freedom for life

The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

What does it mean for you to be wrong? When you are wrong, as we all are at times, are you able to recognise it and then set out to tackle the problem or do you give up and hope it will go away. The answer to these questions will give a good indication as to how you learn and how successful you are at it. 


These two approaches involve different mindsets according to Carol Deweck who researched them and recently published her results in an easy and accessible book Mindset. Her research backs up what both Alexander and Kelly demonstrated and advocated, namely that solving your problems, by viewing them as a learning opportunity, is the way to grow and succeed this is the growth mindset. Its contrast is the fixed mindset which views ability as fixed, limited and finds set backs difficult to bear. 


You can have both mindsets and use them in different areas of your lives, growing in one, limiting yourself in others. In either case, both mindsets have been learned and can be learned allowing you to change from one to the other, although hopefully no one would choose to limit themselves by consciously adopting the fixed mindset. 


Which mindset we learn at the beginning, is often determined by how others handle our success or failure. Too often children are fixed by parents or teachers as being of fixed ability, with a certain kind of character, which at its very worst persuades children into construing their natural curiosity and spontaneity in learning as bad. Very often in families this can be done to protect the parents from being exposed as the emperor who lacks any clothes. A conspiracy of silence is then imposed, the breaking of which can threaten and bring a scapegoating. The terror of this perpetuates silence, narrowing lives into further sadness and anxiety. Where this happens therapy is one place people can go to tell their story, to find that the world can be different and receive them; and accept them for who they are and who they can be.


In this, learning to be present to their sense of sadness, the sense of anxiety and to transform it into a readiness for action that is calm and focussed can be invaluable. This requires self-understanding and self-acceptance and an end to self-hatred. Inhibition as taught by Alexander in its deepest psycho-physical meaning can be of use here allowing the suspension of hatred, the fear and the threat of being wrong in favour of a curiosity in what is there now or what we might like to project into the future, as a life to be lived. For this, the growth mindset is invaluable as is the presence of another. 


PeggyThe presence of another in learning and development is hugely beneficial and here I would just like to say  a few words about Peggy Dalton whose death last week is one of the reasons this blog was delayed. Peggy supervised me for six years, including my training. She was a remarkably gifted and talented therapist but what, more than anything, marked her out was her presence and engagement to others despite her severe chronic pain. This presence gave me and others great support and encouragement in developing our work and she will remain a great inspiration to the constructivist ideal that anything can be reconstrued, including chronic pain, as this touching blog by my friend and colleague Mary Frances makes clear. Peggys life was proof that even in the greatest of difficulties, meaning can be found and lives can be lived. She will be missed and remembered by all of us that knew her. 


Published in Lessons from the Chair

‘Imagine you’re clever’ might be an insult to some, but for others it might be the instruction that liberates them into a whole new world of learning. As an instruction it has a lot to teach us about learning and the power of expectations, others and our own.

It was used in a lovely bit of research by Robert Hardy to investigate how young people’s attitudes to learning affected their performance. He invited them to carry out some tasks by acting ‘as if they were clever’. Young people with poor and error prone learning styles, became efficient and fluent learners when acting ‘as if’. One girl was so discomforted by the gap between how she normally experienced herself and her new performance, that she claimed not to have done the experiment - that someone else must have done it!

Two inter-linked truths about learning are apparent here. The first is that expectations are important, the second that self-consistency is important, the experience of difference for some, is something to be disavowed. Others though welcome it and are able to make sense of it, and use it to launch themselves into whole new worlds of discovery.

This importance of self-consistency and our need to be predictable to ourselves is sometimes poorly understood. Not just by ourselves but also by other people including teachers and therapists, who are there to help us learn. Without it, we or others, at our extremes, can seem unpredictable, chaotic and even terrifyingly mad, yet deep down there is always a logic, which makes sense in the light of day, in the context of past experience and choice.

Discovering that logic, which is primarily is an emotional and narrative logic, is a task we all have to face. The ease and fluency with which we accomplish this, is primarily determined by the type of self-consistency we seek. If we seek consistency as fixed characters, then eventually no matter how talented, being wrong, as I will elaborate further next time, becomes something to avoid. If we seek consistency as beings capable of learning, of developing and growing, then through time, patience and hard work, we can change and master our chosen skills. If we act ‘as if’ we can learn, we will; if we act ‘as if’ we were clever while we do so, then the learning will be easier and more fluent.

There is no blog next week, as I am in London for a board meeting. The following week, I will turn to the importance of ‘mindsets’ and start to look at some of their implications for learning the Alexander Technique and therapy.

Published in Lessons from the Chair