Weblog Table of Contents
How to Make Personal Changes
Reactivity and Experience
Dealing with Depression
Imagery, the Language of the Unconscious
Gymnastics and Hypnosis
(September 17, 2014) "E-Cigarettes."
E-cigarettes have become a popular alternative to tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarettes, for those not familiar, have a heating element that vaporizes a liquid saturated in nicotine. Proponents praise e-cigs as a way to smoke without the tar, smell, or social stigma associated with tobacco. There is the idea that e-cigarettes are the smoking equivalent of candy, coming in flavors like Creamy Milk Chocolate and Piña Colada.
However, the problem with e-cigarettes is that they still contain nicotine, and nicotine is a dangerous, addictive poison. There is a wide body of research that indicates that nicotine itself is highly toxic and promotes cancer growth (references available). E-cigarettes are just as addictive as tobacco cigarettes, and e-cig smokers are being compulsively controlled in the same way tobacco smokers are. Furthermore, the FDA does not regulate the production or distribution of e-cigarettes, so we are forced to take the word of e-cigarette companies about their ingredients. The only thing we know for sure about e-cigarettes is that they contain nicotine, a toxic and addictive poison. And that they come in a multitude of candy flavors.
More subtly, a smoker who switches to e-cigarettes is far less likely to want to break the nicotine habit, thinking the problem is handled, and far more likely to be a smoker for the rest of his or her life. E-cigarettes are a slippery trap greatly decreasing the probability that the smoker will ever quit.
Were it not for the effectiveness of hypnosis, it might even be argued that e-cigarettes are a better, if not perfect, alternative to tobacco. But since the option is available to be completely free from nicotine, that solution is head-and-shoulders above any other.
(December 5, 2013) "Gymnastics and Hypnosis: Eliminating Anxiety."
Once the athlete has acknowledged to herself that the anxiety is caused and controlled by her conscious thought patterns, the anxiety-producing and confidence-producing patterns must be identified so they can be replicated. The athlete should go back in her mind to a time that she had anxiety about the activity and isolate the anxiety-producing elements of her thinking. These elements will always revolve around the athlete attempting to perform an exercise and failing or getting hurt in some way. Even if the trigger to this line of thinking is something external, such as negative input from peers or coaches, the anxiety will always be directly caused by thoughts of failure. It cannot be overemphasized to her that these thoughts are not THE TRUTH, but rather a subjective interpretation, like a movie, no more true or false than any other thoughts.
The athlete should then go back to a time when she performed optimally and identify those elements. These will always revolve around doing the activity successfully. For example, for vault, she could remember starting at her initial position, running up to the vault, hitting the vault perfectly, going through the routine, and landing perfectly. It can be quite astounding the difference in state produced by switching between these styles of thinking. It may not be immediately easy to switch back and forth between these styles of thinking, but with some practice, it can be done effectively. Indeed, a key trait of an elite athlete is to be able to maintain a successful style of thinking regardless of outside influences. One might even argue that it is the ONLY consistent trait of successful people across all performance activities.
The final step for solidifying this state of mind is the same as that for solidifying a physical skill; repetition. The more times the athlete practices this state of mine, the more comfortable her unconscious will be with it, and the more easily she will default to it, and the more likely she will switch into it despite external distractions. Hypnosis can help dramatically with this phase; as discussed previously, one of the aspects of hypnosis is amplified mental practice.
Just as the athlete will continue to drill physical skills, she would be well rewarded to drill these mental skills as well. We often talk about how the athlete's body knows how to do the skills, but her mind gets in the way. The only reason her body knows how to do the skills is because she has drilled them so frequently, and she can acquire that same level of proficiency with her mental skills by drilling those as well. (CLC)
(December 2, 2013) "Gymnastics and Hypnosis: How Anxiety Is Created."
There are two primary ways that gymnasts accrue anxiety in the gym: either through thinking about past mistakes (whether they were from years past or from 5 minutes ago), or through seeing other gymnasts make mistakes or otherwise be in a negative state of mind. In either case, athletes who handle negative outside influences effectively have two things in common; they have a specific, practiced strategy for performing their skill physically, and they have enough faith in that strategy to overcome these negative influences.
If you were brushing your teeth and you accidentally dropped your toothbrush, you would not suddenly decide that you're not good enough at brushing your teeth and be afraid to brush them. You would simply acknowledge the accident, clean off the toothbrush, and do it right the second time. We do this naturally because we have so much practice brushing our teeth that we KNOW our teeth-brushing strategy works. Even when we make a mistake, it doesn't make us believe we aren't good enough at brushing our teeth. We don't suffer anxiety, and therefore we do not suffer from decreased performance.
In gymnastics and other sports, the athlete is constantly learning new skills, so the gymnast's current skill set is always new. This sense of newness can make the athlete question her own strategy unnecessarily, increasing anxiety and decreasing performance, even though physically she is very capable of performing the skill. The first step of avoiding this trap is to recognize that this anxiety is the result of a perception, not of reality; the athlete is not inherently more anxious during one skill (such as gymnastics) than she is in any other (such as brushing her teeth). Her level of anxiety or relaxation is determined purely by her train of thought about the activity; and like any physical habit, mental habits can be learned and solidified through repetition (or, more efficiently, through hypnosis). Recognizing, consciously, that the anxiety is not happening TO her, but that she is creating the anxiety, is the doorway to eliminating this problem. More steps next time. (CLC)
(November 26, 2013) "Gymnastics and Hypnosis: Optimal State of Mind."
There are, essentially, three ways of thinking about any activity, and they correspond to the three states the brain occupies: comfortable, overactive, and underactive. Overactive states include being stressed, anxious, or angry. Underactive states include being bored, lonely, or depressed. Any non-physical problem can be traced back to the brain habitually being over- or underactive.
Likewise, there is an OPTIMAL state for any given activity, which may be more or less active than what would normally be considered comfortable. For example, the optimal state for power lifting would be very high, perhaps a nine or ten on a ten-point scale. Certainly not a comfortable state for normal living, but ideal for power lifting. For gymnastics, most athletes find a five or six to be ideal. If the athlete's state is above or below this optimal level, performance will drop off quickly. This is why anxiety is so harmful to performance; it increases the athlete's activation level away from ideal.
Just as there are three states the brain occupies, there are three styles of thinking about an activity that trigger these states. The one of current interest is the one that produces anxiety; the one that triggers the brain to go into an overactive state. In fact, this is the ONLY way anxiety is ever created, and that is by imagining doing the activity and something going wrong, or some bad consequence happening. Any time there is any anxiety, this style of thinking is the cause. For example, the gymnast might be imagining missing a jump or landing poorly, or even getting hurt. These types of thoughts will lead to anxiety unless countered properly, which will be the focus of the next entry. (CLC)
(November 17, 2013) "Gymnastics and Hypnosis: The Anatomy of a Mental Block."
All of our skills exist as blueprints composed of pictures, sounds, and feelings (sometimes smells and tastes, but not usually) that tell you the order of behaviors to execute in order to successfully perform the skill. For example, if you are making a sandwich, you first get the ingredients, and then lay out the bread, et cetera. If at some point during the process some traumatic, or seemingly traumatic, event occurs, the brain will tend to relive that event at the same point in the blueprint whenever you try to perform the skill in the future.
This effect is less strong with skills that are simple, and less strong with skills you have done many times in the past. But relatively new, complex skills have a much more fragile blueprint, and can often be interrupted easily. If this happens, then whenever the brain tries to execute the blueprint, it gets to that same point where the trauma occurred and relives it, which creates anxiety. This has two primary effects, depending on the strength of the reaction: if the anxiety is low or moderate, it can degrade the performance of the skill. Even a little anxiety can drastically reduce performance. If the anxiety is high, it can "prevent" the person from performing the skill at all. Once anxiety reaches a certain threshold, the unconscious can panic and overwhelm the desire to perform the skill. Either of these effects can be detrimental to an athlete, both mentally and physically, especially since most of the skills an athlete performs are complex, and most are relatively new (compared to making a sandwich, for example).
The first step of solving any phobia, fear, or anxiety is identifying the proper train of thought to follow (probably the one the person had before the trauma) and the inserted traumatic thought that is interrupting the process. Try to identify what your process was for doing the skill before the trauma happened. Then, identify what thought the trauma inserted itself into your process. Exactly when does it happen in your process? Notice that it makes sense that you have the fear; your brain is reliving the trauma to a certain extent, and it would be strange not to have the fear again when you are doing that. The key is that you have control over your thinking when you take that control, a fact I will discuss more next time. (CHC)
(November 16, 2013) "Gymnastics and Hypnosis."
Gymnastics season is upon us, and gymnasts have a very specific set of needs compared to other athletes. Most gymnasts are 11-17 year old females, are very talented and intelligent, and are unusually susceptible to the negative emotions of others. There are two main problems gymnasts run into concerning their mental state; mistakes and injuries creating fears of performing, and mistakes and anxiety of OTHER gymnasts affecting them contagiously.
Most gymnasts start out as a blank slate, the teaching of their coaches building the gymnasts' perceptions and strategies about gymnastics. As such, their impressionable states of mind are useful, efficiently soaking up information visually, auditory, and kinetically. However, the first time a gymnast gets hurt (or even sees someone else get hurt), that same impressionability can lead to the creation of a mental block that prevents her from even attempting the routine. She will often say, "I want to do it, but I can't."
The other major problem gymnasts run into is when they see other gymnasts having anxiety or making mistakes, which leads to a "contagious" spread of anxiety. The impressionability that aids so much in learning (incidentally, the primary reason children can pick up foreign languages so easily) can again lead to a disruption of a good state of mind, which in turn lead to making basic mistakes and even the formation of new fears and mental blocks.
Tomorrow I'll write about how to avoid these problems, and how to fix them if they've already taken hold. (CLC)
(December 14, 2012) “Weight Loss 22: Motivation For Exercise, Work Vs. Play, Continued.”
When you play, the motivation is different. You have a certain need or desire, and you’re playing to meet that need. Play, in this case, means any behavior you’re doing primarily to make yourself feel good. When you do an activity that makes you feel good, there are rules involved, but they’re designed to meet your needs or desires, and you do it until they are met. When you brush your teeth, you just brush them until you feel like you’re done, and then stop. When you have rules that are designed to enhance how you feel and can be overridden if they no longer make you feel good, they’re play rules and you don’t mind them at all; in fact, you like them.
Herein lies the key to why some people like exercise and some don’t. If you take a kid’s favorite toy and then MAKE him play with it, it takes the joy out of it. If you make him play it for longer than he wants to, it takes the joy out of it. When you put any rules or restrictions that do not enhance how much fun he’s having, it takes the joy out of it. People do the same thing with exercise all the time, and it’s not necessary. Try this experiment: decide that you’re going to do some kind of exercise every day (walking, whatever) and make it a priority, but put no restrictions on yourself about how long or intensely you have to do it. Have it be your play time. You will quickly find that any anxiety or tedium you felt about exercise goes away under these conditions.
The obvious objection will be that you won’t work out long or intensely enough if you don’t have to (if you don’t see it as work). But I have found that most people will avoid working out altogether if it’s seen as work, and that people who see exercise as play work out more consistently, intensely, and for a longer amount of time. When you see working out as play, you have a natural desire to push yourself more as you get accustomed to the exercise, in the same way that people push themselves at games they enjoy. Try the experiment and I think you’ll be surprised at the results.
This concludes the series on weight loss. Please let me know if you have any questions; I will be happy to answer them in the blog. (CLC)
(December 13, 2012) “Weight Loss 21: Motivation For Exercise, Work Vs. Play.”
The final aspect of motivational thinking is the distinction between motivation for work and motivation for play. In both cases, you are imagining being in the middle of the activity and doing it successfully. However, with work, you’re aiming to meet external standards, standards that will meet your own needs only indirectly, and with play, you’re aiming to meet internal standards, standards that will make you feel good. When you play, you’re doing it for yourself directly, and when you work, you’re trying to make someone else happy for some kind of external reward.
This is an important distinction because the two types of motivation motivate you in slightly different ways; if you are meeting someone else’s needs for an indirect gain, your brain is usually geared toward meeting minimum standards and it would usually not do the activity at all if there is not a sense of immediate necessity (like getting fired if you don’t do it). You’re still motivated to do it, but you usually won’t do it unless you have to and you usually won’t be motivated to exceed the minimum requirement. Still, if you have to meet an external set of minimum requirements, this type of motivation is the one that will get you there. Tomorrow: play. (CLC)
(December 12, 2012) “Weight Loss 20: Motivation For Exercise, Motivational Style, Continued.”
The easiest way to construct a motivational style of thinking about exercise is to start with a great workout you’ve had in the past. I’m willing to bet that everyone has had at least one great workout, whether it was a traditional workout in the gym, a great swim at the beach, playing with your kids at the park, or just a walk with a friend. Think about what a good time you had, and how you felt nice and worked out afterword. Your body needs exercise, just as your mind needs exercise, and when you don’t get it, you feel restless and lethargic. From now on, have your image of that great workout be the way you define and think about exercise. When you think about getting some exercise, think about that memory of the great workout and build your workout around that image.
In the past, if you were thinking about exercise as being tedious, you probably thought about it as being something in the future and something that has a lot of steps. Can you imagine talking to a person who has never worked out before? “Well, we COULD work out, but it takes forever and has so many different steps.” I certainly wouldn’t work out if that’s all I knew about exercise. That’s what you’re saying to your brain, who has no choice but to believe you.
But when you think about that great workout, you think about being in the middle of it (even though it happened in the past), and you think about doing it successfully. Imagine not just enjoying it, but exceeding your own expectations for your performance. That thought acts as a multiplier for the success feeling (in the same way that thinking about all the steps acts as a multiplier for the tedious feeling). From now on, whenever you think about exercise, first think about that great workout you had (the new definition of exercise to you), and imagine exceeding your expectations for yourself this time. Notice how that feels a lot better…you’re telling your brain that this will be an enjoyable, successful endeavor. (CLC)
(December 11, 2012) “Weight Loss 19: Motivation For Exercise, The Motivational Style Of Thinking.”
The motivational style of thinking (and there is indeed only one) is actually similar to the anxiety-producing style. You are, again, in the middle of the activity, only this time it is going successfully. Notice that you probably use this style with the majority of the things you think about. If you think about watching TV, you don’t think about anything bad happening, and you don’t think about it happening in the future (even if, logically, you know it will happen in the future), you think about being in the middle of doing it. I’m going to watch the season finale if Dexter next week; even though I know it’s going to happen in the future, I think about it as if it’s happening now: me sitting on the couch watching it happen. Everything that you feel confident that you will do successfully, you think about in this present-oriented way.
