My first student today commented that she really likes the Alexander Technique because it’s so forgiving.
What she meant was that it’s forgiving of making mistakes. Of doing the wrong thing.
That’s an important aspect of learning the Alexander Technique. Of learning anything.
Because mistakes are an essential part of learning.
Young kids make mistakes all the time and they’re OK with it. That’s how they’re learning. Until someone teaches them otherwise (usually in school).
I was in my weekly tap class last week. There’s a new guy in the class. Tim’s moved up from the previous level.
I was on the mend from my horrendous cold—I’d had to do a lot of convincing to get myself to even show up to class that night—but I knew it’d be good for me.
On a normal night, I’d be huffing and puffing in that class. Add to that my still diminished lung capacity, and I was done for the night after 35 minutes.
I went out to sit down and change my shoes. Then out came Tim. I asked what was wrong.
He was so frustrated at the routine we were working on that he just gave up. He looked defeated. He couldn’t get it, he said. Kept messing up.
We talked briefly. I mentioned how that’s an uncomfortable place to be, where you keep messing up but that’s also how you learn. By pushing yourself, trying something new and unfamiliar—and being OK with making mistakes in the process.
I thought to myself (but kept my mouth shut) by stepping out of the room, he was guaranteed not to learn the routine.
We’ve got this phrase in my tap class—Frankenstein Hands. It’s when people are trying to get a whole bunch of new steps, they’re trying hard to get it right and their hands stiffen up and claw-like—like Frankenstein.
When I try to get something, especially a physical skill, and I’m trying hard not to make any mistakes, well, I just get tense.
Which usually doesn’t help me in learning the physical skill.
If I can be OK with screwing up, I’m noticeably less tense and things just go better—and I enjoy the whole thing a lot more.
I practice this a lot in my tap class. I welcome my mistakes. I don’t try to get it right.
It’s a safe place for me to screw up.
But I had to decide that my tap class is a safe place—what I call a low-stakes place—to make mistakes.
Because I know that mistakes are essential to learning.
An Alexander lesson is what I call a low-stakes place—a place where it’s safe to make mistakes.
How about you?
When you’re trying to learn something new, do you allow yourself to make mistakes? To do the wrong thing? To not care about being perfect? Are you forgiving of yourself?
Do you have any low-stakes places in your life?
(Realize that you’re the one often deciding if a situation is low stakes or not).
If not, could you create some? And practice being OK with making mistakes?
Check out this video with Eduardo Briceño, one of my all-time favorites regarding making mistakes and learning.