Unbridled enthusiasm – tips for a great New Year from Alexander and Caesari


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.
Image by supakitmod from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Engineer and the Actor: Enthusiasm, Alexander Technique, and New Year’s Resolutions


Over the Christmas holidays, I took some visiting family to see the SS Great Britain, a local tourist attraction. It is a remarkable ship designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the 1840s, the world’s first iron-hulled screw-propeller steamship. It is not only beautiful, but a marvel of engineering and a monument to enthusiasm and experimentation.

Brunel first designed the Great Britain to be a paddle steamer, and building began with the paddle-wheel design in July 1839. But when Brunel saw the SS Archimedes arrive in Bristol in early 1840, things were destined to change. The Archimedes was a prototype vessel with screw-propulsion, and the new technology excited Brunel. Even as the Great Britain was under construction, Brunel began experimenting with designs for screw propellers. In December 1840, fully 18 months after construction had begun on the Great Britain, Brunel made a major change in the design, and made engineering history.

This story fascinates me because it reminds me so much of FM Alexander. FM had different reasons for beginning the experimentation that led to his creation of the work we now call the Alexander Technique (Alexander was motivated by the prospect of giving up his acting career). But both men were experimenters. Both men had a passion – one for engineering, the other for acting – and it was their passion that drove them to continue experimenting, even in the face of external difficulty or apparent failure. Both men had enthusiasm in spades.

But both men also used their heads. To quote FM, “as to enthusiasm, I will claim that no one is a greater enthusiast than I am myself, but I will not permit my enthusiasm to dominate my reason.” *

FM spent a long time experimenting, testing out different ideas and watching himself in a mirror. His account of his creation of the Technique in his book Use of the Self is full of references to time passing. Similarly, Brunel didn’t see the Archimedes, get excited, and run straight to the dry dock to halt the construction of the Great Britain. Rather, he spent months working on designs and testing them.


Enthusiasm, Reason, and New Year’s Resolutions

In January most of us do some sort of udit of the previous year, and make goals, wishes or resolutions on how we are going to change our lives for the better in the year to come. We begin full of enthusiasm. But how often does our enthusiasm wane under the pressure of trying to implement our resolution before we know how best to go about it?

My advice today is to follow the examples of Brunel and Alexander. Enthusiasm is great. But the likelihood that we will be able to make major changes in our lives instantly and perfectly is low. So let’s not go down that route this year. Instead, try this:

  • Make a goal/wish/resolution
  • Do a bit of research around it. For example, if your goal is losing weight, read some books on the subject. Look at different types of diet.
  • When you feel you are ready, either make a plan of how to achieve your goal, or experiment with using a ready-made one (like a diet book). Experiment. Try it out. See if it is workable for you.

And most important of all…

  • Be prepared to fail, get things wrong, or backslide occasionally. This is normal and understandable. And completely human!
  • Hold on to your enthusiasm. This is your dream. Don’t let it be taken from you.

Do you have a goal or resolution for the year? How are you going to go about making it a reality?


*FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.90.