2 min read

Foot massage roller as expansion cue

This is a bit One Weird Trick but it's worked really well for me so possibly it's useful to someone else.

Short version: while I'm on a video call I roll something under my foot. Normally a cheapo massage roller I bought on Amazon, sometimes a lacrosse ball. This is a sensory cue to be aware of something other than the call, and normally if I have that I can expand my awareness to other things too. This generally makes the call go better. Also free foot massage.

That's really all there is to it, but maybe I should also explain why I want to do this in the first place. My default experience of a video call is to get completely locked on the screen so that I don’t take in anything else in the room around me. Unless it’s someone I know very well, I’m normally also running some train of thought like “Aaargh!! I’m talking to a person!! Got to say the right thing and not a stupid thing!! OK, I got through that one, better start worrying about what I’m going to say next!!”

Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t improve the conversation. The verbal loop of anxious nonsense is loud enough that I’m missing a lot of what the other person is saying, and I can’t react very skilfully. And my awareness is contracted enough that the conversation is literally the only thing that’s happening, so there’s nowhere else I can get to that isn’t the loop.

In some way I’m “planning” what I’m going to say next, but it’s not the sort of planning that creates any real freedom. The actual thing I end up saying feels very cramped and overdetermined, and mostly just feels like the least bad option. I’m navigating away from stress rather than towards any real sense of enjoyment. Politeness bot mode.

If I can get any space into this loop, it helps a lot. If I roll something under my foot, then I’m now aware of two things, the sole of my foot and the call. Once I have that I can expand to a wider awareness that has the call in it, but also many other things. And then I sometimes have some actual choice about what I’m going to say! Sometimes l even listen to the other person! Which helps! Who knew.

I don’t know what the prerequisites are for this to work, but there definitely are some because this wouldn’t have worked for me a few years ago. Since then I’ve been doing quite a lot of meditation, in Opening Awareness style, so basically trying to keep my awareness as big as possible. This is slowly making me feel more distributed through my body the rest of the time too (the “get out of your head” cliche is kind of annoying, but fine, certainly less of me is in now my head), and for whatever reason that started in my feet. Because of this I’d already started using awareness of the soles of my feet as an expansion cue in stressful in-person situations. That wasn’t deliberate, it just happened, but then I realised that I could trigger it easily on purpose on a video call by rolling something under my foot.

So, yeah, some weird prerequisites, but potentially useful. If anyone tries this and gets anything out of it I’d be interested to hear.

Also relevant: Michael Ashcroft’s video on How to be natural on camera – by expanding awareness.