End-Gaining: Don't Let it Get You in the End!

The Alexander Technique is well known for improving posture, movement, coordination, and overall well-being. One of it's key observations about behaviour is the interplay between inhibition, the means-whereby, and end-gaining. The latter two aren't part of contemporary vocabulary, they're terms coined over 100 years ago, but their meaning is still self evident.


Not to be confused with the way Freud used the word, which is still it's most common usage, inhibition in the Alexander Technique refers to the ability to prevent habitual reactions to stimuli. What it doesn't mean is a form of repression. It involves letting go of a goal (or end) momentarily so that you can intervene in the activation of unwanted habits. 


For example, imagine someone with habitual neck tension tightening their muscles further when simply going to sit. By practicing inhibition, they learn to pause and prevent this automatic response, allowing for more conscious control over their habits. 


The means-whereby refers to the process of how you use yourself when responding or performing actions to achieve a desired goal. 


The way an act is performed is more important than the goal itself. This approach involves projecting new directions/intentions necessary for maintaining the optimal coordination of yourself in activity.


It is an indirect process and a process of prevention, an inhibition during activity that that is present to Mechanical Advantage. It contrasts with "end-gaining," which is the pursuit of a goal without regard to the means employed to achieve it. 


The term end-gaining refers to the process of going directly for an end (goal) without considering the means used to achieve it.


When you end-gain, you rush into or continue an activity, often in a driven manner, without due consideration of the most effective means to reach your goal.   


Using our previous example of someone going to sit, the chair becomes such a big target in their mind that their entire focus is on the chair. This causes them to lose sight of how they're going to get to then chair, and even put's their mind into an imagined future where they're already on the chair. It becomes a fait accompli devoid of choice, causing them to fall uncontrollably to the chair in the final moments, arriving in a collapsed manner.


Paradoxically, the more you focus solely on the end result, the less successful you'll be, and your performance tends to suffer.

arrow hitting a bullseye

The Science Behind Inhibition and Endgaining

From a scientific perspective, AT teacher and researcher Patrick Johnson has shown the concept of inhibition aligns with what psychologists call executive inhibition. This cognitive process interrupts the direct path from stimulus to response, allowing for alternative reactions. In the context of the Alexander Technique, inhibition plays a crucial role in breaking free from habitual patterns and gaining better control over your actions.

Practical Implications

As practitioners of the Alexander Technique, we can apply these principles in our daily lives:


1. Awareness:

  • Grow your awareness of your habits and reactions. Notice when you're end-gaining—rushing toward a goal without considering the process.
  • Pause and ask yourself: "Is there a more effective way to achieve this?"

2. Pause and Reflect:

  • When faced with a difficult task or goal, pause briefly before acting.
  • Consider the means you're using. Are they supporting your overall well-being, or are they contributing to tension and inefficiency?

3. Experiment with Alternatives:

  • Instead of fixating solely on the end result, explore different ways to approach the task.
  • Allow yourself to inhibit habitual responses and consider alternative movements or strategies.

Remember, the journey matters as much as the destination. By practicing inhibition and being mindful of end-gaining, you can enhance your overall functioning and well-being.

Kyudo Zen Archery

So what does Zen archery have to do with all this? Despite actually being a competitive sport, the judges provide no marks for hitting the target at all. Not even for a perfect bullseye. All the marks are given for the means-whereby, the archers form, presence and technique. The moment the archer looses the arrow the judge's work is already complete. End-gaining will cause marks to be deducted from the competitor. All the conditions for hitting a bullseye are present up until the moment the archer looses the arrow, there's little value in marking what follows.

The Insidious Nature of End-gaining

It's the nature of human psychology that we're all inveterate end-gainers and it can raise it's head in insidious ways. Despite having tools to neutralise end-gaining, it's just as easy to end-gain those tools! Let's see how:

  • When you end-gain inhibition, you turn it into repression, unable to make a decision. Even among Alexander teachers this isn't uncommon. I discovered this at a workshop for teachers when I asked them if they ever found themselves doing so. Amusingly, I was met with nervous laughter. Looking back through the mists of time to when I was on my 3-year AT training course, John Crawford, one of my trainers, said with a twinkle in his eyes, "inhibit your inhibiting". It's a phrase that's stayed with me since.
  • End-gaining the means-whereby causes you to be overly careful, losing freedom and spontaneity. You want to remain care free, but not careless.
  • The concept of non-doing combines inhibition and the means-whereby into a state of allowing and effortless flow. What it isn't is passivity, which end-gaining it will lead you to.
  • Primary Control describes the coordinated relationship between the head and neck. End-gaining this into fixed a position in an attempt to get it "right" is so common that the AT teachers have coined the term Alexandroids to describe those who do so.
  • End-gaining your end-gaining? Just kidding. That way madness lies.

What's the answer then? You can but be alert to the nature of end-gaining and simply acknowledge it when it arises. Don't be judgmental with yourself, smile if you can and continue to work on your thinking. I doubt we're capable of fully vanquishing end-gaining, but with practice you can reduce it to acceptable levels.

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