FIML practice is in some ways very simple and straightforward. In other ways it is very complex because it involves the minds of two people in the midst of dynamic interaction.
Below is a short description of basic FIML practice.
Partners should have a prior agreement to do FIML, and then interrupt a normal conversation as follows.
Basic FIML practice
Two people—Andrew and Megan—are talking.
Andrew says something (X) that makes Megan feel an emotional jangle. The jangle could be slight or it could be strong.
Megan is mindful of this jangle, aware that it has happened within one second or so.
Before Megan goes any further and starts to call on her usual interpretations of what her jangle “means,” she stops and asks Andrew: “What was your state of mind when you said X?”
Andrew answers honestly, providing a complete description of his state of mind during the few seconds surrounding his saying X.
Megan does not hear anything in Andrew’s description that justifies her emotional jangle. Megan trusts Andrew to tell her the truth. Thus, she is forced to realize that her jangle was based on her own misinterpretation and not on anything Andrew said or did.
To be certain of her conclusions, Megan might want to ask a follow-up question, for example: “Are you sure you were not implying that you are bored when you said X“? (In this example, Megan’s problem is that she feels Andrew is bored with her; this is what set off her jangle.)
Andrew answers honestly and says, “Yes, I am sure. I was not and am not bored. When I said X, I just meant that we don’t need to be concerned with that one aspect of the subject. I did not mean that I am bored with the subject, and certainly not with you.”
In this example, Megan’s ongoing misinterpretation of Andrew (and probably others) is that he is bored with what she is saying, that she is not interesting enough. Her misinterpretation is very likely something she has carried with her for years. It distorts her world and what she hears when people speak to her. It may make her insecure or it may cause her to miss positive cues from people like Andrew. All misinterpretations can and often do snowball; in this respect, even a minor misinterpretation can ultimately have very large effects. Megan, for example, may have begun to think people are bored with her from a single experience in childhood. Her misinterpretation may also be due to Andrew’s mannerisms and have nothing to with her past or how she interacts with other people.
Many other kinds of misinterpretations exist. Some people are afraid of others, or suspicious, or narcissistic, or naive, or biased, or arrogant, or ashamed, or idealistic, or excessively negative or positive, etc.
Most individuals will have a few core habitual misinterpretations and several others that are less central to their emotional and cognitive processes. FIML practice helps two (or more) individuals see themselves as they really are. The use of an honest and caring FIML partner assures that both partners will discover profound and truthful insights into how they think, feel, speak, and listen.
Once Megan has understood that her initial feeling of not being interesting (her jangle) was not justified, she might want to describe her new understanding to Andrew and discuss it with him, either briefly or at length. The choice is hers. Andrew may also have something to say about what happened.
A few things to understand about the model described above:
- A jangle is an emotional/physical/hormonal response that occurs very soon after something someone said or did. Jangles can be very small or they can be bigger. By definition, jangles start at a discreet moment and thus they rarely will be large, though a large jangle is possible.
- Jangles can be either negative or positive. Most people most of the time will be more disturbed by negative jangles than positive ones, but positive jangles can be as problematic as negative ones. Some examples of positive jangles are ones caused by excessive idealism, wishful thinking, blind faith, unreasonable assertiveness, pride, fantastic thinking, and so on.
- Some jangles arise out of the conditions at hand and are simply “mistaken interpretations.”
- Other jangles are habitual reactions that constitute “ongoing mistaken interpretations.” *
- It is best to correct any mistaken interpretation, but ongoing ones are almost always more serious.
- In our example above, Megan has an “ongoing mistaken interpretation” concerning the way people speak to her. She tends to mistakenly interpret many tones of voice or other cues as indicating boredom with her.
- (Megan’s “ongoing mistaken interpretation” is just an example. FIML partners will have other kinds of mistaken interpretations—feeling disrespected, unwanted, frightened, etc.)
- Let’s say that the example above is the third time that Megan has asked Andrew about this mistaken interpretation immediately after it appeared as a jangle, and let’s say that each time Andrew has described a state of mind that is not bored. Firstly and most importantly, Megan believes Andrew because she trusts him. Secondly, Megan can tell from what Andrew has said—how he described his mind—that he really was not bored. He was thinking something else.
- Now that she has seen that her “boredom” jangle was a mistake three times in a row, Megan’s mind will very naturally begin to abandoned that mistaken interpretation.
- She may ask about it a few more times, but when she keeps getting similar answers from Andrew, her mind will come to realize that it is wasting energy creating a painful interpretation that isn’t true.
- In many cases, Megan’s mistaken interpretation will simply disappear from her mind with no other work on her part. In a short time, she may hardly be able to even remember what it was.
- Her mistaken interpretation will drop away from her almost effortlessly because her mind will be fully convinced that she has been making a costly mistake. Her mind will be convinced of this because she trusts her partner and knows that he is giving her truthful information.
- In the example above, Megan becomes fully aware of her initial emotional jangle within one second or so. Buddhists who regularly practice mindfulness will find this fairly easy to do in most cases. People who have never been exposed to Buddhist mindfulness training may find this more difficult, depending on their backgrounds.
- Mindfulness means that we are observant, mindful, of how we react to things. With practice, it is possible to be mindful of the very start of even a strong emotional reaction.
- Almost as soon as a FIML partner notices (is mindful of) a jangle arising, they should start a FIML query by asking their partner what was in their mind as in the above example.
- The partner making the query should strive to hold any further emotional reaction (the full-blown neurotic response) in abeyance.
- If their mindfulness is good, they should be able to see that, so far, all that has happened is a word was spoken and a jangle arose.
- The point of the FIML query is to discover if the jangle was justified or mistaken.
- A FIML query should be spoken in as neutral a tone of voice as possible, though the listener (Andrew in our example) should be able to understand if the speaker’s (Megan’s) feelings start to show a bit. Andrew needs to be mindful of what Megan needs at this point.
- Megan needs an accurate description from Andrew of his state of mind.
FIML practice is based on both partners having made a prior agreement to do it. This is important because FIML practice requires partners to step outside of the normal course of a conversation or exchange and observe/analyze it from that vantage.
The key to FIML practice is being mindful of the jangle as soon as it appears, and then making a query in a neutral tone of voice (so your partner will not start reacting to you). FIML is different from an ordinary discussion of “personal issues” in that FIML practice is designed to capture and isolate a real emotional jangle before the mind brings in all the usual baggage that goes with that jangle. Partners may find it interesting or beneficial to discuss childhood experiences or theories about why they feel the ways they do, but these discussions should come after the basic FIML practice of determining whether the initial jangle was justified. I am confident that most jangles, if not all, will not be justified. Please see other posts on this site for more details on FIML practice.
More on how to do FIML can be found here: FIML and practical semiotics.
An evidence based description of why FIML works can be found here: Disruption of neurotic response in FIML practice.
Here are a few FAQs that may shed some more light: FIML FAQs.
*In some of our early posts we used the term neurosis to indicate an “ongoing mistaken interpretation.” We have generally stopped using that term because it may cause confusion.