Fidget to Relax

When your car is low on oil, an oil light that goes on, letting you know you need to pour some oil in there. That's pretty handy, isn't it? You can't see the oil from inside the car, and if your car runs out of oil, you ruin the engine. An indicator light makes it much easier to keep your car running well.

You have indicator lights, so to speak, on your body's dashboard too. One of them is fidgeting or rhythmically moving a body part. It lets you know you have excess nervous tension and you ought to relax some muscles.

That may not be what fidgeting was "designed" for, but it works to use it that way. For some reason, your own tension isn't something you notice very often. You get used to it and stop registering it consciously. If you directed your attention to the state of tension in your body at any given moment, you would find it very easy to tell how tense you were, but you don't very often direct your attention to your own tension level, do you? If you did, you probably wouldn't have a tension problem. So here is a very simple, easy way to notice your tension. When you see you are fidgeting, direct your attention to your body, notice where you feel tension; take a deep, slow breath, and relax some of that tension. Do that often enough and you will lower your general tension level in an easy, convenient way. Use fidgeting as your own tension indicator light.


I have a tendency to move my feet when I'm otherwise still. That's how I fidget. Reading a book, watching TV, talking with my wife, my feet rub against each other. I've been paying attention to my experience when they are rubbing together and here's what I've noticed: The rhythmic movement seems to be driven by a feeling of agitation in my midsection. I have discovered something else: The agitated feeling is driven by my internal audio — usually I'm listening to music in my head or talking to myself. I've been experimenting and here's something I've found that works well to soothe my agitation:

1. I notice my feet are moving.

2. I check what's going on in my internal audio.

3. I create a relaxing sound in my head, like "om", drawn out like "aahhhoooommm." I do it in a very soothing, calming way. Or I hear a meadow with a light breeze blowing through it. This seems to calm my agitated middle section and my feet rest in peace.

Probably this particular way I fidget is relatively rare — I don't know of any research on fidgeting. But if you fidget, maybe your fidget is energized by an agitated or pressured feeling in your middle. And maybe the agitated feeling is coming from music in your head, or some other internal audio. Or maybe in your case, it's internal visual.

Track it down. If you fidget, track down what is driving it. What's the feeling? Where do you feel it? Now follow it further. Are there any sounds in your head associated with the feeling? Or some images? So although my example may not be directly applicable to you, the general idea may apply.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought, Direct Your Mind, and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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