If your New Year’s Resolution involved learning a new skill or hobby, you might want to consider FM Alexander’s advice for learning something new.
It’s a fairly classic New Year’s resolution, isn’t it? “This year I’m going to learn…” And the skill could be anything: knitting, pottery, scuba diving, extreme ironing… And people have any number of reasons for wanting to learn new things. One of my favourite blog writers, piano teacher Elissa Milne, on a recent blog post even recommended learning a new skill to help teachers understand their students’ struggles better. And whether the activity is knitting or potholing, the Alexander Technique can help you to learn faster and more effectively (as Mark Josefsberg, a New York-based teacher, recently wrote about).
Me and FM on bicycles
FM wrote about bicycles. He said, “I have personal knowledge of a person who, by employing the principles of conscious control which I advocate, mounted and rode a bicycle down-hill without mishap on the first attempt, and on the second day rode 30 miles out and 30 miles back through normal traffic.” * An impressive feat.
Last year I learned to ride a bicycle. My parents tried to teach me to ride a bike when I was young, but for a mixture of practical reasons it never really worked out (gravel path, sloping ground, creek at bottom of slope…). But it has always felt like unfinished business, and even more so when my husband and son started going out on cycle rides and leaving me behind!
So I got some lessons. While I wasn’t as quick off the mark as FM’s friend (in my defence, the traffic is heavier now than in 1912!), it was the experience of my teacher that I was progressing faster than her students normally did, and that I was pre-empting her next teaching point by my questions at the end of each exercise she gave me.
How did I and FM’s friend achieve what we did? Here is what FM wrote:
“the principles involved were explained to him and he carefully watched an exhibition, first analysing the actions and the “means-whereby,” then reproducing them on a clearly apprehended plan.” **
So these are FM’s steps to learning something new:
- listen to the teacher explaining the principles involved in the activity
- watch carefully
- analyse the actions and the protocols involved. In bike-riding, for example, which joints are involved in the peddling action? Which parts move first?
- make a plan for how YOU are going to do that protocol, and only then give it a go.
If you try these steps, you will discover that your ability to learn is increased, and your fears and worries about learning decreased in equal measure. And me? Well, I’m not the world’s best cyclist by any means, but I can do it without falling off, and I have a lot of fun. And that, surely, is the whole point!
What new skills are you going to learn this year?
*FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete edition, p.130f.
** ibid., p.131.
Image by Roland Gardiner, stock.xchng