Sitting all day – is it evil?

Businessman stretching in an office

Is sitting all day evil? There are increasing numbers of articles in fashionable magazines and on trendy websites that will tell you that yes, sitting is intrinsically evil and can kill you. The Huffington Post, for example, seems to run an article on the evils of sitting every couple of months.

I mean, we always knew that sitting, especially sitting all day was a problem. Huge numbers of people experience discomfort through sitting, especially at their desks and computers. Backs, necks, shoulders all seem to beg for mercy. But now we’re told that sitting isn’t just uncomfortable – it can actually shorten your lifespan.

Is it true, and what can we do about it?

 

Sitting is the new smoking.

That’s the advice Marc Hamilton, director of the Inactivity Physiology Program at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, gave to the magazine Runner’s World. Apparently, sitting for long periods may cause an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase to decrease in the bloodstream. As this enzyme clears noxious fats out of the bloodstream, this is bad news. Apparently this sends out harmful biological signals that could be implicated in cardiovascular disease.

According to the articles I’ve seen, sitting still for long periods has been linked to not just obesity, but cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, though personally I’d want to see more studies come up with similar results before I got too worked up about the evidence.

But before you panic and throw away all your chairs (as some people have done, and would advise you to do – see this article), let’s examine the issue with the clear-sightedness that FM Alexander would want us to use.

 

Problem number 1: chairs are not cigarettes

Sitting is part of our normal range of movement behaviours. It’s one of the things we are designed to be able to do. If we say that one movement behaviour is intrinsically bad, how many others will we find that are just as evil or worse? What about rock climbing (all that looking upwards), or playing the violin (having your head tilted to the side can’t be good for you, surely) – should we ban those, too?

If there’s a problem with sitting all day, that’s not the chair’s fault, but ours for thinking that doing any one thing for prolonged periods isn’t going to have repurcussions. It’s a bit like food. I love chocolate, but I don’t eat it every day. I love carrots too, but if I ate them for every meal I’d soon turn orange. Who tied us down and forced us to sit in the one spot all day long?

 

Problem 2: Will exchanging standing for sitting be any better?

Instead of sitting all day, why not stand up or work out? A lot of authors out there on the web are telling their readers to exchange their chairs and conventional desks for ‘standing workstations’ or treadmill desks. Is this a good idea?

Well, it depends. FM Alexander would tell us that many of the problems we experience are not context-related (relevant only to a specific activity), but are the result of a deterioration in the general manner of use of ourselves. In other words, there’s a way we like to use our bodies – maybe tightening neck muscles, or raising shoulders, or jutting pelvis forwards – that we bring into every activity that we do. And in some of those activities that general way we like to use ourselves becomes problematic.

If this is the case (and Alexander Technique teachers down the decades have anecdotal evidence that this is true), then just swapping standing for sitting isn’t going to help, because we’re going to bring our poor manner of use along into the new activity. If we keep our shoulders raised all the time, we’re going to do that while we’re standing, and the knock-on effects of that through our whole system is going to generate achiness in just the same way it did while we were sitting. It might move or be subtly different in some way, but the cause is the same.

 

So the whole ‘sitting is bad for you’ campaign has two major flaws: the chair didn’t make us sit for prolonged periods, rather, we did; and there’s nothing to say that standing or using a treadmill desk is going to be any more beneficial in reducing overall harm to our systems.

What, then, should we do? I’m going to give you three top tips.

 1. Don’t sit still! Take breaks!

Chairs are just a tool, in the same way that a computer keyboard is just a tool, or a hammer is just a tool. We need to decide how to use them safely. So don’t sit still for long periods. Get up and walk around once an hour, even if it’s just to the water cooler and back. If you can’t trust yourself to remember, set a timer.

 

2. Think about your general use of yourself.

Do you hunch your shoulders? Do you jut your pelvis forwards, or crane your head forward on your neck? Do you permanently have one shoulder raised so your handbag won’t fall off… even if your handbag isn’t there? Start taking the time to observe yourself dispassionately, or see an Alexander Technique teacher for some advice.

