Mastering basic FIML practice is similar to mastering musical scales or the basic skills of any sport.
Basic FIML is a kind of mental training that allows you to identify, understand, and react to real-time communication problems quickly and efficiently.
FIML analyses put both partners on the same page. Over time, partners develop a wealth of experience that improves communication while also illuminating individual and interpersonal psychology.
It is a fact that it is difficult for people to talk about how they talk when their talking has become heated for any reason.
FIML is designed to make it much easier to do that. Once mastered, the basic FIML technique results in a kind of metacognition that makes interpersonal analyses of all kinds easier and more efficient. Instead of fighting you can have fun with communication missteps.
After basic FIML has been done successfully a few hundred times, the basic technique does not need to be used as often because the metacognition that has developed between partners can handle many more situations than before.
FIML optimizes communication between partners thereby also optimizing psychological well-being. Though basic FIML can be done less often as skills improve, as in sports or music it is always best to practice the basics frequently.
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.
FIML is based on a query that seeks to know the contents of a partner’s short-term memory out of which arose a particular act of their communication.
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 a sensation or an emotional reaction. The sensation could be slight or it could be strong.
(This sensation could be called a “trigger”, but trigger typically places too much responsibility on the speaker. In FIML practice, the listener takes 100% responsibility for their own sensations and reactions of this type.)
Megan is mindful of this sensation, 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 sensation “means,” she stops and asks Andrew: “What was your state of mind when you said X?“
“What was your state of mind when you said or did X” is the basic FIML query. Partners can use code or different phrasing as they like. This query seeks to know the contents of the partner’s short-term memory that gave rise to that particular act of communication.
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 reaction or the sensation she felt. Megan trusts Andrew to tell her the truth. Thus, she is forced to realize that her sensation 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 sensation or reaction.)
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 sensation) 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:
- The word sensation is used as a special term in FIML. A sensation is an emotional/physical/hormonal response that occurs very soon after something someone said or did. Sensations can be very small or they can be bigger. By definition, sensations start at a discreet moment and thus they rarely will be large, though a large sensation is possible. (The term sensation can be thought of as referring to the second skandha of the Buddha’s Five Skandha explanation of consciousness.)
- Sensations can be either negative or positive. Most people most of the time will be more disturbed by negative sensations than positive ones, but positive sensations can be as problematic as negative ones. Some examples of positive sensations are ones caused by excessive idealism, wishful thinking, blind faith, unreasonable assertiveness, pride, fantastic thinking, and so on.
- Some sensations arise out of the conditions at hand and are simply “mistaken interpretations.”
- Other sensations 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 sensation, 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” sensation 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 sensation 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 sensation 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 sensation arose.
- The point of the FIML query is to discover if the sensation 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, the contents of his short-term memory when he spoke.
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 sensation 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 sensation before the mind brings in all the usual baggage that goes with that sensation. 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 sensation was justified. I am confident that most sensations, if not all, will not be justified. Please see other posts on this site for more details on FIML practice.
A quick query is very important. This is the basic FIML skill that both partners must learn. Ideally, Megan’s FIML query following her sensation will occur quickly enough for Andrew to have access to his short-term memory load out of which the word (X) issued. X is the word that initiated Megan’s sensation. Having accurate access to his short-term memory load allows Andrew to provide Megan with very good objective data. Keeping her own short-term memory load in mind as Andrew answers allows Megan to compare her mental data with Andrew’s. Most of all this is what will convince her that her interpretation is wrong.
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.