Discovery Steps

A feature of Alexander Technique is that it teaches the ability to tap the unknown for new information. These points outlined below can be applied generally to any discovery process. In Alexander’s case, his interest was how to learn a new way to speak onstage how he loved to do, despite having learned to unintentionally repeat what brought his performance to a standstill and appeared to actively sabotaging himself by losing his voice.

Exactly how do people handle what is challenging, a bit scary and undefined? What makes people become ready and willing to question their own ways of doing what they do? What are “questions that matter” and how do we learn to form them for ourselves?

  • How Can I Make It Safe?
  • Identify and suspend former conclusions and partial solutions
  • Ridicule self preservation so you can increase your ability to take risks
  • Physical safety – just a bit of “insurance”
  • How Can I Make My Experimenting Memorable?
  • Characteristics of making discoveries about the unknown – so you can recognize them when they happen
  • Using more senses will make learning faster – cross-referencing perceptual senses will help reveal physical assumptions trained unconsciously by repetition
  • Record yourself, keep a journal, use technology, use another person, even just a mirror is useful for feedback on what’s happening
  • How Can I Observe to Perceive What I May Be Missing?
  • Change the speed of the action
  • Description blow-by-blow what’s going on, as it’s happening
  • Humor and paradox are also a feature of discovery; make it laughable
  • What’s a Better Question?
  • Learn the lingo – if you don’t have words for factors, tricky to ask about them
  • Interesting – clueless – many-faceted – there are many flavors of questions
  • How Am I Concluding, and Despite What?
  • Describe what happened that you didn’t think was useful – what’s implied?
  • After describing contractions, objections, go again to “check out” your conclusions
  • Rinse, Wash, Repeat
  • Take breaks, pause.
  • Ask, “What happened before my discovery happened?”
    “What can I do to take this discovery further?”

So – I’m curious what else might work for you to evoke new information or experiences?

 

Cumulative

One of the central principles of how Alexander Technique works is based on the concept of a domino effect. Small actions, (in the form of tiny routines) pile up and become powerful influences. “You become what you repeat” is one way of expressing this often skipped-over super power to both suffer and affect change in yourself.

A studied ability to perceive subtle foundation movements is what seems so magical about how an Alexander Technique teacher can pull the rug out from underneath apparently self-caused difficulties.

An example comes from the situation of professional performing musicians. At what age did the musician learn to hold their musical instrument? How big was it then – and how big were they as kids when they first learned to make sounds with it? Height might be a factor; certainly hand and arm size; what sort of reach was possible? Put the answers to these questions in perspective, and issues with repetitive pain injury can sometimes be solved with immediate practical ergonomic adjustments.

Because of the power of our self-confirming misconceptions, humans will move the way we imagine that we are able to move. How to approach this bias? We can change this effect through questioning and insight as in the musician example above. We could used hypothesis, comparing by remembering what our situation was like for us in our past. Then we can craft experiments with what we uncover. This might lead us to even better questions, such as: How far across was that goal post area when we first got played in a standard sized soccer field when we were kids? How high was that basketball ring when first learning compared to how tall we are now?

Another way to influence change is to design many different ways to practice whatever we have discovered. If it can be counted, it can be made into a game, right? But be careful what you count, because this focus is what will quickly jump out to become priorities.

Another technique for sifting out an unwanted effect from an already learned routine is to slow down. Varying the rate of the activity will reveal formerly unnoticed differences. Once these often crucial differences have been revealed, they can be incorporated into a faster paced action.

Best chance for change needs about three weeks of commitment to install new habits. It takes around seventy repetitions to make a new skill reliable; although after around seven or eight times even the most awkward and strange movements will begin to feel “normal.” Perhaps collect game pieces that symbolize achievements as “rewards?” Logging practices has been shown to be effective, as has practicing just after performance when “mistakes” are fresh in your mind.

To wrap up – piled up tiny actions can become exponential. If you’d like to reveal these mysteries, you can go slower, you can examine your foundation assumptions you can work on practice design. Once you know what is happening underneath your assumptions, you can redesign a way to practice your desired new improvements, given you can partly do what you imagine is possible. If you cannot yet do what you want, you can work on your foundation mannerisms as a whole and you can ask for help from an observant coach or Alexander Technique teacher. Once you have ways to practice, you will uncover perceptual discoveries as well as progress in your goals. Don’t just skip over these perceptual curiosities! Reflect on these surprising discoveries to put them to best use, or you may unintentionally practice mistakes. This is how you’ll get more benefits from practice as never before – Better yet – record and share your discoveries in some way – then the processes you followed will become as valuable as your results.

Sensory Dissonance

More than a hundred years ago, a Delsartean-inspired actor who figured out how to regain voice loss named F.M. Alexander noticed a principle of human nature related to movement perception and gave it a term: “debauched kinesthesia.”

A more modern term might be: “Sensory Dissonance.” It is what happens when there is a violation of the brain’s “predictive coding” processes that have been described by neuroscience in the Bayesian model of the brain. This model explains how we can instinctively work out whether there is time to cross the road in front of an approaching car or not. We make a prediction based on past experiences, with these predictions (hopefully) updated “on the fly.” Of course, if our “predictive coding” ability doesn’t match reality, our next reaction will depend on how we deal with being wrong. The confounding, irrational quality that a Sensory Dissonant experience seems to possess is related to points described by the terms: Cognitive Dissonance and Cognitive Bias. Denial is most common; (described in *THIS* collection as the “Confirmation Bias”) and accidents can result. If you haven’t read it yet, I have previously outlined in the first half (in the previous post below) the relationship of Sensory Dissonance to these latter categories.

Why Sensory Dissonance Is Important

Aside from avoiding accidents, many more advantages will come from further consideration of this topic. A most interesting area is performance – when you know how to do something, but can’t reliably do it when needed. Or when doing what you imagine you know how to do doesn’t get you where you want to end up.

What most people do about having experienced Sensory Dissonance after making a “mistake,” is to rearrange themselves back to where they believe they “should” be physically oriented. Returning to whatever you sense was the “normal” state of affairs will feel “right” merely because it is most familiar. Because noting your reactions about Sensory Dissonance may also contain an expression of “Cognitive Dissonance” it probably will also be somewhat uncomfortable. (Maybe not; some have learned to welcome and find excitement in what is unfamiliar and unknown.) There’s a payoff of predictable security to resume what is familiar for most people. Most people will be motivated when noting a mismatch to put themselves “right again.”

But should you? But what if your sense of “right” needs calibrating? What if you feel strange when there hasn’t been a kid on your shoulders or you have not done an experiment pushing your arms against a door frame? (Check out the examples in the *first half* of this article.)

When Sensory Dissonance pops into your awareness, there’s an advantage to purposefully allow yourself to feel “strange” and to take a moment to consider what you’re going to do about it. The experience of Sensory Dissonance is an important pointer. This “strange” feedback reveals previously unknown information about the nature of the real state of affairs that would benefit from your thoughtful consideration of what to do about it. It’s an opportunity, don’t ignore it!

Perceptual dissonance is a signal that something different from the norm has just happened. You have the option to act on having noticed a difference by taking the reins back from habitual routines. This calls for using some awareness, strategic thinking and perhaps serious study to revise the affected routines. Perceptual dissonance gives you valuable feedback about what you have been overdoing that might be unnecessary. Viva la difference!

It would be really crazy if every time you carried a weight for awhile, you wanted to put the weight back on again to avoid feeling Sensory Dissonance. But this is the understandable urge in certain situations.

An example: while swimming. Getting back into the water where it feels relatively “warmer” seems logical when the wind factor on skin makes you feel cold in comparison…until your submerged body temperature really drops to match the temperature of the water. Chattering from the cold, you pretty quickly realize that getting back in the water to “get warm” is a short-sighted solution. However, there are many other situations that don’t offer this obvious feedback of mistakenly having made that short-sighted choice!

Act Wisely on Sensory Dissonance

Next time you feel disoriented, consider what this means. Here is a potential for an insight. Maybe pause and consider what you’d like to do about having received a curious sensation of perceptual dissonance, instead of ignoring it and getting yourself back to where you “feel right.”

By deliberately experimenting with Sensory Dissonance, you’ll realize that human sensory orientation judgment is relative, not absolutely “True.”

For instance, if you often stand with your weight on the ball of your foot or on one foot and something gets you to stand with your weight on your heels or both feet, Sensory Dissonance will make you feel strange as if you are leaning backwards or to the “wrong” side. (Women who routinely wear high heels and walk mostly on the ball of their feet know this sensation.) Getting back into those high heels to feel “normal” or transferring all your weight to the other foot is like getting back into the pool to get warm – a short-sighted solution. But in this situation, there is no feedback like getting cold if you stay in the water to tell you that you chose wrong, (unless your feet or calves eventually start hurting or your knees start crumbling.)

What Sensory Dissonance Is Really Telling You

What you might want to do is to think a bit about the important information that Sensory Dissonance is offering you. It’s really saying that your habitual “normal” has been violated. Did you know you were actively doing something in the opposite direction of what Sensory Dissonance just revealed to you? You didn’t until now. Because of the Sensory Dissonance signal, you now have the option of taking the reins back from your habit by using some awareness and strategic thinking to consider changing some of those habits.

The actor quoted at the beginning of the article has solutions. His “Alexander Technique” method always contain this Sensory Dissonant signal that something different has happened. An Alexander Technique teacher gives experiences in classes and “hands-on guided modeling” that reliably feel as if something mysterious and lighter has happened to your movement coordination. It’s the only answer I know about for sifting out problematic features from previously ingrained habits “on the fly,” addressing performance issues involving postural mannerisms.

Hope this little article will lead you to question what you should do about it when you feel Sensory Dissonance. Surprising dissonant sensations can be used as important pointers to bring to your attention that what you just did, felt or experienced. What just happened was something entirely, originally new and different – for you. Here is something that could benefit from your serious attention and consideration – and maybe even be worth investing in long-term study of Alexander Technique!

Dissonance Reveals Bias

Mistaken traps of logic and thinking skills continue to deceive our human ability for reasoning.

Have you ever run into the terms “Cognitive Dissonance” or “Cognitive Bias”?

This phenomena was first described and researched by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman starting in 1972. They originated the term “Cognitive Bias” to describe how and why people didn’t use rational thinking in making choices. Kahneman received a Noble prize in 2002 related to behavioral economics by later developing his theory into a predictable research heuristic. Their confirmed findings grew into a psychological field, explored by researchers and popularized by authors such as Cordelia Fine, Scott Pious, the writing of Thomas Kida, (Don’t Believe Everything You Think”) Stuart Sutherland, (“Irrationality”) and Kathryn Schulz, (Being Wrong) among many other authors.

OK, so then… Cognitive Bias

This is certainly an important and interesting issue to learn about if you’re sketchy on the subject. Cognitive Bias runs through large scale cultural manipulations in corporate and political power plays, advertising and within business ethics relationships; it’s embedded within education, persuasion and in marketing techniques. It is even a big factor in causing conflicting personal relationship issues.

What I read in this .pdf download (see it yourself the end of this post below) was a handy collection of many factors of mistaken assumptions that were neatly codified into categories with icons. The aim of creating this list was to help the reader learn the surprising extent that cultural and human misconceptions are still a driving cause for irrationality in human behavior. (Which strangely enough, works its deceptions even among smart and educated people like yourself.)

What was my sub-cultural history? I was raised in the culture of the U.S. in the Southern CA region by immigrant parents, (I now reside in Hawaii.) When I traveled to Denmark (where my father was born,) I was surprised to discover that what I assumed were merely my father’s idiosyncratic personal preferences were instead, a reflection of his Danish childhood. Possibly because I had experienced myself as an “alien” (because of a huge need for an extensive study of communication skills,) it led to me rejecting many of the favored attitudes and values of my culture and to study thinking skills, innovation and creative insight of individuation – as well as Alexander Technique.

I was struck with what had been left out of this list. Nowhere did I see the specific observation that a form of dissonance occurs concerning the direct human perception of movement; that overlooked sense of judging relative location, effort and weight. It was interesting to me how some of these Cognitive Bias points seem to be based on built-in perceptual misconceptions, but there was not a separately grouped “Perception” category.