 

3. Keep an open mind.

Read the articles. Check out the research. Make sure that you understand the issue before you do anything drastic like junk your furniture or spend thousands on a treadmill desk. Do what seems best for you in your circumstances, taking the research into account. You may well decide that the cardiovascular benefits of a treadmill desk are exactly what you need! But don’t be rushed into anything without thinking about it.

 

Maybe Hamlet had it right when he said “there’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Let’s stop blaming the tools, and start reasoning out how to use them effectively.

 

You can Improve Performance by Doing Less: Why it Works, and 4 Tips to Harness its Power

61263_9449Have you ever wondered how the truly great artists manage to create their masterpieces? Have you ever listened to Yo-Yo Ma play cello, or watched Roger Federer play tennis, or Fred Astaire dance, and considered how they got that good? Well, practice is a big part of it, absolutely. But I want to suggest that the great artists have all realised the power of a simple process: they understood that you can improve performance by doing less.

Novelist Rolf Dobelli recounts a story of the Pope asking Michelangelo, “Tell me the secret of your genius. How have you created the statue of David, the masterpiece of all masterpieces?” Michelangelo’s reply is remarkable: “It’s simple. I removed everything that is not David.”*

This story, for me, cuts to the heart of what the Alexander Technique is all about, because it speaks to the principle of economy of effort. Michelangelo had an idea of what he wanted his David to be, and then he cut away everything that wasn’t a part of his vision. Simple. Elegant.

Economy of effort to improve performance

Back in 1910, FM Alexander realised that people had a problem with economy of effort. He wrote: “Unfortunately, all conscious effort exerted in attempts at physical actions causes in the great majority of the people of today such tension of the muscular system concerned as to lead to exaggeration rather than eradication of the defects already present.” **

Bluntly, when FM looked around at the world, he thought that people weren’t having the success they craved because they were doing too much. And a lot of us are STILL doing too much, or going about things the wrong way. Or even doing too much WHILE going about things the wrong way! And then we worry, because we aren’t achieving the results we expected.

If that sound crazy, well, it’s because it is crazy. But it’s also very human. We’ve learned from a very early age that doing more is the socially expected course of action. Want to succeed? Do more. Even if you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing in the first place. I’m sure you, like me, have had the experience of playing music, or acting, or hitting a tennis ball, wanting to improve performance, and actually making things worse.

The solution?

To improve performance by doing less. If you think you’re doing too much – whether physically or mentally, try doing a little less. The game I often give my students is the 50% less game – ‘can you do this with 50% less effort?’

And when you take away the unnecessary, what are you left with? I ran across this quote from Alexander teacher Marjorie Barstow. It very much speaks to this idea of taking away the unnecessary. She is quoted as saying to a student, “All you have is the absence of what you had.”

Michelangelo’s absence was David.

So how do you achieve an absence? Here are my tips.

 Keys to Doing Less.

Have a good idea of what you want to achieve. Steven Covey talks about things being created twice. Before the physical creation there is a mental creation. The better your mental creation, the better your idea of where you want to end up.

Know your resources. I can’t give a quote or a footnote, but I’m guessing that Michelangelo chose both his materials and his tools carefully, picking ones that were appropriate to his intentions. We need to do that, too. This may mean going out and buying the right sort of shoes if we plan to start running. It may mean finding out where our hip joints are.

Watchfulness. I’m willing to bet that Michelangelo didn’t wield his hammer and chisel mindlessly! He would have been incredibly watchful, making sure that he didn’t cut away more than he needed to, and that he cut away in the correct places.

No preconceptions about the effort required. This may sound like I’m contradicting tip number 1. But I’m not. Having a goal is one thing, but keeping an open mind about how little effort you may need to achieve that goal is quite another.

Yes, it takes a little bit of work. But will it take any more than all the unnecessary effort we’ve been channelling into our activities? Probably not. And if we are successful, we may well be amazed at how easily we can take away ‘all that is not David.’

