Allan Schore is a researcher at UCLA. He has unlocked many secrets of the mind. His work was made possible by technological advancements in the last ten years, the functional MRI which allows study of brain activity as it happens. He has discovered that most moment-to-moment psychological processes must occur through nonconscious means if they are to occur at all. Regulation of emotion — if emotion is to be regulated at all — is carried out almost entirely by various nonconscious mental systems.
Recent developments in SOAR are based largely on Schore’s research. It is not surprising, then, that the Strengthening Exercise works at a completely unconscious level to control feelings when flying.
Practice of the Strengthening Exercise is like learning to drive a car with a manual — stick shift — transmission. As you shift gears, use of the gas pedal and clutch, and consider the speed of the car, great concentration is required. But as the task is being performed consciously, the unconscious mind is watching. Once a person is able to shift — though practice and concentration — consistently, the unconscious mind begins to memorize what is consistently being done. (It won’t — or can’t — memorize what is done until what is done is done consistently enough.)
Then, once the task has been memorized by the unconscious mind, the unconscious mind takes over. Shifting of the gears which took enormous concentration — and yet was clumsy — is done smoothly with little or no need to be conscious of it. That is what happens with the Strengthening Exercise. When it is practiced correctly, as practice becomes consistent, the unconscious mind absorbs the steps. Then, when flying, the unconscious mind does the things that keep anxiety from developing.
When things don’t happen too fast, as when driving where there is no traffic, a person can shift gears on a car using deliberate conscious focus on the task. But when things happen fast — such as in automobile racing or even heavy traffic — shifting gears consciously takes too much focus. As Tom Cruise said about jet fighter combat in “Top Gun” — if you think (consciously about what to do) it’s too late.
If anxiety developed slowly, we would be able to control it deliberately. The conscious mind is far too slow. It is simply not fast enough to keep up when the unconscious mind is throwing out “what if” this and “what if” that and “what if” the next thing.
Our clients, after practicing the Strengthening Exercise a few times, don’t believe it is going to work. They see no reason why it should have anything more than a mild — if that — effect on their feelings. Schore’s work helps us understand why we have no way of knowing the Strengthening Exercise will work.
Schore says the mental activities that calm us unconsciously is not innate. How well emotion is regulated depends upon early development. When an adult calms a child, what the adult does is taken in consciously by the child, if what is done by the adult is consistent enough and done for long enough. Then the child makes use of what the adult does, by unconsciously calming himself or herself in the same way.
If a child watched an adult drive a stick shift, and the adult did the motions consistently enough and the child watched it long enough, the child would be able to do it, too. If the adult calms the child consistently enough and the child has the benefit of this calming long enough, the child can then calm himself or herself unconsciously — without a thought.
Likewise, when a client practices the Strengthening Exercise consistently enough and long enough, the client calms himself or herself, when flying, unconsciously — without a thought.
There is really no way for a client to know in advance that this unconscious process is in place. We can only tell you: six to eight practice sessions. Then, when you fly, the difference will be greater than you believed possible. And you don’t have to do a thing. The protection — through the unconscious operation of the mental systems Schore has researched and written about — is just there.