Of course this oversight is understandable. Humans take for granted their perceptual capacities. Factors related to a sense of “touch” have been lumped together with a sense of emotional “feeling.” What most people imagine when you refer to ‘feeling’ is the sensation of being contacted on your skin by something outside of you – or emotions. Rarely do people consider the kinetic sense running inside that shows where limbs are located and judges relative effort that needs to be expended to perform an action. The fact that the word “feeling” is the also same word meaning “an emotional experience” also confuses many useful distinctions even further. Add onto that how tricky it is to describe dancing or other movements in English without inventing specialized terms – and how tricky it is to observe yourself while in action – no wonder!

Try This Perceptual Motion Dissonance Experience
You can experienced this overlooked perceptual motion dissonance with a simple experiment. Stand in a (narrow) doorway and push your arms outward against the door frame for a thirty seconds – (yes, using a stopwatch feature is handy.) Aim your hands toward your sides. When you release and step away from the doorway, your arms will feel as if they are floating upward, even though they are merely hanging at your sides doing nothing. You can also experience a similar movement illusion by hefting a child on your shoulders for a ride. After you get the kid off your shoulders, you’ll feel lighter.

Quite a remarkable movement sensory illusion, isn’t it? But it’s not just a curiosity. The saying, “Seeing is believing” isn’t true anymore, (movies and Photoshop have disproved that axiom long ago!) Somehow still sanctified, our senses about movement make us convinced that what we feel is completely factual – when perceptual feedback is always relative to habitual behaviors. Sensory Dissonance is a factor in self-training a habit involving any collection of sequenced, chained-together behaviors. It’s an important principle to know about and use in reliably possessing any movement skill.

Oh, and if you’d like to study up with that huge list of cognitive biases, the .pdf download of it is here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/30548590/Cognitive-Biases-A-Visual-Study-Guide
Read on to the second half of this article to get suggestions about suggestions of what to do when you run into this most interesting “Sensory Motion Dissonance.” Which is at: https://myhalfof.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/sensory-dissonance/

 

Transcendent Goals

This post is related to “Sense of Rightness” previously posted in Aug. 2014. There we discussed some of these issues; we made suggestions how to get past comparing a sense of “rightness” as a standard when attempting to progress from practice.

Here we’re going to bring up and make suggestions that give a better, faster means to progress when your goals are transcendant – such as learning a skill that has the potential to become an art or the intention to learn by having a new experience. In this case, your intention is to discover or progress, (rather than recreate or match some standard you have in mind.) First it will be most useful to clarify your definition of what it is to “progress.” If you’re trying to go somewhere new, the old standards of what you’re looking for will not be in effect. Many situations can benefit from this approach. For instance, everyone has experienced the “plateau effect” in practice – meaning no matter how hard you try, your effort doesn’t lead to much of a change.
Why not apply your usual ideal standards when attempting to progress? The danger in applying specific standards, goals or priorities is you missing what might happen if something new does happen “accidentally on purpose.” Because you’re focused on an activity of matching for an intended result of what feels “right” that has become a standard or priority that you were able to sense and remember, if you apply this comparison of remembered “rightness,” it’s most likely you’ll skip over or entirely miss anything happening that doesn’t match. This new event might look like something strange or funny; perhaps it will be a tiny, insignificant happening that will take development to turn it a significant, meaningful discovery. (It may be only a tiny improvement right now that needs development.)

So – to get out of this trap, you’ll want your intention to have a new experience to agree with your goals on the front end. You’ll also want to come up with a practical way to carry this out, which can be adjusted to the situation if it doesn’t lead to the success you have in mind. Here’s a couple of situations where that would be a handy strategy…

For instance, in a dialogue situation, the intention might be for you with the group to go somewhere new rather than just revisit, repeat or recreate what is already known by any particular group member. You’d want everyone to go somewhere new as a synergistic experience. As a way to carry out going in new directions, how would you proceed? Perhaps instead of using the indirect way of bringing up a subject by quoting authors – participants could speak directly about their own beliefs or values and relate stories about how their values and opinions were formed. Trading personal stories may lead to the discovery of the significance of reinterpreting old experiences in new ways, because each participant can imagine themselves having a similar experience.  The challenge would be to listen to these core experiences of other people, to imagine you have had these experiences…Then anticipate about how these experiences would have affected your own values. Of course, they may come to different conclusions, but that is part of what makes people unique.

Another instance, if you are in a practice situation such as learning an instrument…and your intention is to get and sustain a unique tone all your own using a wind instrument or your own voice. Let’s say your goal was to recognize your own quality of breathing to bring it forward as a unique style as a musician. Your idea about how to carry this out could be to think of an emotionally charged moment in your memory, turn on the recording machine to help you listen, to make sounds and note what happened.

Whatever it is and however your hypothesis about how to carry your goal out, success in each case means that your usual standards (of what is worth your interest when evaluating) must be adjusted to accommodate the new experience’s unique discovery nature. You would want to mark exactly when the novelty you want actually does emerge as a new experience. It may be valuable to describe what these new qualities are, so you can be able to notice them.

I suggest that if your new experience involves movement and gaining a benefit from practicing that your new evaluation for desired results includes the question, “…Was this easier?” Because we know it will feel a bit strange, because of being new.

I suggest that if the new experience involves other people, noting ones’ own reactions will be an indicator that something new happened. Defensiveness, objections, wanting to add or advance the conversation – all of these might be indicators of interest that something new has emerged.

If your example involves other people, handy would be to choose an appropriate means to progress that can be changed by their multiple suggestions. In the example of the David Bohm-style dialogue group above, appropriate would be and activity such as temporary suspension of the directive to “not impose your own agenda on the group.” Another would be to actively refuse to apply the customary ‘matching’ activity. Instead of “matching” for an ideal standard or directive such as “suspend your agenda” – how about… “contrasting” to reveal any differences or something new that happened…?

Some of these options would be to describe the nature of what’s new also helps to spot it soon after it’s happened. The brain has superb recognition capacity. An example of this activity would be to note characteristics such as:

  • feels unfamiliar,
  • cognitive distortion, cognitive bias,
  • a thought which jogs defensiveness or compels you to suddently disagree,
  • something that incites another reaction such as curiosity,
  • makes you suddenly aware of what you didn’t notice previously…

(perhaps – add to this list with your comments?)

State-Specific

There’s an important factor in learning and practicing that I’d like to bring to your attention. The scientific description is called state-specific learning. What that means is the content of what gets learned will be tied to the literal circumstance where you learn it. Context is important.

State-Specific learning is so effective that it’s actually used in animal training to solve behavior problems. If your dog is digging holes in your garden, you would deliberately train the behavior of digging on purpose while you’re located somewhere else (such as at the beach.) Then don’t give the command for the dog to dig at your house. The dog gets the idea that it’s only in sand that digging gets your approval, so there’s no use in making holes in the garden at home anymore because that results in your disapproval. You would turn the unwanted action into a command and then it has meaning when you don’t give the cue.

Most teachers assume that if you are an adult learner, you have the capacity to abstract what you are learning in their classroom or lessons in order to apply it to other instances that importantly similar. The factor of State-Specific learning works against this possibility. It’s a leap to abstract what has been learned; just because people can abstract, WILL they abstract? It’s an act of intelligence to notice the possibility to apply what was learned elsewhere exactly when this similarity of knowledge could be quite useful in this specific circumstance that’s a bit different. The ability to abstract takes observation, lateral thinking skills, memory and presence of mind. That’s why it’s important to directly consider the ability to abstract and apply what just was learned and to discuss the capacity to do so with your students if you’re a teacher.

For instance, I just published a story on my blog about how thinking about the lengthening phase of a motion while riding a bike helped me to refresh my range of motion in my leg strength while riding uphill. The comment of a reader who didn’t understand the abstract generalization of my message was, “I’ll do that the next time I ride a bike.”

“But that idea of using the lag in a phase is useful generally during any routine!!” I declared. “If you choose a ‘slack’ moment when you are gathering your energy to focus on in a cyclical phase, the other part (when you’re applying effort) will take care of itself in an easier and less stressed way.”

Unless you point to that concept specifically, it’s not a guarantee that people will make the abstract connection on their own.

So to do that now – (let’s say you’re reading stuff on the computer, right?)  You would observe routines that you do while in that activity, and choose one that isn’t imperative – so you can design a ‘resting’ moment into it that could offer a slight renewal for increased stamina over the long term. For instance, how about when you move your hands from the keyboard to the mouse or touchpad? (Or if you’re on another device, the time when you pick up your hand to use your finger to interact with the screen.) Why not use that moment to look away from the screen for a moment, perhaps look up and blink and momentarily rest your eyes and slightly turn your head. This only takes a moment, right?

By doing something like this, you’ll begin to be able to apply whatever you learn in one situation to other situations that do matter to you personally. Now that you understand whatever you experience can be applied elsewhere abstractly, you will be providing for the  limitations of State-Specific concerning anything you already know.

Can you think now of an insight or significant discovery you made that would be handy if it could be applied elsewhere?

 

Sense A Wake-Up

Students have complained that the Alexander Technique is too “mysterious.” Why do we have such trouble really knowing what happens as we get into habits? We can certainly feel the pain of going to far after it’s happened!

Maybe I’m not asking the most useful question. How about: It is possible to use what we can’t sense? If sensory events are taking place underneath our current capacity to sense it, how can we recognize an unfamiliar but meaningful change or sense the fulfillment of a string of gradual successes?

We use what we can’t sense every day. We believe what others tell us about the nature of how things work that we can’t see or understand from inventions and equipment. We are fascinated to gain the enhanced perception technology that inventors have offered humanity; those innovators, artists, authors and entertainers who pique our imagination. The telescope, microscope, cameras, MRI and X-ray; recordings, amplifiers and communication enhancements; maps, programs and models.

But what about our ability to sense ourselves in direct action without all this special equipment? Humanity hasn’t had a hardware update in movement sensory capacity in much too long. Movement is even a tricky thing to describe to ourselves.

Human ability to recognize improvement moment to moment while training sensory ability isn’t very precise by human design. This can be most easily demonstrated when it comes to the sense of establishing muscle memory, orientation and judging weight and effort. As fact, the kinaesthetic sense is taken for granted. It is truly our “sixth sense.” Seeing is believing; feeling seems like fact.

The secret most people don’t understand is all of our senses do not truly give us the facts. They are merely registering relative information that needs interpretation. It’s up to us to interpret what our senses say. Of course, an education can compensate, but where do we get this education? Education for has taught most of us to avoid mistakes at any cost. Putting together how to constructively use our mistakes or our successes is the challenge.

Here’s an educational secret: Human sensation registers differences that are notable as determined by the person who is experiencing it.

Awareness of what appears to be “notable” is skewed by a design feature of being able to adapt. This is a human strength in most situations. Adapting allows humans to habituate anything we can do. Adapting is a brilliant, indispensable advantage; it allows sophisticated skills to be learned by connecting new behaviors together in series as what is known as a behavior chain. Without habituation, it would be overwhelming to execute skills. (Surely you’ve had the experience during learning of: “my brain is full.”)

You’ll learn as you read more of this blog some unusual ways to deal with it that work without special training to improve this situation. Why this happens is an “aha” moment that more likely starts as a mystery. There is also a human sensory software update available that takes focused study over time called Alexander Technique, (also worth learning for other preventative health effects.)

So – the answer is “yes!” You *can* wake up and sharpen your sensory abilities, learn to observe yourself, spot what others miss and make anything that takes practice to learn to go faster. To take the reins back from habit – it takes awareness and the ability to observe yourself in action.

Stay tuned for the next part where more of your questions will be questioned!

Update Instinct

Optical illusions reveal habits of sight
Photo by Erwin Blumenfeld, at: http://www.erwinblumenfeld.com/

I’ve been recently reading this book titled, “You Are Now Less Dumb.” It’s a collection of brain science facts and research, put into context and stories by a journalist David McRaney. (Of course you can come by these brain science jewels on TED.com individually, but it’s fruitful for synthesis to read them in synopsis form close together.)