 

* Rolf Dobelli, The Art of Thinking Clearly, Sceptre Books, p.304.
** FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance, IRDEAT edition, p.62.
Photograph by Richard Simpson, stock.xchng

“Just One More…” – how the desire to do more can be harmful, and how to stop overworking.

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Do you have problems with one of the holy grails of personal productivity: how to stop overworking? Do you find yourself exhausted by your drive to keep checking things off the To Do list?

I’ll answer just one more email…
I’ll write just one more paragraph…
I’ll play that phrase just once more – just to be certain of it…

At the recent Dance and Somatic Practices conference in Coventry, Jane Toms and I presented a workshop in which we discussed how Alexander Technique can be a great tool for circumventing the stories and beliefs we all hold that can prevent us from achieving our potential. I mentioned a couple of the self-limiting (and self-harming) beliefs that caused me to begin studying Alexander’s work.

My tendency to try to fit in ‘just one more thing’ wasn’t one of them. But I’ve realised that it should have been.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve grown up exposed to the belief that hard work is the key to success. I knew I had taken this belief to heart, but only recently have I begun to see how it affects my day-to-day life. I don’t like to cook only tonight’s dinner. I like to start tomorrow’s lunch, too.

I will try to fit in just one more email. Just one more dish on the rack. Just one more load of washing. Just one more student in the schedule.

Yes, this can be productive. But it can also land me in trouble. I can take on too many jobs, or end up doing too many things at once. It’s exhausting.

So I made the decision to stop overworking, and to start treating myself more kindly. But it’s hard. It is as though I have a ‘default setting’ that demands overwork, and any stimulus can set my default setting into overdrive.

But it is not for nothing that FM’s last major piece of writing was entitled ‘Knowing How to Stop’, because stopping is a major key in his work.* When trying to solve his career-threatening voice troubles, FM realised that he needed to “make the experience of receiving a stimulus to speak and of refusing to do anything immediately in response.” **

In other words, FM received a stimulus to speak but made the experience of refusing to respond in his usual way. This gave him time to choose not just how to respond, but whether to respond at all.

And this has been my challenge: to receive the stimulus – another email, another phonecall – and to refuse to spring instantly into action. This gives me time to choose what I actually want to do – stop overworking. It gives me time to think. And when I take this time, I have the chance to make the decision anew to choose the path that I have decided is best for my purpose, rather than relying on my default programming.

This is the way we change habitual behaviour – by receiving a stimulus, not instantly using our default programming, but instead making a decision to put into effect the process that we have decided is better.

For me, this is the key to how to stop overworking. It means pausing before fitting in ‘just one more’ of anything. What about you?

*Michael Bloch, FM: The Life of Frederick Matthias Alexander, Kindle ed., p.186.
** FM Alexander, The Use of the Self, Irdeat ed., p.424.
Image courtesy of stock images, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Back problems? Why spending money on STUFF may not help.

The latest big thing in back care in the workplace appears to be the sit-stand workstation. Again, it’s been in the news both here and in the USA that sitting – not just slouching, but sitting in any form –  for long periods is unnatural and dangerous. To avoid the evils of our chairs, what we apparently need to do (this month) is to spend loads of cash on a super-adjustable desk that we can use both sitting and standing. There are even versions available with a treadmill attachment.*

At this point I want to quote my American colleague, Lynn Brice Rosen: aaaaaargh…

When we start having problems with discomfort at our desks, it is SO tempting to look for the magic bullet: the one perfect product that will solve all our problems. I know this, because I’ve experienced it. When I was a postgrad student and my arms started hurting while I worked, I bought a fancy chair. I bought an ergonomic keyboard. I bought a fancy mouse.

I slouched on the fancy chair. I was smarter than it was.

I thumped away on the fancy keyboard.

I held the mouse in a death grip and crashed down on it whenever I clicked.

The stuff didn’t help. It just didn’t help.

The problem wasn’t the poor design of my equipment. The problem was me.

