Theories of Fidgeting

Reposted from Twitter, with edits:

  1. Bracelets are a superior form of jewelry: less noticeable and make it less likely that earrings will be fidgeted.
  2. In lower status meetings, knitting is the best form of fidgeting. (In higher status meetings, a pen is an acceptable alternative.)
  3. Having a single focus object (example) is good for desk work, but can cause emotional trauma if misplaced.

In a reply to a question — is tweeting about fidgeting a form of metafidgeting? Well, possibly; more that I’m attempting to bring a semi-conscious process into the forefront. A longer rumination follows….

I have been fidgety for as long as I can remember: I fuss with jewelry, pens, zippers, anything handy. And I don’t always realize it, and it’s totally obvious to others.

When I was in high school I was in Academic Decathlon, which has a speech component and an interview component. After my (favorite!) teacher watched me progressively fidget with every single piece of jewelry I was wearing (and I wore a lot more jewelry then) over the course of my practice speeches, she insisted that I remove all of it before the actual competition. She would stand outside the room with her hands out, and I’d take off everything for her to hold until I was done. According to at least one of my sisters, she used that as an example; I’m guessing while talking about ums and ahs, knowing your own weaknesses, and how to be more composed while speaking. Which sounds embarrassing, but since I remember the experience with fondness, it isn’t really.

I’ve only recently discovered the three rules listed at the beginning of this post. Rule #1 came from the MetaFilter Craft Exchange: one of the items I received was a lovely bracelet that I started wearing initially as a reminder of the goodness of humanity. (Or something.) But then I discovered that if I was wearing it, I tended to fiddle with it instead of with my earrings (especially if my hair was down), and that that fidgeting was significantly less noticeable, because it keeps my hands down away from my face.

I think I may have already written some about knitting as an advanced form of fidgeting; what I’ve discovered is that if I knit while I’m in a meeting or listening to a webinar, it keeps the distractible part of my brain occupied, so I actually listen instead of zoning out making (unrelated) notes. (I totally would’ve retained way more in college if I’d been knitting then.) FWIW, this also works with expository sequences in D&D games. The trick, of course, is not being seen as rude. First aspect of that is to be knitting something that doesn’t itself require much if any concentration, so you can maintain eye contact when necessary. I’m currently working on a tablet cover that’s 99% seed stitch; it’s been great for that. Long stretches of stockinette or garter work too. The second aspect is to feel out the social status signals and meeting function. So far I’ve been trying to err on the side of not knitting.

And finally, I’ve had that fidget object linked earlier for quite a while, and it’s in my left hand pretty much any time I’m at my desk and not actively typing or writing on paper. I will say that a few times I’ve misplaced it in odd spots in my cubicle and freaked myself out. Security blanket? Mind focuser? I don’t know. I just accept that it’s an important part of my work environment.

At this point, I’ve also accepted that this behavior is part of who I am, and what I can do is be conscious enough to stop when it’s a problem (LEAVE YOUR JACKET ZIPPERS ALONE) and to redirect those tendencies into things that are either less noticeable or more useful.