One caveat shows proof how humans resist any change; the conditioned system dramatizes retention of habits to be connected to survival itself. (I’ve been joking for years it’s as if Mr. Habit bureaucrat doesn’t wanna lose his job!) Another study shows how increasing the number of choices stresses our system, justifying the manufacture of habits to handle the overload. For instance, judges and jurors are more forgiving after having eaten lunch, and hand out more punitive sentences at the end of the day when hungry and tired.

It appears that those who study Alexander Technique “swim against the tide” of their cultural conditioning by dealing with self-protective resistance… But – isn’t that why you’re here?

I was musing, “How was A.T. student convinced in the past to subject themselves, (at great cost of stress as evidenced from these facts) to become willing to over-ride their habitual conditioning and increase their capacity for making aware choices?”

Well, focal was the empirical proof of having a new experience of freedom from habit. This was done by the Alexander Technique teacher “blowing the mind” of the student at the first lesson with hands-on guided modeling. I see this as an honored “tradition,” but it also had the unwanted effect of producing student dependence. Nevertheless, mind-blowing mystique was and is an important motive and classic A.T. selling strategy. Once the student has gained the conviction that there are multiple impressionable sensations and mystery advantages to stopping routines of “habitual instinct,” the teacher is recognized as having this special capacity and the student is willing to pay and become dedicated. (This was dedication lasting for a lifetime for some of us who adored Alexander Technique and those who eventually continued training to became teachers.) Unfortunately, this strategy tends to make students dependent on teachers rather than independent learners. (Although it was good strategy to retain students from the point of view of the teacher supporting themselves.)

The opposite of choice is NOT coercion; it is instinct.

 Gets you thinking, doesn’t it?

Perhaps we should hesitate to use the word “instinct,” or at minimum be much more careful in using it. Aside from being misunderstood as a ‘design flaw.’ The word “instinct” can be too seductively relegated to be confused with “habits” after the become innate and disappear. The word “instinct” might also stand for the protective and self-preservation resistance of “human nature,” (many of these “human nature” truths have been scientifically to the qualifier of: “True, but only for those people in a certain group that were specifically indoctrinated when young by their cultural motives.”)

 It’s similar to the dangers of using the word “easy” to in a sentence: “Descending into habitual addiction is easy.” I’d rather specifically reserve the “easy” word for a positive experience, with “easy” being the “magic question” used to filter results after experimentation.  Better to say, “seductive” or “tempting” when spelling out how some specific habits are powerful enough to pull us along and make us unaware of really, really bad consequences that accumulate over time. Alexander Technique teachers are really big on avoiding cumulative damage.

 My point is: doesn’t it feel to many if us who experience Alexander Technique in a lesson, as the habits are subtracted, the default coordination that resumes “as if by itself” is “instinctual?”

 Are we really going against “instinct” when we become more willing to take the reins from habit, to learn and adapt with our mindfulness, increasing our capacity to choose without getting tired and stressed from doing so?

 For some of us adults, that’s undoubtedly the challenge, but the younger we are…

Experience and another study confirms the assumption that the younger the person when they began learning anything, the less stress they will encounter in learning what adults would find challenging, (such as the capacity to over-ride the status quo of any conditioned behavior…as expressed in, say, learning to pronounce a new language.)

Addressing my colleagues here,what should also be covered by A.T. classes would be consciously designing flexible habits that can be updated and shaped to changing circumstances. (That’s what the A.T. exercise: Whispered Ah gives acknowledgment to doing.)

Perhaps learning Alexander Technique is a way for adults to return to the learning capacities of youth?

Perhaps this ability to over-ride our conditioning that A.T teaches is one possible means to regain the attitudes of the young and impressionable who are still forming these routines and aren’t settled in them yet so ferociously?

Adults might be able to learn this youthful attitude from their study of Alexander Technique for gaining their “fountain of youth.” All it takes is to be willing to tolerate a bit of stress while they are unraveling the confines of their buried routines.

That’s why F. M. Alexander was so fond of quoting Shakespeare: “The Readiness is All.”

Franis Engel

Change Denial (part two)

A “habit of my life” is to not look at what I do not wish to acknowledge. How can I go against the habit and change it if I don’t even notice it?

With the intro from yesterday, now you’re ready to pick and choose from these additional tips, depending on what might apply to your particular situation. This the concluding part of a two-part series.

Next tip:
Evoke your objections to changing on purpose so you can investigate its features and challenge your own assumptions. You would do this by deliberately engaging in an action that is sure to disturb you, and notice the resistances and reactions that come that you would usually want to ignore. Write down your objections and justifications for doing things the old same way. Once you have this list, use thinking skills to question assumptions and find new ways to fulfill the challenge. Don’t worry about it if the items on the list don’t make sense. Lots of feelings don’t make any sense, but they will still have just as much power over your choices.

Here’s another tip: Note the situation where it has happened or might happen again. Then install a reminder for yourself to notice what is happening and remember your reminder to be able to watch yourself do it as it starts to happen. You’ll find that at first you won’t be able to ‘catch yourself’ doing it until it’s done, but gradually, you’ll be able to notice it sooner and sooner in the process. Trace it back to right before it really begins. There will be your emotional reasoning and motive that installed the nuisance habit can be fulfilled in another way.

Questioning and trace the feelings back to its suspected origin is tricky. It will probably take repeated attempts that get closer and closer to the origin of when your habitual solutions that you’d like to change will “go off.” Question your own assumptions about these emotional origins until you actually are able to pay attention to what you feel right before you’re about to do the habitual solution. Don’t think you know it all.

Sometimes we come up with an explanation that’s not what’s happening or is a placeholder or only part of the real origin. Mistaken assumptions about origins and interpretations of them have the power to open up significant new insights. Stay with the unpleasantness the habit was designed to avoid, because there is a big, important reason the habit was installed. When you do find yourself there, it will be very uncomfortable. But we’re designed to cry to relieve stress.

Alternately, you could learn Alexander Technique so you know how to physically move out of feeling bad when you find yourself there. Knowing A.T. will wake up your senses so you can see new ways of providing for your needs when you arrive at that point. The advantage is the solution will work from that point forward, unlike solutions that require practice.

Or, try this solution: If you know what you prefer, do a few other variations that are what you don’t prefer and note your reactions somewhere where you’ll be able to read them later. Once you know what it is you’re willing to work on, wait until you see a chance to change it and jump in feet first to do it.

For example: It’s tricky to tell the difference between a prejudice and a “gut instinct” intuition. I didn’t want to know that I had a prejudice, but I did. I found I had it by questioning some part of me that instantly “wrote off” a person as untrustworthy, which seemed blatantly unreasonable at the time. By this chance I became aware of a prejudice I had toward people who had “wandering eyes.”

I got past this issue for myself by intentionally getting to know a person like this the next time I was introduced, instead of following my innate urge to ignore and avoid them. Getting to know them violated my ‘gut instincts’ but it really helped me to figure out what it was I was responding to in them. I found out that people who had “wandering eyes” weren’t untrustworthy liars.

Of course, for all of these you will forget and catch yourself after the crucial moment passes when you could have caught the habitual reaction. But, that is when to apply those wonderful character traits of patience and forgiveness. This time, you know these admirable character traits are not pulling the wool over your own eyes.

Change Denial (part one)

A “habit of my life” is to not look at what I do not wish to acknowledge. How can I go against the habit and change it if I don’t even notice it?

Mostly everyone acknowledges that self-perception is, at best, challenging – if not impossible. It’s much more common to see what is wrong in the behavior and situations of others than it is to gain perspective on one’s own habits and attitudes. How come it is so challenging to admit that our objections about other people are happening much closer to home in us?

The way most people resolve this issue is to remind themselves that nobody is perfect and apply self- forgiveness and acceptance. While admirable qualities, these strategies are also self-justifications for pulling the wool over our own eyes. There are other ways.

What if there were some real tips and tools that could help us to change specific issues that we don’t want to face about ourselves?

Meet Lynne. She’s got an issue involving self- perception that clearly did not come from any personal failings, (unless you count getting into an accident is a character defect.) She broke her leg skiing and hobbled around for more than a year while she recovered. While she was healing, she needed to protect her injured leg.

Now, according to her doctor, she is all healed. But her problem now is that limping has become part of her usual walk. She has learned to expect pain that never comes, without realizing she’s doing it.

Everywhere Lynne sees people who are twisted and limping and criticizes how old they look. Her friends reassure her, but they are lying to make her feel self-confident because they wonder if the limp that Lynne retains is a character failing on her part.

Meanwhile, Lynne is so impatient to be done with the recovery process. It’s already taken so much time out of her life that she wants to ignore the fact that her accident ever happened. She hates feeling like “damaged goods.”

How can Lynn possibly change what she doesn’t wish to see herself doing?

There are good reasons for denial. Denial is a self-preservation skill. Humans are wired to ignore what is unpleasant and to quickly forget their painful tribulations. We have (what is known from brain science) our RAS. (that’s our Reticulated Activating System. – It’s sort of the dark side of what has been sold as “The Secret” too.)  This allows us to notice whatever we have assigned to our “important” list and to ignore what is not on it.

It is frustrating to notice what could be personal failings when you’re convinced that there’s nothing to be done about them, or ignore solutions are too much trouble. Besides, a show of confidence will get you past tight places most of the time.

There are many other understandable situations that could benefit from asking these question of how to get past a problem that is being denied. What person would want to notice how they’re stressed, prejudiced, narrow-minded, trapped in being a ritualized creature of habit, impatient, angry or out of control? Why…a person who imagines it’s possible to change these things, that’s who!

Are you one of those people?

First, we are going to need some deliberate design skills to get past the side effects of denial. Of course denial exists “for our own good,” so the ability to deny is going to insist and complain if you don’t stick with the denial program. We need to shore up our courage and perhaps get some encouragement from others, because resistance will take us back the status quo.

Some people would rather it be bad and over than have things maybe work out for the better! Waiting in no-man’s land while things sort themselves out is just too unpredictable, unknown and ambiguous. It’s possible to get better at extending patience for what feels odd – because what’s new will always feel strange. 

First Tip: The evidence of this habit you have been intentionally ignoring will be hidden in the slightest mannerism or perception, especially if you habit that you don’t know you’re doing is a physical one. Lynne doesn’t realize she is still limping because she doesn’t intend to limp. Because you’re on the inside of yourself, it is tricky to notice how things are going. Handy to deal with this problem will be using a mirror, recording device or your other senses for feedback to verify you’re not fooling yourself. Or buddy up with someone who is observant but not judgmental – perhaps they have a similar problem they would like your help with.

Lynne was almost out of patience, so evidence of success had better come quickly. But how would Lynne know success if it happened? Luckily someone she respected gave her a recommendation how they were helped. She kept going until she found something that did work. In Lynne’s case, learning Alexander Technique in a classroom situation solved her problem of unintentionally limping, because she got the support of classmates and the teacher. They provided other perceptual means rather than “seeing” to help her notice what is going on as it’s happening. Learning A.T. gave her further improvements too, such as avoiding height loss, gaining grace and awareness without self-consciousness.

If you don’t have a limp like Lynne does, it might work to show yourself this important secret about perception right now by starting with your finger two feet away from your focus of vision and bringing it closer until your finger touches your face. Where did it touch?

Most people will unintentionally bring their finger to one eye because that’s their “dominant” eye. Did you know this eye was dominant? Experimenting is how you learn stuff that’s useful to help the situation. So, the first ingredient is to be willing to experiment.

Practicing is how you train the solution to over- ride the old limitation, once you know what to practice. You need to be careful what you practice, or it will become an unintended habit. This way you avoid the danger of training a new habit that will become unintentionally chained onto the old, so both will be happening at the same time which can pull you in opposite directions!

However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

What about if you begin to perceive what you are doing as you are doing it? The most elegant solution is to simply stop doing the old same thing and question the need to design and implement another habit to substitute for the unwanted one. It will feel a bit strange at first, but remember “strange” is the mark of what is genuinely new.