The problem wasn’t what I was doing. The problem was how I was doing it.

That’s why I despair every time I see a new report telling people to go out and spend money on stuff to fix their problems. Because I know that if most of them just stopped and really thought about HOW they were going about what they were doing, they could make substantial improvements to their wellbeing.

So if you’re suffering at your desk, this is my suggested plan of attack:

  1. Go to the GP and have it checked out. There may be a medical condition that needs attention.
  2. Set reminders so that you get up and move around. The Pomodoro Technique suggests 25 minute work periods.
  3. Have you left your pelvis behind? Experiment with rotating your pelvis forwards.
  4. Try the 50% less game. Can you type or click using half as much force?

And when you’ve tried these ideas, send me a message and let me know how you’re getting on. We really don’t need to spend money on more STUFF to make improvements to our wellbeing!

* You, like my husband, may feel that you’ve been on a treadmill at work, metaphorically speaking, for a while and have no wish to make it literal!

Stopping the snap: Alexander Technique and stress management

Santa by Matthew Mackerras

Christmas. It’s that time of year again. The best of times, the worst of times. So much fun, and yet sometimes so much stress too. D you ever find yourself reacting to circumstances in a way that isn’t very helpful or constructive? Have you ever resolved to do better next time, but when next time came, found your resolve wasn’t enough?

Frankly, how do we stop ourselves from reacting to stressful or difficult events/circumstances/people in a way that isn’t good?

This was exactly the situation FM Alexander found himself in. He realised that he needed to change the way he was reacting to the stimulus to speak, because his instinctive response was causing him to lose his voice.

He had a good think, and worked out a plan for how to open his mouth and use his voice more effectively. But when he tried to use it … He found he wasn’t using it. He was using his old instinctive way instead.

Resolve and planning? Check!

Success? No!

FM realised that he was having trouble implementing his plan because when he had a stimulus to speak, he went on auto-pilot, so to speak. It didn’t matter how good his new plan was, because it never got past his auto-pilot reaction.

And this is what happens to us, too. We have grand plans about how we are not going to snap at our pesky siblings (for example), but at the critical moment, we seem to react without thinking, and snappiness occurs.

So what did FM do? He realised that he needed to switch off the auto-pilot.

 

“If I was ever to be able to change my habitual use … it would be necessary for me to make the experience of receiving the stimulus to speak and of refusing to do anything immediately in response.” *

 

And that’s what he did. He refused to do anything immediately in response. He was giving himself the mental space to stop, turn off the auto-pilot, and decide what he actually wanted to do.

So at this time of great stimulus, this is what I’m asking you to do. If there is a stimulus that causes you trouble and grief, make the experience of receiving it, and refusing to do anything immediately in response. Give yourself the space to choose your reaction – or even if you want to react at all.

* FM Alexander, The Use of the Self in the IRDEAT edition, p.424.

Does Working Harder Really Work?

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According to the BBC, Greece is being asked by its Eurozone creditors to increase the working week to six days. Musicians routinely play a kind of workaholic one-upmanship about how many hours they practice each day. Children seem to be given increasingly large amounts of homework to do.

The world seems to believe that the way to achieve more is to work harder. By which they mean: work for longer. But does this really work? If you increase the number of hours you spend at a task, will you really be more effective?

Of course, it depends on what you are actually doing in all those extra hours. FM Alexander was once confronted by a pupil who insisted that, even if the activity was wrong, it was better to exert oneself and try hard than not to try at all. Alexander countered by suggesting that ‘trying hard’ in the wrong direction was still going in the wrong direction. He said that

It is not the degree of “willing” or “trying,” but the way in which the energy is directed, that is going to make the “willing” or “trying” effective.*

In other words, it really doesn’t matter how fast you are driving if you are on the wrong road. It doesn’t matter how many times a musician plays a semi quaver passage if they’re getting it wrong every time. It doesn’t matter how many hours you spend at your desk if you don’t have a clear idea of what work you should be doing.

