Monday, November 11, 2013

Verbal Aikido: The basic 'move'

Verbal Aikido

Aikido is a martial art focused on redirecting energy. That is, if you are being attacked, the energy is redirected. This is much easier than taking or blocking the attack directly. Aikido beginners use more energy to redirect than masters use. When energy is redirected no one needs to be injured. Some Aikido masters say that they are showing attackers the way to peace.

Verbal Aikido has nothing to do with being verbally attacked. Instead 'stuck' energy in language (words and non-verbals) is redirected toward psychological flexibility.

The 'stuck' is referring to fusion and the psychological flexibility is less fusion as predicted by Relational Frame Theory (RFT). RFT predicts that because humans are so good at transforming both sensory and mental experiencing onto language, a person can start living as if language were real. A little bit of that is required for language to work. For example, as you read the word LEMON some stuff happened inside your skin. You probably experienced the color yellow, the taste sour and you salivated a little bit more. [Note: The salivation response to reading or hearing LEMON can be measured.] In RFT talk this means that yellow, sour and the salivation are fused to lemon.

A little fusion works great for language. However, in some contexts the fusion may be too strong and start to control our behaviors in ways that don't work for valued living. For example, we might avoid going outside sometimes because just the thought of dogs frightens to the point we can't open the door. Or just thinking that the girl might say "no" keeps us from asking her out.

In the old Cognitive Behavior Training (CBT) days we might have transformed our irrational thoughts, (dogs will always bite me and girls will always say no to me) into rational thoughts. The problem with this approach was that the old 'irrational' thoughts were still there right next door to the new rational thoughts. RFT predicts that creating rational thoughts results in increased fusion with the irrational thought because to come up with the rational you have to also think of the irrational. Therefore, the irrational will pop up when you least expect it and get in the way.

From an RFT view, you instead just notice the thoughts of dogs and girls saying no. You don't make them any more than they are. This is easy if you are not very fused (stuck) on the thoughts, and not so easy if you are stuck. Acceptance and Commitment Training or Therapy (ACT) has many exercises for getting less stuck and moving toward values (e.g., going outside or asking girls out). Verbal Aikido is part of ACT, but it's the art of flexing the fused stuff right as it happens.

Imagine you are doing a presentation and someone says, "I can't go out because there might be vicious dogs out there." Those words (and probably the person's body language and tone of voice) seem stuck. You might feel the urge to say, "That's ridiculous! The chances of vicious dogs being out there are almost nil." You would basically be telling the person to not think those thoughts. Therefore, they will think the thoughts all the more. So what do you do if you want to flex the words instead of making them stickier?

If you use the Matrix diagram when you do presentations, then you probably have a matrix diagram up on a dry erase board behind you. It has sensory experiencing at top, mental experiencing at the bottom, toward to the right, away to the left and Psychological Flexibility in the middle.

The simplest Verbal Aikido 'move' is to simply turn, look at the matrix for a moment, then turn back to the person and ask, "Where would you sort, "I can't go out because there might be vicious dogs out there" onto the diagram?" This works for increasing psychological flexibility with any words.

There are many, many more 'Verbal Aikido" things you can do with words. Come join my online Verbal Aikido training to learn more. Click Here

If that training has passed when you read this, no worries. Just Click Here for my training calendar.


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