Stay tuned for more tips and experiments about more ways how to change a habit that you don’t want to face in the next installment tomorrow!

Unique

What makes Alexander Technique unique?

Everyone who reads my blog who has experience with A.T, let’s outline whatever you can think of that makes Alexander Technique stand out and be unique. Please add to the list!  It might be something trivial or funny, but that’s OK.

I’ll start with some of my own results, and then I’ll discuss some of the thinking skills that could be applied so you can continue. I have numbered them because you might want to refer to them in your comments.

  • 1. Because A.T. is meant to be coupled with any other action, no extra daily practice hour is required to get its cumulative and immediate benefits.
  • 2. Although the relationship is teacher/student – not therapist/client, the learning process also has a cumulative therapeutic effect until the student learns to bring about this benefit on their own.
  • 3. (You fill in this one with one of your suggestions…)
  • 4. Similar to the ability to think and reason, benefits of being able to update established routines relate to however the interested party applies the skill. (That’s why the list of benefits of learning A.T. sounds like snake oil if you don’t know what it is.)
  • 5. It has the proof of a factual, physical discipline to back up the functionality of it’s philosophical principles; teachers must “walk the talk” in order to do the job of hands-on guided modeling that’s the original core of the pedagogy.
  • Alexander Technique doesn’t merely give lip service to the unity of mind and body – it gives a first-hand demonstration of it as well as a tool to gain its benefits.

OK, now I’ll say a bit about how you could use thinking skills to keep going on this little brainstorming project. We’re going to use a website called http://www.practisethinking.com because it’s very simple and teaches tools by referring to other websites.
For instance, I found there a reference to a tool about how to extract concepts called a “concept fan.” It works like this:
http://www.toolkitforthinking.com/creative-thinking/concept-fan
You’d start by making a list of what occurs to you, and then step back to see if they are all related in some way. The example gives you an idea of how this works. The purpose of doing this is then you’re able to understand an assumption that wasn’t immediately apparent.

Here’s a thinking exercise that’s ever more simple: Read this sentence…and fill in the part after the “because.” I’ve done the first one, but there are many other ways to finish the sentence. What follows the  phrase starting with the word “because..” can mean “cause/effect;” it can also mean “comes from…” It can also mean,”essential ingredient.” Can you think of more implied meanings for the word “because…”? Use them to craft a phrase that answers the sentence.

  • 6. Skills that are sharpened while doing Alexander Technique are considered by those in its field to be the basis of education because……..
  1. movement is the way humans interact with their world, (well, other than sweating…

Hope you enjoyed this practical little ditty on thinking skills applied to Alexander Technique simplifications. Please report back!

Believability

English doesn’t have a convenient grammatical form to indicate or describe subjective experience. Describing the nature of reality seems to be one of the irresistible assumptions inherent within the structure of English, because there is no tense that expresses “from my point of view” – for instance, the way the Hopi language is structured. Everyone has an opinion that expresses a unique point of view. So this characteristic of language leaves English speakers to decide if and how much someone else is lying if a speaker expresses their point of view as “fact.” It may seem to be obvious fact for the speaker, but that sense of fact might not be shared by the listener.

This is part of makes it tricky to describe the subjective qualities of learning Alexander Technique. There are ways that English has qualifying phrases such as… “It seems to be,” “From my point of view” or “IMHO. ” These are examples that attempt to frame or signal that the speaker knows their certain point of view is going to follow.

 Uncertainty indicated by a writer is regarded by editors as “timid.” Writers will be admonished to come out and dare to make their definitive declarations. Editors will point out that using subjective qualifiers don’t adequately convey the writer’s motive of being certain that their point of view is a valid one. 

When I use the subjective attitude in my writing, it is not meant to be considered a rhetorical point delivered with uncertainty, self-effacement or with tongue-in-cheek. “From my point of view” is not necessarily another way of saying “I haven’t taken a poll or conducted my research properly.”

Instead, I regard using a subjective qualifier as a demonstration of conservatively stating the presence of uncertainty with an attitude of an eternally, questioning open-mindedness. 

When using those qualifiers, there’s always the possibility that a writer’s motive will be misunderstood. One solution to this is society has evolved various ways to assign believable need through specialization, degrees and qualifications that ares supposed to provide recognition – before education has happened. 

Misunderstandings have proliferated about my assuming this subjective point of view in my writing that I would like to clarify. Readers have reacted to my using language in this way by wondering if I’m obligated to talk this way legally. They wonder if I’m avoiding “making legal claims” that could be proved false, resulting in me possibly being sued for making promises I can’t keep by teaching Alexander Technique.

It appears we now have a culture subjected to an onslaught of advertising who suspects the relative truth of what everyone says, no matter their professional qualifications, skills or experience. The only mitigating factors for some decision-makers are consumer reviews and testimonials; a skeptic may even discount those. But when you think about it, a professional organization is merely a bunch of people who have gotten together, established guidelines and are charging membership dues.

In fact, scientific verification exists for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique. A study was published in Aug. 2008 by the British Medical Journal. This proved that getting an education in F.M. Alexander’s technique works very well to alleviate lower back pain. Other trials have proved various other applications, (Wikipedia has the links.) Because human relationship to intent, reaction and action is essential to every further success, there are unlimited applications. Perhaps it is the abstraction and scope of applications that make Alexander Technique questionable to decide to devote the considerable time, expense and effort to study.

Of course, in many cases suspicion is warranted. Being blind-sided by having too small of a sample to establish “fact” happens even to scientists who rigorously intend otherwise. Researchers recently came out with proof that some of the accepted psychological tests that are supposed to prove truths about human nature were too wide in scope. A case in point is the classic “Prisoner’s Dilemma. It turns out this maxim only works within a limited Western capitalistic culture. Results do not match if the same “scientific trials” are conducted among other non-Western cultures. Apparently the “scientifically conducted” findings that the results of these tests are “proof of human nature” appear to be only true within a certain limited cultural group.

However, my use of point of view qualifiers is not motivated by fears of legal battles. In education, results are dependent on the student applying themselves. Has anyone ever heard about how a teacher could be sued for not delivering a benefit that required the student to apply it? 

Big questions remain that concerns both potential students and the teachers who have an investment in convincing the advantages of what they have to offer. Would you like a stab at forming them? Here’s my attempts.,.

  • How does a potential student gain a belief, a conviction enough to make a long-term investment in learning a particular discipline? 
  • How does a person decide before they are certain it will work for them that any solution or benefit others have gained that they are being shown applies to them personally? 

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

This post is the last part in a series called NAMED. Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. Each letter of the word is a category for each of the steps. 

N…NOTICE On April 4th, 2012, starting with points about self-observation 

A…ASK Explored the “A” part of the mnemonic – on April 6th, 2013 

M…MOVE Read more about experimental moves on April 11th, 2013 

E…EVALUATE Exploring how to regard purposes, standards and timing and make conclusions – in three parts on April 14th, 15th, and 16th 

D…DIRECT – Today, the final post of the series – avoid training your mistakes, interrupting routines and today’s post is how to clear sensory feedback noise.

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

OK, so let’s say we have connected up the steps of the process to the effortless doing of an action successfully – preventing old nuisance habitual responses. (Please read the previous post if this doesn’t make sense to you yet.) This is preparation for Directing. The steps of the action can now be “actively” thought or said – but without the movement action attached.

Why connect the strategy of “directing” to non-action is in another brain fact. There’s a big signal-to-noise issue between feedback and active movement. To minimize this, it works to slow down the activity (or refuse what is unwanted entirely) and then recite or think a narration as steps for the new, improved process.

If you have been following previous posts – you learned the importance of connecting up these directions using a new way to prepare for action. These new ability to “Direct” are words or thoughts that will substitute for habitual movement preparation before you know you’ve decided to move. What you want to replace are the old preparations that go on in the brain and body responses before the choice to move happens. Directing is intended as a precursor behind the urge to move.

The reason for non-action is to prevent the habitual response from jumping in to answer the urge to “do it.” Replacing habitual preparation for movement with Direction is similar to visualization – only Directing uses a kinesthetic and/or verbal strategy.

Because Directions are done by thinking the steps of what you’re intending to do very deliberately – without doing them – that’s why it’s important to have already connected words to the steps of how you intend to proceed as we learned in our last post. We compose these words in the passive impersonal present tense to avoid any urge for over-doing these suggestions. Here’s an example of what we might say using an example from Alexander Technique :

“The neck frees and the head aims forward and up,

while the torso lengthens and widens.

Then the knees go forward and away… “

 

Then the new steps can begin that would carry out original goals with new starting point. It will also be possible to do something else instead as a fresh last-moment decision – turning on a dime.

Now – what happens? Probably something below the level of what you can perceive. That’s why Directions are repeated, surrendering the urge for feeling around to verify results. What we’re after is allowing the body to return to it’s resting length so a full range of action is available when we do respond in action. We’d like to be free of conflicted or outdated responses and free to improvise.

After using all the steps of Alexander Technique, when you do act, there is a significant “feeling” that happens. It’s a signature sensation that Alexander Technique teachers offer. With some practice and smart strategic thinking, you’ll be able to do it yourself. It’s this delicious sense of “flow.” Or as it used to be known among Alexander Technique crowd, “Do-Less-Ness.” It’s almost a religious experience, but without the cultural values attached.

What’s after this? You might make a discovery about the nature of you suspended goal. If you want more discoveries, well, do the steps again. Remember how you were NAMED!

  1. Notice
  2. Ask
  3. Move
  4. Evaluate
  5. Direct

 

This is the conclusion of a mini-course. We’ve been using NAMED to help Alexander Technique students remember the entire class content of using the Alexander Technique. Hope you enjoyed it!

 

 Happy Experimenting!

Directing by Interrupting Routines

This post is part of a series called NAMED.  Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. The letters of the word is a category for each of the steps.

N…NOTICE  On April 4th, 2012, starting with points about self-observation

A…ASK  Explored the “A” part of the mnemonic – on April 6th, 2013

M…MOVE   Read more about experimental moves on April 11th, 2013

E…EVALUATE  Exploring how to regard purposes, standards and timing and make conclusions – in three parts on April 14th, 15th, and 16th

D…DIRECT –  Again, in three parts – on April 25th: avoid training your mistakes…so today’s post is on: Interrupting Routines. 

 

Directing – Interrupting Routines

A saying from brain science is, “what fires together, wires together.” This same phenomena has a similar description from the field of animal training called,”building behavior chains.”

The individual parts of a skill are joined together as a chain of ingredients.This brings the advantage of first learning a sequence of simpler movements can be practiced individually. They then can be connected together so they will fire off at the order to “go” as one smooth continuum. Think of the timing of a fireworks finale that makes a picture in the sky, and you can appreciate how amazingly complex behavior chains are when combined into common skills such as walking on uneven ground. In fact, navigating uneven ground is one of the complex challenges for artificial intelligence robots.

There are a number of strategies to use if you’re having trouble improving an already trained behavior chain. If you have the sort of motion that needs to have certain qualities separated from “better” qualities, using a very slow speed will frustrate the old habit to wither away, so what is newer and better has a chance to happen.

You can also purposely put the trigger for the behavior chain on cue, and then don’t give the cue. Now go ahead and do the suspended action without feeling prepared. This strategy works with a really insistent habit. Actively refuse to give the order to “go” that encourages the whole “old'” behavior chained routine to fire off. Then you can originate a new firing sequence for the activity in a new way and substitute the new for the old. Or you can indefinitely continue to improvise, while continuing to refuse the old way, never going back to it. The last two are use the strategies of Directing.

Directing nips in the bud a very pervasive habit at its source that is below our level of perception. It’s how to stop doing a routine so deeply trained that you can’t even perceive you are doing in the first place. An example would be changing a speaking mannerism or habitual body language or the way you learned to hold a musical instrument or a tool.

Why does it work?

From brain science, preparation for movement happens a long while before people know they have decided to move. Measured MRI brain activity shows that humans are in preparation for a specific activity a long while before they know they have decided to act on it. There is only 1/64th of a second available to change, refuse or redirect the way we have been preparing to respond without being aware of this preparation.