An important point that has been mentioned before but bears repeating: the way you think about an activity isn’t true or false, right or wrong, or good or bad. It just leads to a certain result. If you want that result, then keep thinking about it that way. If not, then think about it a different way. There is no way that is “you,” or that you’re obligated to think. It just takes a decision to do it differently, a good different way to do it, and a little practice. More on this tomorrow. (CLC)
(December 10, 2012) “Weight Loss 18: Motivation For Exercise, Anxiety And Tedium.”
The anxiety-producing style of thinking, as discussed in depth before, involves thinking about doing the activity and something bad happening. One might imagine something going wrong or something dangerous happening and, as a natural response, it creates anxiety. This is the primary way one has a fear of public speaking or flying in a plane, for example.
The way we create tedium is probably the most interesting, ironically. Think about something now that you perceive as a tedious chore. Once you’ve got it, you’ll notice that the key thing about it is that it hasn’t happened yet. If you’re thinking about doing the dishes, you’re not thinking about being in the process of doing the dishes, you’re thinking about the dishes not having been started yet, and having to do them. Thinking about having to do something in the future (as opposed to thinking about being in the middle of doing it) creates demotivation and challenges your brain to come up with reasons not to do the activity. Also, thinking about all the steps the activity will take acts as a multiplier for the tedium.
This applies to any activity at all; take any activity, put it in the future, and think about how many steps it will take and it will seem more tedious than if you think about being in the middle of doing it. I have found that with people who don’t like exercise, this is how they usually think about it. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the motivational style of thinking. (CLC)
(December 9, 2012) “Weight Loss 17: Motivation For Exercise, Styles Of Thinking.”
There are, as mentioned previously, three ways to think about any activity: a way that produces anxiety, a way that produces tedium, and a way that produces motivation. These are generic styles of thinking that can be applied to any activity, though we tend to get used to thinking about individual activities with a particular style, and eventually tend to believe that the activity IS anxiety-producing, tedium-producing, or motivation-producing. It is important to realize that this is not the case; activities themselves are not more or less motivational; some people love stamp collecting, other people love skydiving, other people love exercise, and so on. Those people are not different, neurologically, than you, they just think about those activities differently.
Not only can you apply any style of thinking (and therefore any feeling) to any activity, there is a specific formula for thinking in each of these three styles. And interestingly, everyone uses the exact same formulas to come up with each of the three feelings. I’ve always found that interesting; you and I do anxiety, tedium, and motivation in exactly the same way. So if you think exercise is a tedious chore, I know exactly how you’re doing it and what you need to do instead to think about it in a motivating way. Details tomorrow. (CLC)
(December 8, 2012) “Weight Loss 16: Being Stuffed And Cleaning Your Plate, Continued.”
A common quote, of which there are many variants, goes like this: “It’s better to waste it in the wastebasket than waste it on your waist.” The key point, and one that is an epiphany for many people, is that if you eat food when you’re not hungry, you’re still wasting it. That extra food that you don’t need for nutrition will be wasted…except for the fat, of course. Your body will want to hold onto that just in case. On a tangental note, this is also true for “wasting” those last few cigarettes or anything else that will not actually make you happier or healthier.
From now on, make a commitment to yourself that the primary determinate of how much food you eat and when you stop will not be how much food you “ought” to eat, but rather how much food will make your stomach feel optimally good. Carefully pay attention to how you feel as you’re eating, notice as you start feeling less and less hungry, and then not hungry at all, and your brain will turn off the desire to eat much sooner. Whatever you pay attention to will determine when your brain turns off the desire to eat. If you pay attention to what you “ought” to do, you will not feel satisfied until you meet that imaginary requirement. If you are waiting for a stuffed feeling, you will not be satisfied until you get it. On the other hand, if you pay attention to how your stomach feels, and aim to make your stomach feel optimally good, you will be satisfied much sooner, when you have had just the right amount of food. Put the rest away, or throw it away if you have to, and you will quickly learn how much is just the right amount. (CLC)
(December 7, 2012) “Weight Loss 15: Being Stuffed And Cleaning Your Plate.”
Today I’d like to talk about two common issues that are purely psychological: the need to feel stuffed and the need to clean your plate. These issues are very similar in a number of ways. First and foremost, they are both programs that distract from the primary principle of eating: to make your stomach feel good. They are both programs that are acquired very young, and once had an arguably-legitimate purpose. Neither are physical issues; in fact, both issues tend to make you overeat and therefore feel less good. There is nothing forcing you to follow either one; they’re just habits picked up from childhood that follow you into adulthood unnecessarily.
Interestingly, both of these issues reflect a scarcity mindset about food, that there might not be enough food to go around, so you better finish what you have whether you like it or not. After all, the thought follows, there might not be enough food later. Many of our parents grew up during or shortly after the Great Depression, at which time there really might not have been enough food to go around. Having enough food was a genuine concern. Such is probably not the case with you today. You probably know that you’ll have enough food to survive and not be hungry, so it’s time to shed these old beliefs that are keeping you from being the weight you want to be. (CLC)
(December 6, 2012) “Weight Loss 14: Being Satisfied With Less Food, Continued.”
The final factor in controlling your quantity of food, and one that is just as important as eating healthy food and eating slowly, is paying attention to how you feel while you’re eating. Most people who are overweight tend to start eating and then pay attention to some external stimulus (such as other people, a television show, their phones, etc.) and never notice when they’re no longer hungry. They turn their attention outward, and so rely on external stimuli to know when to stop eating, such as when the plate is empty.
A key habit of people who have no problem maintaining a healthy weight is that they pay attention to how they feel as they’re eating. You can train your brain to do this as well, and you’ll be amazed at how little food it takes to become satisfied. First, get into the habit of noticing how hungry you are before you start eating. Then, after each bite, notice how the food affected your hunger. At first, you may or may not be able to tell the difference from one bite to the next, but with a little practice, you will. Then, once you’re no longer hungry, take a second to notice that if you were to continue eating, you would actually feel less good (slightly stuffed). This will teach your brain to pay attention while eating, and to stop at just the right time.
Most people who follow the three rules outlined yesterday and today eat about one-half to one-third of what they were previously eating and feel completely satisfied. It’s an easy, comfortable process that requires minimal practice; it’s the way your body is meant to eat and think about eating. (CLC)
(December 5, 2012) “Weight Loss 13: Being Satisfied With Less Food.”
Controlling your quantity of food (i.e. becoming satisfied sooner) is based on three factors: the nutritiousness of the food you’re eating, how quickly you eat, and whether or not you pay attention to how you feel while you’re eating. As discussed previously, physical hunger is not really a desire for food, but rather for nutrition. The more nutritious the food you eat, the sooner you will become satisfied. As a general rule of thumb, the amount of nutritious food you need will generally fit into one of your hands. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.
The second factor of how much food it takes to satisfy you is how quickly you eat. You don’t have to eat at a sloth’s pace, but if you eat quickly, your brain will not have time to register the nutrition as it’s coming in. As a general rule of thumb, just take your time and savor your food. Eat at a slow-to-medium pace and make sure it’s fully chewed before swallowing. A few extra chews could make the difference of becoming satisfied a couple hundred calories sooner over the course of the meal.
Notice that both of these factors is dependent on the other; if you’re eating junk food, you’re not going to become satisfied no matter how slowly you eat. And likewise, if you’re eating very quickly, you’ll still need a lot of healthy food to notice that you’re no longer hungry. This will also be true of tomorrow’s topic, paying attention to how you feel as you’re eating. If you’re not paying attention to how you feel, you will still tend to eat too many calories even if you’re eating healthy food slowly. (CLC)
(December 4, 2012) “Weight Loss 12: Resisting The Desire For Junk Food Is Counterproductive, Continued.”
By “not resisting,” I don’t mean to give your unconscious whatever it asks for. What I mean is to not just tell it “no” and expect that to be the end of it. Don’t resist; educate. I can imagine the following ineffective conversation between the conscious and unconscious:
Unconscious: I think I’d like a chocolate bar. (only wants it a little)
Conscious: No, that’s not good for you.
Unconscious: But I want it anyway! I want it now! (suddenly wants it a lot because it met with resistance.)
I’d prefer for you to communicate with yourself this way:
Unconscious: I think I’d like a chocolate bar. (only wants it a little)
Conscious: Sure, if we can come up with a good reason for eating it.
Unconscious: I want it.
Conscious: Why? We had it last time and it wasn’t as good as we thought it would be. In fact, we felt bad afterward.
Unconscious: That’s true…but it would taste good.
Conscious: It didn’t taste as good as we thought it would, remember? Especially after the first bite. And remember, we felt sluggish and slightly nauseous for 20 minutes afterward.
Unconscious: That’s also true. But I’m having a sugar crash now, and that would solve it quickly.
Conscious: Last time we did that, we felt worse afterward and just had another sugar crash. But when we had some fruit, it solved that problem with no bad effects.
Little by little, your brain is learning from past experience that junk food is bad. YOU remember it, but you have to gently guide your unconscious through the process of remembering it, too, because it’s not used to that kind of analysis. The key to learn is that you’re not telling yourself “no,” you’re remembering how the junk food wasn’t as good as you thought and made you feel bad. You’re not in complete control at this point; if you were, you wouldn’t have this problem in the first place. Don’t tell yourself “no,” instead, remember the bad things that happened from eating the junk food. Your brain will eventually make that connection, and associate junk food with “bad feeling,” which is the more accurate and useful way to think. (CLC)
(December 3, 2012) “Weight Loss 11: Resisting The Desire For Junk Food Is Counterproductive.”
The main reason diets fail, as discussed previously, is that resistance is a terrible tool for interacting with your brain. Not only does resisting something you want not work very well, it’s usually counterproductive and turns a slight whim into an obsession. Your unconscious is your creative partner; the emotional, motivating, idea-generating half of you, without whom your life would be bereft of accomplishment and joy. Have you ever had a very creative friend who could come up with a song or idea on the spot, but always has a hard time paying his bills? That’s your unconscious. Without your unconscious, you would be a cold, empty shell of rationality. Also, you would probably die since it controls all of your survival instincts, but let’s not get off-track.
When your unconscious asks for junk food (i.e. when you get a craving or thought for junk food), don’t tell it “no.” Don’t provide any resistance at all; have an easygoing, cooperative attitude. The facts are on your side; if you eat the food, you’ll still be hungry, stressed, or bored, you’ll feel worse mentally and physically, and you’ll be stuck in this trap of trying to meet a need with something that doesn’t meet it. Just like alcohol and smoking, the only time you want to eat junk food is when you’re not eating it. While you’re eating it, you either don’t care that you’re eating it or wish that you weren’t. When your unconscious asks you for junk food, remember the last time you had it; that will go a long way toward eliminating the illusion that the junk food will make you happy. Rather than just saying “no” to yourself, help yourself realize, using examples from your past, that junk food will not live up to this illusion your brain has of it. The more patiently and non-resistively you do so, the more the desire to eat the junk food will go away. More on this topic tomorrow. (CLC)
(December 2, 2012) “Weight Loss 10: Enjoying Healthy Food, Continued.”
A key principle of diet change, one without which this discussion would be incomplete, is the following: your brain will grow to like the taste of any food you become used to eating. This is because what we usually call “taste” is a combination of mostly psychological factors designed to get you to eat foods that have been proven to be safe. Back in caveman days, if you ate something unusual, your chances of getting sick or dying were pretty high. Our brains learned to convince us to stick with known foods by making those foods “taste” good.
You have probably noticed many times that food “tastes” better when you’re hungry; that’s not the food tasting better, that’s your brain at work. If you find out that a food you’re eating might be spoiled or have something wrong with it, it suddenly tastes bad. Sometimes someone else’s opinion of a food that you’re currently eating can make that food taste better or worse.
The application of this principle is largely automatic. Most simply, when you start eating healthier food, even if you don’t like the taste of it right away, you will get used to it, start liking it, and stop liking unhealthy foods. There will probably be the odd exception here and there (I don’t think I’ll ever like Brussels sprouts), but for the most part, you will like anything you eat on a regular basis. Come to think of it, I’d probably start liking Brussels sprouts too if I ate them every day. But I’m not testing it. (CLC)
(December 1, 2012) “Weight Loss 9: Enjoying Healthy Food.”
If you ask someone who is overweight what her favorite type of food is, she will tend to respond with a food that TASTES good. On the other hand, if you ask someone who has no trouble maintaining a healthy wait what her favorite food is, she will tend to respond with a food that makes her FEEL good. You can imagine how much this distinction influences food choice throughout the day.
When someone thinks of a food, there is one thing that everyone does first; imagines what the food looks like. If I say “spaghetti,” in order for you to know what I’m talking about, you have to make a picture of it first. At that point, you will do one of two things: you’ll imagine what it tastes like, or you’ll imagine what it would feel like if you ate it (or some combination of those). Even though this process is completely automatic, you have the ability to control it directly and retrain your mind to do it the other way. Hypnosis is certainly the fastest and easiest way to make this kind of change, but it can be done without hypnosis with a couple of weeks of consistent practice.
From now on, whenever you are going to select what food you’re going to have, think about what it looks like, and then think about what it would feel like if you ate it. Notice that, as discussed previously, foods that are good for you will feel good, and foods that are bad for you will feel bad. If you were to plan a trip, you would probably plan it based on the efficiency of the route, not based on the scenery; scenery is just something to enjoy once you’re on the road. Taste is the same way: don’t plan your meals based on taste; taste is something to enjoy once you’re already eating. (CLC)
(November 30, 2012) “Weight Loss 8: Unhealthy Foods Do Not Satisfy Your Hunger.”
This is another interesting fact that many people go through their entire lives without noticing. Have you ever been slightly hungry, then started eating potato chips, ate the entire bag, and were still hungry afterward? Even though you weren’t all that hungry to start with? How much food you eat has nothing to do with how satisfied your hunger is. There were many times in the past, before I discovered these principles, that I would be stuffed, but still hungry, because I had stuffed myself with unhealthy food.
The key principle for today is that your hunger is not satisfied with the quantity of mass you put in your stomach, but rather with the amount of usable nutrition. The hunger part of your brain doesn’t even know how much stuff is in your stomach. It only knows when you’ve had enough nutrition to fuel and repair your body.
There are many, many theories about what you should and shouldn’t eat, but they are all compatible with this basic principle: when you eat a nutritious, balanced meal, you require far less food to feel completely satisfied. To put this another (slightly less accurate) way, healthy food is the best appetite suppressant. (CLC)
(November 29, 2012) “Weight Loss 7: Comfort Foods Make You Feel Bad.”
Once you’ve established that you’re actually hungry and not just stressed or bored (or thirsty—that can masquerade as hunger sometimes, too), the next step is to select what food you want to eat. A basic theme that we’re going to be working with throughout the weight loss section is to pay attention to your stomach, to notice how it feels right now, and to notice how it would feel if you ate X, Y, or Z. If you’re not hungry and you eat, you feel worse, regardless of whether or not you thought you were hungry.
