Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Unhelpful, habitual thought-patterns can be stopped with Alexander Technique

I just finished teaching an Alexander lesson to a student who is learning about some of her habitual ways of thinking which interfere with the sense of freedom that she would like to have in her life.
Instead of compiling a list during her lesson to reminder her of what some of these thought-patterns might be, we decided to do some more hands-on work at the table, and I said I'd post the list in my blog, as it might also be useful for others to read about. it is:

Some "Red-flag" phrases that can alert us to notice 
when we are thinking in a habitual, unhelpful way:

- I'll try, I'm trying (implies effort)
- but (implies contradiction, argument, conflict, fight, tension) (good substitutes: "and" or "I wonder if...")
- I can't (implies limitation, restriction)
- I'm not allowed to  (implies limitation, restriction)
- I'm supposed to (implies obligation, lack of freedom of choice)
- I should (implies obligation, lack of freedom of choice)
- I have to, or I need to (implies obligation, lack of freedom of choice)
- I like / I don't like (there's nothing wrong with having likes or dislikes, but it can become an obstacle to get too stuck or fixed in our likes and dislikes, which creates rigidity and lack of tolerance and flexibility, and puts us into a restrictive box with a label on it of who we think we are)
- I am "shy" or "afraid" or other negative labels/qualifiers (these are limiting and restrictive)
- I'm just (this diminishes, implies limitation)

I'm not saying that these words and phrases are always negative, or that they should never be used. Sometimes, depending on the context and the intention behind them, they can be used constructively.  However, for most people most of the time, they are just unhelpful, habitual ways to make ourselves smaller, throw ourselves off-balance, and out of harmony.

So how to work with this?

1. Become aware of it when you use one of these "red flag" phrases.  Notice how they make you feel.  Do they make you feel empowered, expansive, and free, or do they tend to make you feel smaller, constricted, and helpless?  Get curious about this, experiment with thinking these thoughts and observe the results they produce.

2. Remember that you are human, and therefore are endowed not only with habit, but - above all - with the gift of free will.

3.  Decide to make good use of your free will by choosing first to accept how things are right now - even if it's something you don't like (such as having a habitual thought-pattern that is unhelpful). 
"I am free to think this, feel this, do this, be this, experience this, etc."

3. You are also, above all, free to choose a different way of thinking.  You can think:  "I am free to stop my habitual way of thinking, and choose what to think next:  I am free!"

Some new ways to think 
in order to make good use of your free will:

- I am free
- I am free to be "in habit" - to have habitual ways of thinking/doing which are unhelpful
- I am free to be human 
- I am free to feel ___________________.
- I am free to think __________________.
- I am free to want / do / be / experience _____________________.
- I am free to transcend and transform myself by stopping the habit of thinking unhelpful thoughts, forgetting to make good use of my free will
- I am stopping The Habit, right NOW, just by thinking in this new way
- I am free, no matter how I feel
- I am free to continue remembering that I am free!

I'd love to hear about your experiences if you decide to try this out.  Also, I'd love any suggestions to add to my lists above!  Thanks!

*"Image courtesy of kibsri /"


  1. Fantastic Jennifer, thank you very much indeed, most helpful for everyone....aiming for freedom :)

    1. Thank you, Angela! Glad you find this helpful, and are remembering that you're free to be free, haha! :)

  2. Hi Jennifer,
    I wonder why you got to how she thinks in the lesson? Was it your suggestion or did your student comment on how she felt her thoughts were affecting her?

    This interests me as Im an Alexander Teacher who now teaches both Alexander but mostly LearningMethods. Developped from the AT work it pushes the boundaries of how we operate in unity by questioning our clarity of thinking, beliefs and how these affect our way of going about our lives; tension, reaction, habitual thoughts. Do you know of this method?

  3. Dear Julia,
    Thank you very much for writing! Yes, I have heard of LearningMethods and read a couple of David Gorman's articles online a number of years ago. I remember finding them extremely interesting, valuable, and compatible with my view of AT, but I didn't have the time to go deeper into his work.
    You ask, "I wonder why you got to how she thinks in the lesson?"
    The way I understand the Technique, it is 100% about how we use this body-mind that we live in, and since what the mind does is think and what the body does is move, it is all about thinking/moving. We pay attention to our habits of thinking/moving to discover what might be getting in the way of our optimal functioning, and then we learn to stop thinking/moving in unhelpful ways. I don't remember exactly how all of this came up with the specific student who inspired this blogpost, but it could have been either her or me who brought it up the idea of problematic words (I probably brought up the specific idea, but she might have mentioned a problematic issue first).
    You might like to listen to a podcast that I recently recorded for Robert Rickover on this topic. Here's the link:
    I hope to write a blogpost about the material in the podcast, plus more, soon.
    Thanks again for reading and commenting!
    All best to you!

  4. I'd add - I'm just ...
    to this list

    1. ooooo, yes! Good one, thanks! My student also suggest, "I need". I will add both of these right now. Have a great day!


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