This matches what F.M. Alexander observed when he tried to change his own speech problems. Humans don’t have “free will.” Instead, we have “free won’t.”

In Alexander Technique, we call this  substituting for the precursor of movement preparation to “Inhibit” and “Direct.” To use this strategy of “giving Directions,” takes two steps. First, we connect this “precursor of action” to words – without acting on them. We’re refusing old preparations to act, so it’s a paradoxical sort of an action – preparation to clear the ability to perceive by deliberately not acting, not expecting, not anticipating.

The last step in Directing is explained in the last post, coming tomorrow.

If this doesn’t make any sense to you – perhaps you’d like to get an Alexander Technique lesson from a teacher who can give you a demonstration using your own experiences? It minimizes mistakes to have an Alexander Technique teacher to guide this new connection so signal-to-noise feedback is minimized when you continue from Directing into activity.

 

More about the last step of Clearing Sensory Feedback in the final post of the series of NAMED – a mnemonic which helps students remembering to use all the steps of F.M. Alexander’s Technique.

Directing – Avoid Mistakes

This post is part of a series called NAMED.  Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. The letters of the word stand for each of the steps

N…NOTICE  On April 4th, 2012, starting with points about self-observation

A…ASK  Explored the “A” part of the mnemonic – on April 6th, 2013

 M…MOVE   Read more about experimental moves on April 11th, 2013

E…EVALUATE  Exploring how to regard purposes, standards and timing and how to get conclusions – in three parts on April 14th, 15th, and 16th

D…DIRECT –  Again, in three parts over the next three days – the first here is about how to avoid training your mistakes…

 

Directing – Avoid repeating mistakes

The Alexander Technique works if you follow the process using NAME – without the “D” on the end. But there are three more very powerful additional tips that work for very difficult habits. They can be remembered by using “D” for “Direction.”  They are: Avoid Mistakes, Interrupt Routines and Clear Feedback.

The word “direct” has a few meanings. In this step, it’s meant to direct yourself – as a conductor would direct a musical orchestra. After getting results using NAME, we use the “D” by Directing to consider and renew the vision of where we’re going. We make suggestions to ourselves what to do about our Evaluations, without repeating the unnecessary routines we just worked to avoid.

Of these points in that previous sentence, the trickiest and most paradoxical is “without activating unnecessary movement routines.”

Here is a brain fact that backs up the value of practicing avoiding habits in this indirect way. Measured brain activity shows that humans are in preparation for a specific activity a long while before they know they have decided to act on it. There is only 1/64th of a second available to change, refuse or redirect the way we have been preparing to respond without being aware of this preparation. This matches what F.M. Alexander observed when he tried to change his own speech problems. Humans don’t have “free will.” Instead, we have “free won’t.”

How to practice this indirect paradox of not responding with unnecessary routines? The most well-known strategy is to train a new habit and insert it in the place of the old habit. But even after you train a new habit, you still need to substitute the new routine in place of the old. Sometimes the old habit is too persistent and doesn’t want to let go.

This is because the new habit isn’t as strong as the old behavior. As a fact, it takes repeating something at least five times to begin to practice it. It takes somewhere around seventy times to reliably train and install a new routine. 

As an experiment – cross your arms. Now cross them the opposite way. Usually, one way of crossing your arms will feel a bit odd. It may actually be tricky to do instead of the old habit. Once you’ve been able to do this, now intentionally cross your arms the unusual way, going as slowly as you need to go to have positive experiences and gradually speeding up.

How many times until crossing your arms until the new way began to lose its sense of oddity? These numbers are slightly different for different people; but it’s somewhere between five and ten times when a person has begun to train a new habit. For most people, by the fifth time, any unfamiliar action will lose its sense of strangeness.

Regarding this fact from the other point of view, if you can prevent yourself from repeating a mistake less than five times – then you’re not unintentionally training yourself to repeat your mistakes. Useful fact to know, isn’t it?

Stay tuned for the final two posts in the series of NAMED tomorrow and the next day.
Directing: Interrupt Routines and the conclusion:
Directing: Clear Sensory Feedback… 

Evaluate Conclusions

This post is part of a series called NAMED.  Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. The letters of the word stand for each of the steps

N…notice – Started on April 4th, 2012, with points for self-observation

A…ask – Explored the “A” part of the mnemonic – on April 6th, 2013

 M…move  –  Read more about experimental moves on April 11th, 2013

E…evaluate – This post explores how to get results from interpreting our experimenting – in three parts: For What Purposes? Standards and Timing  and this post on evaluating conclusions

D…direct – also a three part explanation: Avoid Mistakes, Interrupting Routines and Clearing Sensory Feedback

Evaluate the Conclusions

Once results are obtained after conclusions are made, it’s tempting to file them away so they can be recalled using familiar retrieval memory skills. We will attempt to “evoke” the results with such techniques as repeating “magic words” or sorting. It makes sense to the brain that content and information that we “know” works in this manner, with producing the “right answer.” After all, schooling groomed this memory retrieval process during our education.

Performance ability is a different animal. Because many unique situational factors and chains of skills that got built must be taken into account as we perform, the process followed will determine our success. It’s not a matter of memory, but a matter of training.
Follow an old process, and you’ll get familiar results. For new results, we must follow the newer processes – and this  takes courage to do what’s unfamiliar and time for training and practice of a new way when the new process is an unfamiliar one. To build a bridge between our old knowledge and our new experience so we can remember it, we need to note similarities – without discounting the uniqueness of the new experience.

It also takes a strange ability for abstraction and paradox.  The “how” seems too abstract to repeat, because the discovery was so…funny. But what makes us laugh at not being able to “get it” when it seems so obvious now –  that is the pathway to new and exciting territory.

Evaluating – For What?

This post is part of a series called NAMED.  Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. The letters of the word stand for each of the steps

N…notice – On April 4th, 2012, starting with points about self-observation

A…ask – Explored the “A” part of the mnemonic – on April 6th, 2013

M…move  –  Read more about experimental moves on April 11th, 2013

E…evaluate – This post explores how to get results from interpreting our experimenting – in three parts!

D…direct – Bonus tips for dealing with difficult challenges, also in three parts…

Evaluating – for What?

We all know how to apply our usual ways of coming to a conclusion. Not as often do we spell out to what standards we’re applying our comparisons. Most of us seldom question the standards’ legitimacy and relevance to our particular unique situation. We assume that we know what we’re doing.

But do we? Is our internal feedback mechanism reliable when it comes to judging movement? Does it represent reality?

Surprisingly, perception is relative. Meaning, perception doesn’t work as if it’s an absolute fact. Sensory perception registers feedback in relationship; it tells you what is going on in relationship to what is “normal.”  This is why in science experiments trouble is taken to establish a basis to which experimental results are compared. This is also why such a surprise occurs as you are hearing your own voice when it has been recorded playing back – or seeing yourself on a video camera. Or why an idea seems as if it’s a good idea sometimes and not other times depending on your attitude.

Let’s say you habitually lean backward and step heel first as you walk. If you change your balance to landing on the balls of your feet and happen to look in a mirror or get the feedback of a video camera, you may be surprised to find yourself more upright when you mistakenly sense you are leaning forwards. Given whatever state you start in, you will only register a change in your orientation or attitude, (attitude in a nautical sense.) Your body sending you the “fact” of absolute location has been a mistake. You’ve gotten “used to” your habitual attitude of expecting your weight to land on your heels first. (Of course, this perception factor would be reversed for other habitual attitudes.)

If we’re going to be able to interpret what has happened during an experiment with moving differently, we need to take this factor into account.

How would we do that? How would someone tell the difference between a valuable new and out-of-the-box experience and a merely different useless random strangeness?

The first thing to do is to suspend the urge to “revert” when you feel a bit strange. When you get some sort of weird, off-balance or unfamiliar feedback, do you tend to want to put yourself back where you were feeling OK? Obviously, it pays to think about it when you experience something new and evaluate with the question in mind.

The secret question is: “Am I using less effort?”

It may be that the new perceptual experience could be used in some way to your advantage. Allow it to continue and describe some of it’s characteristics for a bit and see what happens…

Asking Questions

This post is part of a series called NAMED.  Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. The letters of the word stand for each of the steps.

N…notice   This post was published on April 4th. 2013

A…ask    This post explores a bit the “A” part of the mnemonic.”Ask.”

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

 

Ask

This is the stage where you come up with some constructive questions. If you know about forming questions, you probably know that which questions you ask help point you in a direction to possibly get some solutions. Perhaps your questioning could create more pointed ongoing directions that have the potential to make discoveries in some sort of experiment that you would design. Once you have been experimenting, sometimes forming further questions the second time around can put what you’ve recently discovered into practice.

We’re talking here not about coming up with questions that someone knows the answers to, but questions that we might be able to answer with our own experiences. Maybe nobody knows the answers yet!

So- let’s make some observations about what sort of qualities these questions might possess. Open-ended or strategic questions are useful. It’s most useful to form specific questions that don’t really have an immediate answer right now, but might have these specifics after we do something about answering them.

Think strategically about how these questions might be grouped into the design of an experiment that might give you some sort of answer – even if the answer is “no, not that one.” If you’re design of a series of questions doesn’t work to get the results you want, you can always change the questioning the next time through the process once you have more information about what might be a better question to ask.

Some examples of F.M. Alexander’s open-ended, strategic questions would be:


How much of what sort of effort do I really need to use to accomplish my goal?

Can I design a more efficient way to move that uses less effort for a similar effect?

If there were, how and when would this movement start?

Would I be able to sense what I’m doing, or would I need help perceiving this new way of moving? What sort of help would be the most useful?

How can I extend this new way of moving so that it happens for a longer period? How long can I continue moving in this new way?

What strategies can I use to prevent what I don’t want to repeat from happening that gets in the way of moving in this new way, so I can do more of what I do want and less of what I don’t want?

Get back to me on the results of forming your questions!

Continuing the series of NAMED, in our next post, we’re going to explore what might happen when we start to actually do the experimenting with a new way of moving…

 

How to Notice

In my previous post, I threatened to start a series that would offer a new way to remember to use the principles of Alexander Technique. I wanted to make the steps easy to remember. Imagine having a memory tool for spelling out how Alexander Technique can work for you, any time you want to use it!

The word NAMED can be used as a mnemonic for categories that contain some of the principles and sequential steps for using Alexander Technique.

N…notice

A…ask

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

This is the first post in the series. It’s about how to Notice

When you notice, you’d be using all of your senses to observe what is really happening as it is happening.

Noticing yourself first will allow you to note when and if a change has happened. From noticing, you’ll also have comparisons to describe incremental progress. Just like in conducting a science experiment, it’s useful to begin with a ‘control’ situation on yourself, so you will know when a change has happened. Having made some observations on the front end, you will have comparisons to describe incremental progress.

Of course, sometimes it’s tricky to observe yourself in action. So, I find it useful to use my suggestions of having categories for directing my attention so I can have at least a few useful observations on the front end for later comparison.

Learn the five observational categories elsewhere on this blog…

https://myhalfof.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/coaching-yourself/

Can you add an observational category?

I’d like to sell you on the benefits of paying attention to your own movement. How you prepare to move on the most fundamental level of physical mannerisms determines success and outcome.

Of course, if you haven’t had much practice observing yourself in action during movement, it’s tricky at first. For some people, it helps to use these categories. Paying attention to what you usually take for granted will pay off.

It’s good to do your noticing first, but there’s a common pitfall concerning expectations that you must bear in mind while following this first step. If you make observations while you’re doing what you’ve been doing, it’s likely that you’ll notice your habits.

That’s O.K. – but don’t forget that you haven’t done anything differently – yet.

Evaluating, judging and concluding is the activity that comes after experimenting, not directly after observation. Confronting your own habits that are resistant to change can be discouraging if you’ve tried to change them previously and failed. Habits are pervasive and tricky. They have a sense of self-preservation and self-justification. Noticing something doesn’t mean it changes immediately, or that you “should” already know what to do to change it effectively.

