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Concept Spotlight: “End-Gaining”/”Means-Whereby”

by Ellen on August 3rd, 2011

Whenever a person sets out to achieve a particular end, he can do so in one of two ways. He can work directly for his end, bearing little or no thought to how he is getting there but instead relying on his subconscious guidance to carry him. Or, he can take an indirect approach, focusing on the “why do I want to reach this end” and “how do I get there,” rather than the “what do I want.” Alexander defines the direct method as “End-Gaining,” and the indirect as “Means-Whereby.” One of the Technique’s overriding principles is that means-whereby will always be more effective than end-gaining, and as such should be used whenever possible to achieve the most consistently efficient level of work.

The Technique provides a practical demonstration of the ‘means-whereby’ principle during lessons, where we increase the student’s overall level of physical and psychological health with the knowledge that once a certain level of what we call ‘good use’ has been reached, any specific ailments will have a tendency to disappear of their own accord. If you come for lessons because of a painful pinky finger, don’t be surprised if we completely ignore your fingers for the first few weeks. Our primary concern will be on creating and maintaining a general level of functioning, and only once that level has been attained will we begin addressing how that pinky finger relates to the whole. This is ‘means-whereby,’ we focus on how you should be using your body overall and let the little things take care of themselves, rather than trying to ‘fix’ specific problems.

It is important to note, in my opinion, that in advocating the “means-whereby” Alexander is not saying that you should never have an end in mind, but rather stating that it is better to stop and think about how you plan on getting there, rather than simply fixating on the end itself. When you know how you plan to achieve something, you are much more likely to be able to pull it off successfully than if you simply focus on what you want to the exclusion of all else.

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