A key aspect of this principle is that when you eat foods that are not good for you, you feel worse; there is a very high correlation between how good a food makes us feel and how good it is for our health. This is a natural function of our bodies telling us that this is not a good type of food to eat. Many people have the false belief that unhealthy foods are “comfort foods” and actually make you feel better. This could not be further from the truth. Usually, those people were given unhealthy foods as children because they taste good (an issue we’ll address shortly), and so have the false perception that they make you feel better. Why else would they give them to me when I had a bad day?
However, when you pay attention the process of eating comfort foods in an unbiased way, you will notice that they actually make you feel worse. Next time you find yourself eating foods high in fat, sodium, or sugar, pay close attention to how your actual stomach feels before and after, and you will notice that “comfort foods” are anything but. (CLC)
(November 21, 2012) “Weight Loss 6: Eating For Stress or Boredom, Continued.”
The second part of eliminating stress and boredom eating, after fully realizing that food doesn’t solve the problem, is to program in new behaviors that actually will solve the problem. The first step is to start being aware of when you’re stressed or bored, so that you can catch yourself before you mindlessly eat food. Get used to checking in with yourself. Am I stressed? Am I bored?
The second step is to have some specific activities to do when you’re stressed or bored. Have some interesting things to do when you’re bored. Are there any hobbies you’d like to start or do more of? When you’re stressed, you need one of two things: a break, or something relaxing to do. If you feel like you’re ready to burst with overstimulation, take a break. Go outside, go into a different room, hang up the phone. If you feel like you’ve had a hectic day, and you’re not currently being overstimulated, then do something relaxing. Take a bath, meditate. Watch TV, but keep in mind that TV alone isn’t enough to occupy the whole brain. Have something else to do as well and your brain will thank you for it.
The third step, if you are daring enough, is to use self-hypnosis, as explained in the last set of blog posts, to program in the behavior. Create some suggestions, put yourself into hypnosis, and give the suggestions to yourself. Nothing can go wrong; worst case scenario, you do the hypnosis successfully and then convince yourself you weren’t in hypnosis when you wake up.
And finally, reinforce the behavior by practicing over the next few days. Just as someone could use some knowledgeable supervision when first learning a new skill, so your brain would be benefitted by you actively supervising responding to stress and boredom. Usually the new set of behaviors becomes second nature after a few days of practicing. (CLC)
(November 20, 2012) “Weight Loss 5: Eating For Stress or Boredom, Continued.”
In the present example, you, the adult, knows that picking up poisonous snakes is dangerous, but the child doesn’t; he only knows that you told him no. Likewise, you know, intellectually, that food does not alleviate stress and boredom, but you still imagine, on the unconscious level, that it will. The key is not to simply tell your brain that it doesn’t work, but to communicate that message using imagery, the only language the unconscious understands.
When you think about having food, the first question you ask yourself should always be, “Am I physically hungry? Is my actual stomach hungry?” If the answer is no, then here is the key time to do this new strategy. Say to yourself, “Let’s see what would happen if I were to eat now.” Then imagine eating from beginning to end; take maybe 10 seconds to see and feel the whole process. Since you weren’t hungry, you wouldn’t feel good shoving food into your stomach, so notice that. Also notice that you don’t feel any better mentally, either. Any stress or boredom you had is still there. It would be a generally disappointing and uncomfortable experience if you were to eat.
Have a neutral attitude when doing this process with yourself; the facts are on your side, so don’t try to CONVINCE yourself that food won’t solve the problem and will make you feel bad, just play the movie and NOTICE that these things would happen. Your brain should be losing steam about eating by this point, so it’s time to go to the next half of the strategy, which we will discuss tomorrow. (CLC)
(November 19, 2012) “Weight Loss 4: Eating For Stress or Boredom, Continued.”
The solution for eating out of stress or boredom is twofold, and both parts are equally important. The first part is to fully accept that food does not alleviate stress or boredom (and it makes you feel bad physically because you’re not hungry). This can sound either obvious or impossible, but it is a necessary step, and pretty simple if you know how. The most important key is to not give yourself resistance by telling yourself no. It’s like telling a kid he can’t have something; he’s just going to want it more. Sometimes it’s necessary to say no, but in this case it’s not only ineffective, but counterproductive.
Let’s say the kid is asking you to go pick up a poisonous snake in the backyard. Certainly the correct answer is “no,” (just as the correct answer for eating when you’re not hungry is “no,”) but it’s going to make him want to do it more. If he had as much freedom with the backyard as you and I do with food, he’d be out there in no time. What would be a better approach? Let’s say you didn’t say “no,” and then showed a movie in a movie theater of what would happen if he went out there. He’d probably get bitten, have to go to the hospital, and it will be very uncomfortable and he wouldn’t be able to play any video games for at least a couple of weeks. When he sees it happening up on the screen, as opposed to you just saying “no,” he comes to the realization himself that picking up poisonous snakes isn’t a good idea; he actually learned something. We’ll talk about how to apply this concept tomorrow. (CLC)
(November 18, 2012) “Weight Loss 3: Eating For Stress or Boredom.”
One of the most common obstacles to weight loss is one’s eating for psychological reasons. I group all non-physical reasons into two categories: stress and boredom. Stress is any mental state characterized by OVERactivity of the brain: stress, fear, anger. Boredom is a state characterized by UNDERactivity of the brain: boredom, loneliness, depression. The brain always wants to have a comfortable level of activity, and anytime it doesn’t for a certain amount of time, it will start looking for a solution, and it’s not very creative.
The problem with using food to alleviate stress or boredom is a simple one; it doesn’t work. There is nothing in food (especially junk food) that does anything to solve stress or boredom, and it often makes the problems worse. Here’s the interesting part: if you start eating to alleviate stress or boredom, your brain will never be satisfied because the food will never alleviate them, so you keep having the need, and you keep eating. Because you’ve accepted, on some level, the idea that food is a solution for stress and boredom, it will run a program that makes you want to eat until the problem is solved, which basically means forever or until the bag of chips is empty, whichever comes first. (CLC)
(November 17, 2012) “Weight Loss 2: Being Overweight is Just a Symptom.”
Before we get started, I’d like to make something clear: weight loss is not the problem, it’s just a symptom. It’s just the bad result that we don’t want, like a cough or a sore throat; it’s just a symptom of the real problem. As such, it is misleading and counterproductive to focus on your current weight, your goal weight, or how quickly or slowly the two are approaching each other.
The real problems are overeating, eating poor food, eating for reasons other than hunger, and not getting enough exercise. Any change requires testing a method and using the results to improve that method, over and over. If you use your weight (or body measurements, or body fat percentage) as your indicator of success or failure, you will be paying attention to the wrong test results, and will have no more idea how to change your method than a ship’s navigator using a potato instead of a compass. When you focus on what you control rather than what you can’t, progress is much easier to achieve and maintain, and is a lot less stressful.
To summarize the summary, you should always be asking yourself what you are thinking, feeling, and doing, rather than what you weigh, and you will have a great deal more success.
(November 16, 2012) “Weight Loss 1: Diets Don’t Work.”
It’s official: diets don’t work. And when I say “diet,” I mean plan that involves eating something you don’t want to eat or NOT eating something you DO want to eat. Those don’t work because they require willpower, and willpower is finite. It’s no wonder that in the world today more people suffer from obesity than starvation. The only way to successfully lose weight is to change what you like and what you don’t like.
Another reason willpower doesn’t work because when you tell yourself to do something that you don’t want to do, it makes you not want to do it more. And when you tell yourself you can’t do something you want to do, it makes that thing even more precious, even if it has no intrinsic value at all. By now, this should be a familiar concept. It reminds me of a kid finding a rock, and telling the other kid that he won’t let him see the rock. The second kid, of course, now wants to see the rock. They fight over the rock, the second kid takes the rock, and he feels his moment of victory. But then he looks down, and notices that all he has is a rock, just like all the other rocks on the ground. There is no intrinsic value; there is only a false psychological value that he made in his own head. If we had the ability to eliminate all such false value in ourselves, how many problems would that solve? (CLC)
(November 8, 2012) “Self-Hypnosis: Suggestions and Awakening.”
Once you have gotten into a nice state of relaxation, and are not worrying about whether you’re “in hypnosis” or not, start giving yourself the suggestions you came up with previously, and pair them up with some imagery demonstrating the suggestion. Just like any other presentation, the listener (in this case, your brain) will understand better if the message is sent both auditorily and visually. Returning to our self esteem example, you might say “I am someone who can get things done successfully,” and then see yourself doing something you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t gotten around to. See yourself doing it well, perhaps exceeding your own expectations. You don’t have to take long to do this; just saying it and seeing it once is enough for your brain to get the message. You wouldn’t dwell on the same message or continually repeat yourself to another person, so don’t do it to yourself either.
It’s important that you be consistent in your thoughts both in and out of hypnosis. Even if everything goes well during the hypnosis, if you send yourself contrary messages out of hypnosis, it can upset your progress. Again, when sending a message to another person, you want to be consistent; you can’t say one thing during a meeting and the opposite thing outside of the meeting and expect good results. In the end, suggestions and imagery are a way of life; hypnosis is just the focal point, the meeting, where you decide what you’re going to do and put your plans into action.
Once you’ve delivered all the suggestions (1-3 is ideal), allow yourself to wake up and open your eyes slowly, perhaps over the course of about 10 seconds. You’ve just done self-hypnosis! (CLC)
(November 7, 2012) “Self-Hypnosis: Induction, Part 2.”
Once you’ve constructed your suggestions, arranged yourself comfortably, and relaxed your body, the next step is to relax your mind. This step requires less practice for some, more practice for others, but every person is able to do it sufficiently for self-hypnosis. The key way to relax is to give yourself one mental task that does not create anxiety and stick with it. It doesn’t even have to be a relaxing task; as long as the task does not produce any mental tension, and as long as you stick with the task, your mind will relax naturally.
A very easy task to start with is counting your breaths. Make sure that the counting is the primary thing you’re doing mentally. You’re not thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner and just counting in the background. Subvocalize each number to yourself and make that your primary focus. By the time you get to 15 or 20 you should feel it working. The first couple of times go all the way to 50. Later, when you’re more familiar with hypnosis, you’ll be able to go into it much sooner, and eventually you can get to the point where you can go into hypnosis immediately without even lying down.
Other classic examples of tasks: imagining going down a stairway or escalator, lying on the beach counting waves, and staring at a candle light until you can’t keep your eyes open any more. Incidentally, this works on the same principle as counting sheep to go to sleep; it’s much easier to sleep when your mind isn’t racing around doing different tasks. Once you’re in a nice, relaxed state, don’t worry about whether you’re “deep enough.” Hypnosis is a skill just like any other activity, and you’ll go deeper each time you practice. (CLC)
(November 6, 2012) “Self-Hypnosis: Induction, Part 1.”
Now that you have some effective suggestions and you know some things about imagery, the next step is to induce the hypnosis. Arrange yourself and your surroundings the way you would normally take a nap (alternatively, just do the hypnosis when you go to bed for the night). The next step is to relax your body. Let’s talk about the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS).
The PSNS controls the automatic functions of the body, including blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, and so on. An interesting fact about the PSNS is that if one part of it drops or rises, the others do as well. The other interesting fact is that there are two aspects of your PSNS that you can control directly: your breathing and your muscle tension. That means that you can control all the other aspects indirectly by controlling those two.
So you’ve arranged yourself as you would normally go to sleep; the first thing to do is close your eyes and take a deep breath. Then, systematically start slowing your breathing. Take slower, deeper breaths. This will signal your PSNS to start relaxing. Help the process along by relaxing your muscles. An optional trick for muscle relaxation is to stretch or tense up your muscles, and then relax them. This allows them to become even more relaxed than if you just loosen them. You are now on your way to self-hypnosis. Tomorrow: relaxing the mind. (CLC)
(November 5, 2012) “Self-Hypnosis: Creating Suggestions, Rule 3.”
Rules 1 and 2 state that suggestions should be positive and specific enough, and the self esteem suggestions we have so far are: “I am a person who can get things done successfully, thinks in a solution-oriented way, and am a faithful friend and family member.” These are good suggestions that your brain will understand easily. There is one more thing that you can do to make it easier and more effective: adding a trigger.
It is one thing to leave the instruction, “you should brush your teeth regularly” but quite another thing to say “you should brush your teeth after every meal.” If you take someone who has no outside influences or previous knowledge about dental hygiene and tell them to brush their teeth regularly, you really have no idea when he is going to brush his teeth. He might think that once a week is “regularly” (and technically, it is). On the other hand, if you tell him to brush his teeth after every meal, he has a much clearer idea of what you want.
Adding triggers into our suggestions might happen as follows: “Whenever I think of myself, I can see myself succeeding in my current task. Whenever I have a problem or feel stressed, I immediately start brainstorming and narrowing down solutions. And whenever a friend or family member needs me, I’m always there with helpful advice or a shoulder to lean on.” And now we have some very good suggestions: positive, specific enough, and attached to a trigger. (CLC)
(November 4, 2012) “Self-Hypnosis: Creating Suggestions, Rule 2.”
So far we have noted that suggestions should be positive. Continuing with our example of improving self esteem, a possible suggestion might be “I will have better self-esteem.” While certainly positively phrased, there is some work that still needs to be done. The second rule of suggestions is that they should be specific enough. “Specific enough” means that the suggestion should describe just how you want your new thinking to go. Your brain, much like a child, is very literal, and needs specific direction. Try not to assume anything when you’re making suggestions; if your brain doesn’t know exactly what you want, it will probably not do anything.
Let’s say that by “self-esteem” you mean that you want to see yourself as a person who can get things done successfully, who thinks in a solution-oriented way, and is a faithful friend and family member. Definitions can vary widely, and rightly so; every person has a different potential, and this should be reflected in your personal suggestions. The suggestions should also not be too specific, such as “whenever Mary leaves me her work to do, I will tell her I have to leave promptly at 5pm.” While this might be a great thing to do, it is probably not broad enough to achieve a higher self esteem in general. Stick to things that are very clear and easy to understand without isolating particular instances or examples. (CLC)
(November 3, 2012) “Self-Hypnosis: Creating Suggestions, Rule 1.”
Forming a suggestion is a simple process, but one that must follow a few rules. Let’s say, for example, that you want to improve your self esteem (one of my favorite topics to work with, incidentally). The first rule is that you should phrase your suggestion positively. Don’t say what you DON’T want to be or do, say what you DO want to be or do. This is because your brain (your unconscious) does not process negatives well. YOU understand negatives, but you’ve got that great big prefrontal cortex to work with, and your unconscious does not.