So – because of all these points… Try to resist making a change to instantly ‘correct’ what you may believe has gone ‘wrong.’ Take some time to allow something different to happen. The reason you would suspend your usual remedies for what you notice is to avoid using partial or ineffective solutions that have been tried before.

Just because you’re noticing yourself, doesn’t mean you have to do any adjusting to make it right. How would you know what is “right” if you haven’t done any experimenting yet? If you try to “fix” what you have instantly judged is “objectionable” about what you’re doing – you’re only going to apply solutions that you know. Give that up for a bit in order to find out a possible solution that might work better that you will discover. We’re going to deliberately put aside using former solutions during the experiment.

The purpose of using Alexander Technique is to make a new discovery. It will also help to integrate and actually put into action new discoveries that will more effectively substitute for the habitually ineffective solutions of the past….but you’ll discover how to do that in future posts in a serice during the month of April.

Coaching Yourself

Ten Points for Coaching Yourself

Everyone who practices acts as their own coach. Coaching ourselves is a foundational skill in education that allows us to know how to constructively practice and improve. This is why Alexander Technique teachers say that their work is the basis of education – it’s about how to clear the way for practice.

The points outlined here are circular. It doesn’t matter much where you enter the circle – it’s more important that you go around it repeatedly. Circularity seems to be a characteristic of practice. Of course, each of these could be written about at length – but I just want to outline them here so you have a map for them all.

Let’s say you’d like to improve the way you do an art, sport or skill, or you just physically want to move easier. What are the ingredients of being a good coach to yourself? What are the skills you would you need to study if you want to continuously improve?

Recognizing a Discovery

First you need the ability to prioritize your values about what improvement means to you so you can recognize it when it happens. This involves knowing what direction is away from what you don’t want – or alternately having some ideal about what you do want that you can move towards. Sometimes these desires are misguided, naive or misinformed, so we’ll need to be open to revisions as we progress. The most important ingredient is a willingness to “go boldly where you haven’t gone before.”

It also pays off to spell out the nature of what a discovery is. Spelling out the content of what might get discovered is a great motivation to take the many required risks. But having a little description of the process of discovering itself will be valuable because it will help to recognize a discovery so it doesn’t slip away unnoticed.

Discoveries are a surprise – they often make us laugh. Insights often collapse assumptions we may not have known we had. Discoveries often occur in spite of what we expect. It’s easy to miss a discovery, because it doesn’t fit in with what we know. (Please spell out more of these points about the nature of discovering for yourself.)

Observation and Awareness

The most important ingredient at gaining a skill is self-observation. This is related to awareness of the nature of perception. You can’t make a discovery if you aren’t able to observe it as it is happening. You need to sharpen up your perceptive awareness.

When you first observe yourself as you move, usually people are at a loss for descriptions. It works the best if you have some categories to stimulate the ability to observe; such as describing qualities, timing, relationship, sequences, directions. (Or provide your own categories.) What you want to do is to first note your habits. Don’t be discouraged, because nothing new will happen until you conduct the experiment. Now that we know our habits, we will know what to suspend as we move towards a more effective way.

 Suspend Previous Solutions

Usually, we have an idea what we have done before that has partially worked to address our objections, difficulties or issues. We will now want to recognize the power of previously trained solutions that will probably have already disappeared as they became habits. If we seem to have to re-apply a partial solution indefinitely, how come our previous solutions aren’t resulting in gradual progress?

An example of this is in feeling physically uncomfortable. You might wiggle and squirm, but it only seems to make the uncomfortableness move to another part of your body. Most people just endlessly wiggle again and figure there’s nothing better that can be done about it. But there is!

The Custom Design of Answers, Solutions and Remedies

The next ingredient is designing what to do about what you have observed. Now that we know the pattern or situation from having used our observation skills, it’s time to deliberately consider what to do about it. A coach can be a master at what you want to learn and even a superb observer, but their advice about how to address the issues can be unsuitable for your situation. So this is a step that must be separately considered.

 Forming Useful Questions

When does the problem really start? Is there a point in time when we start to go wrong? To change something about ourselves, we could create a “starting point” for experimenting to focus our attention and ability to notice.

Please form some questions for yourself, such as these. Is there a key point or timing that will influence or redirect the whole experience toward a more positive outcome? Can we create a desirable cascade effect?

In Alexander Technique the key point for responding easier by moving is the head-neck relationship. Free the head at the neck and the whole spine will follow the head and lengthen – and every other intention to do everything else will happen easier.

 Clear The Decks for Action

There’s a useful technique (commonly used in advertising) contained within repetition. It’s wonderful to remember when changing our own conditioning because it’s so devilishly delightful to use. Remember all those bad things that social pressure has taught children not to do? These are things such as lying, cheating, stealing, feigning, faking, passive aggression…? There is a constructive time to fool, lie, subvert or trick. It’s when we want to stop our habits as a preventative, strategic tactic.

The challenge is to get our habitual reactions to give up control, so we can discover if a particular habit is unnecessary…and maybe it’s a nuisance.

First Subtract What’s Unnecessary

We tend to want to design a replacement habit that we imagine is “better,” and ignore the effort of undoing a habit. This is because habits are designed to disappear when successfully installed. We don’t sense we’re doing the habit, although we may remember training it. It’s tricky to get rid of what you can’t perceive is there.

Our challenge is to avoid training a “better” habit because it could be a mere band-aid, one that merely patches up a nuisance habit. Even if we figure that a better way is possible from the examples of other people, we need to design a way to get there from our starting point we’re in now.

Prevent What We Don’t Want From Happening

Most of us know repetition is powerful – especially when the media and advertisers know how repeating insidiously infiltrates attitudes. Most people don’t consider prevention to be as powerful. But it is – it’s as powerful as an accumulated habit adds up when practiced. A child with a charmed start in life can go farther when their natural talents are never discouraged.

This means we want to take care to avoid repeating what we do not want to train ourselves to do. We want to avoid training unnecessary habits. Suspending or stopping partial or nuisance answers can be enough of an solution. Our body will re-organize itself to carry out our intention in a better way once the unnecessary coercive habit are gone. Allowing ourselves to “re-orient” without interference by subtracting what is unnecessary is powerful. This is when we get insights and discoveries that we couldn’t have previously imagined.

Mostly everyone who is learning a skill does a bit of what they don’t want to do as they are learning what they do want to do. So we need a way to discover the “perfect insight” realizing the potential of what we can do, and how to do that from the beginning so we can jump over common pitfalls. That’s the power of prevention. Or we need ways to refine our evolving skill, turning away from what we don’t want and heading towards a lodestar goal.

 Practice What You Do Want

That’s why people hire coaches and teachers – to avoid common pitfalls. Or perhaps words don’t work so well to adequately describe what they want to learn. Find someone who does what you want to do, so you can soak up what you want to learn from a direct example. After removing unnecessary habits, you may need to constructively train a new habit to allow reliable performance. Now you’re ready to know what to actively do.

In this situation, a number of actions are constructive – please add your ideas. Recognizing a constructive example when you see it is useful. Helpful also is to use your trained ability to notice the teacher’s example and compare it to what you’re doing as you imitate the example. It might work to “Fake it ’til you make it.” It’s also helpful as you experiment to recognize and chart cumulative progress.

 Attitude and Altitude

As you gain proficiency, the definition of success will tend to rise higher as your standards become more refined and educated. You may always be behind the curve, just as a person will always feel limited by habits before they’ve made a move in a new direction. However, this also means that no matter wherever you are on the learning curve, at least you’re on your way to becoming a master of a discipline with a passion. If you have the urge to continue in a new direction, perhaps finding the common thread or lodestone of your multiple interests is the next challenge. Now that you know the benefits, hopefully you’ll continue to open up to possible new discoveries indefinitely. Patience and self-forgiveness are transcendent virtues – as is continuing curiosity.

Endgaining Defined

This is a new word that has been in use by the Alexander Technique community since 1930s, invented by the founder. It describes the expression, “Go for it!” The word also describes the troublesome limitations of using one’s will in the face of a new challenge. The word endgaining describes the irresistible urge to gain an intended goal that activates a habitual response connected to using one’s will.

The word in the Alexander Technique community is most often used to express a lack of success, for a number of reasons. The best example of the issues may be illustrated by the metaphor of a conductor and orchestra. The conductor assumes when they give the direction for a certain musical effect, that the musicians are skilled and practiced enough to do what it takes to make the conductor’s direction to come true. The success of the in-time response to the conductor will be in direct relationship to the amount of practice the musicians have invested in the skill of playing their instrument, what they expect from their familiarity with the music they have prepared to play and their ability to make sense of what the conductor is indicating. A lack of practice will result in a lack of success and a frustrated conductor.

The first issue is the effect of practice and how repetition builds abilities. Endgaining relates to this because the skill that has been practiced the most will jump forward to carry out the imperative direction to “do it” whenever the signal to do an act is given.

The other feature that determines success is motivation or drive, which is popularly expressed in the use of will. A lack of success expressed in the word “endgain” is backed up by brain research. Movement actions have already been prepared to occur before conscious awareness of action happens. Technically, a person prepares to go into action long before that person is aware of their desire to act. Humans have only 1/64th of a second to veto or shape the way they are going to do an action that is already been prepared and is in progress inside of them before it becomes expressed in an overt action.

So – using one’s will power to carry out an intention only works in relationship to how familiar and practiced a person is with the required skills needed. Endgaining means there is a primary motive towards reaching an aim, disregarding the method used to achieve the intended goal.

If we ignore the way we do things, the means we are most familiar to get our goals will happen. If the goal requires a familiar means for success or successively matches similiar skills previously trained, all is well. But a new situation requires a new and unfamiliar means, there might be undesirable consequences. During situations that do not match previously trained skills inappropriate to the situation, pain, illness and injury occur. It will not matter how imperative the need or will to succeed is. An epic fail can still happen in the presence of the most arrogantly successful confidence and drive.

The Alexander Technique demonstrates a process that allows a successful approach to establishing a new means to deal with unfamiliar circumstances.

To be an endgainer when a more effective process is available marks the student as naive. They need more practice in the skill of temporarily suspending their goals to allow the use of unfamiliar means. Without using the new indirect means, our responses will most likely follow the dominant and most often practiced movement patterns. These old routines recreate a series of sense perceptions that feel ‘right’ to us – but they are merely the comfort of doing what we know best. To get an unfamiliar new benefit, we need to stop doing what we have practiced and know how to do. We need to be willing to feel “strange” and take a gamble. We need to suspend the goal and stop our will-to-do that wants to endgain.

So  how do we tell when something notable has happened and that we have indeed stopped endgaining? Effortlessness and lightness are new signals of success.

Non-Doing

Non-doing: what Alexander Technique teachers call it when someone is able to perform an action without their own habitual routines being in the way. The term “non-doing” is a word used in the Alexander Technique lexicon to describe an experience that is quite common during an Alexander Technique lesson – an effortlessness feeling of doing something without overcompensating. Non-doing is also a special paradoxical non-action strategy used to evoke and sustain the effortlessness or “flow state”of improved coordination.

A student will experience hints of the ability for non-doing by following the guidance of an Alexander Technique teacher’s hands-on coaching. This sensation of physical lightness is a signature result of Alexander Technique lessons. With some paradoxical practice regimens, it is possible to sustain the experience of  non-action as a reliable ongoing exploration without an Alexander Technique teacher being present to coach it hands-on.

How to engage in this ability to experience a significant reduction of unnecessary effort will probably be different from the way you’ve learned nearly anything else. It involves subtracting rather than adding, thus the term non-action. It is a strategic use of the self that will involve new perceptions, self-observation, thinking proactively and a large dose of courage for experimentation.

Usually when someone is attempting to improve their skill at performance or become free from pain, (the top two goals of people who begin study at Alexander Technique,) they have in mind certain improvements they want to do that are supposed to be better replacements for those unwanted routines that they do not want to do. Certainly, training a new routine that replaces an old routine is an accepted strategy for improvement. To put this “better” into practice, a person still has to choose the less practiced non-dominant new skill that may have recently been deliberately trained as a replacement – which can be tricky given certain conditions. Alexander Technique addresses such challenges, going even further.

