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.