For example, you may have heard the classic example from half a century ago: “Do not think of a pink elephant.” While possible to follow with enough preparation and mental training, this certainly is not the easiest command for your unconscious to follow. On the other hand, if someone were to say, “think of a red ball,” you can do that easily. And while you were doing that, you were probably not thinking of a pink elephant. So if your goal is to not think of a pink elephant, a good way to phrase that command to your unconscious is to tell it to think of a red ball (or anything else other than a pink elephant).
Sometimes your goal is to not do something; other times your goal is to do something different. Either way, the suggestion to yourself should be phrased positively. More on making suggestions tomorrow. (CLC)
(November 2, 2012) “Imagery, Part 3: Process Imagery.”
Whereas end result imagery is used to enact second nature behaviors, process imagery is used to mentally practice a new behavior.
In a famous experiment, there were three groups of people that were learning basketball techniques. The first group of people actually did physical basketball drills. The second group just IMAGINED doing basketball drills. The third group was a control group and did an unrelated activity. The unrelated group, of course, did not improve in basketball, and the group physically practicing did improve. The surprising result (though I’m sure it’s what the experimenters were expecting) is that the mental practice group did almost as well as the physical practice group.
Mentally practicing skills whenever you can (in the car, waiting in line, etc.), will make you better at the activity. This is largely because all behaviors start as cognitions and feelings (both emotional and kinesthetic), and you’re not going to do the behavior effectively unless it has a good cognitive foundation. By mentally practicing a behavior you want to improve, you will be more prepared to do it physically when you get the chance. (CLC)
(November 1, 2012) “Imagery, Part 2: End Result Imagery.”
Simply, process imagery is imagining being in the process of doing something, and end result imagery is imagining already having done it. The uses of and differences between the two are myriad and subtle.
Everything we do is a series of second nature behaviors arranged in slightly different ways. If we want to get a glass of water, we imagine the key action, filling the glass with water. We don’t imagine standing up, placing one foot in front of the other, breathing, etc. The brain is programmed to enact second nature behaviors to get to the point that you’re thinking about.
I figured this out one day about 15 years ago when I was swimming. I was wondering about the differences between process sand end result imagery and I imagined already being at the end of the swimming lane in which I was currently swimming. Immediately I felt myself go into “full speed ahead” swimming mode. When I stopped thinking about what I was currently doing and started thinking about where I wanted to be, my body took over and did my most efficient second nature behaviors automatically.
So, end result imagery will instruct your brain and body to do the thing you’re thinking about as efficiently as possible using your current second nature behaviors. If you want to do something you already know how to do, using end result imagery will kick your brain into the routine of doing it. Tomorrow I’ll discuss the uses of process imagery. (CLC)
(October 31, 2012) “Imagery, Part 1: The Language of the Unconscious.”
Imagery usually refers to pictures you make in your head, and is the primary way that the unconscious gathers information from you, the conscious. It can also refer to sounds, especially tones, and sometimes even words. The more emotional (as opposed to logical) the cognition is, the more it represents “imagery” in the sense I will be using it. This is primarily because emotion is the catalyst of the unconscious, and because the unconscious is not responsive to logic, except insofar as there is emotion behind it.
Generally speaking, your unconscious does not make changes or run programs in response to logic. You can tell yourself you need to do something or that you should do something all day long, but it usually doesn’t lead to doing it without some kind of direct motivation. As such, when you want to change something about yourself, it would behoove you to understand imagery and how it works. Over the next few blog entries, I will attempt to explain the different types of imagery and how best to use each one. (CLC)
(October 30, 2012) “Alcoholism, Part 8: Drinking Moderately, Continued.”
When an alcoholic asks if they can still drink occasionally after they quit, he is expressing a fear about never being allowed to drink again. This seems obvious on the surface, but it is important to realize that the fear is a reflection the alcoholic’s perception that alcohol provides some kind of pleasure or crutch, a belief that simply anchors the addiction in place. In fact, that imaginary anchor is the ONLY thing that keeps the alcoholism in place.
If an alcoholic attempts to drink occasionally, it is always because he is afraid to be without his pleasure or crutch for the rest of his life. And the attempt always follows a specific pattern. He attempts to curtail his drinking, which further increases the perception that alcohol is a precious and valuable resource (think supply and demand). He then spends every non-drinking moment thinking about the next time he will allow himself to have a drink, each moment of waiting more miserable than the last. And each drink, due to the alleviation of the tension of not having alcohol and the perception that he finally got what he’s been waiting for, reinforces this imaginary value further. Also, as he drinks less, his guilt about being an alcoholic decreases, followed quickly by his motivation. The perceived value of the alcohol increases, his motivation decreases, and his willpower fluctuates due to fatigue or circumstance, and the rock of Sisyphus starts rolling back down the hill. The only effective way to avoid this trap is to realize that alcohol has no value at all and then quit completely.
On a final and related note, once you are free from the alcohol trap, there is no such thing as “just one drink.” The thought of having “just one drink” reflects that imaginary value is being placed on alcohol, and the trap described above will almost always take place. Also, alcohol dehydrates you, making you thirstier, and also numbs your inhibitions, and both of those factors create a slippery slope to the second drink. Once you have successfully broken free from alcohol, always remember that you were never happier as an alcoholic; the grass is definitely greener where you are now. (CLC)
(October 29, 2012) “Alcoholism, Part 7: Drinking Moderately.”
I’d like to finish this series by answering the question that I get, by far, the most frequently. And that is whether or not the alcoholic can or should drink occasionally, like a “social drinker.” The short answer is that you will have a MUCH easier time breaking the habit by not drinking at all. The slightly longer answer is that your primary job in breaking out of the alcohol trap is to eliminate every scrap of false belief that alcohol does anything positive for you that you cannot get better as a non-drinker. And once you do that, why would you want to drink? Just take the short answer: you can get out of the alcohol trap most easily by getting your mind in the right place and then completely giving up alcohol for good.
It is a tantalizing idea that you can be a “social drinker” that just drinks occasionally, but the fact is, most apparent social drinkers are just at an earlier stage of alcoholism. You were at that stage once too, were you not? The main difference between the social drinker and the alcoholic is that the social drinker is able to deal with their current level of alcohol. But as the body becomes immune to the poison, it will need more and more to achieve the physical effect. This is a key point: if the drinker is relying on alcohol for anything, the alcohol will give less and less of it over time, and the drinker will need to drink more. (CLC)
(October 28, 2012) “Alcoholism, Part 6: The Taste of Alcohol.”
Some people say they drink alcohol for the taste. Allow me to impart some facts about the taste of alcohol. Alcohol is a poison, and like all poisons, is a foul-tasting substance. The taste can be “acquired,” which means that you originally didn’t like it and had to get used to it. Remember the first time you had alcohol? And not one of those fruity drinks, either…those drinks specifically given to new drinkers that hide the foul taste of the alcohol. “You can’t even taste the alcohol!” Why would that be such a common statement if alcohol were delicious?
One might also argue that she enjoys the taste of wine, but again, are you talking about a dry white wine? Probably not. You’re probably talking about a wine that has been sweetened (and higher in calories). Mixed drinks can taste good, but why mix a good-tasting drink with an foul-tasting and expensive poison? Why not have a fruit juice, the taste of which does not have to be acquired? Because the statement “I like the taste of alcohol” is an excuse, not an actual reason.
Key to overcoming alcoholism is identifying your excuses and reasons for drinking. The secret is, once you have done so, fully understanding that alcohol does nothing for you becomes much easier. (CLC)
(October 27, 2012) “Alcoholism, Part 5: Is Alcoholism a Disease?”
Over the course of this series on alcohol, I’m going to say some things that might be very controversial; today is going to be one of those days.
When someone calls alcoholism a disease, there is only one reason for it: he wants to imply that the alcoholic can’t help his behavior. It could be because he doesn’t want the alcoholic to feel bad for herself, and as such could be with dubious good intent. But far more often, the alcoholic or someone responsible for the alcoholic wants to deflect personal blame for the mess the alcoholic has gotten herself into. Alcoholics can blame the disease instead of themselves…who would blame the cancer patient for having cancer? And very frequently the alcoholic uses the disease label to keep drinking; they can’t help it, it’s a disease!
There is no virus or bacterium that causes alcoholism. Alcoholism is a bad habit, a series of cognitive patterns that one becomes used to and comfortable with, in the same way that smoking is a bad habit. If anything, there is more physical dependence related to nicotine than for alcohol; so if either one of them should be a disease, it’s smoking. But for the record, smoking is also very much not a disease.
This is an important point because, in the end, calling it a disease only does two things: it eases the stress of having the condition (because “it’s not your fault”), and it strongly encourages problem-oriented thinking, rather than solution-oriented thinking. The best thing that anyone can do for himself when he is struggling with a condition or other challenge is not to see what part of the condition he can blame on an external factor, but rather to see what part of the condition HE is responsible for, because that is the part that he can change. (CLC)
(October 26, 2012) “Alcoholism, Part 4: The Actual Benefit of Alcohol?”
There is some evidence that a moderate amount of alcohol can improve heart and liver function over time, and I feel I would be remiss if I did not address this topic. The theory is that because alcohol is a poison, it makes the heart and liver work harder to metabolize, and they therefore become stronger. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my chiropractor a number years back when I broke a rib bone, and he was explaining that when bones break, they heal back stronger. We joked that we would begin a regimen of systematically breaking all of my bones one by one so that they would all grow back stronger. Theoretically, it could work, but I can think of a hundred safer and more comfortable ways to improve my body.
Suffice it to say that while there may be some of the above benefits provided by alcohol to those who do not rely on alcohol at all for psychological reasons (which includes very few regular drinkers), the risks of falling into the alcohol trap FAR OUTWEIGH any benefit provided by the alcohol, and certainly any such benefit can be received many times over through some minor changes of diet and exercise. If you have any suspicion that you have a psychological reliance on alcohol, do not let talk of the health benefits of alcohol placate you into continuing your drinking habits. (CLC)
(October 25, 2012) “Alcoholism, Part 3: The Other Illusory Benefit of Alcohol.”
The second reason drinkers drink, and the more powerful of the two motivators, is as a coping mechanism for the two psychological needs: stress and boredom. Stress includes any mental state produced by overactivity of the brain, such as being upset, angry, or afraid. Boredom includes any mental state produced by under activity of the brain, such as been lonely or depressed. To knock the latter off immediately, alcohol is a depressant, and is not terribly interesting, and so very much does not alleviate boredom. On the contrary, drinkers almost always find themselves more bored during and after drinking than before. Can you think of a time alcohol has ever actually cured you of boredom? Not just any time you started drinking and stopped being bored because of some outside influence, but a time that the alcohol itself alleviated the boredom? Definitely not.
So what does alcohol do for stress? It does one thing, and one thing only: it forcibly reduces the amount of information you’re getting, both physically can mentally. It is very much a “head in the sand” method of reducing stress. It temporarily numbs the stress, and then makes it worse. It would be like if you took a cold medicine that numbed your cold for a few hours, but then made the cold worse and started the duration of the cold over when it wore off.
There is a giant distinction between genuine relaxation, in which an activity actually decreases the amount of stress stored in your body, and alcohol, which does not reduce stress at all; it just temporarily reduces your ability to perceive the stress, and often makes the stress worse once it wears off. This is certainly not relaxation in any reasonable sense of the word. One can imagine how drinking might be a seductive response to a stressor that you don’t think you have the tools to handle, but in the end, the alcohol will make you even less able to handle the problem, and will probably make the problem worse as well. (CLC)
(October 24, 2012) “Alcoholism, Part 2: The Illusory Benefit of Alcohol.”
I’d like to make a clear distinction between “reasons” to drink and “excuses” to drink. “Reasons” to drink are the actual motivations, spoken or not, that the drinker is drinking. “Excuses,” on the other hand, are what they tell other people their reasons are, and are generally designed to save face or project a certain image. There are only two REASONS that alcoholics actually drink. The first is the tension created by the alcohol trap (note the close parallel with the nicotine trap). When the body is given alcohol, at first it tries to reject the alcohol (the bad taste, the vomiting, the hangovers). But if the body is continually given alcohol despite these warnings, it is forced to chemically adjust to accommodate the alcohol.
At that point, if the alcohol intake stops, the new chemistry creates a tension that is usually called a withdrawal pang. Although these pangs are physically light and manageable, most drinkers perceive this pang in the same way they would perceive a hunger pang, and assume they “need” the alcohol, and feel deprived if they don’t get it, and that is the point that the addiction actually begins. Notice that the alleviation of the slight tension is an illusory need, because if it is not met, both the pang and the problem simply go away. In contrast, a REAL need such as hunger does not go away; it becomes stronger and eventually kills you. (CLC)
(October 23, 2012) “Alcoholism, Part 1: Withdrawal.”
Alcohol withdrawal, much like nicotine withdrawal, is physically very slight; the majority of the difficulty people have controlling alcohol is psychological in nature. After five days of not having alcohol, the body has completely adjusted and is operating normally. During those five days, you might feel a little disoriented and the slight tension of your body getting used to not having alcohol, but you will not experience any physical discomfort. Ninety percent of the struggle that most people have is the false perception that alcohol is a precious substance that provides real enjoyment and helps them effectively cope with stress or boredom. To dedicated readers, this will be a familiar concept.
Interestingly, it is only when the alcoholic is NOT drinking that drinking seems desirable. When he IS drinking, he either takes the drink for granted or wishes he weren’t doing it. This is further evidence that the motivation to drink is psychological; if drinking were genuinely pleasurable, it would seem the most pleasurable while he was drinking, and he would be genuinely happier during that time. Far more often, the alcoholic perceives A) himself to be self-medicating while drinking, and B) the medicine completely failing to do anything beneficial. In the end, alcoholism is a psychological trick, and the nice thing about psychological tricks is that once you understand how they work, you will never fall for them again. (CLC)
(October 22, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 14: The Healing Process.”
There is a lot of scientifically-proven good news about quitting smoking. The most important of this news is that no matter how long you’ve been smoking, if the cigarettes have not done any permanent damage to your body, your body will heal completely from the abuse within five to fifteen years, and your chances of stroke, cancer, and heart disease will be reduced to that of a non-smoker. And in just nine months (again barring any permanent damage cigarettes have done), your breathing will be back up to 100% efficiency.
In the short term, your body has eliminated all of the nicotine in your system within 48 hours, and has fully adjusted to not having any nicotine within 72 hours after that. Within just five days of being a nonsmoker, your body will never even KNOW that it used to be a smoker. Whenever someone goes back to smoking after five days, it is almost always due to a purely psychological factor. Don’t let imaginary reasons hold you down; NOW is the best time to quit smoking and finally have the life you deserve. (CLC)
(October 21, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 13: Alcohol and Cigarettes.”
One last thought about smoking that I think you will find interesting. There is a widespread idea among smokers that alcohol and cigarettes “go together,” and there is a grain of truth in that belief, though it is not usually what the smoker thinks. If you ask the smoker WHY they go together, you will virtually always get an answer similar to “I don’t know.” But there is a very specific reason.