These tricky “certain conditions” are often hiding underneath a person’s ability to perceive what they are doing with themselves. These include postural mannerisms that unintentionally cause back pain or to retain a speaking accent, unintended perceptual assumptions or attitudes, performance anxieties, or when improvements involving will power or practice will go no further. All these tricky challenges respond to learning the skill of non-doing that Alexander Technique offers.

The way this works is what is paradoxical or strategic about it. The first step is to leave off the replacement routine; it’s deliberately suspended. Instead, a person actively refuses the habitual solution or routine they assume needs to happen as a new sort of preparation to go into action. Alexander Technique people call this to inhibit or to not-do. Curiously, what happens when the dominant default habitual interference is deliberately refused (without specifying a replacement routine,) is a sensation of unpredictable effortlessness or do-less-ness – or flow. The default integration of a little bit of nothing into one’s action is paradoxically surprising.  Apparently, we’ve been doing much more of something unnecessary without realizing it.

Not-doing this gives an experience that is quite real and not an intellectual exercise at all. You must try it – it’s fascinating. It’s a bit like pulling the rug out from under yourself. Sometimes, it feels as if you are jumping off a cliff because habits tend to dramatize their own necessity. But there you are – non-doing the very thing you just declared that you weren’t going to do…and to not-do the action this way indeed feels as if it’s an entirely different animal.

Have any stories or suggestions about how to evoke flow states of non-doing that you have experienced yourself?

Creative Movement

Imagine if there were multiple “escape hatches” for gaining effective new ideas and adopting effective new attitudes… Well, of course there are, right!?

Imagine they are not just ideas, but have a way to practice. You can practice by uncovering assumptions of thought and learning new creative thinking tools that give you ideas. That’s creative thinking. Now imagine you make improvements that better whatever you’d like to apply it to by changing yourself physically to get beyond that has become habitually assumed. That’s Alexander Technique.

The concept of “Attitudes” can possess a mental sense and may also be used in a physical sense. A person’s postural carriage and body language reflects their character and changing internal moods, as well as their intent, unspoken desires and motives. Change the inside thoughts and it will affect the outside. Change the outside mannerisms and the inside will also be affected.

Imagine a sailboat trimmed to catch the wind from a different direction to accommodate prevailing conditions – so the boat can go somewhere. Think of the advantages you could catch, if you could learn to sail yourself to catch those hidden opportunities and ideas that would usually blow over your head and be lost!

So the disadvantage is that there is a learning curve in each of these disciplines. You don’t really know about these advantages until you put in time to study what these tools are and can recognize when is the time to put them into action. They take dedication, discipline and to remember to use their advantages when things matter. Because they both involve education, the participation of the learner is required to gain their benefits.

Edward de Bono has spent his life providing these escapes from conditioned, trapped thinking, as have those people who teach F.M. Alexander’s Technique. How come so few people recognize how valuable creative thinking is? They focus on the result and not the process. How come only very few recognize the value of being able to change or improve the ability to move beyond one’s habitual conditioned responses? Again, they are usually motivated by a desire for the result; they declare the process is so abstract as to be completely mystifying.

But you could hire a creative thinker, but you’d need to recognize the value of their ideas. You could hire an Alexander Technique teacher to describe the qualities of human movement that recommend education – but instead there are expensive Gait Laboratories that are used to justify surgery as a solution.

Another thing in common is what happens when making both of these simple enough to be accessed by anyone. Simplification of either these two open-ended topics risks trivializing their tremendous power they have for improving action.

It appears that both possess a practical means about how to get beyond self-imposed limitations of having assumed the nature of reality from variously different starting points.

Rather than continuing to rant, I’ll give two parallel examples.

Edward de Bono uses the word “perception” to mean purposeful adoption of an attitude or point of view. So he invented a means for people to unite together and reflect a joined attitude by design. For instance, his invention of Six Hat Thinking has a group of people all on the same side of a question, having adopted an agreed point of view, (usually within a larger sequence) of one of the Six Thinking Hats. He called this “parallel thinking.”

While wearing the green creative Thinking Hat, Edward de Bono’s word for one of his tools is called “PO,” used in lateral thinking. How to use the provocation tool of PO is recommended in the word “movement.” This idea of “movement” is an instruction about how to regard what just got proPOsed. You suppose the provocation is absolutely true – and see if you can make observations that would be in effect if it were true. In some ways, it is very much like improvisational theater – Whatever just got proPOsed, the answer is always “yes.” That’s “movement” in a de Bono style creative thinking sense.

Now I’m remembering the past, being in class with Marj Barstow, and she asks, “How do you describe A.T. in one word?” Her idea of that word is “movement.” Marj uses the word “perception” to mean the perception of kinesthesia, which is the ability to internally know where you are located in space and to judge how little effort is really needed to perform a physical action. Her idea of a provocation is a student’s proposed activity or desire to improve something. Observations about the quality, timing, sequence, relationship and direction of movement offer the discoveries that come from experimenting with how to make movements easier. “Intention is already movement,” she declares.

Both A.T and de Bono Thinking assign certain strategies to get beyond one’s own self-imposed limitation that have attitudes and perceptions in common – how to create value by moving away from limitation into unexplored possibility.

Studying Alexander Technique is a valuable answer to an often-ignored need for proactive movement, instead of preserving the status quo of habit. I suspect that de Bono has a similar feeling of frustration when confronted by the prevailing argument culture. What good is the tired use of our prevailing argument culture, when you can design a way through these challenges that will better the whole situation?

Methodical Creativity

Spontaneity & Creativity
Some people imagine there is a canceling effect between planning and spontaneity. Creative writing is an example. Once a writer gets into the state of being a methodical editor, the spontaneity of creative ideas can stop, like a faucet that’s been turned off. How can a writer “turn on” the faucet of creative writing again? It’s a mystery to many who experience “writer’s block.” From my experience, I say that the ability to shift from the creative state to editing mode and back again is a skill that responds to practice.

Observation & Creativity
Of course, it would pay off to be able to pay attention to what is actually happening. How else will you know if something creative has happened? Bear in mind that there are many ways to describe what you think that you’re doing, which may not be what is actually happening.

As a writer, I’ve learned that naming something can be dangerous. Under the heading of “planning” and “methodical” are really effective and astute self-observations, done slowly. This can be practiced by describing the mundane things that actually happen that most people miss – which could be another part of  “methodical.”  Then there is somehow recording what happened – like people do to populate their Facebook pages. Recording what you tried is useful so you don’t have to mistakenly practice unproductive mistakes.

Accidents & Creativity
Pretty much everybody has done something really creative and beyond their abilities in a flash of “accidentally on purpose.” How much time went by until they realized something creative just did happen? Can it be done again, purposefully? Were they paying attention as they did this creative thing so they could know what happened in order to use it productively?  Are there more effective questions that might help being able to repeat a creative accident?

Some Useful Virtual Questions

  • What helps to observe myself – while in action?
  • What’s the challenge for being creative?
  • How can I recognize that something creative just happened?
  • Does creativity have characteristics that will help me spot it when it does happen?
  • How am I going to recognize a partial creative answer when it happens?
  • Does stopping and noting it help a creative action to happen again?

Going Slowly & Creativity
Alexander Technique teachers know that ready-made, habitual solutions preclude creative answers from emerging. So – slowing an action down to a crawl effectively works to interrupt or to stop habitual solutions from jumping in and “helpfully” providing the application of those ready-made answers. It’s easy to mistake slowing down for being “uncreative.” But going slowly is only just that. It’s possible to be very creative and go slow, because it allows the new solution to be implemented.

In practice, you must prove to people that going slow is useful. Because in our culture we have this mistaken assumption that going fast is a sign of quick-witted intelligence and going slowly is a signal of stupidity.

Method & Creativity
There’s a paradox in Alexander Technique – “let’s follow a declared process that will result in an inspirational flash of discovery!”

Stating what you are going to do and then doing it helps unify all of yourself in being pointed toward whole-minded action. Stating what you are about to do forges and practices a coherent, consistent connection between your intent and the factual response to your intent.

Are there certain useful practices or questions you enjoy asking yourself again and again because they result in a flash of creative inspiration?

Attractiveness

Learning A.T.  made an interesting change in my sense of my own attractiveness. At the time this happened for me, I was attending daily teacher-training classes. I was learning to see postural expressions of qualities of thought and mannerisms of character in other people. I suddenly realized that others had been seeing and responding to my own postural attitudes too!

Even if they didn’t know what my body language meant in as much detail as I was learning, I had to admit that my own body language expressed who I was on the inside of me – not just my external appearance. As I realized that people were probably responding to what was expressed inside my internal character and sense of self, (as well as the fact that I was a tall, young woman at that time,) my whole picture of attracting attention from men I needed to consider in this new light. Even if these guys who wolf-whistled at me were not conscious how they could discern this information of attractiveness, that didn’t matter. I had to give them credit, whether they knew exactly what it was about me that was attracting their attention or not. I realized they were noticing how I was acting as I walked down the street – where my attention went, how I walked and moved. As I understood that, I began to be able to “turn it off” and on – so that when I did not want to attract attention, I could control being available. The broadcasting of attractiveness and charisma can be deliberate, not accidental.

I don’t think that most men really know what it’s like to get unwanted sexual attention from strangers. Perhaps if a guy is hetrosexual and finds himself getting sexual attention from homosexual men, it is a bit similar. Pretty much, every young woman must figure out how to deal with getting this attention from an early age, and it’s difficult. My strategy was to wear baggy clothes and hide as best I could, but it did not really work. Knowing more about what and how my body language projects the way I am inside made a big change for me concerning this challenge. Getting this sexual attention that I was forced to deal with because of being born in the culture was difficult for me. But with this new insight, it suddenly became an insight. I realized that attention from strangers was happening because of how I moved, how I paid attention, instead of it being an accident of birth and physical appearance. For me at the time, it was quite a turnaround.

From Literal to Concept

Language is an encyclopedia of ignorance. Words and concepts become established at a period of relative ignorance – which each period must be, compared to the subsequent period. Once the perceptions and concepts are frozen into the permanence of language, they control and limit our thinking on any subject because we are forced to use those concepts. – “I Am Right – You Are Wrong” by Edward de Bono, one of his 80+ books on creative thinking

How do you go about extracting concepts from literal experiences that are “stuck” into a already-assembled package?

Decades ago, before I had really learned to write, I was assigned the job of describing Marj Barstow’s new innovations about teaching Alexander Technique to groups. It was quite a difficult job for many reasons. Learning Alexander Technique occurred on many levels for a student – everyone was located along a continuum of the learning process – but this process of learning the subject was not linear…and everyone followed a different pathway.

To complicate this, my teacher was also quite literal, very specific and a superb editor. She was so much of an editor, she couldn’t write for herself. There was something wrong with everything because it didn’t contain the whole. So my job became to write, write, write and allow her to cut up whatever I had written to shreds…and go back and write some more, undaunted. To complicate matters, nobody else but the founder had written about his own driving conceptual & innovative principles, although everyone acknowledged their importance who had experienced the power of his teaching. It was a little like daring to describe what nobody else would touch.

Since I knew that compiling was a much easier job than the simplifying of concepts that I really needed, I started out by collecting selected “impressions” my teacher’s students had written to her. There were interesting quotes from people that I selected, assembled and grouped so they “flowed” in topic. The sequence of the topics were arranged to match my teacher’s introductory presentation sequence – because they had to posses some sequence. At the time, it seemed to be an arbitrary selection of deciding what quote should follow the next. The learning process and application of the skills of Alexander Technique was so subjectively circular. What organization would be best for introductory teaching?

My attempts were widely distributed among her students for feedback. The acknowledgment came back from her more experienced students: the sequence I stumbled on was the same one they had been effectively using in action to teach others. So, now I had a sequence to present content (that I had arranged so “arbitrarily”) and it had turned out to be in agreement with what others who did not write had learned.

