Nudging, the Art of Small Catalysts.

I’m sweating. My breath is more ragged than normal, blood thumping through my body. Pink and flushed, head back against the wall and eyes closed, counting my breath back under control and realigning the pull of muscles against my spine. This is me, engaged in the deeply spiritual practice of Nudging.

{nudging}
verb
in order to attract attention
touch or push gently or gradually
coax or gently encourage
(in Nordic nugga, nyggja ‘to push, rub’.)

It’s also me, returning to the boxing gym after 6 weeks away, 3 weeks of medication and surgery. My body is usually stronger than this but normal slips away quickly if you don’t keep your rhythms. So I’m nudging because returning to the same place I was isn’t enough. I want to see how much further I can go. A little more sweat, a little more stretch, a few more rounds. Nudging: to see how far you can go. Nudging to see what more you can wring out of your body, your mind. In the gym, it looks messy. At higher reps my form gets untidy as I get tired, my cheeks impossibly pink.

And my trainer says, ‘C’mon Tash, we’re giving it a nudge.’

What exactly is a Nudge?
Picture a pile at the precipice of a cliff and you’re standing behind it. Looks like it might fall but how do you know? You give it a little nudge. A gentle push, a little coax in the right direction. When you give something a nudge, you look to see whether there is an opportunity for movement. In the animal kingdom, this pattern is external – one elephant nudges the smaller elephant in the right direction.

Sailors look for the ripple of the right wind on the surface of the ocean and watch the currents the birds drift on. When you see a glimmer of wind that might take you in the right direction, you nudge the pilot’s wheel in the direction of the wind and see whether you can catch some speed.

Our approach to our own transformation might be better described as ‘discovery’.

nb: nudging is not nudge theory, a human behaviour theory about decision-making that is sometimes used for political and social manipulation, but there is certainly some truth in the observations of how we might cognitively improve the outcomes we seek. 

I have practiced Nudging for a long time now. Expending a small amount of energy to see where there is opportunity for growth and movement.

You will might oscillate a dozen times in your life between striving for change or avoiding it, but transformation is the only way to grow. We don’t change completely overnight but in a series of small, incremental steps. I watch my 7 month old niece and her transformations, each so small and easily overlooked, seem a wonder to me. But in my mirror, I want to see broad, sweeping changes. We’ve embraced the glamour of grand reveals and 180 degree changes as the right kind of story.

But our neural wiring simply can’t keep up with the reprogramming when we try to change too much, too fast. Whether our habits, our thought processes, our rhythms of the day – it’s easy to overwhelm our physical and neural systems. We need to think big but step small so we don’t work against our True Selves in the work of transforming.

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” – Parker J Palmer

Parker Palmer speaks to this disconnect between how we see our autonomy in the process of transformation. Nudging is a beautiful way of giving intent to your transformational desires and goals, but allowing the rhythm of your life to work with you. Nudging gives you a chance to see where the wind and movement of your life is leading you and work with it, not against it.

Our ideas about transformation are often too concrete – we do not enter into the process of transformation without an end goal or expectation of what transformation will look like. But the pumpkin looks nothing like the seed from which it comes. Nor the fruit of the apple tree resemble the seed or the tree.

Our approach to our own transformation might be better described as ‘discovery’. Much like sailing into the wind to see what happens, we listen to our life and begin the process of transformation to see what might happen. What might our tender, wondrous little changes result in? What wonder might our small lives contain if we allow the change to happen?

We need to think big, but step small. 

So how do you Nudge?

First, nudging is about giving attention. Sometimes there are aspects of my physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual self that need some movement. Attention creates space. Like #100days of simply paying attention to what was in front of me each day, an opportunity for creative intervention.

Sometimes nudging is about pushing gently and gradually. This month, I am pushing a bit harder, giving more than what I usually give in the gym to reach a new pinnacle of strength and flexibility. I’m giving it a nudge literally, to shift the dial on strength, energy and output from my physical self. When I push, I push first in the direction of what I know is already working in my life.

And sometimes a nudge is about wooing, coaxing and encouraging myself and others to new movement. I’m trying to read a philosophy or ideological work each month that is useful for me and others. It’s just a nudge for my spiritual and communal self to embrace new ideas. I engage with my desire for transformation and my frustration through embracing new ideas and ways of thinking about what’s in front of me.

When I am nudging, things get sharper. New ideas nudge old habits and both get clearer. My spiritual practices don’t get overhauled, they become fine-tuned. My horizons and understanding expands, given permission to explore and discover.

Slowly and gently pay attention to your life. There is something to learn in every aspect of it. Don’t be afraid to enter into transformation with just a nudge to see what may become of your willing self. Nudge and discover what might come. 

Want to join me in a Nudging journey? Let me know the space you want to nudge in and we can journey together.

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