Don’t settle for mediocre: FM Alexander on success


How often do you settle for the thing that is okay, instead of pushing on further and risking being brilliant?

This happens to me every time I bake a cake. I love the baking, hate the decorating. My ideal cake is one that you can smother in icing sugar or cocoa powder and take straight to the table. Sadly, that means that often my cakes aren’t as appealing to look at as they ought to be, because I have not put in the extra effort to make them really special. When I watch the bakers n my favourite TV programme of the moment, BBC’s Great British Bake Off, I am filled with awe.

FM Alexander addresses this problem of tolerating mediocrity in his second book. He writes about how a student will have conceived of what the problem is (decorating is too difficult), will think about the reward for not having this problem (no messy icing sugar everywhere, no wasted time), and will come up with a ‘fix’ to get to the reward fastest (dust icing sugar over the cake).

The problem is that it doesn’t work. The cakes always look sort of reasonable, but not special. I can try to tell myself that I have done my best, but in my heart of hearts I know I’m kidding myself. I might be satisfying my belief structure (decorating is hard) and my conscience (I did my best), but in the end it just won’t wash, and it won’t get me beautiful cakes. To do that I need to do something new. To quote FM,

If [I] once stopped to reason the thing out, and based [my] judgement on the experience gained from the knowledge of previous failures, [I] would have to discard these orthodox plans and seek new ones. This would not be the easy way. It would be the difficult way.*

In other words, in order to go from making just okay cakes to knock ’em dead cakes, I need to reason out a new strategy. I need to take a reasoned, thought out risk.

And it might not work. The icing might go horribly wrong. But at least my cake wouldn’t be just okayish any longer. And the more I work on my new plan for icing, the better are my chances of success.

So when I get back home, I am going to try some new cake decorating ideas. Hw are you going to move beyond okayish and towards extraordinary?

* FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, IRDEAT edition, p.295.
Picture by Jennifer Mackerras