Now I was ready to write a “concept synopsis” where each topic changed into the next. To simulate the out-of-sequence form of learning, I split the conceptual chapter headings from the raw quotes and added some experiments for examples. The idea of a tri-sectioned book emerged to allow the information to be read out of sequence as well as in sequence.

the cookbook style thing, divided in three separate books bound together into one book was funny to read in practice. It frustrated people who wanted to read it in sequence.

So – that was how I took one very complex subject that didn’t have a conceptual organization and simplified it.

Hope that my story from my experience in Alexander Technique inspires for you how to extract concepts from literal experiences and express them successfully in words.

Giving Up

It’s tricky to perceive what’s going on with thought and actions, because everything happens at once – and fast.

You have done it a million times. The most familiar way to suspend what you do not want is to do something else. Fire off another cue and change the channel. Time to go on to the next thing.  Once people get a cue, their urge to respond to it is very strong – hopefully strong enough to face down continuing to do the previous routine.  Brrrrring, the phone rings. Pooof! Stimulus for new behavior. A person can be SCREAMING; their phone rings and suddenly, this tiny, sweet, polite “Hello” voice comes out. They were trained by the bell to offer a new behavior. This is the mind’s superb recognition system in action.

People know that changing from one action to another works. The thinking strategy here is to install a new habit to take the place of the old one, and fire off the next trigger.

But – what happens when the previous state of mind gets in the way of the next? It acts like a problem with inertia – hard to start the ball rolling, and hard to stop it. The person picks up the phone call and they growl at the caller on the phone instead of being civilized. Even though the person on the phone doesn’t deserve it or they may take the insult personally, the previous mood or attitude of the person who answered runs over into the next activity. The poor caller is guilty by association of their bad timing.

This spill-over also happens quite innocently when training oneself to do a skill.  There is learning the intended skill… Also comes extra, unnecessary things done during the training process. These get accidentally get trained into the skill along with what is intended.

So, self-control would be handy, but too much control can be too heavy-handed. In the tiny moments most people witness themselves doing what they don’t want to do, they immediately change what they’re doing as a reaction to the witnessing. They want to “fix things” immediately – fix whatever is happening that they deem is “Wrong or Bad”.

Policing yourself is firing off the behavior of self-judgment. This is what most people call “to be inhibited.” The act of policing oneself irresistibly pops out as what is unwanted or don’t like is noted. Policing oneself works, but it stops everything indefinitely. The dam is held back until it bursts or pops off like the opening a soft drink that’s been shaken. The issue becomes a vicious circle.

I like tell another story about my own sweet mother – she could not get a photo of herself that really looked like her. Each time the camera came out, she would compose her face into an uncharacteristic expression to “get her picture taken.” Something about looking in the mirror would have the same effect. She would compose her face or her posture in a funny, uncharacteristic way. It was a sort of self-consciousness many people get today when they are filmed or during public speaking. One day I tricked her into thinking I wasn’t ready to snap her picture. Finally there was a photo of herself that she liked.

How to get past the vicious circle of assuming the only choice you have is to train and switch?

F.M. Alexander invented the idea. What he invented is a method of subtraction. Rather than adding a new behavior and firing that off to replace what it is you don’t want, merely subtract what is unnecessary.

This approach is particularly effective when one triggered behavior can’t stop the next – they run together. As in when the person who answers the phone punishes the caller by growling – who has no idea what is in progress.

So, now you’re wondering, how can the habitual routine be merely disengaged or stopped? It turns out, that a little unnoticed action of change can fly “under the radar” of the unwanted, coercive reaction. The trick is finding this something to detour the unwanted habitual reaction. It’s a design problem, finding this something. Alexander teachers specialize in being great observers to find such a thing for you. But you can do a bit of it yourself by being sneaky with your habits. Use a low-stress activity, one that makes little difference. Reassure the old habit that nothing terrible is happening. Then do the steps you imagine will get you where you want to go, bit by bit. As you unlock the skill of suspending a routine and as you practice this ability, that trickery can be used as a training tool for the ability to change routines during more important situations.

When you want to suspend a habitual routine, that’s the time to use all those nasty things you have been told that you must never do. You want to lie, cheat, fake it out, make it wait, slap it down, tickle it, distract it, etc. That’s the time to be devious. Your ability to rebel, veto, buck the system, subvert the dominant paradigm… this is what will work best on re-routing a conditioned set or routine. It’s very difficult to directly fight routines that have crystallized into habits once they get going. But you can tease them into submission by fooling them, lying to them, sneaking around them. It works best if you can catch them the moment before they go into action. The best time to do this is right before the routines get started.

The first practice of learning this skill is something most people can do. It is to refuse to do the act of self-judgment. Can you sense and witness yourself without changing or “trying to fix” what you usually do to fix the problem?

It is possible to both watch yourself do what you are doing AND also allow the event to occur anyway without your interference of self-judgment. With practice, it becomes even more possible. Perhaps it is so difficult to do such a thing because nobody has ever thought of asking people to do it. Asking in a way that worked. They ran into self-consciousness, which is a form of self-judgment, and they give up.

The funny part here is giving up is exactly what works. Giving up the self-judgment works.

Why Did I Do That?

Do people make deliberate choices for negative reasons?

I used to imagine they do. I used to think I did. But as I have come to be able to watch myself in action making decisions and as I have come to watch my students deal with decisions they have made and habits they have put in place, I have changed my mind and no longer assume this is the case. People make choices for positive reasons.

I have come to believe that everyone I’ve ever known chooses an action (or lack of it) because of its positive aspects, not the negative ones.

Now what about those stupid choices?

Some bad ideas are selected because people couldn’t have known what the effect of their actions are over time, or how serious the effects of their actions would be once added up cumulatively. This is a problem addressed by learning one of the secrets of Alexander Technique – once learned, habits commonly disappear from self-perception.

Perhaps the choice doesn’t take crucial things into account that should have been obvious to someone with more experience. Thus the old adage; “Hindsight is 20/20.” These choices show a lack of foresight and information. Sometimes, the ordering of priorities satisfied by the choice are hidden from the person who is choosing, so a little soul-searching would help future choices. Alexander Technique helps remind people to remember to determine their priorities and criteria by becoming more aware of their own multiple priorities and assumptions of their own criteria for success. Determining and knowing one’s goals is crucial to practicing A.T. because of the need to temporarily suspend these goals so experimenting can bring in new information. If these goals are hidden from the person, they will emerge during experimentation.

It is even more common that a person feels as if they “must” make the choice for various justified points or to answer an imperative need. They may be aware that some of the effects of that choice may become negative at some time in the future. They may figure they know what the cost of the choice is, and believe they accept the cost in trade for the benefit. However, as they get closer to the cost, the benefit suddenly pales. So thinking ahead about mitigating time of arrival issues would be wise in these situations.

Related to this circumstance, Alexander Technique offers the ability to pause before choosing a habit or manner of thinking. In this moment of reflection, another choice is possible. This ability to pause and reflect how you are going to do something (called Inhibition in A.T.) allows you to also decide not to do what you realize that you do not want to do.

Sometimes people are aware of the negative aspects of a choice, but must choose between lesser evils. Perhaps they decide the costs are “worth it,” (possibly because sometimes the costs are deferred until “later,” or may not happen at all.) After learning Alexander Technique, a person realizes how often what they do repetitively has a powerful cumulative effect. They also realize that in many cases, they do have other choices. With this information, perhaps they might be encouraged to look elsewhere for more choices before making a choice that cuts off other options.

How much do people really have a choice? In many cases, most adults are a product of their conditioning – their own habits, their environment and their cultural and parental training. As such, it is seldom that people really do have a choice. Alexander Technique gives first-hand experience of how much trouble it is to change and how significant prevention can be, so this encourages compassion for others and patience with oneself.

How often do people examine or realize their options? Choices people automatically make may have negative consequences over time or immediate risks at the time of choosing, but many feel it is the only thing they can do.

Alexander Technique recommends thinking ahead a bit about the effects of choices. It has some wisdom to offer concerning the cumulative effects of what you are going to allow yourself to repeat.

One of the secrets of A.T. is that a circumstance of pure repetition encourages the training a new habit. This habit may be handy and useful – or it may become a nuisance if it goes on too long or becomes too extreme. Of course, a person gets better at whatever they allow themselves to practice – so it pays off in many ways to notice what you are allowing yourself to repeat.

Personal Challenges

“how do people respond when confronted with challenges that are personally presented?”

When you think about it, no matter how much experience you have, there is always the next moment when you might discover something new, right?

The characteristics of discovery is partly what AT is about. How to recognize a discovery when it does emerge.

Mostly people are defensive when challenged. This happens for many reasons; because most people assume a challenge means a contest determining a winner and loser. If they can courageously rise to the occasion and possibly realize that defensiveness either isn’t necessary or is actively not particularly fun or creative, things get interesting. Let’s say the nature of the challenge is you ask people to change their manner of speaking, ( for instance.) Most cannot do that for very long. They will see it as a personal affront to be challenged in this manner because they can’t do it or sustain it. Most adults are not used to being made into a beginner. They had to accept when young, and thus they react as if threatened – many attempts to demote people into beginners is regarded as a sort of “hazing.”

Once people become willing to challenge themselves, I noticed that people seem to have a “favored” way of directing their attention – and also a “favored” way of evaluating results. It is always fascinating to describe these and compare them to other possible styles and preferences.

Usually people do not know that there are other styles and ways of evaluating, so this process is quite eye-opening for them (and fascinating to me.) For example of various favored computations used in making decisions or evaluating results:

  • Some people “add up” results, searching for similarity or grouping what they determine belongs together by their own somewhat idiosyncratic associations.
  • Some people will “match” looking for a exact “fit,” of course, casting aside things that they assume do not fit. Some people “contrast to reveal differences” which is a more appropriate strategy for tapping the unknown.
  • Some “subtract” to “distill the essence” which implies there is already a criteria and a priority in place.

You could generally think of these points as being tied to the various means of critical thinking. Critical in the sense of being able to make critical or operative distinctions, rather than critical in the sense of passing judgment or assuming a position or opinion that then must be justified or gain agreement.

This process is related to AT because objective description of the sensibility of the instrument and how you are using it will, obviously, direct the possible results. As teachers, we are asking students to abstract the specific examples we give them in order to apply them to other situations and circumstances.

OK – what do you think about this?

Improvisationally Applied Alexander Technique

As teachers of Alexander Technique, it is very deceptive for us to take for granted the assumptions implicit in the teaching environments in which we originally learned. It is sometimes after we graduate and begin to teach beginners that these assumptions come to light. Obviously, it pays big to examine assumptions, making what we have to offer clearer and easier to understand for us and all our students.

Alexander Technique is most commonly misunderstood because of it is meant to be improvisationally applied. There are no forms or prescriptive exercises that constitute what A.T. is.

For example, Tai Chi or Yoga have certain specific motions that someone can point to that can be considered to constitute the discipline that are practiced and perfected over time. Alexander Technique does not (with one exception, the Whispered Ahh.)

After some examples, a beginning pupil of A.T. can very easily misunderstand that what they are being shown is a prescriptive form of perfect posture or complex body of “correct” movements that are supposed to be remembered, copied or learned. This problematic misunderstanding is reinforced by an A.T. custom; the one activity in particular taught in teacher training schools that many teachers fall back on when they are left to choose an activity as an example. This action is most often rising and sitting in a chair. This choice of activity was possibly so routinely made because the space available in which lessons were historically taught was often limited in the UK where A.T. originated.

I must agree that exclusively using “chair work” certainly would understandably give a learner that first mistaken impression that A.T. is “sit up straight school.” This is why I feel that if chair work is selected, it’s very important to also work with another activity of specific interest to the student, preferably chosen by the student. If the activity is chosen by the teacher, then the logic and criteria used for choosing a specific action should be explained to the student(s).

In theory, A.T. is meant to be used as a way of initiating motion and applying experimentation while doing any form of movement the user believes may benefit from bringing some attention and freedom to it. While it doesn’t matter which motion is selected, I believe two categories of actions should always be selected from; the first, a most global, routine and common action. The second selection should be another action that is meaningful and valuable to the particular student who is learning it.