Ways and Means

You hear ‘means’ a lot, used as a verb:

 ‘he really means it this time’
‘that sign means you cannot turn left’

Intends.  Signifies.  Denotes.  Conveys.  And so on.

But it can also be a noun.  As in these common(ish) phrases(*):-

by any means
by means of
means of production
ways and means

At which point ‘means’ is defined as ‘a method for doing or achieving something.’  A bit old-fashioned, but a useful word.

64 ways means pic1

How often do you consider the means (method, ways, steps) you use to achieve your perfectly ordinary tasks?  Scrubbing a saucepan?  Locking the front door?  Logging onto email?  Maybe not?  Maybe you just do it in the way you’ve always done it, without really thinking it through.  In which case, what would happen if you did consider the method, step by logical step?  Maybe some of the things that are difficult, awkward or slow would become easier, smoother, quicker.

And having done that…

What would happen if you did consider the method, and then kept considering the method right the way through the task?

What would happen if you worked out the steps beforehand, and then just carried them out one by one in the right order?

What would happen if, when the steps you worked out didn’t go so well, the next time you worked out some different steps, and carried those out one by one in the right order, to see how well they went?

FM Alexander was a big fan of this idea of ‘working out the means before you start something’.  It runs through his books and is an integral part of his technique.  He even invented his own term: “means whereby”(**) to talk about the whole process of thinking through your steps and carrying them out.

“Means whereby” goes hand in hand with another idea, one he wasn’t so keen on.  But more of that next time.

(*) with thanks to http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/means  and http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/means
(**) or means whereby or means-whereby, depending on which bit of which book you are reading; he defines it as ‘The “means-whereby” principle… involves a reasoning consideration of the causes of the conditions present, and an indirect instead of a direct procedure on the part of the person endeavouring to gain the desired “end.”    Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, IRDEAT edition, p.230

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

CNHC and ITM registered Alexander Technique teacher.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in asking questions, experiment
3 comments on “Ways and Means
  1. One of the first things I noticed in Alexander lessons is I didn’t realize the means by which I did things, as if they just happened.

    • Margaret, that’s a lovely comment. Isn’t it an astonishing moment, when you realise this! I think most people go through life doing things ‘as if they just happened’. The moment when you realize you don’t, and that if you did you would be able to change the way things turned out is such an important Alexander step. Karen

  2. […] blogs have partners.  Last time I took a look at ‘means’, in the sense of a method, way or procedure.  But I left out a very obvious one:-   A Means To […]

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