This is the strategy I’m using in my recorder practice sessions, and I think it could be useful in other places too.

  • Decide what it is you want to achieve.
  • Decide on the easiest way to achieve it.
  • Do what you’ve decided is best.
  • Stop.

Once you’ve become proficient at setting goals and achieving them, you can increase the number of tasks and the number of hours worked. But in the beginning, go for quality instead of quantity. And don’t forget to let me know how you get on!

 

* FM Alexander, The Use of the Self, IRDEAT edition, p.440.
Image by ddpavumba from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Communication breakdown: why what you say (and how) matters

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I’ve started lately to be (even more) picky with the language my students use. My student will say “Of course, the computer makes me slump,” and I will counter by saying “That naughty computer! It must be very clever to make you do anything. Are you sure it was the computer?” At which point they will relent and agree that they chose to slump at the computer.

Or my student might say, “my shoulders like to come forward.” After some gentle ribbing from me, the student will eventually change their statement to “I like to bring my shoulders forward.”

You see? Picky.

So why does it matter how my students talk about their issues?

It’s a question of responsibility.

If the computer is doing it to you, the only way you can fix it is to change the computer. But that involves time and expense, and if it’s a work computer, it may simply not be possible. And what if the next computer is just as bad?

If your kids make you cross and that causes your headache, then you will have to wait for the kids to change. Again, that could be a long time coming!

The first and most vital step on FM Alexander’s journey was that issue of self-responsibility, when after he had ruled out all medical causes for his throat trouble, he asked if it was something he was doing while using his voice that was the cause of the trouble.*

It’s not the computer, it’s how you use it.

It’s not the kids, it’s how you decide to react to them.

It’s not your shoulders, it’s how you choose to use them in activity.

 

An experiment.

This week, try this experiment for me. See how many times you can catch yourself handing away your responsibility for yourself with the way you frame your speech. Can you change the way you talk? Can you change the way you think?

 

* FM Alexander, The Use of the Self in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.412.
Image by  renjith krishnan from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Can the Alexander Technique Improve my Energy Levels?

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The question of energy levels is an important one to many of my students. Perhaps it is important to you, too. Life seems to be so busy, and there always seems to be more that needs to be done. Some of my students have had the experience of struggling to maintain energy levels through a busy day. And what makes it all the more galling is that colleagues or friends may have similarly stressful, action-packed days, and yet apparently breeze through them unscathed.

How can this be? Are those of us who struggle with energy lacking stamina? Short of tearing up our To do lists, is there a way of improving our energy levels? Can the Alexander Technique help us to have more energy and vitality?

 

Why the answer is yes…

It is a common experience of Alexander technique students to feel more ‘alive’ after a lesson. They often report feeling more awake, more alert, lighter, and somehow more able to concentrate on tasks. So why does this happen?

The secret lies in the stuff we do to ourselves – unnecessary muscular activity.

FM Alexander noticed in himself, and subsequently in others, that it was something that he was doing in the way he went about activities that was causing his problems – the problems that led him to create the work we call the Alexander Technique. He noticed defects in the way he was using himself.

And in his first book, Alexander noted that when defects in the poise of the body are present, “the condition thus evidenced is the result of an undue rigidity of parts of the muscular mechanisms … Which are forced to perform duties other than those intended by nature.” In other words, if we are experiencing problems, it is likely that some of our muscles are working far too hard, and probably in ways that they are not designed to do.

So it makes sense that if we are using more muscular activity than we need, and using the wrong muscles anyway, that we would start to feel fatigued.

This is why feeling an increase in energy is a common experience in Alexander Technique lessons. Students not only decrease the work done by their muscles, but they work out for themselves (with the teacher’s assistance) the most effective way of carrying out the activity they are working on. They work out which muscles they need to use, and then experience using just those muscles, doing just the right amount of work.

 

2 things you can do to improve your energy levels.

Here are two simple things you can do to help yourself improve your energy levels.