One of the limitations of how much you can smoke at one time is that the smoke dries out your throat, making it scratchy and uncomfortable. When drinking, smokers often find they can smoke a lot more. In reality, the only physical relationship between drinking and smoking is that the drinking cools and moisturizes your throat, minimizing the uncomfortable effects of the smoke and allowing you to smoke a lot more than usual. And so, it’s not that drinking and smoking go well together, it’s that the drinking makes the cigarettes more tolerable.
This is clearly not the symbiotic relationship smokers often imagine; on the contrary, the cigarettes are very much a parasite. Once again, we find cigarettes falsely masquerading as teammate and friend, when in fact they are saboteur.
In reality, drinking in moderation can be enjoyable and healthy, and cigarettes in no way make the process more pleasurable, or indeed improve it in any way at all. The same applies to those who have coffee or any other drink while smoking; the smoking does not improve the drink, rather, the drink makes the smoking less immediately irritating. (CLC)
(October 20, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 12: How Does Hypnosis Help?”
Hypnosis is the most effective and efficient tool available for programming in new thought patterns. All of the advice posted here relates to accepting and implementing new ways of thinking, and hypnosis is, hands down, the best way of automating those changes into your life.
Hypnosis is essentially a state in which the mind opens up for direct programming. Normally, changes have to be filtered through the conscious mind, which is an unreliable, bureaucratic process that lets through very little that is different than the norm without a lot of concentrated practice. Hypnosis essentially relaxes the requirements for what gets in, and allows your brain to accept new ideas and automatically implement those ideas.
In my experience, hypnosis has been over 90% effective in helping people to quit smoking permanently. This is, I believe, primarily because the bulk of the task of quitting smoking is in the psychological aspects, and hypnosis excels in eliminating mental roadblocks and automating healthy thoughts and behaviors. (CLC)
(October 19, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 11: How to Think about Smoking.”
Thinking about smoking is natural even after you quit. If you have been accidentally consuming a poison for a long time and then stop, you will naturally think about how relieved you are that you stopped in time, how your body will heal itself, about how nice it will be to not consume poison from now on, and so on. Don’t try to NOT think about cigarettes, think instead about how great it is that you’re not smoking them any more.
To examine this idea more closely, there is one key difference between how nonsmokers and smokers view cigarettes. When a smoker thinks about cigarettes, she thinks about them experientially, going through the process of smoking one and imagining how it will feel. When a nonsmoker thinks about cigarettes, she thinks about them intellectually, just how they look or how people look smoking them; she doesn’t imagine actually smoking one. It’s part of the outside world; the sort of thing other people do. In fact, she thinks about cigarettes the same way that smokers think about cocaine or rat poison.
So, once you have fully realized and accepted that cigarettes don’t do anything for you, start thinking about them in this intellectual, detached way. This communicates very clearly to that part of your brain that you don’t want those things in your life, and that there is no connection between the process of becoming a nonsmoker (the slight withdrawal feeling) and cigarettes. Then, take a moment to celebrate your new life as a healthy non-smoker, thinking about all the ways in which your life has improved and will continue to improve. The combination of these two ways of thinking about cigarettes is one of the most subtle and most effective ways of communicating to your brain that cigarettes are not a part of your life any more. (CLC)
(October 18, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 10: The Most Insidious Trap of All.”
The most insidious trap of allcan happen, ironically, once you have successfully quit smoking. Most people find this method far easier than they were expecting, and then they forget that cigarettes are a big deal; they lose their fear of cigarettes.It could be months after successfully quitting. They have a bad day, they forget that cigarette do not alleviate stress at all but rather turn a bad day into a horrible one, no longer fear cigarettes as they once did, and light up “just one cigarette.”
The most important lesson related to this topic is this: there is no such thing as “just one cigarette.” Just one cigarette is how you started; you didn’t plan on being a lifelong smoker when you had your first cigarette, and you became a regular smoker, enslaved to nicotine. “Just one cigarette” is how every ex-smoker in history goes back to smoking. “Just one cigarette” undoes all of your well-laid plans and often brings the addiction back to full strength immediately.
“Just one cigarette” is a 100% psychological trap; that means you have full control over whether or not it happens. Remember, there are ALWAYS a hundred better ways to alleviate stress, to alleviate boredom, be social, and cope with a bad day than having a cigarette. (CLC)
(October 17, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 9: Subtle Trap #5: Leaving a Safety Net.”
Many smokers, in an attempt to comfort or fortify themselves during the quit process, either consciously or unconsciously leave for themselves a safety net in case they fail to quit smoking. Examples of safety nets include keeping cigarettes hidden around the house or not telling anyone you’re quitting smoking just in case you relapse. It cannot be overemphasized that the bulk of difficulty in quitting is psychological, and it only exists if you MAKE it exist by doing things like this to yourself. By planning failure into your quit plan, you are telling your brain that cigarettes are precious, that quitting smoking will be hard, and that you will probably fail, and it will believe you and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you were to discover that you were accidentally using arsenic in your waffles instead of sugar, you wouldn’t keep arsenic around just in case you wanted to go back to it. You would feel fortunate that you escaped with your life! The same is true of cigarettes. Cigarettes are the problem, not the solution. Your primary focus should be that you can finally let your body start healing and working better, and that you can have a sense of relief and accomplishment that you can finally be free of the poisonous trap that was slowly eroding away at your body and your happiness.
When you’re escaping a pack of wild dogs, you don’t leave the ladder by the fence just in case you want to jump back over, so don’t do that with cigarettes, either. (CLC)
(October 16, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 8: Subtle Trap #4: Withdrawal, Revisited”
The other primary fear about quitting smoking is that the withdrawal process will be long, difficult, and miserable. As previously discussed, this is not the case at all unless you MAKE it the case by telling your brain it will be miserable. I have mentioned that the physical effects of nicotine withdrawal are similar in magnitude to a light cold or a strained muscle. I would actually go further than this and say that, with the right state of mind, you can actually ENJOY the feeling of becoming a non-smoker.
I remember the first time I ever stretched out before a workout as a child, and I remember perceiving the feeling as uncomfortable. But as I realized that the stretching was warming me up and making me more flexible, I perceived the stretching tension as being a good, enjoyable feeling.With no context, stretching is uncomfortable, but when you think of it as a healthy, beneficial activity, it feels good. Getting used to being a nonsmoker will feel good in exactly the same way.
When you realize that cigarettes do nothing for you, you don’t think “I must not smoke” any more than you think “I must not eat glue” (which, since many glues are non-toxic, is probably much better for you than cigarettes). Instead, you will naturally think “I could have stopped smoking at any time” and feel nothing but excitement from the second you put out your last cigarette for finally being able to start the healing process and live a strong, healthy life. (CLC)
(October 15, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 7: Subtle Trap #3: Having a Bad Day”
It is very common for smokers to have an unconscious fear of being a non-smoker. For starters, they probably haven’t been non-smokers for a long time; there are a lot of unknowns and new things to get used to. What if I have a bad day? How will I cope without a cigarette? This question implies, of course, that the cigarette will solve the problem and help you feel more relaxed and able to cope with the bad day.
As discussed, nothing could be further from the truth. Cigarettes cause stress and misery, and will make your bad day even worse. If you are still imagining that cigarettes will be your crutch, then really think that line of thought through. Will cigarettes really be there to support you, or will they turn your bad day into a horrible day?
Never doubt that you will be happier as a non-smoker. Don’t envy smokers: other people aren’t smoking because they enjoy it; they are smoking because they need a fix. There is not a smoker around that wouldn’t rather be a non-smoker, and there isn’t a non-smoker around that wishes he were a smoker. You will be happier and healthier as a non-smoker regardless of how many good days or bad days you have. (CLC)
(October 14, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 6: Subtle Trap #2: Nicotine Replacement.”
It should be clear by now that the most important aspects of quitting smoking are psychological. In fact, I would probably go as far as to say that virtually no one in the world would be smoking if it weren’t for the psychological factors. This is vitally important to a conversation about nicotine replacement therapies (such as patches and gums) because while those therapies certainly alleviate the very manageable physical withdrawal, they are completely counterproductive to the psychological problem, and therefore make the process of quitting much harder and less successful.
Nicotine replacement therapies are diametrically opposed to everything that makes quitting smoking easy. They strongly imply that nicotine is valuable and necessary, and that you cannot live happily without it. They imply that breaking the nicotine habit is difficult, and that you will be miserable even attempting to do it. Remember: when you tell your brain that you will be miserable and fail, it will CREATE that state where it does not exist. For statistically-minded people, nicotine replacement therapies are only about 20% successful; most people go back to cigarettes or stay on nicotine forever. Hypnosis, in my experience, is permanently successful about 90% of the time.
Another point worth mentioning is that nicotine itself is a poison, regardless of its form. Why would you do a replacement therapy where you are replacing one poison with another? When you burn your hand on the stove, do you take that hand off and replace it with the other hand? Getting rid of nicotine altogether is the easiest, healthiest, most successful way to quit smoking, bar none. (CLC)
(October 13, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 6: Subtle Trap #1.”
The first subtle trap when quitting smoking, and one most people have never thought of, is the trap of waiting for something special to happen after quitting. I’ve heard many times, “If only I could be smoke-free for a week” or a month, or a year. The truth is that nothing special happens after any amount of time, there is no special feeling or dramatic physical change. “If only I can get through a month without smoking, I’ll be a non smoker.” If you tell yourself that you’re going to be miserable until you reach some kind of checkpoint, then you’re going to be miserable for the rest of your life.
In fact, you are a non-smoker as soon as you put out your last cigarette. You can and should immediately start celebrating your life as a non-smoker as soon as that last cigarette goes away. Sure, there is a slight, very manageable withdrawal process at that point, but how great you will feel afterwards will more than make up for it. If I said, I’ll give you a slight cold for 5 days, and then afterwards you can have ANY SUPERPOWER YOU WANT, you’d jump on it! And how much more valuable is being able to breath and not having cancer than a mere superpower?
There is a key psychological principle behind the fact that you should celebrate immediately rather than try to “get through” a certain amount of time. When you mope about not having a cigarette, you are telling your brain that cigarettes are valuable. When you celebrate your life as a nonsmoker, you are telling your brain that being a nonsmoker is valuable. Remember, your brain believes you and will do what you tell it to do when you communicate in the right way. (CLC)
(October 12, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 5: The Addictive Personality.”
Saying that someone has an addictive personality is the same as saying someone has an illiterate personality, or a can’t-cook personality. Being in control of what you think, feel, and do is a skill, and most people aren’t very good at it. True, some are even less good at it than others, but the good news is that anyone can learn easy self-control.
Unfortunately, in our society, there is little to no training related to controlling your own mind. In school, work, and all through society, we are trained to control our behavior, but not our minds. And because our behavior is so influenced by our cognition, it is no wonder that there are so many behavioral problems, including smoking. Seen another way, we’re essentially telling people not to smoke or do other bad things, and then not teaching them how to do it.
The bottom line is this: everything that you’re learning here is a skill. If you’ve shown symptoms of an “addictive personality” in the past, that means nothing more than you didn’t yet have the required skills to control your own mind yet. It’s never too late to start, and you might as well start now so you can reap the benefits for as long as possible. (CLC)
(October 11, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 4: Smoking is a Habit.”
It is certainly true that smoking is a habit. In fact, 99.9 percent of what we think, feel, and do is comprised of habits. Reading words from left to right is a habit. Balancing in your chair so that you don’t fall off is a habit. Even when you’re doing an activity you’ve never done before, 99.9% of that activity is habitual (walking, visually scanning the area, talking). A habit is just something that you’ve learned how to do well enough that you can devote less conscious thought to doing it. There is comparatively very little that we do in life that requires conscious decisions.
And, properly motivated, we would do any of those things differently without hesitation. For example, let’s say I said to you, “I have a million-dollar house I want to give you, tax free, but there’s only one problem. All the light switches go left-to-right instead of up-and-down.” You’d be fine with that! You’d ditch your old habit without a moment’s consideration. So the fact that smoking is a habit has nothing to do with whether you’re going to quit or not; the only important factors are the ones that have been discussed so far: nicotine addiction and the meeting of secondary needs (stress and boredom). (CLC)
(October 10, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 3: Do Cigarettes Make You Happy?”
It is clear to nonsmokers that smoking does not make smokers happier. Smokers are generally more stressed and less happy than nonsmokers (mostly due to the ill-effects of smoking, both mental and physical), but smokers can often have the illusion that cigarettes make them happier because they temporarily feel happier when they have a cigarette. But the truth of the matter is that the cigarette simply alleviates the tension created by not having a cigarette; the cigarette just brings them back to normal. It’s like wearing tight shoes all day so you can have the pleasure of taking them off.
This is an important point because one of the key psychological barriers people have to quitting smoking is the illusion that cigarettes are a source of happiness. In fact, there is no effect, physical or psychological, that cigarettes have that will ever make you happier than a nonsmoker. You will never feel better as a smoker, in any way, than you will as a nonsmoker. And this is not even taking into account the fact that you will be able to breathe more easily and live a longer and happier life as a non-smoker.
So if you had the idea in the back of your head that you didn’t want to leave cigarettes because there is something special or enjoyable that the cigarettes do for you, or that you’re being deprived of something by not smoking, it’s time to let that false belief go. (CLC)
(October 9, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 2: Stress, Boredom, and Weight Gain.”
One of the biggest fears about quitting smoking is that you won’t have any way to alleviate stress or boredom. But the fact of the matter is that smoking does not do either well at all; there are no chemicals in cigarettes that produce relaxation, nor is smoking very interesting. All smoking does is give you illusory, temporary relief from the obsessive thinking, which can be done much more permanently and effectively in other ways.
Another big fear is that you will gain weight if you quit smoking. A very reasonable fear; you don’t want to replace one bad habit with another. The key here is that if you’re relying on smoking to meet your stress and boredom needs (however poorly it does so), then you’re still going to have those needs even if you don’t want to smoke any more, and you might fall back on them if you don’t find a good substitute. The good news is that there are hundreds, or maybe thousands, of healthy ways to meet those two types of needs, and it just takes a little directed thinking using the right method to switch. (CLC)
(October 8, 2012) “Smoking Cessation, Part 1: Nicotine Withdrawal.”
It has been said many times that the psychological aspects of smoking are what make quitting smoking the hardest, and this is certainly true. Once nicotine intake is stopped, the body has completely chemically adjusted to the lack of nicotine within about five days. Absent any obsessive thinking about cigarettes, withdrawal symptoms are minimal and highly manageable. I would estimate that 90% of the cravings smokers experience when trying to quit smoking are the result of obsessive thinking, and if they perceived the process of quitting smoking differently, the experience would be the magnitude of a mild cold.
