I just finished reading Norman Doige's 'The Brain That Changes Itself', a book on the way our brain can rewire itself in response to circumstance and training. This plasticity is what is being exercised during Alexander Technique lessons--our habits our wired one way, and by giving a process to step outside of them the Alexander Technique loosens these habits and strengthens new ones, eventually allowing the new habits to become fixed. It's pretty cool stuff (Doige will be speaking at the International Alexander Technique Congress taking place at Loyola University Chicago this summer)!
One aspect of this process I find particularly important is the idea that in order to cement these new habits we need to have a feeling of reward attached to the change (literally dopamine coming into our system). Without it, our brain doesn't reorganize effectively. Anybody who has taken an Alexander Technique lesson knows this can be initially hard to come by--working against your habit can feel disorienting and feel 'wrong' until you get used to it. We are also maddeningly wired to pay more attention to problems than progress (see the indispensable 'Thinking Fast and Slow' by Daniel Kahneman) and tend to skip rewarding ourselves in order to work on the next thing we find wrong with ourselves. In doing this, we actually slow progress and can trap ourselves in our old habits.
There are several things I do as a teacher to try to help students feel reward for changing and taking risks:
There is one other way in which I work with clients to create a feeling of reward: tying in unrelated prize to something you are uncomfortable doing. Specific goals with specific rewards can help us overcome the hump of trying to create change in our lives. The beauty is that it doesn't always have to be complicated. I once had a student make significant progress by promising to buy her her favorite candy if she did Active Rest every day for a month. Not only did she make progress on her goals, but it has cemented the habit--she now continues to do lie downs every day without any sugary reward.
I guess the takeaway is simple: Whatever aspect of your life you are trying to improve right now, don't skip the reward. Without it, all of the hard work in the world might not get you very far.
Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.