I don’t think I’m imagining that quite a high proportion of people who come for Alexander lessons are what could be described as perfectionists (speaking as a ‘recovering’ perfectionist myself). That isn’t the reason they’re coming but, as I get to know them, I start to recognise some tell-tale signs. They are usually very good and successful at what they do but at some cost to themselves. They often end up working even longer hours than their colleagues, and can be heading towards ‘burn-out’ when they get into their 40s and 50s.
Wanting to always get things ‘right’ usually entails spending a lot more time and effort (physical and mental), than would be needed to produce something that can still be pretty good. We know that perfection is unachievable but it’s hard to shake off that feeling that we should always be striving for it. With this mindset it’s also hard not to fear making mistakes. Yet, constantly putting lots of energy into trying to avoid making mistakes is exhausting and generally unproductive.
Making mistakes is an important part of healthy learning. Young children (if well nurtured) are usually quite happy to have a go at most things, and usually with a spirit of curiosity and enjoyment. Sadly, our dominant culture soon teaches many children to worry about getting results. What’s more, if something doesn’t work, they’re usually told to ‘just try harder’, not to change the approach.
It’s not only very young children who tend not to be bothered about making ‘mistakes’. It’s literally in our DNA to make lots of mistakes. Every moment, a proportion of the replicating cells in any human or other animal will make errors. If these errors cause problems, the cells are simply cleared away by a (usually) very effective immune system, and new healthy cells replace them. Some of the mistakes actually lead to benefits – the bedrock of evolution.
An Alexander lesson is an opportunity to escape from feelings of having to try and get things right. As such, lessons can lead to a profound relief and sense of freedom. Letting go of the illusive search for perfection, releases us from the micro-managing that we usually employ in our daily lives. Through the Alexander Technique we can become less scared to make mistakes, more experimental, exploratory, more playful and kinder to ourselves.
What difference does that make? When we stop trying hard to get things right, a less effortful, more fruitful way of doing things often emerges – you can think of it as moving back towards our template or natural state of balance, not so hampered by a lifetime of effortful habits. In addition, we may discover that what we perceive as a ‘mistake’ can sometimes turn into a bonus, just as in nature.