Bradley Newman
Alexander Technique

Stop and Think. When Was the Last Time You Did?

There’s a cartoon you may have seen, which features two men standing before a large sign that reads, ‘Stop and Think’. One of the men says to the other, “It sort of makes you stop and think, doesn’t it.”

Some of us stop and think on a regular basis. A golfer, before teeing off, will compose themselves, take some time, and when ready will then complete their stroke. A diver will step to the edge of the platform, and then follow a similar routine - compose themselves, take some time, and when ready take the plunge. It’s similar for a concert pianist or violin player. These people are all following the same procedure, which involves stopping and thinking.

Why do some people stop and think?

Stopping and thinking helps us be clear in our thoughts about two things: what it is that we are about to do; and how we are going to do it to be successful. For the golfer, the musician, and the diver, the importance of this is obvious – it increases their chances of being successful because it allows them to perform the way they have practised. There is no point practising for hours on end, day after day, if you don’t allow yourself to perform at your best when it is required.

But what about the rest of us? Is there any need to stop and think in a similar way with our more regular, daily activities?

Why does this matter for me?

It depends on whether you wish to be successful at them. And that depends on what you mean by successful. You may say that you are already perfectly successful at making a cup of tea, hanging out the washing, or typing at the computer for long periods of time – you’ve been doing these things for years and they always get done. However, you may feel tense, rushed, or even in pain while doing these things. Or perhaps after you’ve finished hanging out the washing, or typing all morning, you realise how uncomfortable you feel. Then I would say you are not being successful. You may be getting the job done, but it is in an inefficient way, and it is damaging you unnecessarily.

Now it’s time to stop and think.

Firstly, you want to consider what it is you’re doing that’s causing the discomfort. Then, you need to change this. If you don’t, you’ll carry on bouncing from one old habit to the next – you will probably be getting all your jobs done, but at a cost. So, you need to stop, to prevent the old habit kicking in. Then, you need to think clearly about what it is you’re about to do, and how you’re going to do it to be successful in a meaningful way, and not just to get the job done. This is what the diver, the golfer, and the pianist are good at – they are good at preparing to make sure they achieve what they want, so they are genuinely successful.

When we stop and think we give ourselves choice - choice to not harm ourselves while achieving our goals, whether that’s playing at the Opera House or making a cup of tea. It’s the choice to be successful in a much bigger context than we usually think of.

So before you click on the next article, or turn the page, why not stop and think, just for fun. Stop your old habit; think about what you want to do, and how you're going do it. What will you do with your arm and finger when you move and click the mouse? What is your neck doing when you turn the page? And then, you can notice this happen, in the way you want it to - the way you chose. You’ll know what you’re doing with your body, and if you want to change it you can. Until you get your golf swing perfect.

The cartoon mentioned above is by Sam Gross, and was first published in the New Yorker in 2003.

Bradley Newman teaches the Alexander Technique in Sydney. For more information see or email Bradley on .