Unconscious navigator

Webpage design and blogging is new to me. As my son helped me with this blog domain, I felt inadequate and full of doubt. These were uncomfortable feelings and were in contrast to my usual perception of myself as being independent and competent.

I was watching him type away on the keyboard, looking at settings, choosing appearances, asking me questions regarding my likes and dislikes of pages that were appearing on the screen, and all of this happening without me knowing anything. It was all happening around me. I didn’t feel part of it. I was detached, spaced out. Within, I was dealing with confusion and resistance. I was trying to hold onto what I knew, knowing that I knew nothing.

He wanted me to play around on a trial blog first, to make mistakes, to discover how the process works. But I rejected that. I was afraid. I wanted to know how to work things without practice. I felt there was too much to know, so I didn’t want to even start.

Route through the Kusnacht forest

Four days ago, I had a 8Km run with my daughter-in-law. It was a lovely run through the  village turning left, winding roads here and there, entering a woodland, next to a little stream, up  gentle hills, then onto steeper inclines, down and then right, back into another part of  the village. I was in Switzerland doing exercise. It was in foreign territory and was following the directions being given.  No decision was being required – no thinking was needed. I just needed to trust the instructions being given. I did recall a number of significant landmarks on the route. There was a small water fountain up on the hill, about half way through the run where we had a drink of water. An unusual, square wooden house that seemed out of place that was opposite the entrance of a school along a dark road that was lined with lots of trees that were absorbing the light. A cobble road that wound in and out of a built up industrial area.

My wife noticed that I was getting agitated while my son was setting up the blog. I should have been more appreciative. Anyway, at breakfast the next morning, I shared my feeling that you can only learn by doing and that I had felt inadequate in the process of the blog design. There was just too much information and the process was just too fast. I was in the middle of an enormous wave of information flow.  The dominant perspective of those at breakfast was that I was a perfectionist and that I wanted to do things right the first time and that I feared failure. The advice was that I needed to relax more when I encountered new information. Maybe I was getting old and rigid, trying to hold onto what was familiar. I then tried to add a practical example to my feeling by  stating that I couldn’t even use the coffee machine that was in the kitchen (I am not a coffee drinker and have no interest in the variety of coffees that are available). My son immediately challenged me to make everyone coffee (you only learn by doing). He wanted a large, strong coffee; my daughter-in-law, a small, normal one and my wife a normal, mild coffee. I soon discovered that these requests were in accordance with two dials that one could select on the machine. One dial for the amount of coffee, the other for the strength. Fortunately, I didn’t have to put coffee beans in the machine. Anyway, I feel that I made three reasonably successful coffees! I had just gone through a practical experience that was really significant to me, as simple as it was. It helped to remind me of my own philosophy about learning.

After breakfast I decided to have a run. I needed time alone. During these runs I encounter the necessary inner space that allows my thoughts and feelings time to settle.  As I walked out the house, I decided to redo the run that I had had 4 days ago. I wanted to do the exact route, but doubted whether I could remember. Although I knew that I couldn’t get lost or that it did not matter whether or not I did the exact route, to me it did. I had this need to prove to myself that I could remember, that I could learn, that I could make the right decisions (strange as this may seem). As the run unfolded, I found myself at some of those ‘anchors’ that I had remembered. I got there without knowing how I got there. I got there without consciously making any decisions to turn left or right. I was being unconsciously navigated. I just ran, decisions were being made without being made.

I felt proud of myself when I returned home (as childish as this may seem). I had just been reminded of the deeper parts of myself that had the capability to integrate information without knowing that it was being done. It was the unconscious navigational system that kicked in as I stepped away from myself and just trusted the unfolding process.

I am sure that some of you have had a similar experience but maybe in a different context, especially those of you who are involved in sport.

Anyway, after the run I felt more balanced and returned to the computer to my blog. I felt more confident and found myself playing with the tools and settings of the blog site without much worry. There was no internal resistance. I found myself repeating processes as I cemented my basic knowledge further. I was on my own coping with the information that was coming my way.

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6 thoughts on “Unconscious navigator

  1. Gizmo

    I understand your feelings regarding the new practical things and the process required to learn new techniques. it is best to be in an environment where you have the freedom to experiment and the freedom to fail. i think experimentation and failure are the keys to learning, but these can only be brought about by trial. i think cognitively we are better suited to avoiding a known problem than maintaining perfection throughout the process. I think a learning process with an audience sometimes pressurizes people into fear of mistake and this can sometimes lead to a “make or break” situation. However, the audience is sometimes needed to push you into a situation and hence overcome this fear of trial, not the fear of failure.