1. A bit of brainpower. Have a think about the activity that is causing you fatigue. What is involved in the activity? What is the least number of muscles and joints you need to use to carry out the activity?

2. The 50%  less game. Pick an activity, and try using half as much energy as normal. For example, can you use half as much energy to type on your computer? Hold a pen? Click a mouse? This is a great game to play. My students usually discover that they don’t need to use nearly as much energy for most activities. Just pick the activity wisely- holding a kitchen knife or a steering wheel might require a little caution!

 

Are you willing to give these ideas a go? Tell me about it in the comments!

Image by Richard Styles, stock.xchng

5 Alexander Technique steps to everyday happiness: 5. Keep experimenting

In my reading of FM Alexander’s works recently, I was reminded very strongly of the supreme importance of experimentation. Alexander writes:

“We must always remember that the vast majority of human beings live very narrow lives, doing the same thing and thinking the same thoughts day by day, and it is this fact that makes it so necessary that we should acquire conscious control of the mental and physical powers as a whole, for we otherwise run the risk of losing that versatility which is an essential factor in their development.” *

The phrase in this that stopped me in my tracks was that first one, “the vast majority of human beings live very narrow lives, doing the same thing and thinking the same thoughts day by day…” Is this me? I asked myself.

Is this you? And even if it is true of me or you, does it really matter if we do and think the same things day by day?

legoplay

Why it matters.

I am about to say something controversial. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter if you decide to spend the next decade or three slumping. It isn’t going to kill you. With only a few potential exceptions, the way you sit or walk isn’t going to be a life or death issue.

But it is a quality of life issue.

If we choose to do the same things in the same way day after day, or worse, if we don’t even realise we are doing the same things in the same way day after day, we risk dulling our ability to be versatile. We lose our skill at rolling with the punches. Which means that when we experience some sort of (possibly externally initiated) form of sudden change, like an injury or illness or sudden redundancy from work, we struggle to know what to do.

 

Even if we don’t experience anything so major, if we stay content with doing and thinking the same stuff day by day, we risk a far more subtle kind of injury – the dulling of our enjoyment of things.

Alexander’s definition of happiness is the kind of absorption seen in a child doing something that interests it. And having watched my own son, what I have noticed is that this absorption is most apparent when he is experimenting.

He doesn’t build the same structures with his Lego, slavishly following the instruction book. He builds the bricks that way once, takes it apart, and then goes freeform. He experiments. He plays. He messes up, gets frustrated, pulls it apart, then tries again. And each thing he builds is fascinating.

According to Alexander, versatility is important. And we build versatility by playing and experimenting. We build it by getting things wrong, getting frustrated, going back to the beginning and trying again.

So. Tell me: what will you experiment with this week?

 

* FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.65.
Image by Afonso Lima, stock.xchng

You’re hired! Why FM Alexander would win The Apprentice

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The BBC TV series The Apprentice is my not-so-secret obsession. I love watching it. There is much that this programme can teach you about how (and how NOT) to set up and run a business, and how to deal with people. For those of you who don’t watch the show, this is how it works. At the beginning of the series, sixteen candidates come to London to vye for the chance to run a business (and a £250 000 investment) with entrepreneur Lord Sugar. Each week the candidates are split into two groups and given tasks relating to selling, branding, marketing and entrepreneurial skill. And each week one candidate from the losing team is fired.

While watching the most recent series, I’ve come to notice something very important. I think I’ve found the secret of Apprentice success. It’s the reason why so often the candidates fail in the tasks set for them by Lord Sugar. It’s the reason why FM Alexander, were he alive and interested, would be a strong contender to be hired. And, even more exciting, it is a secret of success that transcends mere televisual entertainment.

Have I got your attention yet?! Good!

 

First … Why the candidates fail.

