Are you filled with enthusiasm for the coming year?
How are you going with your New Year’s Resolutions?
Or have you worked out your goals for 2014? Are you sticking to your plans so far?
If you’re anything like me, you experience a heady mix of emotions at the beginning of the year as you make plans for how you want to best use your time and energies. And it can be tricky navigating a path through the mix of excitement, puzzlement, enthusiasm, fear and confusion.
It was a pleasant surprise, then, as I started one of my holiday reading books, to come across a reminder of some of the most important lessons that FM Alexander teaches us about navigating the process of change and development.
My holiday reading was called The Alchemy of Voice, written by singing teacher E. Herbert-Caesari. In the opening chapter, the author exhorts singing students to strive, experiment and practise daily – all good things, I’m sure you’ll agree! But then he issues this warning:
Let the student beware, however, of three prominent evils:
- Unbridled enthusiasm which leads to precipitancy and excesses;
- Impatient expectation of rapid measurable results;
- Discouragement in face of temporary or occasional failure.*
What a list! It’s such a powerful selection of principles that I’m going to spend this blog post just talking about the first of Caesari’s three points: the dangers of unbridled enthusiasm.
Unbridled enthusiasm – too much of a good thing.
When my son made chapattis recently, he decided not to follow the written recipe instructions. Measuring ingredients seemed slow and tedious. Instead, he decided to put two large double handfuls of flour in his bowl, sprinkle in a bit of salt, and then slosh in some water.
The mix was a little dry, so he added more water.
The mix was still too dry, so he added a little more water.
The mix was STILL too dry, so he added… a lot more water. A whole lot. His chapatti mix looked a little like soup. It needed a lot more flour, and some adult help, to bring it back to being the right consistency.
Caesari’s point at the beginning of his book is that singers are a little like my son. He decided that he knew what chapatti dough looked like, so he didn’t need to measure ingredients. He knew what he was doing. Similarly, Caesari suggests that singers very often think they know what sort of sound they want to achieve, and don’t necessarily follow a reasoned process to get there.
But it isn’t just singers who are like that, and it isn’t just my son. I suspect everyone has this experience. We are convinced we know what our end product should be, so in our enthusiasm to get to the end, we skip some of the slow, boring, tedious, necessary steps that will get us there.
FM Alexander certainly had this experience. In 1910 he wrote:
One day I hope to write an account of how I arrived at the practical elucidation of my principles of conscious control, and when I do, I shall show very plainly how one of the greatest, if not the greatest danger against which I had to fight was my own enthusiasm. It is as vivid and keen today as it was over twenty years ago, but I should never have worked out my principles, if I had allowed it to dominate my reason.**
Enthusiasm and reason
Notice that Alexander doesn’t say that enthusiasm is bad. Neither does Caesari. They both say that unbridled enthusiasm is bad. Unbridled enthusiasm blinds us; it stops us from assuming that we know everything, and causes us to miss out vital steps. It stops us from using our heads.
So this is what we must do:
- Be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is good. It keeps us going through the inevitable failures and disappointments along the path to our goals;
- Remember that we don’t know it all! Humility will keep us remembering that we need to watch out for our hidden assumptions and blind spots;
- Keep using our heads and following all the steps. It’s hard to be a good musician if you don’t practise. It’s hard to keep fit if you don’t exercise. It’s hard to be a writer if you don’t write! Keep showing up, and keep doing the steps.
If we follow these pointers, then together we can all make a true difference to ourselves, to our families, and to our communities this year. Wouldn’t that be a great thing?
* E. Herbert-Caesari, The Alchemy of Voice, Robert Hale, London, 1965, p.22.
** FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the IRDEAT complete edition, p.90. And he did write that account of how he arrived at his principles of conscious control – it’s the first chapter of his book The Use of the Self.
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