My dad tried a variety of diets before deciding that what he really needed was won't power. Will power was over-rated when it came to food, he determined. What was missing was won't power, the power to refuse unhealthy foods. Alexander Technique teachers define inhibition as "the refusal to react to a stimulus in an habitual way." Short cut that to won't power.
The word inhibition, like so many English words, has a number of possible definitions depending on the context in which it appears. Here's one from the online Oxford Dictionary: "a feeling that makes one self-conscious and unable to act in a relaxed and natural way." And here's another from the online Cambridge Dictionary:"the act of stopping or slowing down a process, or the fact of this happening."
On a physiological level, inhibition is defined as "the restraint, checking, or arrest of the action of an organ or cell or the reduction of a physiological activity by antagonistic stimulation." Thanks to Mosby's Medical Dictionary for this thought-provoking explanation. Or, no thanks, depending on whether or not this makes sense to you.
What is fascinating to me about how we decide to react in any given situation is how much of the brain is actually devoted to won't power. At any given moment, there are many options for response to a stimulus that are available. Take my dad staring at the Klondike bars in the freezer for starters. Things he could have done include:
1. Take one out and eat it while standing in front of the freezer.
2. Take one out and eat it at the kitchen table.
3. Take one out and eat it at the dining room table.
4. Take one out and eat it in the living room while watching the news.
5. Take two out, eat one, and give the other one to me. Please vote for this option.
I know what you are thinking - where's the won't power in all of these options? He is still eating the Klondike bar! Correct, he is. That was his goal all along. The won't power came into play as he decided which motor plan to enact to achieve that goal. Once he decided on a location for eating, the other motor plans had to be scuttled.
This is what the Mosby definition of inhibition explains. When a person decides on a motor plan, the brain gets very busy not only directing the muscles required to put the plan into action, but also quieting competing patterns. This is the essence of antagonistic stimulation, a natural process of the neuromuscular response to a stimulus.
F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) discovered how to help people obtain natural co-ordination through a process that has helped countless people move with greater ease. He wrote about "getting out of one's way," which meant moving toward a goal with clarity and the freedom that excellent co-ordination allows. In other words, he advocated avoiding conflicting motor plans that would interfere with the natural process of energizing and inhibiting the structures of movement. Because so many options to reach a goal are always available, the brain is busier enacting won't power than will power.
How do we use this knowledge in teaching and performing? Get the scoop in Won't Power: Part 2.
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