Every week’s Apprentice episode begins with Lord Sugar calling all the candidates together (usually very early in the morning) and explaining the new task to them. He does this succinctly, carefully and thoroughly. For example, in last week’s episode, the candidates were called to a warehouse, and the teams given pallets of goods to sell. These are the instructions Lord Sugar gave the six contestants:

I’ve got you an arrangement of goods over here… I expect you to sell that stuff as quick as possible and smell which item is the best seller. Come back to places like this and buy some more and just keep going… At the end of the two day period you’ll have some stock left over, which is fine. We’re gonna count the value of the stock and the money in your hand and at the end of the task the team that has the greatest amount of assets left will win…It’s the simple principle of business – turning your money over, increasing your assets.”*

Clear instructions. A simple task, yes?

No, apparently not. Both groups strayed from Lord Sugar’s instructions. They variously failed to reinvest, or didn’t restock the bestsellers, or decided to sell to high street retailers instead of the public, or stopped restocking from fear of being left with unsold stock at the end of the task. And this isn’t an uncommon experience – it happens almost every week!

So what happens? Why do the candidates fail to follow Lord Sugar’s instructions? As far as I can see, the answer is very simple. They allow their enthusiasm to dominate their reason.

 

Enthusiasm vs. Reason.

FM Alexander recognised as early as 1910 the danger of allowing one’s enthusiasm to run away unbridled. Recalling his creation of the work we now call the Alexander Technique, he wrote:

“one of the greatest, if not the greatest danger against which I had to fight was my own enthusiasm… I should never have worked out my principles, if I had allowed it to dominate my reason.” **

A £250 000 investment is a strong motivating factor for any individual. I suspect that, in their efforts to stand out from the crowd and (hopefully) please Lord Sugar, the candidates let their enthusiasm run away. They forget about the task. They forget the instructions. Each week one candidate or another becomes fixated on an idea or concept (in episode 7 it was Melody and Helen wanting to sell to retailers instead of the general public), and allows this to skew their decision-making processes to the point where the original goal of the task is totally lost.

This is, of course, what makes the programme such good viewing. We love to see Lord Sugar’s aides Nick Hewer and Karen Brady shake their heads in amazement at the bizarre decisions that are made. Indeed, we enjoy it so much that when one of the contestants, Tom Pellereau, began the series by taking notes during Lord Sugar’s opening address, the viewing public mocked him mercilessly.

But aren’t we all guilty of this, at least on occasion? How many of us lose sight of our goals, allowing our enthusiasms and transitory whims to sidetrack us and take us away from what we really want to achieve?

 

Simple Steps to Success… FM – You’re Hired!

So why would FM Alexander be such a strong candidate on The Apprentice? Because he kept his enthusiasm in check. He never lost sight of his goal, and worked according to principle.

What does this mean in practice? Well, I can imagine FM sitting neatly on the packing cases in the warehouse. He would listen carefully – very carefully – to Lord Sugar. He would take note of the goal of the exercise. Then he would analyse the conditions present. He would look at the stock on the pallet, and take note of the location of the selling pitches. He would take note of warehouse locations.

Then he would start to plan the steps that would lead him to his goal of having the most assts. He would take care to send stock to each location where it would be most likely to appeal to the passing customers. When stock began to sell, I can imagine FM sending one of his team off to the warehouse to purchase more. And if circumstances changed and items began to stagnate on the stalls, I can imagine FM being flexible enough in his thinking to alter his strategy to make the best of the current conditions.***

So these are the steps to success:

  1. Keep your goal in mind.
  2. Analyse the conditions present
  3. Construct a series of steps to lead you from the conditions present towards your goal.
  4. Carry out those steps, but be flexible enough to change if circumstances demand it.

What is your goal? What are your present conditions? What is the first, smallest step you can take towards your goals from where you are now? Tell me in the comments!

 

 

* Transcribed by me from Episode 7, Flip It. See www.bbc.co.uk/apprentice for episode details.
** FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition of Alexander’s books, p.90.
*** I apologise if you find my use of FM here a little flippant, or not sufficiently respectful. From my reading of Frank Pierce Jones and other authors, I have a strong faith in FM’s sense of humour. I hope he wouldn’t mind!