Do you remember your first cigarette? Your body didn’t like it at first, and it took some time to get used to the new chemical. But it did get used to it. The body doesn’t like change, and will tend to resist it. That goes for becoming a smoker, and it goes for becoming a nonsmoker. Your body won’t like it at first (for about five days), but it will get used to it just as easily as you became a smoker. Smokers sometimes have the idea that it is easier, physically, to become a smoker than a nonsmoker. Not true; it is fairly easy to do either one. It is the psychological aspect of quitting that produces the bulk of the difficulty if you don’t make some mental preparations. (CLC)
(October 7, 2012) “Presenting to your unconscious, Part 3.”
The best way that I’ve found to move you into a solution-oriented mindset is to use the process described a few blogs ago: brainstorm, narrow down and rank the ideas, and break the best idea into steps. Notice again that going through this process is actually more important than finding a good solution (though finding a good solution is a common side effect of solution-oriented thinking). I’d rather have a system that keeps me trying possible solutions than one that paralyzes me into inaction, even if I don’t find the best solution right away.
So when you find yourself feeling anxious about something, or not having motivation to do something, the first step is to identify how you’re currently presenting to yourself. I guarantee that it will not be consistent and solution-oriented. Identify exactly what you’re doing wrong; that way, you’ll know exactly what has to be changed in the new presentation. Come up with a solution-oriented way of thinking (possibly using the method above), make sure it’s consistent visually and auditorily (the other senses don’t come into play very much during this process), and then practice it until it becomes second-nature (which often happens within a few days with consistent practice). (CLC)
(October 6, 2012) “Presenting to your unconscious, Part 2.”
Returning to our previous example, what would be a better way to present to the child learning to ride the bike? Remember, he will believe anything you say. That includes things you say verbally as well as images you see. If you say one thing but see an image of something else, you’re sending a mixed message that will often result in confusion and anxiety. Also, if you say one thing and then say a contrary thing (I want to work out, but I feel tired) will also lead to confusion and anxiety. Being consistent is the first aspect of creating a good presentation. You have control of what you say to yourself and what images you show yourself.
So you want to be consistent, and you usually want to be solution-oriented (as opposed to problem-oriented). This topic has been discussed in recent posts. Essentially, you want to talk to yourself and show yourself images related to working toward success. If your presentation is about the problem, you will tend to get back from your brain confusion and anxiety. So, a better way to talk to the child learning to ride the bike would be something like, “Start pedaling and sit up straight. After a little practice it will be just as easy as walking.” Certainly it’s possible that the child will fall, but now is not the time to go over those details.
Problem-oriented thinking can be useful if you’re not sure if something is a good idea, and in that case solution-oriented thinking can mislead you into doing something you shouldn’t. So if you’re trying to decide WHETHER to do something, problem-oriented thinking is the best way to suss out all of the possible reasons to not do it. Also, since you’re not committed to doing the thing yet, it tends to not create anxiety. However, once you’ve decided to do it, switch over to solution-oriented thinking for best results. (CLC)
(October 5, 2012) “Presenting to your unconscious, Part 1.”
Because your unconscious is responsible for creating emotions, motivations, compulsions, and other feeling-oriented experiences, they’re not things that you directly control, but they ARE things that you can influence. You can’t directly make your bathwater a certain temperature, but if you can figure out how to work those handle things, you start having a lot more control over it.
YOU, the conscious mind, are the logical one in the relationship. You’re also the leader. At least, you have the potential to be. While YOU can choose to be reactive or proactive, your unconscious will always be reactive. Most people walk around with both parts being reactive; never having any responses until the outside world forces them to respond to something. If you choose to be proactive and start influencing your unconscious, start giving it some parameters, it will be more than happy to do what you want. The key is PRESENTATION.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to teach a kid how to ride a bike. Imagine if you said: “Riding a bike is pretty hard, and to be honest, you’ll probably never get it. Also, you know how hard the sidewalk is? Imagine falling onto that from on top of a bike. That will happen a lot.” That’s not a very motivational presentation; in fact, that kid will probably never ride a bike again. Ever do that to YOURSELF? What do you tell yourself you can’t do? Paint? Play a sport? Get a certain degree? Let’s learn how to present differently. (CLC)
(October 4, 2012) “Vaccinating against depression, Part 4.”
As mentioned, coming up with a solution can be done in many ways, but if you want a specific way that works, here’s a good one. The first step is to brainstorm. The key to brainstorming is to write down all your ideas of possible solutions to the problem, all the ideas you can possibly think of, without judging them. Don’t eliminate ideas at this step or it will stagnate the creative process.
Once you feel like you have all the possibilities down, put a line through all the ideas that obviously will not work. That should be at least a quarter of the things you wrote down. Rewrite your list if it helps you read it better. Then, look at the remaining ideas and pick the few that you think are most likely to work. Write them down in a separate list in order of how well you think they’d work. By now, it’s probably been 10 or 15 minutes, and you’ll notice that your anxiety has decreased significantly.
Take the number one idea and plan out how you’re going to do it. Can you do it right now? How will you respond to different possible outcomes? Put the solution into your schedule; do it at a certain time. Once you’ve enacted the solution, evaluate it. How well did it work? Is the problem solved? Do you want to try it again differently? Do you want to try one of the other things on the list?
I believe that this brainstorm-action-evaluate pattern is one of the most common cognitions in happy, successful, healthy people. It takes a little practice, but is extremely versatile and effective. (CLC)
(October 3, 2012) “Vaccinating against depression, Part 3.”
In reality, you could use any method you like of coming up with a possible solution and it will decrease the anxiety. It’s like when you were a child and there was some external problem that you didn’t understand, and your parents did not seem worried, and confidently took action. Your anxiety was greatly decreased, but that had nothing to do with the efficacy of the plan; it had to do with the fact that your brain understood that a plan was being enacted. When you start taking (mental) action by coming up with a plan, the reptilian part of your brain becomes calmed because it trusts that the danger is being handled.
It is also important to note that just decreasing the anxiety has beneficial effects; for example, you are able to think more clearly (all the better to support the solution-finding process), and, as a nice side-bonus, you’re much more likely to actually come up with a solution. So the first step in response to anxiety should almost always be beginning the solution-finding process, a method for which we will be discussing in the next entry. (CLC)
(October 2, 2012) “Vaccinating against depression, Part 2.”
Let’s use an example for demonstrating solution-oriented thinking. Let’s say that you have some bills to pay and you’re not sure you can pay them. You could, if you were going the anxiety-producing route, spend all of your time thinking about what will happen if you don’t pay them. If you do that, you are essentially instructing your brain to loop over and over that line of thought, adding a little more stress each time like a conveyor belt. Or, you can start brainstorming ways to solve the problem.
An important note: while it’s definitely a plus to come up with GOOD solutions, it’s not necessary from an anxiety-reduction standpoint. This concept becomes more important when you’re worrying about something that will not actually happen, or when you’re worrying about how much you’re worrying (a very common worry among chronic worriers.) I really want to make it clear that the MAIN point is not to come up with a good solution, but rather just to start coming up with a solution instead of focusing on the possible consequences. You could even come up with a BAD plan and it would reduce the worry, because you’re not cycling through the bad things that will happen if you don’t solve the problem.
Of course, management recommends coming up with a good plan if at all possible. (CLC)
(October 1, 2012) “Vaccinating against depression, Part 1.”
A penny of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that is certainly the case with depression. It is significantly easier to vaccinate against depression than it is to pull yourself out of it. So if you aren’t depressed and would like to stay that way, this blog entry is for you.
The key to not getting depressed, much like the key to machinery not breaking down, is to make sure your brain is not habitually overloaded. Generally, environmental factors being normal, your unconscious will do this for you. The primary thing that will spur excessive cognition is problem-oriented thinking, as discussed earlier. To recap, there are only two styles of thinking: problem-oriented thinking, in which one goes through all the things that can go wrong and other aspects of the problem, and solution-oriented thinking, in which you focus on what you can do about the problem.
Being in the habit of planning and going after your best course of action in response to a stressful situation is the best way to minimize your anxiety and therefore your depression. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the number one factor influencing depression, including biological factors, is solution-oriented thinking. How to do this will be discussed in the following blog entries. (CLC)
(September 30, 2012) “Handling an onset of depression.”
Remembering that depression is a natural response to anxiety, much in the same way that swelling is a natural response to a physical injury, here are some suggestions on “first aid” for depression. If you hurt your leg badly, the first thing you would do is stop walking on it. This very basic thing most people don’t know to do when they have depressive symptoms. First, identify what one-to-three things is causing the most anxiety. Write them down if it helps.
There’s probably nothing you can immediately do about them, or you would have already done it by now. So, agree that you’re going to take a break from worrying about them for at least a day (three days would be better if that’s possible). Just as the fact that your leg will never heal if you don’t stop walking on it, likewise your mind will never heal if you don’t stop feeding it anxiety. It can be difficult to just stop thinking about the source of the anxiety, so follow the cognition construction steps we’ve outlined over the last few weeks; identify the maladaptive cognition (the way you’re thinking about the stressor), come up with a different way of thinking about it, and practice it until it’s second nature.
Coming up with a different way of thinking about it will be the most varied step here; no one way of thinking will cover all possibilities. Maybe you can enact a temporary solution, maybe you can put the problem off for a few days while you recover. Maybe someone else can help you; you’ll have to use your creativity. The only way you won’t find an alternate cognition is if you give up, so keep brainstorming until you come up with one. Also, selecting one is more important than finding the perfect one…almost anything you think of will probably be better than what got you into the depressive state, so pick an alternate cognition, even if it isn’t perfect. You can always swap it out again when you think of something better. (CLC)
(September 29, 2012) “The chemistry of depression.”
But isn’t depression chemical? Isn’t that why drugs are prescribed for depression? Depression is chemical, but the abnormal chemistry is the RESULT of the depression, rather than the cause. Saying that medication can cure depression is like saying that water can put out a house fire when the house is sitting in a volcano. Whatever you think you’re accomplishing, you are getting, at most, temporary relief for a solvable problem that you’re not solving.
I’m not saying that drugs are never useful; there are some very specific times when they are, such as when someone’s life is in danger and he needs that immediate, temporary relief. But I’m definitely saying that they are very overprescribed, frequently abused, and almost always lengthen the duration of the problem.
If someone continually has more anxiety than she can handle over a long period of time, then of course her chemistry is going to change. If you overtax a car continually for months, its fluids are going to change for the worse. But the changing liquids didn’t cause the problem; the overtaxing of the car caused the problem. Replacing the fluids will help in the short term, but in the end, the vehicle has to be operated within its specifications or it will wear down and stop running much more quickly than intended. (CLC)
(September 28, 2012) “The relationship between anxiety and depression.”
It is important to note that anxiety and depression are very closely related; depression is actually a symptom of anxiety. When someone has more anxiety than they can handle, they deal with it unconsciously in at least one of a few ways. The most dramatic way is by producing a personality disorder, or, in severe cases, a psychotic disorder. A personality disorder is essentially a maladaptive pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting designed to accommodate an extreme amount of stress. Your mind does not want to break, so it accepts a maladaptive pattern as a buffer. Maybe something happens that completely takes control away from someone, and she has so much anxiety that her brain feels like it needs to do something to take back control, so she unconsciously picks up obsessive-compulsive habits.
Sometimes the mind cannot handle the anxiety and cannot come up with an alternate pattern in time and it fractures, developing a psychotic disorder. Psychotic disorders often include hallucinations, delusions, and wildly maladaptive behaviors. This is only the case in very unusual and severe instances.
Much more frequently, the mind says “that’s enough!” and just shuts down. Energy levels go way down, leading to sleeping for much of the day. The person feels apathetic and listless. Essentially, the brain just isn't very reactive in this shut-down mode. This state we call depression. Depression is really nothing more than a reaction to an amount of anxiety that the person can’t handle right now, and is a protective measure designed to guard the mind while it recovers, which usually takes a few days to forever, depending on how much anxiety the person is feeding the mind while it’s trying to recover. (CLC)
(September 27, 2012) “Feeling overwhelmed, part 3.”
Impatience is a state that is closely related to being overwhelmed. Generally speaking, impatience is caused by imagining the outcome of a task when there are still a number of steps left to do in the task. For example, you can imagine doing the dishes, and while you’re doing them, imagining them already done. Notice how this produces a sense of impatience.
A key lesson here is that impatience is not a characteristic; it’s not something that you ARE, it’s just something that you’re doing. This is good, because that means you can stop doing it. The first step of stopping it, and indeed the first step of stopping anything, is a greater awareness of when you’re having the problem feeling (impatience), which helps identify the trigger (imagining being done).
The next step is to construct the new cognition. In this case, a good replacement cognition is to focus on the present moment. What are you doing right now, and what is your strategy? As you start to focus on the present, you actually start to like what you’re doing more. If this seems counterintuitive, I’d suggest that you try it out and I think you’ll find that the task goes by much quicker, and in a much more pleasant manner. (CLC)
(September 26, 2012) “Feeling overwhelmed, part 2.”
The primary way people begin to feel overwhelmed is by feeling the need to process information faster. As anyone who uses a computer knows, if you try to make the computer do more tasks than the RAM can handle, it doesn’t go faster, it becomes “stressed” and slows down. The brain works the same way. Part of your job as the conscious mind is to make sure that you’re processing information at just the right speed. If you try to go slower or faster, you’ll go slower. Usually, most people go at the right speed, but anxiety or impatience can cause the unconscious to try to force more information through the bottleneck of the working memory than will comfortably fit.
Most people, when they feel pressured by their environment, have as their initial response to try to think faster, which is actually counterproductive. The important fact is that you work at a certain rate the most efficiently, and that’s the rate you’re going to go; the outside world is just going to have to wait on you to finish thinking. When you start to feel like you’re getting overwhelmed, focus on the amount of information that you can efficiently process. Get comfortable not addressing all the important information at one time. Focus on what you have to do right now, and take the information in order. You are the only one that knows how much information you can process, and you are certainly the only one who can enforce it. (CLC)
(September 25, 2012) “Feeling overwhelmed, part 1.”
Being overwhelmed is caused by one, very specific, very avoidable process, and it is related to the three stages of memory. The first stage of memory is sensory memory, which is the immediate recollection of something you just experienced, like an image of the room after you close your eyes. It lasts only a very short amount of time, less than a few seconds. The second stage of memory is your working memory, which is everything you’re thinking about right now, and usually lasts about 20-30 seconds. The third and final stage is your long term memory, where facts get stored away for later recollection.
The interesting thing about the three stages of memory is that they’re shaped like an hourglass. Your sensory memory can hold a vast amount of information; everything you’re sensing right now, which could be millions of bits of information in the form of the senses. Your working memory is comparatively small—it only holds about seven bits of information (seven plus or minus two is the official stance). And your long term memory, like your sensory memory, can also hold vast amounts of information.
