Re-framing experiences using our senses: sight, sound, movement and feeling

This blog is an exploration into how we experience the world using our senses. It looks at the power of our visual, auditory and kinaesthetic systems to shape how we respond to the world around us. By being aware of this and using our sensory modalities we can re-frame our meaning to improve our reactions. From a personal experience this has helped me understand myself better: why I react as I do, how I learn and how I can take control of my own responses to stimulation and memories.

It started with a gory film…..

A little while ago I was in front of the television, not paying it much attention as I was reading. The sound was on mute and as I looked up I noticed a particularly gruesome scene involving zombies, fast cars and sharp instruments (oh and a freezer).  The genre of film is not my chosen genre and I would normally not even try and watch a film of that type. Why? Partly because I don’t find it entertaining, but mostly because I am one of those people who feel every sensation the actors are portraying. Stab someone and I feel the sharp, burning cut too.

But I noticed something about this moment…..I felt nothing. No physical sensation, no emotional reaction. The film was playing out with all its gore and violence, yet I felt not a damn thing. Then I realised: I can’t hear anything. The screaming, the high intensity music, the crash, bang, wallop of the scene was not there. If I can’t hear the sound I can’t feel the emotion…..Mmmmm…….[scratch head]…..

And yet more insight….

I started to reflect more widely on the use of my senses. Which ones were most important for me to “feel” something? Which ones did I like to use the most? I moved my thinking from films to fine art. As an artist myself I enjoy many types of paintings, drawings and sculptures – whilst there are many that create a party of emotions there are some that leave me cold. The ones that I don’t respond to are abstract art: straight lines running down a canvas, patterns and shapes that sit inertly in space. What I do respond to are people, places, scenery and animals. It’s about life. Give me a scene of a dancer for instance and I am transported to that place watching the dancer in flow, or a landscape full of birds and trees and I am there feeling the breeze of the wind. In these moments I don’t just see the image; I play the scene in my head like I am watching it in real time. I feel and hear and see it all. I am there, in that scene, living it.

We all use sensory modalities

It turns out that I’m ‘multi-modal’, which means I use all three senses of visual, sound, and movement/feeling to experience the world in almost equal measure.  Everyone uses at least one of these as their dominant modal operator to make sense of the world. We use these to explore, understand and express ourselves. Which ones do you use most?

Here’s what they are:

Visual – people who have dominant visual modes react to visual imagery more than other modes. They like to learn through visual means, use visual language, and ‘see’ rather than feel or hear the world around them. “I can see what you mean, it looks good to me”.

Auditory– people who have dominant auditory modal operators like sound. They use words representative of sound in their language, and respond to sound more than other modes when being in the world. They may well work in professions where sound is very important. Such people like to be told how to do something. “Let me sound you out with this idea”.

Kinaesthetic– people who have this as their dominant mode ‘feel’ the world. Not just as an emotion but through movement, touch, physical sensation. They use language that represents movement, shape, form, and feelings. They learn by being shown how to do something, or trying it out to work through the learning. “I feel for you, you aren’t moving in the right direction”.

Using sensory modalities to reframe experiences:

1)    Creating positive experiences or memories

Whatever your modality preferences, you can experience the world in a richer way by playing with your visual, auditory and kinaesthetic senses. When you are looking at something, or experiencing something pleasant, use your different senses to connect in different ways. Really see what is happening, turn the volume up to hear it more sharply, or move along with the scene you are watching to feel it more deeply.

Sometimes this may be in your head, other times you might be able to really move, or really turn the volume up. Whatever the situation, play with what you are seeing, hearing and feeling and see how it affects your enjoyment of the event.

Even your memories can be strengthened through playing with your senses. Replay the memory and adjust your sensory modalities in different ways you can make that memory even better! E.g. make the scene brighter, bring the image nearer, etc.

2)    Reducing negative experiences or memories

As with my experience of the gory film, you can reduce the impact of unpleasant experiences and memories too. Turn the volume down if the sound is causing distress (in your head or in real time). If you are visually dominant, see what happens when you imagine turning the lights off so the scene goes black. You can still hear the scene but cannot see a thing! Or freeze the image and stop the movement of the scene. You could even shrink it down to nothing.

Whatever your preference it will be of benefit to learn how to use all senses to control how you react to situations you encounter. A simple shift in any of the sensory modalities will change how you see, hear or feel the event, and it could make a huge difference to you.


About the Author: Lisa Jones 


‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’



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