Have you ever come across this phrase? It used to be very popular in the UK. The full version goes “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”
It usually means that someone would rather put up with the existing circumstances, even if they are pretty devilish, than risk trying something different. The particular devil I want to talk about today is this one.
And a tricky little devil it is, too.
People normally think of being comfortable as A GOOD THING. We choose a new bed or a new pair of shoes(*) to be comfortable. And that’s fine.
Students often tell me that’s what they want out of a lesson; to sit more comfortably, to stand comfortably, to play the clarinet more comfortably and so on. But when it comes to being comfortable in how we move and go about doing things, we hit a snag.
The name of that snag is FAMILIARITY.
Put those two things together, and you’ve got the potential for trouble. FM Alexander said this(**):-
“it is possible for (someone) to become so familiar with seriously harmful conditions of misuse of himself that these malconditions will feel right and comfortable.”
He’s not mincing his words on this. Once something becomes familiar, it feels right. Once something feels right, it becomes comfortable.
Even when it gives you a pain in the neck. Even when it leaves you very tired. Even when you don’t actually want to be like that.
At some level there is a comfort that comes with ‘how I always do it’.
Which means that if you do it differently, you may not feel comfortable. Even if it hurts less. Even if it leaves you less tired. Even if it brings you the success you’re after. Simply because it is unfamiliar.
Which does create a dilemma for the students who are seeking greater comfort. Which are you going to choose, the uncomfortable that you know and love – and have persuaded yourself is comfortable after all – or the uncomfortable that is new and exciting?
(*) unless, of course, it’s that killer pair with the 4-inch heels, which is understandable
(**) FM Alexander, The Use of The Self, IRDEAT edition p.455