The problem, then, is that there is a bottleneck between the first and last stages of memory; your working memory can’t process nearly as much as your sensory or long term memory. But when we get in a hurry, or we deem something urgent, we tend to unconscious hurry the process, and we end up shoving more into our working memory than it will hold, and we become overwhelmed. In the next entry we’ll discuss how to retrain your brain to process information at the most efficient rate without producing any stress. (CLC)
(September 24, 2012) “Reactivity and experience, part 3.”
Dissociating from everything in life, what is often called “putting a wall up,” is a very common way that some people protect themselves from being hurt. It’s a gross response, meaning that it’s a very basic, animalistic response that is learned very young. Even though it sometimes prevents pain from happening, it also has a number of negative effects, not the least of which is a basic insensitivity toward others and events in the environment.
It’s really like using a hammer for everything; when you come across a nail, you’ve got the perfect tool. But, if you come across a screw, you’re likely to break something or injure yourself. The key is to understand that there are two different ways to approach input from the environment (events, people, even your own thoughts), and to train yourself to use the right approach at the right time. The key is being able to activate this shield consciously, purposefully, rather than letting your brain do it whenever it wants. Only you, the logical thinking mind, have the discernment to know when to be nonreactive toward unhelpful input from the environment and when to react to (indeed, immerse yourself further into) helpful input.
Learning to open up to positive influences can be a bit harder than learning to block negative ones. The first step is really realizing some people really are looking out for your best interest, an idea that is often completely disregarded. Try to identify a time that you know someone really wanted to help you, and focus in on that feeling. Think about which other people in your life might want to help you. Start close to home and let your brain get used to that idea, then work your way outward to other people in your life. It takes practice, but if you give yourself permission to do it, you can. (CLC)
(September 23, 2012) “Reactivity and experience, part 2.”
Being reactive toward everything in life is the mistake often made by more sensitive people. They are able to experience happiness and joy when good things happen, but they take negative input to heart, even if it wasn't given seriously. You don't want to be at the mercy of anyone who might want to bring you down. Being able to selectively dissociate from that kind of input is a very valuable skill because it protects you from negative influences, but still allows you to feel the good things in life and be sensitive toward friends and loved ones.
So how do you do that? Let’s say that someone told you that they knew a very funny joke, and it was so funny, that if you DIDN’T laugh, they would give you a hundred dollars. What you would probably do is brace yourself to not laugh, get yourself into a frame of mind where you weren’t going to laugh, and then when you were ready, you would leave that shield up and let them tell the joke, and then not laugh. Being able to have a flexible emotional shield that you can turn on and off at will is a critical skill for minimizing negative influences and maximizing positive influences in your life. (CLC)
(September 22, 2012) “Reactivity and experience, part 1.”
A key trait that happy people have is the ability to detach, mentally, from negativity from the environment, and fully accept and take in positivity. Most people only do one or the other; either they dissociate from both negative and positive things, or they associate with both. Dissociating from both is probably the most common for men (as social mores dictate that men not be highly affected by negativity), which protects us from hurt and disappointment, but also prevents us from fully experiencing joy. Women often associate with both positive and negative energy allowing them to fully experience joy, but also letting in a lot of pain, which often leads to maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as a protective measure.
Another possible combination is one that is surprisingly common, and not surprisingly leads to many types of maladaptive patterns, and that is associating with negativity, while at the same time rejecting positivity. This is the person who can never take a compliment, is not cheered by positive events, but then fully accepts any negative input. Needless to say, this combination often leads to chronic anxiety and depression.
The best combination, simple as it sounds, is to fully associate with positive things and dissociate from negative things. That means that when negative things happen, you are non-reactive toward them; you just see them as facts about the environment. I’ll go into more detail about how to do that in following posts. (CLC)
(September 21, 2012) “Action!”
One of the key patterns of thinking that happy people have is solution-oriented thinking in response to anxiety. When you have anxiety, you only have two options: you can have problem-oriented thinking where you worry about it in a circle, or you can make a specific plan for handling the source of the anxiety in the best possible way. Not surprisingly, the former creates anxiety, and the latter creates confidence (and, as a convenient side effect, solutions).
For example, let’s say that paying the bills is causing anxiety. What most people do, the anxiety-producing thing, is to think about the bills, think about the consequences of not paying them, think about how they can’t pay them, then thinking about the consequences again, and so on. This can go on in a circle for weeks, building more and more stress. I call this problem-oriented thinking because the main focus is on the problem, rather than the solution. I also call it circular thinking, because it cycles around endlessly. (CLC)
(September 20, 2012) “Being happy.”
I’ve found that things that are TRUE have much less influence on your happiness than your perceptions of those things. Certainly things like bills, marriage, illness and winning the lottery have an effect on happiness, but the fact remains that some people have a lot of objectively good things and are not happy, and some people have very little and are very happy. In the end, I’ve found that how you perceive your life has a much greater effect on your happiness than the things that are objectively true about your life.
This is great news! That means that whatever cards life has dealt you, you still have a chance to be happy, and the chance to take control of how you think, feel, and act regardless of what you’re currently dealing with. Over the next couple of blog entries, I’m going to try to delineate some of the key perceptions of people who are happy. I’ve found that people that have these perceptions tend to be happier than those who don’t regardless of their income, their relationship status, even their health.
In doing so, I would encourage the reader to try out some of these perceptions and see if you like them. Pretend like you have them already and then think about your life. It’s easy! And then if you like them, you can use some of the cognition-construction strategies we’ve discussed so far to program them in. It’s probably one of the most effective things you can do to increase your overall happiness. (CLC)
(September 19, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 20, “Presentation: the key to getting what you want from your brain.”
Imagine, for a moment, that you are the owner of a large company, and there is a certain change you want to make in how you do things, and you know it will be beneficial for the company. You’re speaking to your workers; they’re all looking up at you, wondering what you’re going to say. You say: “We’re going to try to make this big change in how we do things, and it’s probably not going to work, at least it didn’t work last time. But we have to get the results, and this is the only change we know how to make, so let’s get to it.” That probably wouldn’t go over too well. The workers don’t know any better; they are going to take your word that it’s probably not going to work, that it will be a big, bothersome change, et cetera. How often do we communicate to our brains in that way? How well does it work? Probably not very well.
On the other hand, let’s say you said something like: “We’ve got some exciting new changes coming that are going to make the whole company work much more smoothly and get us the growth we need. If every single person here helps out, this project is going to be a giant success.” That kind of talk would be much more motivating. Notice that neither one was true or false, it’s just a completely different PRESENTATION of the same information. We present to our brains all throughout the day, and our style of doing so is probably the most influential factor about whether we get what we want from our brains. When you’re making suggestions to yourself, think about presentation. How would you motivation a group of people to do something you know is a good idea? Most of us are very good at getting our friends excited about something we’re excited about, but we don’t use those same skills for ourselves. Until now, of course! (CLC)
(September 18, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 19, “The uses of anxiety and boredom.”
Generally, the successful style of thinking is going to be the most commonly needed for constructing new thought patterns. But anxiety and boredom are useful, too; don’t think of anxiety and boredom as being bad and to be avoided at all costs. Once you have a good motivational way of thinking about exercise, wouldn’t it be useful to think about TV or other time-wasters as a little more boring? If you had a knob that could turn up the boring on your perception of activities you spend too much time on, wouldn’t that be nice? If you weren’t so compelled to do this or that, and just did it a little bit or not at all.
Let’s say that you would like to watch less TV, and when you think about TV, you want it to seem a little less appealing, so you’d be more likely to do something more productive. Imagine if, every time you thought about watching TV, you imagined it being a long, drawn out process, and you thought about how many other things you could be doing at that time that would be more interesting. Remember, TV isn’t inherently a boring, anxiety-producing, or motivating activity in itself, any more than working out or eating junk food is. Your brain will believe whatever you tell it, so if you’re in the habit of imagining (in the way that we’ve been discussing) that TV is boring and working out is fun, your brain will start creating motivation to work out. TV is not inherently any more interesting than working out; your frame of mind about each activity will determine how interesting it is. (CLC)
(September 17, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 18, “Dealing with relapses.”
If you ever have a relapse by going back to your old feeling or behavior, follow the Past-Present-Future process. First, identify what you did wrong (Past). Maybe you used your old way of thinking when the trigger happened. Maybe the new train of thought needs some redesigning. Then, identify what you’re going to do about it (Present). It could be that the new thought process needs to be adjusted; in that case, experiment with a different one. Maybe you just need more practice connecting the new thought pattern to the trigger; in that case, practice it more. Do it over and over in your head. In the end, your brain will do what it’s used to, and your job is to make it used to the new way. Finally, imagine what you’re going to do from now on (Future); imagine having the trigger, going to the new way of thinking, and then having the new feeling and behavior. This will demonstrate to your brain what you want to do in the future.
Make it easiest for your brain to do what you want by going through this process whenever it does something you don’t want it to do. Every time you go through the process, your brain will learn how to do it right a little better. It’s a lot like training a pet; the most important rule of pet training is not to be smarter than the dog (though that helps), but to be more persistent than the dog. The dog will eventually figure out what you want, regardless of how long you think the process should take. Your brain is the same way, so just keep doing it until your brain gets it and does it consistently. (CLC)
(September 16, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 17, “The first few days with the new pattern.”
Let’s say you were excited about going to a new cooking class. What would you do after the first class, if you were really excited about it? You’d probably go home and cook something. The same with any skill-based class you might take; if you’re excited about it, you’ll want to go home and practice. How much more important is a skill about controlling your own life? So the first few days are all about practice, practice, practice. And remember that the practice is not practicing the behavior (or feeling), but rather practicing the cognition that naturally leads to the behavior. You will probably be doing the new behavior a lot too, but remember that it’s difficult to control a behavior directly; it’s much easier to control the supporting thought process.
It generally takes about one to three days of consistent practice for a new thought process to become second nature. That having been said, just assume that it’s going to take the full three days so that you’re not constantly stopping and wondering if you’re done yet. If you do it consistently, meaning doing the new thought every time the trigger comes up, and even making or imagining the trigger coming up just so you can practice more, it takes one to three days. If you only practice sporadically, in might never happen, so the key is consistency. This is true about any skill, and is just as important when learning new thought patterns as it is when learning physical skills. (CLC)
(September 15, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 16, “The simplest way to install a new behavior.”
The brain only does two things: it either does what you make it do, or, when you’re not making it do anything, it does whatever is easiest. If you want to lift up your hand, you can just make yourself do it. If you’re not doing anything on purpose, then your brain goes on auto-pilot, and does whatever is easiest, which is usually whatever you’re most used to. Note that “easiest” does not just mean physically or mentally easiest, but could also include socially or morally easiest. If you see someone tripping, it would be physically easiest to let her fall, but you would probably reach out automatically to steady her, because that’s what you’re most used to; it would be much more difficult to remain still while someone falls than to try to catch her.
With that in mind, the simplest way to install a new cognition is through consistent repetition. It usually takes a week or two to install a new behavior in this way. You’ve recognized that your old way doesn’t work, you’ve constructed a new way, you’ve decided to do it, and the only thing left is to actually do it. Do it on purpose, maybe 15-20 times a day. Imagine feeling stressed, think of taking a shower (or whatever behavior you decided on), and imagine it making you feel better. It’s like digging a path for a river; the deeper you dig it, the easier it is for the water to flow in it. Remember that the task is not to practice the behavior over and over; if you could do that, you’d be doing it already. The key is to make the train of thought second nature, so that the feeling of stress automatically leads to the idea of your alternate behavior. (CLC)
(September 14, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 15, “Creating the perfect train of thought.”
We’re using as an example someone who comes home from work stressed and uses junk food as a way to relax. We therefore have identified the feeling and the behavior, and we have decided that the supporting cognition is the visual image of the junk food and imagining that it will replace the stressed feeling with a feeling of relaxation and comfort. The brain accepts that cognition as the truth (whether it’s true or not) and creates a compulsion to do the behavior.
You’ve come to the decision that your old way of thinking doesn’t work. The replacement behavior in response to stress, we’ve decided, will be taking a shower. So the new cognition would be as follows: feeling of stress triggers visual image of shower, refreshing feeling of showering, and relaxation from alleviation of the stress. Try it now in your mind: imagine being stressed, taking a shower, and all of the stress going away, and feeling clean and refreshed afterward. That can be your normal way of thinking about stress. The visual and kinesthetic (feeling) senses, the only ones we’re currently using, are consistent. You’re not adding any other thoughts in, before or after. It’s simple and effective.
With the preceding discussions in mind, we are ready to install the new cognition. (CLC)
(September 13, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 14, “Sending a clear message to your brain.”
A key mistake people make when constructing their new cognitive pattern is not sticking to one clear message. There are two primary ways people make this mistake. The first way is by SAYING one thing to themselves and VISUALIZING something different. For example, it is common for someone to tell herself “I’m not going to eat junk food today” while visualizing the junk food in an appealing way. The brain receives the messages that you’re not going to eat junk food, but that it’s good, creating confusion. (There are actually many other problems with that structure, which we will examine soon.) The hardwired response to confusion is almost always to maintain the status quo.
The second way people don’t stick to one clear message is by thinking one thing, and then thinking another in the same train of thought. For example, someone might think about junk food in an appealing way (the comfortable or successful way: eating it, what it tastes like, imagining it making you feel better or solve your immediate need for comfort or relaxation), then tell themselves they’re not going to eat it, then going back to imagining it experientially. Going back and forth like that also confuses the brain, which again encourages stagnation.
So when creating your new pattern of thinking, it must be one, single thought, and all of the senses in it (visual, auditory, etc.) must be consistent. It does not have to have all of the senses, and in fact will usually only have 2 or 3, but whichever ones you use must send the same message. (CLC)
(September 12, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 13, “Letting go of your old behavior.”
An important preliminary step in making a change is a very subtle one, one that you probably assume you’ve already done, but that you actually probably haven’t. That step is to fully accept that your current behavior doesn’t work. Almost all of the time, when someone tries to make a change, he has in the back of his head, “I’ll start doing this new thing, but if I don’t like it for some reason, I’ll go back to my old thing.” If going back to your old thing is okay with you, your chances of making the change drop dramatically. Any new behavior has a trial and error period, and if you’re okay with going back to your old behavior, then you’re much more likely to give up the first time you get an error.
The best way to avoid this trap is to, first, not just assume that you are not okay with your old behavior. Think about your old behavior with your undivided attention and DECIDE that it’s not okay. The old way is broken and is continually causing you harm. It’s not a leaky faucet; it’s a burst pipe…and it needs to be fixed now. If, for some reason, the new behavior isn’t what you want, you will have to come up with a different new behavior, because you’re not okay with going back to your old one. Once you’ve accepted that mindset, you’re ready to move onto your new behavior. (CLC)
(September 11, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 12
When constructing your new pattern of thinking, it’s more effective to think about the new behavior to which you want to switch as being appealing than it is to think about the old behavior as being unappealing. In the junk food example, rather than making junk food seem boring or stressful, it’s more effective to have a completely different behavior seem appealing. That’s mainly because your unconscious is not good at coming up with new ideas; that’s more the bailiwick of the conscious. Even if you tell yourself something is a bad idea, you are liable to get stuck on that idea and do it anyway.
