I recently started working with Helen, an improv actor who doesn’t work with scripts, but instead creates and performs stories totally off the cuff; seeing what happens in each moment, without knowing in advance where it will lead. Personally, I can’t think of anything more terrifying and I take my hat off to her! Thanks go to her for inspiring this piece.
It dawned on me during lesson discussions that improvisation has much in common with Alexander Technique; namely, working through a process, step by each single step as it comes, rather than letting the mind jump ahead to any outcome.
Improv, in theatre, jazz, art or anything else, is an unusual way of doing things. We usually have a goal or outcome in mind; whether for something complex, like setting up a business or writing a novel, or simple, like walking or the act of sitting down, and we usually develop just one way, our own way, of doing them.
One of the things that can go wrong in reaching any goal is developing an idea or belief that isn’t getting you there. And when this happens, it can prove frustratingly difficult to change to a different and more effective way - as Mr. Alexander himself found when first making the discoveries that led him to develop his technique.
Repeated thought patterns soon become embedded over time. Brain activity scans show neural connections developing and reinforcing as someone learns to do or know something. The old expression ‘stuck in one’s ways’ is a thing! And this isn’t always bad; it's why practice pays off. Life would be intolerable if everything was as much effort all the time as it is when you first learn it. It’s only a problem if you want to change but struggle to do so.
But why is change so hard, sometimes? Part of the issue could be because the mind is fixed on the outcome, rather than the process for successfully getting there. The old ‘faithful’ autopilot kicks in, it’s straight back to the old pattern again, and dreams are thwarted. Dang.
But all is not lost; activity brain scans also show how neural connections can weaken, and even be broken. Check out this YouTube on neurogenesis for a look: https://youtu.be/LosTnvwt794.
So, thank goodness, change is possible after all. The task then is to avoid autopilot mode, and to keep deliberately and consciously following each step process that leads to success. Doing this, the outcome is guaranteed anyway. Better still, with autopilot switched off, any number of different pathways become available.
As Mr. Alexander put it, emphatically if archaically, in his fourth book (brackets my own): “where the “means-whereby” (protocols or processes) are right for the purpose, desired ends (outcomes) will come. They are inevitable. Why then be concerned as to the manner or speed of their coming? We should reserve all thought, energy, and concern for the means whereby we may command the manner of their coming.” (The Universal Constant in Living, 1941)
In short: eyes not on the prize, but on following the process that will guarantee it.
More ‘process, not outcome’ means greater flexibility, adaptability, and possibility. Nice.