The Relaxation Paradox

I want to yell at the dental assistant.

Mariana is taking an x-ray. My mouth is stretched open wide, a metal contraption wedged into the space between upper and lower teeth, an x-ray chip pressing into my gums.

Just relax, Mariana says.

Just relax! Nothing about this is relaxing!!!

That same week I coach Vince, a speaker who is rehearsing a presentation to his CEO. Vince is a rising corporate star. Anxious anticipation colors his conversation with me.

Just relax, I want to say to him.

And I realize it’s not that easy.

Pretty much every task is accomplished with more ease and greater impact when we relax.

How do we relax when circumstances conspire against relaxation?

This is the relaxation paradox.

Relaxation occurs in the body. The deep breath. The physical stretch. The intentional muscle movement. The conscious exhale.

We know it. And yet, our mind insistently inhibits relaxation.

It has a ferocious fling with fear-inducing thought. It forgets to send relaxation commands to the body.

It does so with shocking vehemence.

It’s the old mind/body connection. And the old mind-over-matter hierarchy.

Here’s how we navigate around the relaxation paradox.

These are our two relaxation allies.

1. Go on Mind Watch

Be in your mind and be out of your mind, all at once. Have your thoughts and observe your thoughts. Notice when your mind is persistently taking you to the dark side. Switch to thought that affirms assets over liabilities. Direct your focus from your mind to your body.

2. Develop Relaxation Cruise Control

Turn relaxation behaviors into reflexive activity. Practice and more practice. Deep breaths. Spine adjustments. Yoga stretches. Even when your thought goes haywire and abandons you, your body has learned to self-manage. Because you have developed muscle memory, you reap the benefits of relaxation cruise control.

Just relax.

Yes, it’s not that easy. Yet exceptional everyday performance doesn’t happen without it.

Embrace our two allies. Know that it’s mind over matter, and that muscle memory will outfox the mind. It’s how we manage the relaxation paradox.

Powerful. And so liberating.