Fun With the Scientific Method
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
I spent last weekend in Seattle, taking a workshop with senior Alexander Technique teacher Missy Vineyard. Before the workshop I had a lesson with her. “What’s new, kiddo?” She asked me. “I’m tired.” I confessed. My recommitment to getting up at 5 am each day to write has corresponded with a filling of my teaching schedule. Wonderful. And tiring.
She asked me what is the most tiring part and I pondered for a minute. “Parenting.” (of course) “My biggest time each day with the children—after school—coincides with my lowest energy point of the day.” She had a few suggestions about not overdoing it while teaching and shared a story about a time in her career she made herself ill. All good and helpful things. None of it solved my problem. And that’s the thing—Alexander Technique teachers aren’t there to solve their students’ problems.
When was the last time you employed the Scientific Method? Ninth grade biology? Or yesterday? I don’t mean those tedious worksheets I vaguely remember where you struggled to name all the steps. I mean recognizing a real problem in your life and thinking about how best to solve it.
Missy did me the tremendous, life-affirming favor of asking me the right questions. Which allowed me, for the first time, to come out of a haze of vague discomfort and state a real and specific problem:
My longest time each day with my children—after school—coincides with my lowest energy point of the day. They are at their crabbiest and I am least equipped to deal with it.
Stating the problem is the first step in the Scientific Method. Without a problem to solve or a question to answer, there’s no way to investigate. Now I can work on this.
Hypothesis: I can improve my energy level at 3pm by devoting a bit of time to taking care of myself just prior to that. Drink more water. Eat a nutritious snack. Lie down for a few minutes. Leave earlier to pick them up so I can take a quick walk around the neighborhood.
In other words, as I make the tremendous shift from work-mode to parenting-mode, I need to more specifically and consciously attend to my own needs.
I will spend the next few days testing this hypothesis and then I will get back to you with my preliminary data. In the meantime, let me entertain you with a little hold music. Or actually a story…
“Alexander,” Missy reminded us in the workshop, “wasn’t a scientist. But he used the Scientific Method.” Here’s a breakdown of his process:
He had a problem (losing his voice).
He came up with a hypothesis: there’s something wrong with my throat that a doctor can fix.
He tested that hypothesis by going to several different doctors. None could help him.
He rejected that hypothesis.
He came up with a new hypothesis: I’m doing something to my throat that I can fix.
He tested that hypothesis by going into a room with mirrors and looking at how he was speaking. After collecting a lot of data, he refined his hypothesis.
He hypothesized: I’m stiffening my neck and scrunching down my head in a particular way that is interfering with my voice.
He tested that hypothesis in front of his mirrors.
This process of refinement and testing went on and on with much trial and error over, as I understand, about a two year period. And in the end (which was really the beginning of a new life’s work), his hypothesis proved sound. He was interfering with his voice and when he worked out how to stop doing that, he stopped losing his voice.
Preliminary data suggest that I am on the right track. Drinking water in particular is a revelation. I haven’t even wanted my afternoon cup of black tea, because once I started hydrating it felt so good to guzzle water. Added bonus: I’m no longer dying of thirst in the evenings. Um, that should have been a clue, if I’d been present enough to notice.
It is a challenge to fit it all in, however: water, snack, lie-down, walk. The only day I managed all of it was the day my kids stayed at school an extra hour for Spanish class. I will continue to refine, retest.
In the meantime, can I pay the favor forward? What is really challenging you right now? Perhaps if you can take a moment to ponder, you will be able to clearly state the problem. From there it’s much easier to hop to a hypothesis. And then test it. And then throw it out if the data doesn’t support the hypothesis and try again.
Of course our problems are rarely straightforward. But one advantage to this method is that it injects a bit of curiosity and an experimental attitude into the parts of our lives that are really a drag. I’ll take a bit of lighting up any day.