Annual Check-up: the easy route to noticing change


One night last week my son went to bed in pyjamas that fitted. When he got out of bed the next morning, they were conspicuously short in the leg. He had had a growth spurt overnight.

Now such things happen – changes that are sudden and instantly visible. But often change isn’t so obvious. It is gradual and incremental. It creeps up on you. The classic example is not noticing that your child has grown until someone comes to visit who hasn’t been for a while. When they exclaim how tall your child has become, you also look on them with new eyes. Yes, they have grown, haven’t they?!

It is very easy to just let life slide past and thus not notice the effect of the accumulation of small changes, whether for good or ill. Our child grows, the bedroom carpet gets shabbier, our confidence in our new job increases, our favourite shoes develop worn heels…

Small changes. It can be hard to notice the small changes. FM Alexander knew this. In the opening chapter of his very first book he wrote:

“The evils of a personal bad habit do not reveal themselves in a day or in a week, perhaps not in a year, a remark that is also true of the benefits of a good habit.” *

What Alexander means here is that, if we sit or stand or go about any of the “innumerable acts of daily life” in a way that is less than optimal (or even downright harmful), we may not notice the effects immediately. They might not appear for weeks, or months, or maybe even a year.

But notice that he also says that this is “also true of the benefits of a good habit.” When we make changes that are good and beneficial, we might not notice the benefits immediately. They might be gradual and incremental. They might creep up on us. We might not even notice the improvement for weeks. Or months. Or maybe even a year.


Annual check-up time.

Some years ago I decided to take Alexander’s words seriously, and set up for myself a sort of informal annual check-up. At a certain time each year, I think back to that time the previous year. I think back to what was feeling emotionally and physically. I check my diary and look at the sorts of things I was doing each week. I look for the accumulation of the small changes.

Would you like to do something similar?

The end of the year is a good, standard, traditional time to carry out that sort of annual review. One of my favourite writers, Chris Guillebeau, is even making part of his public at the moment on his blog.

Sample questions for your review:

  • How was I physically this time last year? Are there things I can do now that I couldn’t do back then?
  • What was I thinking about this time last year? What preoccupied me? Has my thinking changed, and if so, how?
  • How was I feeling this time last year? Am I feeling differently now? If so, how?

If you haven’t done a review before, give it go, and tell me in the comments how you found the exercise. And if you do this each year, tell me, how does it help you?


* FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.16.


Alexander’s Three Steps to Success in Anything


Is there something that you love to do, that you’d like to do better? Maybe it’s your Alexander Technique. Or maybe writing, or singing (my two current obsessions), or running… Maybe you’d like some advice on how to do these things better? Well…

Over the past week I’ve read three separate blogs by three thoroughly different writers, and all three have had the same theme: the importance of doing the work.

The first was by Seth Godin, and was called Talker’s Block. He wrote about the fact that people don’t eveer complain about not being able to talk – they just get on with it, because they don’t necessarily care about the quality of every word they speak. Yet writers can fall into the trap of caring about every word they write, to the point where they can stop writing altogether. What would happen if they just wrote a certain amount every day, and worried about the quality later?

The second article was by Chris Guillebeau. He wrote about the fact that writing a very large number of words, and more importantly, writing them regularly, was the key to his ability to write effective prose fairly quickly. The quality didn’t come first; the word count did.

Finally, author Sarah Duncan told a story about artist JMW Turner, who while out sketching was accosted by an admirer who wished to buy his sketch. When Turner asked for sixty guineas for a sketch that took 10 minutes to produce, the admirer was astonished. ‘Ah yes,’ JMW Turner is supposed to have replied.  ’10 minutes, and 40 years of experience.’ In other words,if you do something often enough for long enough, you are going to achieve a level of proficiency. Maybe even mastery.

This is something my singing teacher has been trying to tell me for… well, I am embarrassed to tell you how long. He doesn’t emphasise quantity of practice. He emphasises consistency and regularity.

You need to do the work.

This is something that FM Alexander also emphasised, and was the key to the creation of the work we call the Alexander Technique. If you read the chapter called Evolution of a Technique that describes the process of creation, you will notice all the references to time or consistent practice and experimentation. For example:

“I repeated the act many times…”
“I recited again and again in front of the mirror…”
“…all I could do was to go on patiently experimenting before the mirror. After some months…”
“It is difficult to describe here in detail my various experiences during this long period…” *

And all these references occur within three pages. There are plenty more in the rest of the chapter.

Doing the work

Okay, you say to me. We get it. If we want to be good at this Alexander stuff, or anything else for that matter, we need to work. But how do we do that?

Helpfully, Alexander told us that, too. He is quoted by a number of writers, including his niece Marjory Barlow, as saying this:

You can do what I do, if you do what I did.

So we need to:

  • Experiment. Try stuff out. Play. Have fun.
  • Do it a lot. By which I mean, do a bit every day.
  • Give ourselves the luxury of time. We live in a culture that expects instant results. This is far too great a burden to place on ourselves. If we give ourselves time, we take away a layer of stress and pressure to succeed. And that means, funnily enough, that we’ll be more relaxed and open, and therefore in the best condition to achieve success.

Success, according to Alexander, isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t a mystery. It’s just a matter of doing the work.

And we can all do that. Can’t we?


FM Alexander, Use of the Self in the Irdeat Complete Edition, pp.413-415.
Image by kristja, stock.xchng