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Staying Focused: A Sensory Circus


cirkus telt toppe

writer icon Kajsa Ingemansson     ISB   |   Business     🕐 27. Mar. 2019


Staying focused and productive at work is challenging. In order to achieve goals and improve performance, finding ways to stay focused is crucial to managing stress and distractions constructively. However, habitual ways of responding often get in the way of progress.

The Alexander Technique (AT), replaces undesired habits with conscious freedom of choice. As its creator, F.M. Alexander, once wrote in 'The Use of the Self': “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.”


AT assists in coordinating psychophysical health in relation to an activity. It improves decision-making, productivity, and results even in the most stressful of situations.

Sensory scientist
Learning AT is much like becoming a scientist of the senses. It is an experimental process, where failures are repurposed into feedback. Resulting in more control over how to respond to feelings, and interpret sensory, and emotional, feedback with a scientific, constructive, and compassionate frame.

Where a pattern of failure might leave someone distracted, without focus, engaged in self-criticism and doubt, AT offers and instills another action-based perspective. One that is void of non-constructive criticism and built-up tension.

When stuck in a pattern where tension builds up, it is expressed as a compression through the spine and affecting one’s whole being. Not only in the musculoskeletal structure, which is highlighted in the AT process, but in everything connected to it. It affects breathing, circulatory and nervous -systems, and how we think, move, and respond. Left unattended, focus is split between upholding tension and current tasks.

Resolving compression gives rise to clearer, more swift, change and action. This allows tension to dissipate in the moment, generating a whole new emotional response. Thereby strengthening the ability to stay focused on the immediate tasks at hand, achieve goals and dreams, and fulfil one’s true potential.

Will is not always constructive
Determination can also be a problem when attempting to change a habit. As Einstein once commented on the null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment:"No problem can be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it."

When efforts to resolve issues are made up of the habits that caused them, the existing pattern is left going on repeat. This almost always pre-determines failure and accompanying feelings of frustration. Alexander referred to these unsuccessful attempts at change as ‘end-gaining’.

Trying to reach a desired end by use of willpower alone, without paying close attention to how, ignores possible blind spots and risks skipping vital steps of the process. Steps that are needed for change to happen.

An important step is to access what information is essential to any given problem. A crucial factor that affects change is how action is fuelled by feeling. The main reason for end-gaining is ‘feeling’ that because we will something, it can actually be done.

Circuslike sensory reports
AT gathers relevant information to more accurately gauge sensory reports, which are likened to an omni-sensory ‘circus’ by AT teacher, and author, Cathy Madden in her book 'Integrative Alexander Technique Practice for Performing Artists'. 

"Sensory reports are circuslike because there are many of them in a wide variety, just as with acts in the circus. They contain many surprises - you never know when or how the senses will report." They are relative, and primed to report change.

It “can be completely wrong and completely right at the same time,”  Madden explains, which can be very confusing. When finding new ways of doing something, chances are it will feel wrong or uncomfortable at first, making it easy to revert back to old patterns.

A common scenario after AT-alignment is that a person may feel like they are now leaning forward, when they are in fact upright. Having been tilted or leaning back before, they now feel as if they are leaning forward. 


Feelings: results and function
Another circus feature is that sensory feedback reports the past. Using the above example, first, the person aligned themselves anew, and secondly, they felt as if they were leaning forward. This feeling came as a result after the fact.

What is true about senses also applies to emotions, according to Madden “they report change, based on the actions or sensory impressions of the immediate past (or even distant past)”. Senses and emotions alert us for a reason, and are "intricately related to each other as well as to our history and actions".

While they “are always unreliable, their feedback remains important: they exist to get our attention,” she adds. Anger, for example, is often the result of wanting something to be different.

Feelings are there to spark curiosity, highlight blind spots, and alert us when danger is present. Their purpose is to push for gathering of information, so that the gap between desired and achieved goals can be bridged.

This function to human design is key to understanding and processing feedback and to better calibrate what changes are needed to 'keep your eyes on the prize'.



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