Soft vigilance and holding

Another nugget from The Power of Mindful Learning. Langer talks about soft vigilance.

In psychological circles or when danger is involved, attention is often called vigilance. Staying vigilant is a big issue for pilots. Vigilance is considered effortful and seen to decline over time. In contrast attention to the things we enjoy may be energizing and possible to sustain for long periods of time.

She goes on to describe how she used to ride horseback through woods in a state of physical tension looking for tree branches sticking out too far. This was tiring for her and her horse and actually increased the risk of missing other hazards. When she became more confident and relaxed, she was able to attend to more of her surroundings. This broader context helped her spot errant branches more easily, as well as other hazards.

She mentioned pilots and I thought of my own experience of learning to fly, where it was easy to slip into hypervigilance, become too tense, and as a result have less effective control of the aircraft.

When facilitating, I often need to pay attention to the way I physically hold myself, to avoid getting into a form of hypervigilance. When Chris Corrigan talks about “holding space”, I think this connects strongly to the way the facilitator holds himself.

This is not so say that highly focussed attention is inherently wrong. But an ability to flex and explore softer vigilance seems pretty important.

1 thought on “Soft vigilance and holding

  1. Nadine

    I agree, and I would add that it has to do with being in flow. I’ve encountered this a lot when riding a bike (or giving a client presentation). When you are enjoying yourself, are grounded and relaxed, you ego mind (the one that keeps screaming “LOOK OUT!!! DANGER!”) takes a back seat. When you’re in flow, that type of vigilance falls to your autonomic system, which will alert you when there is a real threat, as opposed to a potential one.

    Makes life a lot easier – and much more enjoyable.

    – N


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