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Is keeping eye contact really such a great success?

(Note: This is a work in progress…  Updated 2009/6/1)

I ran across an interesting threat at the stuttering forum entitled Is keeping eye contact really such a great success? And I’d like to suggest that it categorically is. But there’s a couple of issues here:

(1a) Let’s define success.  Reading 7 Habits has (in many ways) changed the way I view the concept of success or effectiveness.  Success isn’t an end-product.  (That’s achieving an objective or meeting a goal.)  Success is a process; it’s a chronic state; it’s a way of life.  People live successful lives; they live in a state of success.  How we live contains 4 basic tenets, which include: (a) personal principles that (b) dictate personal values that (c) dictate behavior that (d) dictate (effective vs. ineffective) results.  In other words, it’s a transitive mathematical statement: our core principles ultimately impact how successful and effective we are in life.

[Side note:  Now–maybe I’m onto something here.  If someone is chasing the fluency god, they are seeking a (permanently fluent) result by trying to manage their behavior.  They are (trying) to manage their behavior because they value the idea of fluency over stuttering, because (in principle) they see stuttering as an unacceptable characteristic for life and living.  Maybe, at some point in the future, I’ll rebut this little thought-train and explain how it’s both flawed and counter-productive to one’s quality of life.]

(1b) In other words, success is not achieving a goal–because it will not ‘feel’ like success and will may result in happiness. (True) Success (resulting in tangible improvements to one’s quality of life) is a lifestyle (or personal culture) of living successfully.  (Remember: results dictated by behavior dictated by values dictated by principles.)

(1c) If success is a process (or personal culture) of living, is it possible to skip to the end?  (No–because there is no end!  The process of living successfully is only ended by loss of consciousness or death.  And I can see merit to the idea that a person’s success can live on, after their death.)

(2a) So let’s take another look at eye contact.  *But* let’s look at eye contact through the perspective of another rabbit trail: Dave Ramsey says that success in personal finances is 20% math and 80% behavior.  (And remember, behavior is ultimately dictated by personal values.)  And I think he’s hit a huge nugget of reality here: The way toward the result of financial peace is to live in accordance with the principles and values of financial peace.  So let’s extrapolate this to stuttering.  Regardless of if your goal is effective communication or the great white whale of ‘permanently fluent speech’, proper eye contact is a stepping stone toward either objective.

(2b) Another Dave Ramsey-ism is to hit the small challenges (i.e, debts) first.  Now–this makes no sense from a fiscal perspective; you’d want to take out the high-interest debt first, right?  But if financial peace is a behavior, it makes all kinds of sense.  If success is living successfully, then it makes every bit of sense to knock out the little annoying challenges (i.e., behaviors) that continue to nag and drag the soul.  And all these little “successes” reinforces the new lifestyle of living successfully.  It’s a snowball that gains inertia and size with every revolution.  Pretty soon, you’re knocking out debt like Mike Tyson in his prime.  For stutterers:  Today, eye contact; tomorrow, the word!

(3a) Now, let’s look at what eye contact can do for you.  First, losing eye contact reinforces personal shame, guilt and fear; that is *not* a win.  Turning your back on the ti-ger results in an ass-kicking.  We’ve got to stare that ti-ger down, whatever that ti-ger may be.  (And for us, it’s likely the societal ramifications of stuttered speech.)  Every client that I have known that veraciously stared down their ti-ger and by focusing on eye contact has resulted in reduced shame, reduced guilt, reduced fear, and a renewed ‘go-get-em’ attitude.  It seems to revive the soul via proactive personal empowerment.  The snowball has been formed and it’s beginning to roll down hill (gaining size and inertia).

(3b) And once this little “success” is reached, proper eye contact has other functions as well–it keeps us in the communicative moment.  It allows us (if not empowers us) through body language to complete communicative moments.  (In other words, people will dismiss us less.)  And after this little ‘success’ is reached, assertive (if not aggressive) eye contact can be used to draw personal boundaries and afford us our freedom and liberty to speak even with those who would otherwise try to disallow us to do so. (In other words, the stutterer (through proactive eye contact) dictates the rules of the communicative exchange with the listener.  We refuse to be refused.  We take our pet ti-ger out for a walk and show him with pride.)

