When I teach Alexander Technique, I typically encourage students to come in with a activity they’d like to work on. It could be anything from sitting, to running, to juggling, or to using the pedal on a sewing machine. When I ask them why they want to look at their activity in class, they typically use one of the phrases:
- I’m having trouble with x.[insert activity here]
- I can’t play this passage.
- It could have been better.
- I’m okay up to this point, but then it all goes wrong.
- I don’t breathe properly.
- I always run out of air before the end.
- I can’t hit that note.
- I’m not doing as well as I’d like.
And when my students say their variation on these phrases, a line or two by FM Alexander runs through my mind: “when…we are seeking to give a patient conscious control, the consideration of mental attitude must precede the performance of the act prescribed … He often finds an enormous difficulty in altering some trifling habit of thought that stands between him and the benefit he clearly expects.” *
FM is pointing us towards an important truth. So often, the way we think about a problem is not only a part of the problem, but actually stands between us and the change of attitude and perspective necessary to find a solution. Or, to quote Stephen Covey, the way we see the problem is the problem.”
So next time you find yourself saying a variant on the above statements, try to find a new and more positive way of articulating the same thing:
- I want to achieve x, but haven’t yet worked out how to do it.
- I don’t yet play this passage the way I envisage it.
- It hasn’t reached my highest standard, but there was improvement.
- I haven’t managed to continue my thinking into this part [of the piece/action] yet.
- I’m not sure how the breathing mechanism works.
- There’s a reason why I run out of air, but I haven’t worked it out yet.
- I don’t know why that note doesn’t come out right yet.
- My current standard of performance hasn’t yet achieved the high standard I’ve set myself.
Can you see how these are more open? They either acknowledge the progress already made, or provide openings that will help us to question why things aren’t working out yet.
And the key word is YET. Alter those trifling habits of thought, follow the process of questioning and exploring, and good things will happen.
Let me know how you are going to restate your difficulties in the comments. Or if you’re adept at doing this already, let me know what benefits you’ve experienced. The more evidence that it works, the more people will want to give it a go!
*FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat edition, p.52.
Photo by Gordon Plant.