Four steps to positive change: 2. Analyse conditions present

In his chapter Evolution of a Technique, FM Alexander gave us a simple set of instructions for how to develop a new plan for activity that we can use to replace our usual habitual way of going about  things. In this 2nd instalment of a 4 part blog series, I want to examine another of the steps to positive change that form Alexander’s method of reasoning our way to a better use of ourselves. Today, we are going to analyse conditions present.

Here is the section of Evolution of a Technique that we are going to cover over the next few weeks:

In the work that followed I came to see that to get a direction of my use which would ensure this satisfactory reaction, I must cease to rely upon the feeling associated with my instinctive direction, and in its place employ my reasoning processes, in order

(1) to analyse the conditions of use present;

(2) to select (reason out) the means whereby a more satisfactory use could be brought about;

(3) to project consciously the directions required for putting these means into effect.[1]

Why analyse conditions present?

Having defined a goal, one needs to start creating a path towards it. But in order to do that, you have to know – or at least have a glimmer of an idea – of your starting point. If we extend the ‘path’ analogy for a moment: in order to get to a destination, I have to plane a route. And that is a whole lot easier if I know where I am. I am sure pretty much everyone has been in the situation of being in a new city and trying to get to a particular tourist destination, and having trouble working out exactly where you are right this minute!

In order to be able to speak without hoarseness, Alexander needed to analyse what he was doing with his vocal (and other) mechanisms. He needed to make observations of what was happening now.

Internal and external

So if you wanted to, for example, improve your golf swing, you would need to analyse what you are doing with your body currently as you perform that action. You would need to think about muscles and joints you are using, and the sequence in which they are used.

However, don’t leave your analysis there! Also think about the external situation. Again, using the golfing analogy: look at the club you are using; the ball; the ground contours; the wind direction and strength. All of these will affect your golf swing and exactly how you would want to use it at that moment.

Analyse conditions present, not conditions past, or conditions future!

You’ll notice that I am emphasising analysing the conditions at the present moment. I am doing this for very good reasons.

First of all, if you want to improve your golf swing, part of the process of improvement is knowing that the swing will need to change according to the external conditions (like the ground and wind), and exactly what constitutes a good stroke at that particular moment. The idea of a ‘good’ golf swing is very context-dependent. (Or so my golfing students tell me…) I am certain that this is true for a huge number of other activities, too.

Second, I want you to avoid analysing conditions past or future. Sometimes in lessons a student will demonstrate an activity they want to improve – singing, for example – and when I ask what they noticed, they will say something like: “I’m not sure. But I probably pulled my head back.”

This student is assuming, for whatever reason, that they are doing the thing that they used to do when they first started lessons. They are giving me an analysis of conditions past, not what actually just happened. And when they do this, their analysis is almost always quite negative!

I also sometimes have students who won’t tell me what they just observed, but rather, tell me what they hope to have happen. This is analysing conditions future. This is just as useless to our process of path-building as analysing conditions past. To go back to the path-finding analogy; this is equivalent to spending your time looking at a map and imagining what the tourist destination will be like once you’re there. It’s fun, but it doesn’t give you any information about where you are starting from.

Analyse conditions present to gain evidence

Once you’ve done an analysis of conditions present, you have evidence about what is going on. You will have a good understanding of the particular context that is facing you at the present moment. From this, you will have a much clearer idea of what things you will need to change in order to achieve your goal.

Pretty much everyone has heard the maxim that knowledge is power. I would add that knowledge is clarity. Once you have evidence, you are no longer guessing. You are in the best position to make reasoned change – and that’s a powerful place to be.

[1] Alexander, F.M., The Use of the Self, London, Orion, 1985, p.39.

photograph of Tiger Woods by U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Brien Aho.