In short (and nothing about this post has been short), eye contact is a pivotal step towards successfully living with stuttering.  Success begins with staring down your unkept ti-ger, and much of this is founded on eye-contact.  It helps thwart shame, fear, and guilt; it helps us face our ti-ger; it helps with desensitization; it helps with effective communication regardless of overt severity or speech-treatment goal/objective… I could go on and on, but this diatribe needs to stop somewhere.

Yes, eye contact is a great success–because it a cornerstone of living successfully with stuttering.

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  1. May 30th, 2009 at 11:23 | #1

    Wow, funny that you write this today. I just had a conversation with JK about my increased “left eye squeeze” when I am stuck in a stuttering moment.I amnot going to call this a block, because I deny that I block -I don’t block.
    But I have noticed more, and so have a couple of other people – that I am doing that more lately.
    Haven’t done that in a long time, or maybe just didn’t notice. So, here I am worrying about squeezing my eye when stuttering, and here you come posting about it today.
    I asked JK what I should do about it, becasue I really don’t like it (duh!). He says, well wait until after your big speech event, and then start doing it purposely. Someone else once suggested that to me. I understand VS, but not sure I get voluntary eye squeeze. What do you think, oh Ti-Ger trainer?
    I am defintiely going to wait until after the big stage night. Hopefully, I won’t do it then.


    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    Hey Pam! It sounds like this ‘left eye squeeze’ is yet another secondary. We really don’t know what secondaries are–but my personal guess (and that’s all can do at this point–guess!) is that secondary behaviors are the body’s way of trying to offer itself an initiating prime. We’re trying to kick-start ourselves out of this stuttering moment. And it seems to work OK sometimes, but unfortunately, the body doesn’t understand the principles of effective communication and societal punishment!

    What JK was describing is called “Negative Practice”. The concept is pretty simple actually. You greatly exaggerate the undesired behavior, and you cyclically practice it. Tense-relase; tense-relase; tense-release; tense-release.

    The end result is that the next time you have the ‘tension’, you’ll (much more easily) sense it, and be able to release it.

    (So in essence, you’re practicing identifying the physiological feeling and then releasing it.)

    Volitional stuttering also seems to be a pretty good way at scrubbing away unwanted secondaries as well. You’re in essence training the body a new set of secondaries (which are the volitional stuttering behaviors.)


  2. Charlie
    June 5th, 2009 at 12:43 | #2

    A late comment, but I only get to your site once or twice a week… Wendell Johnson talked about IFD disease. This is when a person sets a goal that is idealistic, one that is unattainable. In the quest for the unattainable, a person begins to experience frustration. Continued frustration leads to demoralization. He suggested that when a person sets goals that are within reach and then meets these goals s/he feels successful.

    Johnson described success as a feeling a person experiences (not the images meant to protray what you look like or how you act when you are successful, fed to us on TV by Madison Avenue).

    A key ingredient to avoiding IFD disease, in addition to setting attainable goals, is to be okay with who you are, with your strengths and your weaknesses. A personal example, as a kid I wanted nothing more than to be a major league baseball player. My only problem was that I had trouble throwing, catching or hitting a baseball. It didn’t stop me from trying in my youth (ignorance is bliss). As an adult I continue to enjoy baseball and consider myself as having at least an average viewer’s knowledge of the game, but recognizing that I lack the ability to ever be a good player…but I’m a damned good spectator!
    Success in the field of fluency is so often equated to being “fluent,” whatever that means. As a clinician, I try to help the person who has come for help realize his/her own success (which is often not well measured by % of stuttered syllables).
    I don’t think I’ve done Johnson’s toughts justice here, but I hope you get my drift.


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