    1. Ken Jennings

      Maybe it is the notion of perfection that also needs to be addressed in the learning process. We need to take away the idea of perfection and instead fully embrace the dynamic tension that exists between the freedom to experiment and the freedom to fail. Those involved in the scientific field (for example) and certainly in the sports arena continually find themselves in this place where a lot of tension and uncertainty exists regarding the outcome. I don’t think many coaches and/or superiors are sensitive to this.

      I feel that great scientists and athletes feel emotionally comfortable in this place – they have learned to trust their inner voice (or unconscious navigator) to guide them into the unknown. Coaches and superiors can support this by not being critical and/or judgmental of the efforts of the student or athlete. Instead, reflections that opens up space to dialogue really helps the process.

  2. Ian Park

    My interest is in Golf. Unconscious navigation I guess is akin to “the Zone” that everybody talks about. The place where one plays one’s best Golf. Looking at you example it seems clear that you had a strong consious intention “to follow exactly the route” and then having so programmed the subconsious you simply let if navigate. Actually it seems far from simple. I think the transfer from conscious thought to subconscious action is extremely complex, but that is another story. In your example once you had set the program in motion there was little that prompted you back to consious thought. You could let it all happen. In a round of Golf every shot is different and seems to require fresh programming. One finds onself continiously being brought back to the conscious level due to the changing circumstances. A lot of which can be externally generated, like slow play ahead, wind etc. So the question that springs to mind is does one learn to program the whole round in advance and trust unconscious navigation, or does one learn to shift from conscious to unconscious for each stroke. Taking Gizmo’s lead I guess the answer is to trial each method.

    1. Ken Jennings

      I found myself getting overwhelmed with the overload of new information that I was having to deal with while setting up the blog page. Consciously I was trying to absorb everything, but I also found I was dealing with a lot of internal resistance in the process. I felt pressured and felt that I needed to perform.

      Because of the nature of golf there is so much ‘potential’ information available to the mind. What I mean by this is that there is so much time available between shots to think. And the food for thinking is information (ideas). The question is what would you want to be consciously thinking about that would help your performance? This needs to be identified. Be careful of not overwhelming the conscious mind with too much information (or demands to perform perfectly). Then you need to get emotionally comfortable in that place that Gizmo has identified – in the middle of the freedom to experiment and the freedom to fail – it is the place where uncertainty and also creativity rub shoulders. Consciously we tend to shy away from this place since it is uncomfortable there. This uncomfortableness also blocks the unconscious navigator from coming to the fore.

      The unconscious navigator only emerges if you are able to trust the process. Once I was able to access this place during my run (which cannot be done consciously), I was able to return to the conscious task at hand, but with reduced fear and doubt. It is important to remember that I was alone on my run, I was quiet and there was no audience (no one was interfering with my energy). I did not have to prove anything to the outside world, but I had this internal challenge of re-running the same route in unfamiliar territory. It was an internal challenge that no one knew about. For me, getting away and being on my own helped to assess the unconscious navigator (that part of me that was deciding without knowing that it was deciding). You need to discover how you can assess the unconscious navigator during the round.

      I do feel that the process of golf offers you the opportunity to move into both the conscious and unconscious worlds. Enhanced performance is most likely when there is a dance – a to and fro into these worlds. Further experimentation (with the freedom to fail) is needed on your part. Give it a shot at your next tournament! Let’s see what happens. Good luck!

  3. Ian Park

    Following your last post I have spent several rounds dancing between the conscious and unconscious worlds. I am getting better at it. The real note that this has struck with me is the need for Strong Intention. Just as you had before your run. I find I achieve performance that aligns to the intensity of my intention. This pre game Intent directly influences my ability to create intention on a shot by shot basis and my ability to dance! I know that good dancing enhances performance, but sometimes I just don’t want to dance. I will keep you posted

  4. Ken Jennings

    During the team time trial of the Tour de France, the strong intention that you speak about was clearly visible on the face of Lance Armstrong. In my latest post on ‘Be an inspiration’ I discuss how his pre-race aura was matched (and actioned) by how he rode the race. There was a matching between thought and actions. Previous actions that he may have carried out in past races will help to support the thinking that occurs before the immediate challenge. In other words, history provides the support (and the knowledge) to know that he would be successful again.

    The more you can support your ‘strong intention’ with follow up actions that are successful, the more you will be able to support the way you deal with the next shot. In this way, you slowly build a history of success that provide the foundation for your ‘strong intention’.

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