Conversations can be like watching a movie we know well. The words and actions have a well-worn familiarity to them. The experience can be comforting, boring, perhaps even distressing. We hear ourselves and others saying again what was said last month, yesterday, this morning. I call this the loop of the expected. There can be a place for this type of conversation. When it’s comfortable, it’s like an old jumper – it feels reassuring – but it doesn’t bring out our creativity – we don’t feel particularly alive.
An alive conversation is where something new and interesting emerges, where something we hadn’t thought of before gets generated. That brings more energy in. It can be thrilling as we search with others for what comes next. This requires focus and attention – and getting out of the loop.
The loop of the expected is made up of well-worn neural pathways of thoughts and emotions – very familiar ideas and feelings that become part of us as they are played out again and again in the myriad conversations happening inside families, organisations and society. These unexamined habits of thinking – assumptions, mental shortcuts, and prejudices – get in the way of anything new emerging. Mental shortcuts primarily involve the left hemisphere of the brain.
So how can you escape the loop of the expected? Supported by my research into non-verbal communication, my favourite technique involves getting out of the head and into the body – out of habits of thinking (left hemisphere) and into present-moment experience (right hemisphere). When you’re having a conversation that feels ‘same old’ take your attention into your body, move your attention to where you feel ‘alive’, and carry on the conversation from there.
Tips on how you can escape:
- Begin by bringing to mind the last time you felt a conversation wasn’t alive – it was just same old.
- As you replay the conversation, how does it feel in your body? Is your attention attracted to any particular part of your body? Your hands, chest, eyes, head?
- Ask your body where the focus would be if you were to have an alive conversation. Take your time, and let your body supply the answer. Where is your attention now in your body?
- Re-play that ‘same old’ conversation in your imagination, but now with your body ‘alive’. What would you do differently?
By bringing attention into the body, the right hemisphere of the brain is activated, which brings with it a curiosity about what is yet to be discovered, and greater awareness of the otherwise unseen relationships between things. Conversations like this make us feel more alive, help us become more creative, and support better problem solving. They support our relationships to become deeper and more dynamic, and frankly they are much more fun!
Treat it like an experiment and see what happens.