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The Value of Restriction (part 2)

 October 11, 2016

By  alswainger

Before I had access to a video recorder of my own, back when there were only three and then four TV channels, I had to watch what was on or do something else. I’m a TV addict, and have been since an early age, so I watched what was on. I watched black and white films, plays, subtitled foreign films, cartoons, quizzes, sitcoms, pages from Ceefax and adverts – whatever was going. I didn’t feel deprived I just devoured whatever was there (except the sport – never could get on with sport). I didn’t necessarily get the benefit of repetition but I did learn to enjoy variety well beyond the level of experience I would have chosen if I had had the option to watch purely cartoons and sitcoms. It’s still a form of restriction but applied from a different angle.

So (if you read part 1 first) now I seem to be directly contradicting myself.  Didn’t I say (or at least heavily encourage you to infer) that repetition was better? Well. Up to a point. In terms of developing pattern recognition through constant repetition then yes. That’s something you’re just not going to get by being constantly bombarded with new things. If you want a deeper relationship with or fuller understanding of a specific thing repetition is the only way to go. You also have to make a choice at some point as to when you have got enough from it. It doesn’t have to be a full stop. You can always go back and re-evaluate.

So if sometimes repetition is good and sometimes it isn’t how are you supposed to know which is which?

That’s basically up to you.

Some restrictions are essential of course. Don’t drink bleach, throw yourself off a cliff etc. Where a restriction places your life in danger or would have an adverse effect on your health or of those around you it is wise to avoid it.


Many restrictions are simply habit or convention however.

Social perceptions create all kinds of invisible restrictions which we unthinkingly obey. In extreme circumstances choosing to ignore those restrictions might place our lives in danger but often they don’t matter nearly as much as we think.

In the UK It’s expected that we should wear black at funerals. That we shouldn’t just lie down on the floor in public spaces. In some people’s houses we’re expected to take our shoes off, in others it may be considered out of place if we make that decision on our own without the request of the owners.

It can be tremendously liberating, exciting and joyful to decide to free ourselves from day to day restrictions. Perception is all that holds many of these things in place. We expect children to obey less restrictions than adults on the whole. If a child wants to skip, play or sing we generally let them get on with it. When we try to stop them they can put up a fight. It takes a while to learn which restrictions apply in which situations and to agree to comply with them. Put adults in a situation where restrictions are outside their expectations and they will quickly become uncomfortable and either try to exit the situation or discredit it. Freedom comes through learning which restrictions are there for reasons of personal safety and which are purely social.  Once we understand the difference we can have more choice over how we behave. We can also have a lot more fun.

Leaving to one side our ‘essential restrictions’, the ones that stop us coming to harm in some way or harming others, our ‘chosen restrictions’ can be very valuable. So long as they are varied and serve some purpose for us. Don’t necessarily always place the same restrictions on yourself. It’s good to review our restrictions to check that we have good reasons for them from time to time. No one likes to feel ‘stuck in a rut’. Not everyone understands how they got there when it happens. Not everyone understands that they can change it if they wish.

Take a mental step back now and again and think about which things you do out of habit and which are genuinely out of necessity.


For example :

I always catch a ball with my right hand. I’m not good at catching a ball with my left hand. I have a negative restriction (based on my perception) in place that stops me using my left hand. If I choose to reverse it by always catching a ball with my left hand then my ability with that hand will improve over time. If I persist with that restriction for long enough the positive effects of restricting myself to my left hand will start to be outweighed by a loss of ability with my right hand. Before I get to that point I would want to review the restrictions I have put in place. By consciously reviewing and adjusting my restrictions I could gradually become ambidextrous. If I leave it to chance and habit then I’m very unlikely to do so.

Once we start to look at restriction in that way it becomes apparent that it can a very positive thing too. It’s usually framed as ‘things not to do’ but restriction is really about choosing parameters. The  value of restriction is in choosing which things to do when.

Learning when to be consistent and when to adapt is a very key survival instinct. Try asking yourself these questions :


Could you change the way you go about things to make things seem fresh?

Would your life improve if you chose to make some changes?


Be prepared to say yes or no to those questions and feel comfortable with your answers.

Ask yourself those questions about any aspect of your life whenever they occur to you.

Feel comfortable when the answers change from time to time.


The value of restriction is in choosing the parameters that work best for you.


​Al has performed, recorded and taught all over the country and internationally for more than 25 years.

Highlights include sessions, tours and workshops with :

Peter King, Grice, Paul Jones, P.P. Arnold, Scott Hamilton, Siobhan McCrudden, Gary Bamford, Gilad Atzmon, Mike Outram, Alan Barnes, Ant Law and many more as well as h​is own projects :

Pointless Beauty, Biophosmos, Snow Giants and Mahatmosphere.

As an educator he has taught for schools, colleges and privately for more than 25 years and has a BA (Hons) / PGCE in Music.

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