You're opening an email on your phone. It's not loading. That little circle keeps spinning. You refresh the screen five times. It keeps spinning. How do your neck and shoulders feel?
The subways were delayed or you were stuck in traffic and you're running late for work. You get onto a full elevator and press the door close button in quick successions at each floor as people exit. How are your neck and shoulders now? Do you feel your feet on the floor?
In the email loading situation, the wifi was temporarily out and the elevator doors are on a timer, so those door-close buttons are just for show. Both examples describe a state of anticipation. If you've been in one of these common situations, would you say you felt present? Were you aware of you body? How aware of your surroundings were you?
Now you're trying to finish a project. You put it off and now you're afraid that you don't have enough time to do it. Your so tense and focused on finishing that you're not thinking straight and keep making mistakes. The clock is ticking and you're even further behind.
We can look at posture and the way we use our bodies from various perspectives. Here I'm looking at how posture relates to anticipation. Anticipation isn't necessarily bad. We run into trouble when we over-anticipate. Neck tightens, shoulders pull in, breathing gets shallow. There's a purpose for this "startle" response and you may have seen it on a nature documentary when an animal is avoiding a predator, an example of appropriate anticipation for that particular situation because it makes the animal very still and less detectable. In office work environments things that stress us out, such as as slow email, running late, and deadlines won't be helped by stiffening your body and breathing shallowly.
We can also under-anticipate, or "check-out". I realized that this was my problem when learning the tango. You may be wondering what tango could have to do with using your phone or waiting for your floor when riding the elevator. It's really the same principle. When we over-anticipate or push to hard, it doesn't help. When we under-anticipate, we check and and don't fully engage, so nothing really happens. I was working in Buenos Aires two weeks ago and decided to take up the challenge of taking some dance lessons. I went into it thinking that I'm not so good at the following role because I over-anticipate and try to lead, so I gave up on trying to lead, but that didn't work so well either. I went from straining to get the next step right to being in checked-out, disengaged mode, which didn't get me anywhere either. There's a state that's somewhere in-between, that's ready, active, and present, but not pushing, pushing, pushing to no avail.
In my tango lesson I didn't realize that I was disengaged until the teacher insisted over and over again that I should follow like I'm leading. At first, I wasn't sure what that meant and I tried to take control of the dance, but that didn't work, so I gave up and disengaged, again not really realizing that I was disengaging until I realized that "follow like your leading" simply means to commit to your choice to move fully and with your whole body. Even though I was technically "following" another person's cue, I could more effectively follow if I did so with the same assurance that I lead with. Maintaining that presence and assurance meant moving with my whole body in a confident manner, rather than tightening my neck and leading with my chin while I tried to figure out which way to step.
So, let's look at the email loading and the running late for work on the elevator examples again. Who or what is leading? When you're email is loading, the leader is your phone or the wifi/cellular data connection. Does over-anticipating the arrival of the email, pushing for a result by straining your neck and shoulders, do anything to make the email load faster? No. Is there any benefit? No. Not unless you enjoy having a sore neck and shoulders. Instead, maybe you could space out and sink down in your chair and five minutes later, you might realize that the email loaded three minutes ago and now you're late for your meeting. What's the happy in-between state? Try waiting with confidence and presence. Feel your feet on the floor. Notice how your holding your phone Become aware of your surroundings while you watch that annoying little thing spin. It may not seem easy, but you could enjoy this little moment you have with nothing to do but to wait for the text to pop up.
Similarly with the elevator, the "door close" button is likely having no affect except to give you the satisfaction that you are exerting control over the speed of machine that you are entrusting to take you upstairs. On the other hand if you disengage from the situation, you might miss your floor, making you even later. How about becoming aware of your feet on the floor and taking a moment to simply notice where you are in space and walk into your office calm, without a stiff neck. Being late in an agitated state of over-anticipation will likely make your lateness more obvious and will certainly make you no less late.
And what about the project with the deadline? Over-anticipate the deadline and you'll interfere with your ability to calmly focus and get the job done and create a ton of neck and shoulder tension to get yourself into this counterproductive state. Get too relaxed and you might end up catching up on your favorite Netflix series and never get the job done. The trick is to meet the challenge without strain.
One of the keys to improving posture is to be mindful and present in your body and your surroundings in a state of readiness, which involves neither over or under-anticipating. Presence and balance are keys to good posture. Poor posture can be characterized as being stuck in a constant state of over or under anticipation. Or some combination of the two.
Using the framework laid out in this post, see if you can notice when you are straining in anticipation or disengaging from the present moment. See if you can practice changing some of these habits during every day activities and notice how you feel. And anticipate if you'd like, just remember to stay present and not tighten your neck. Think of a child waiting to open a present!
Feel free to share your experience in the comments below.