On End-Gaining

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The concept of ‘end-gaining’ comes from Alexander Technique, which defines it as a kind of relationship with the world in which you are so focused on getting the result you want (gaining your end, indeed) that you go about it any way which way without adequate attention to how, or as AT puts it, the ‘means whereby’. AT is all about inhibiting habitual or impulsive responses for long enough to assert control over the means whereby you do things.

End-gaining is on the face of it about impatience. It is also about focusing on outcome goals to the exclusion of process goals. The mind-set that leads people to game the system, or - in extremis - to cheat, is one of end-gaining, as it comes with an emphasis on extrinsic rather than intrinsic rewards. In other contexts, end-gaining drives you into that state of unhappy over-practising where you hammer away at the notes of the too-hard passage without stepping back to analyse either the musical structures that holds it together or the technical skills it requires. 10,000 hours of this kind of work produces injury rather than mastery.

End-gaining is often a symptom of pressure. This may be the pressures we put on ourselves through over-ambition, or it may be systemic pressures built into the contexts we work in. Testing regimes in schools foster teaching to the test, which in turn places value on getting to the right answer rather than understanding the subject; testing encourages shallow and strategic rather than deep learning. Commissioning regimes that award contracts solely on price encourage botch jobs from contractors who bid low to get the work and then can’t make a living if they take enough time to get it right.

Whether the pressures are internal or systemic, end-gaining is generated from an external locus of control, producing a sense of ‘I’ve got to do this, or else...’. The difference is that a systemic ‘or else’ is probably known and quantifiable. If I don’t get my class through this test, the school goes into Special Measures; if I don’t get this job finished by noon there’ll be no profit on it. The ‘or else’ from internal pressures tend to be based on more nebulous and imagined anxieties - the fear of losing love or respect - that turn out in the event of failure to have been grossly exaggerated in anticipation. The occasional failure can be quite relaxing, indeed, if it reveals how unnecessary your worrying actually was.

The thing about attending to the Means Whereby rather than pushing through to Gain the End is thus partly that it allows you to relocate your locus of control inside yourself. This alone is valuable. But more importantly, the a focus on the Means Whereby puts you on the road to actually achieving what you set out to do. And when you get there, you will own the achievement, as you will know how you did it. This not only allows you to feel good about yourself (intrinsic rewards rock!) but it also gives you the confidence that you will be able to do it again.

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