So applying this idea to our junk food example, you may be able to think of times in the past when you were thinking about having junk food, told yourself it wasn’t a good idea, but you were still stuck on the idea until you did it. There are some specific times when it’s useful to boring-ize or anxiety-ize a behavior, but generally speaking, switching to thinking about a different behavior is more effective and useful.
There are a hundred behaviors better for alleviating stress than eating junk food, but we’ve decided to use a simple one, taking a shower. It’s relaxing, so it actually solves the problem in a way that junk food doesn’t. Now that we’ve decided on a new behavior, we have to REPLACE the imagery of the old behavior with the new imagery. One of the most subtle mistakes people make is having a new idea of what they want to do, but keeping the old idea as well. One of the most basic reptilian functions of the brain is to favor old, familiar patterns, since they’re (usually) more likely to keep us alive. It’s what keeps us from being dangerously spontaneous all the time. So if you keep both sets of imagery, you’re exponentially more likely to fall back on the old one at some point. (CLC)
(September 10, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 11
Likewise, activities are not inherently boring. The tedious style of thinking is the most interesting, in my opinion. When you think about a tedious chore, you tend not to think about being in the middle of doing it, like you do for anxiety. You tend to think of BEFORE you start doing it, and you’re thinking about the problem state, the state for which you’re doing the activity. Say, for example, the thing you’re thinking about in the tedious way is washing the dishes. Almost guaranteed, you’re thinking about the dishes currently being dirty (i.e. they’re not being done yet). If you think about doing them and not liking it, you’re probably getting more anxiety than tedium. You can think about any activity in the “tedious chore” way and it will start to seem tedious, and vice versa. A common way of amplifying the tedium of the tedious style is by thinking about all the steps that you’ll have to take, breaking the activity down and making each step a big deal in your mind (I have to get up, go all the way into the kitchen, etc.)
The final style of thinking is the comfortable or successful way of thinking. The formula for the successful style of thinking is to think about being in the middle of the activity and doing it successfully. This is how you normally think about any of the activities you enjoy doing (hobbies, entertainment, skills, etc.) You can think about any activity in the successful way and feel good about it. Many people find this hard to believe at first, but it’s absolutely true. Certainly, there are many things you shouldn’t feel good about, like attempting dangerous stunts, tragic events, and so on. But for now, I’ll just say that you are in complete control of your emotional reactions, and we’ll revisit that topic at a later time. (CLC)
(September 9, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 10
The experiential way of thinking can be done in three ways, relating to the three primary states in which the mind can be: underactive, comfortable, and overactive. The overactive way is a style of thinking that produces anxiety, and follows a specific pattern: you imagine being in the middle of the activity and something bad happening, or something going wrong. For example, someone who is afraid of spiders will often imagine the spider running at her, jumping on her, or biting her.
Notice that the anxiety-producing style of thinking can be applied to ANY activity. Imagine that if every time you thought about going out to get the mail, you would imagine tripping and injuring yourself, you would start to get anxiety about getting the mail. Anxiety has much more to do with the style of thinking than what you’re actually thinking about. You can think about things you normally don’t mind in the anxiety-producing way and they produce anxiety, or, as we’ll discuss much later, you can think about things that currently produce anxiety in a normalized way and they don’t produce anxiety any more.
The most important thing to learn in this section is that no stimulus is necessarily anxiety-producing, comfortable, or boring. You can literally instruct your brain to feel any of the three ways about anything if you know how, and with enough practice (or hypnosis, another topic we’ll get into much later). (CLC)
(September 8, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 9
You can think about an activity in essentially two ways. The first way is intellectual thinking, the way you would think about something happening that is unrelated to your life, such as the latest water polo scores. You know that activity is going on somewhere in the world, there are probably scores associated with it, there exist people who are concerned with such matters, and so on. But it doesn’t DO anything for you; you are nonreactive to that kind of information. We don’t get excited or worried about it. Generally speaking, we think intellectually about things that don’t affect our lives.
The other way of thinking is experiential, the way you think about things that actually affect you. We have a tendency to react emotionally, to one degree or another, to events that change (or could change) our well-being for the better or worse. When we think about something experientially, we usually imagine ourselves doing it, the activity being inside of our personal space, and what the activity feels like. If you think about something you’ll do today, like having something to drink, you can easily imagine what that will feel like.
This is one of the most important aspects to creating an effective motivation strategy. Even if you want the effects of a certain behavior (like eating healthy), if you’re thinking about it intellectually, your unconscious will not get the signal to generate motivation for you. Thinking about the behavior you want experientially is absolutely vital to making an effective change. (CLC)
(September 7, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 8
To state the steps we have so far a slightly different way, the first step is to identify the pattern of thinking (or train of thought) that leads to the unwanted behavior. In this example, the trigger, stress, leads to imagining that junk food will alleviate the stress and replace it with comfort, and then the brain produces a compulsion. It knows we need motivation to do things that are good for us; unfortunately it has no idea what is and isn’t good…it relies on YOU for that information. So if you don’t know how to communicate with your brain, you’re going to want to do a lot of things that aren’t good for you.
Your brain (again, your unconscious), doesn’t understand logic and language. It understand only the senses (visual, auditory, etc.), so you can’t just TELL yourself to do something; it won’t understand. Being able to communicate effectively with your unconscious is going to be a key skill for constructing your replacement pattern of thinking, the train of thought that will naturally lead to the new behavior.
Before putting together an effective pattern, let’s examine some examples of what most people do. Probably the most common way of thinking about a goal is the following: the person tells himself he really needs to (or should) do something, then he imagines either how much work it’s going to be or the times in the past that he failed, feels bad about it, and then avoids thinking about the topic for a while because it feels bad to think about it. Another common pattern is similar, except the person feels so bad about his situation that he starts doing something about it, and then after doing it for a couple of days or weeks, starts to feel better about himself, and then stops doing it because his only real motivation for doing it was to stop feeling so bad about himself. (CLC)
(September 6, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 7
You know how when you spin around a lot, you get dizzy? Well here’s an interesting fact that about 50% of people I’ve talked to know. If you spin just once in the opposite direction, it un-dizzies you. You should try it some time. The effects of an unlimited amount of spinning can be undone with just a single counterspin. Mental states are much the same. A workday’s worth of stress can be undone with a few minutes of quality relaxation. Boredom that has been mounting all day can be alleviated with just a few minutes of excitement and intrigue.
So you, the conscious mind, the boss, has to step up to the plate and assign some activities that will ACTUALLY make you feel better, rather than just doing the same old thing on autopilot. So the first step is to identify WHY you’re doing the unwanted behavior…in this case, to alleviate stress. The second step is to identify a more effective pattern of thinking. We’re talking about doing relaxing activities, but you can’t just change the behavior…you would have done that already. The key, in this example, is to change your cognitive response to the feeling of stress.
So let’s revisit the way most people try to stop a behavior: they go home, still thinking about work, feel stressed, imagine that junk food will be relaxing, start wanting to eat junk food, and then try to resist the compulsion to eat it. Remembering that the junk food doesn’t actually cause relaxation, we should come up with another behavior to imagine creating relaxation. Junk food itself does not lead to relaxation; any relaxation experienced while eating junk food comes from other behaviors you’re doing at the same time, like sitting down and taking a break. I think a great behavior would be taking a shower; you’re taking a break, you’ve got a strong physical sensation, it’s relaxing, and you feel great afterward. That’s just one of a hundred choices, but we’ll go with that one for now. (CLC)
(September 5, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 6
Let’s take another example. Let’s instead say that it’s the feeling of being stressed that the person wants to change. The problem is essentially the same: they use the exact same thought patterns that they always do (in this case, stressful things that happened at work), the stress is generated, and then they try to stop having the stress. Having stress is a natural result of thinking about stressful things; you have stress with you think about stressful things because your brain is working properly. The key is not to think about stressful things and not be stressed, but rather to retrain your brain to think in different patterns.
Likewise, in the junk food example, the key is not to imagine junk food making you feel better and then resist it, but to retrain your initial thinking to go in a different direction. There are many different good directions in which your thinking can go, and in fact only one bad direction. If you think ANYTHING OTHER THAN imagining junk food making you feel better, that compulsion will not be generated.
Your brain needs some way to handle stress. It doesn’t know how, but by Jove it’s going to do it somehow. Probably however you did it yesterday, unless you step in. Your brain knows you’re the expert in logic and planning, and it also knows that you’re the boss. It’s more than happy to do any suggestion you make, as long as it solves the problem at least as well as whatever it was planning to do. Lucky for our junk food aficionado, junk food doesn’t solve the problem very well at all, so almost anything will work when it’s presented the right way. (CLC)
(September 4, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 5
Let’s say you’ve identified that your behavior pattern is that you eat junk food when you come home from work. Let’s further say that you’re stressed when you come home from work, and then you imagine that eating junk food will allow you to relax, and then you want to eat it. Just as an example.
If everything sounds very simple so far, that’s because it is. The problem is that it’s so simple, most people aren’t even aware that it’s happening, which makes it very difficult to change. Most people trying to change this habit do the following: they go home, still thinking about work, feel stressed, imagine that junk food will be relaxing, start wanting to eat junk food, and then try to resist the compulsion to eat it. That is 100% the hardest and least effective way to break a habit, and that’s the way 99% of people try to break it.
The core problem is that once a compulsion has been generated, the behavior immediately becomes ten times harder to resist. Again, it’s a case of trying to change the feeling or behavior without changing the supporting cognition first. (CLC)
(September 3, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 4
If you want to change a behavior, you first have to figure out what feeling you’re having, and how you imagine that that behavior will make you feel better or solve that problem. This process usually takes place in a few seconds or less, so you really have to slow down and put some thought into it. Resist the urge to say “I don’t know why I do that.” It’s something you’re doing—it’s not happening TO you—so go back to the last time the unwanted behavior happened and figure out why you decided to do it.
Generally speaking, when someone repeats an unwanted behavior, it’s for a psychological reason. Again, let’s take eating junk food. Generally it’s not because you’re hungry. If someone is eating junk food because they’re hungry, it’s usually because they don’t want to stop eating it (i.e. it’s not an unwanted behavior). If someone really wants to eat healthier, but they feel compelled to eat the junk food, it’s usually for psychological reasons.
The brain only has three states, psychologically: underactive, comfortable, and overactive. Underactivity includes sub-states such as boredom, loneliness, and depression. Overactivity includes stress, fear, and anger. When your brain is working within normal parameters, it’s comfortable. And any time your brain is not comfortable, it will start doing whatever behaviors it needs to do to try to get back on track. And since it doesn’t really know what will get it back on track, it will tend to rely on behaviors you’ve chosen in the past if you don’t step in and designate some new ones. (CLC)
(September 2, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 3
Notice that if you want to think about something, you just start thinking about it; it’s effortless. If I say, “think about a giraffe,” you just think about it; you don’t have to do anything first to make yourself think about it. But if I were to say, “be excited,” you would have to think about something exciting first in order to indirectly make yourself excited. And if I say, “get up and get a glass of water,” you have to overcome the inertia of sitting down to motivate yourself to do that. Thinking is the only thing you can just DO on the spot without doing something else first.
And for the most part, the patterns in which we think are the ones we’ve accepted or for which we’ve given ourselves permission to think, usually accidentally or by default. If we picked up somewhere (usually by unconsciously modeling someone else’s behavior) that eating junk food is an appropriate response to having a stressful day, that thought pattern will tend to solidify and repeat itself when left unattended. Your brain doesn’t know any better. Your brain is kind of like a pet or a small child; full of impulses and no abstract logic.
The interesting fact about changing these kinds of patterns is that it’s very easy to do. The reason most people fail to change them is not that it’s difficult, but that they go about trying to change them in completely the wrong way, by trying to change their feelings or behaviors directly, rather than by trying to change the supporting thought patterns. Thought patterns always lead to specific feelings, which in turn encourage specific behaviors. It’s the only natural, organic, and permanent way to change those latter two aspects of the brain. (CLC)
(September 1, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 2
Fortunately, there is one aspect of your mind over which you have full control, the one aspect that is not influenced by any other: your thinking. Your thinking is solely the result of the habits you’ve learned over the years, and every single one of them can be updated or replaced completely, regardless of how long you’ve been using it. In this sense, your thinking is the weak link in a habit you want to break. In fact, it’s very difficult to permanently change a habit any other way.
Take a habit like eating junk food. It certainly doesn’t make you feel better, physiologically; nor does it give you any real relaxation or excitement. It doesn’t do anything to you except sap your energy and pack on extra pounds.
But your brain doesn’t make decisions based on what is actually true; it makes decisions based on what you IMAGINE to be true. There are only three aspects of reality from a psychological perspective. There is the outside world, the unconscious (what I’ll call “your brain,”) and the conscious (what you perceive as “you”). Your brain does not perceive reality directly, it simply senses reality as raw data, and waits for YOU to interpret it. If you’re feeling bored, and you IMAGINE that the junk food will entertain you, or make you feel better in some way, your brain BELIEVES you, and creates motivation to put that plan into action. You might even feel worse afterward, but that’s reality, and your brain doesn’t make decisions based on reality, it only makes decisions based on what you imagine.
This is actually a good thing, because what you imagine is the only thing in your brain you can fully control. (CLC)
(August 31, 2012) How to Make Personal Changes, Part 1
Most people succeed only for a short time, or fail completely, when attempting to make a personal change. Whether it’s trying to lose weight or quit smoking, to get over a fear or phobia, or get motivated to do something, most people just don’t change effectively.
That’s because what we want to change are our feelings or our behaviors, and we don’t have complete control over either of those. The brain only does three things: it thinks, feels, and acts. And it happens in that order; you don’t do something until you feel something first, whether it’s something big like buying a car or something small like shifting in your seat. You have to feel a certain way before your brain is motivated to do things. And you don’t have feelings about something until you think about it. You don’t feel things randomly; you have to have thoughts about something before you can react to it emotionally. So it goes in that order: thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. And so, when someone tries to change their feelings or behaviors without first changing their thinking, the process is often doomed to failure.
Furthermore, the more important you perceive a change to be, the more your fight or flight response kicks in, and the more likely you are to rely on old patterns. Your brain assumes that since you’ve had those patterns this long, they must ensure your survival. Unfortunately, that often doesn’t include your happiness or even your long-term survival, and it certainly doesn’t include your new plans to improve yourself. More doom. (CLC)
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