“Proximal stability before distal mobility” means that for an organism to create motion at the extremities of its system, it must first have a stable core. I came across this notion as a therapist. As an example, this would be applied when determining and working on hand writing difficulties; often the culprit would be an under-performing core.
I’ve been thinking about this saying recently on the individual level in relation to a few of my favourite activities. I fell in love with rock climbing earlier this year. Straight away I was struck by how instructive rock climbing is in regards to change and stressful situations. Climbing is a rhythmic pattern of centre and move, centre and move. You must mentally and physically balance and yourself before executing a move, otherwise fear, distraction or poor balance will literally be your downfall.
As a contrasting example, consider coping with change. Feeling stable in yourself reduces feelings of stress when there is a lot of change on the external environment and improves resilience. You can adapt and take advantage of change.
Now consider being a changemaker where the ‘mobility’ we’re talking about is being able to act upon the outside world. Here I consider there three main lessons about proximal stability.
Firstly, when you are proposing changes it is vital that other people trust you. People who are authentic, whose behaviours are aligned to who they really are, engender trust. We can sense when what people are saying is incongruent with values they reflect but also I think this sensing of incongruence also occurs even when those doing the talking are not even consciously trying to represent themselves in a false way.
People sense authenticity, so don’t just think you mean what you say, know you mean what you say.
Seondly, as social creatures, we all to some extent have developed ways to routinely suppress non-conforming behaviours which risk social rejection. This is wise in certain settings but it also means that we can get in the habit of avoiding individual thought without even realising it. I was very impressed by Gretel Killeen at the 2013 Happiness and Its Causes Conference when she spoke about finding and using your authentic voice. She made that point that how can you even speak your mind when you don’t know what is in it? We need to be aware of our tendencies for suppressing authenticity and actively work at cultivating it, starting from discovering who you really are.
Lastly, it will sometimes take bravery to be authentic. When advocating something other than status quo, you will find your detractors. This Machiavelli quote sums it up:
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
A powerful point Killeen made was, “There are people in the world who struggled in order to speak their minds and paid a huge price for it. We, on the other hand, forfeit our chance to think and speak.” Worth contemplating as we honour Nelson Mandela after his passing. So be brave! There is no other you on this planet, so please, give us your uniqueness and take a risk for what you believe in.
Out tendency to conform also goes back to the first point on trust. Why do we not use our voice and instead conform? She says, “…maybe we are just scared of what others think of us if we speak our minds. By presenting a perfect image of ourselves, we hide our true feelings and thoughts. Yet, by hiding our vulnerability, we also prevent authentic connection between people.”
Slow offers some guidance: