cave in my chest; my toes curl up away from the floor.

2) Thank Your Body

Thank you throat! Thank you, chest! Thank you for taking care of me.

3) Invite the Story of Origin

When has it been helpful for me to be small? At home? At school or work?

By practicing these steps, it becomes possible to slow down or change direction in mid-behavior. Eventually you will be able to notice what you are doing, pause and make a choice: “Yes, I need to do this right now,” or, “I think I will do X instead.”

You will still be able to rely on your SAK tools when you need them, and your will appreciate them even more. Next, you want to make the most of your SAK by adding new tools.

Adding New SAK Tools or Apps

While it’s powerful to appreciate and consciously use the SAK tools you’ve already got, you also want to add new behavior options or tools. What’s missing from your SAK? What skill would you like to add to your repertoire?

For example, if your default is to be speedy, it can be hard to relax and “just be.” Perhaps you want to learn how to slow down and relax at will.

The first thing to do is to continue what you have already been doing—notice when you are speedy, and feel the telltale sensations of that: my eyes dart around, my breath is high in my chest, my thoughts are swirling in my head, etc.

Now when you notice these sensations, you can thank your body, and then practice one of your new tools.

1) Try Out Some New Tools

What new behaviors will create what you want? Try out a few tools to see which ones your body likes.

For example, let’s say you get agitated or anxious a lot (or you experience another strong emotion) and you want to be able to release that energy and relax.

Here is one practice to “try on:” Take in a big breath, fill up your lungs. As you exhale, let the breath come out as a sigh or some other sound that expresses how you are feeling. Repeat this three times.

Next, notice where your body feels the agitation or anxiety. Collaborate with and express that energy by shaking or vibrating these body parts (wiggle your fingers or toes, wave your arms around, shake your legs, waggle your jaw, etc.). Try to match your movements with the “speed” and intensity of your body sensations. Make sounds if it feels right.

Do this for awhile, then gradually slow your movements down, and notice how it feels to move in slow-mo. After awhile, let your movements come to a stop.

Feel your sensations: do you feel relaxed? Tired? Warm? Relieved? Rest in your sensations. And notice: did your body like this practice?

You can turn any practice that works and feels good to your body into a commitment. [for more practice ideas see the 12/12/10 Emotional First Aid].

2) Practice Your New Tool Every Day

Once you find a tool that your body likes, you need to practice it!

To turn a new practice into an automatic SAK tool, We need to practice it 300 to 3000 times. Why do we need to practice so much?

One reason is that muscle memory becomes embodied (automatic) only after 300-3000 repetitions. So to become competent at new behaviors, we need to repeat them over and over in low-stress moments.

Another reason is that many of our old SAK tools started out as life-or-sanity-saving trauma survival strategies. Our body will be—understandably–reluctant to give them up.

We need to gradually build the body’s trust in the new tools. Only repeated experiences of safely and successfully using a new tool will convince the body that the new tool is as safe (or safer!) and effective as the old ones.

With persistence, your body will come to perceive the new tool as an efficient and pleasurable way to respond to stressful situations. At this point your body will claim that tool, and make it a permanent part of your SAK.

Eventually your body will open up its SAK and discover it has many ready-to-use tools for stressful situations. Your wise body will default more and more to the newer, more effective options and revert to the older tools only when you are extremely triggered.

That’s the recipe for adding tools to your SAK. I welcome you to write me and let me know how it goes. Enjoy!

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