Change your mind and keep the change

Head1
This is the fifth in a series of articles which teach you how to cut out worry, obsessions and any other kind of negative thinking which triggers anxiety, panic, or stress – about which I have written elsewhere – 30 great ways to reduce stress.

In this article we are focusing on the third step in the 4-step method I am showing you.

The four steps are:

  • Change Position
  • Change Attitude
  • Change Focus
  • Practice Mindfulness

The third step entails changing the focus of attention away from the obsessive, worry, panicky, depressing, addictive thought and towards another activity that engrosses Headmind attention.

For some people this step can be difficult to achieve at first, simply because they have spent so long listening to their negative headmind tapes that they have been conditioned into taking them seriously and, as a result, they automatically have an anxious/depressive/addictive reaction.

Just last week I worked with a 67-year-old client who, since the age of 14, had reacted to every encounter with a stranger with the tape ‘She won’t like me because I am stupid and don’t know what to say’. Not surprisingly, after 53 years of listening to this stuff, she had a minor panic attack going into any new gathering of people. Over time her anxiety response had become pre-programmed on the lines of:

Meet new people > Listen to tape > Wait for panic attack > Seize up > Give up and go home

This programming can be broken up though and sometimes that can happen surprisingly quickly. However, for most people, breaking the pattern can take time, self-discipline and practice. Bear this in mind when using any of the ideas and techniques below: daily practice is essential. Don’t wait for anxiety attacks to happen to you before working with the four steps; practice on minor worries and obsessions three or four times a day and then build up to bigger ones.

The key to making a change of focus work is that you must select an activity which fully absorbs the Conscious Mind in a way that is more compelling than listening to the worry, obsession, guilt-trip etc. You don’t in fact need a technique to do this, useful as those can be. All you need are your ordinary daily activities.

Here are the most popular:

  • Exercise
  • Music (preferably loud!)
  • Social contact (includes texts/emails)
  • Meditation
  • Yoga/Tai Chi, etc
  • Dance
  • Entertaining DVDs
  • Creative tasks
  • Satisfying chores
  • Games (of any kind)
  • Engaging with anyone or anything that makes you laugh

Remember that speed is vital. Do not dally with the thoughts but ignore them and throw yourself into activity. As a general rule, activities that keep you grounded in Bodymind work best, particularly (hard) exercise, dance and laughter.

Some people find that reading books or other intellectual tasks such as research or problem-solving works for them. My experience is that this doesn’t work for the majority because the new focus may not be completely fascinating, thereby giving Headmind space to wander off back to listening to those old tapes again. A similar objection applies to watching TV programmes or doing household chores.

If you are experienced in meditation then that is an excellent way to refocus. If you are new to meditation, or if you are dealing with particularly loud worries and obsessions, then you should use an auditory tape (I provide two for you to use below).

As an alternative to meditation you might consider using a Binaural beat program. I have written about these elsewhere and you can purchase some good ones using the box on the right hand column.

Finally, you could use a relaxation tape or a meditational tape

Here is a short relaxational tape:

Relaxation

And here is a longer, meditational, tape based on sensory awareness:

InYouButMoreThanYou

 

 

 

Killer ways to stop negative thinking

Images3
This is the fourth in a series of articles which teach you how to cut out worry, obsessions and any other kind of negative thinking which triggers anxiety, panic, stress, depression or addictions in you.

In this article we are focusing on the second step in the 4-step method I am showing you.

The four steps are:

  • Change Position
  • Change Attitude
  • Change Focus
  • Practice Mindfulness

The key to making Step 2 work is to change your reaction to the negative thought. Typical unwanted reactions include getting upset, anxious, uptight, depressed, panicky or frightened. Others include getting obsessional or compulsive – as happens in many types of addiction in which the individual believes she has ‘no choice’ but to go ahead and indulge. Often, these reactions are so automatic that we are only dimly aware of the triggering thought (or image). That is why it is important to identify the relevant Headmind tape which is triggering the reaction.

We are looking to replace those reactions with boredom, ridicule or contempt.

Consider, for a moment, your attitude to a worry that you don’t have but someone else has. For example:

This plane is about to blow up

I just caught a disease from shaking that man’s hand

The government is spying on me

Unless you are one of the few that take these thoughts seriously your probable reaction to hearing about them will be incredulity. ‘That’s ridiculous!’ you might say to yourself. You might go on to wonder: how on earth do people learn to think like that?

It’s exactly that kind of attitude you now need to adopt towards the negative thoughts you have yourself. Remember that, by definition, all worries and obsessions are a kind of fantasy. They have no bearing on reality at all.

There must be hundreds of techniques you can use to change your attitude to the tapes in your head. I am going to mention just three tried-and-tested routines that work for most of my clients.

1. Ridicule

The first way is to make the tape (once you have identified it using this article) comical.

Think of someone who is absurd. That could be someone you have met but it could be a film or TV character. Now imagine that the ‘tape’ is being replayed back through that character’s voice in your head. It helps to exagerrate the ideas in the tape so that they sound ludicrous.

For example:

HomerOriginal tape = “It’s all going to go wrong”

Edited tape = “It’s going to be a total disaster”

Homer’s tape: “It’s not only going to be a disaster but you are going be seriously damaged and in need of psychiatry for the rest of your life. “

When using this method it helps to laugh. It doesn’t matter if the laughter sounds forced – just laugh (you can think of something genuinely funny at this point if it helps).

2. Contempt

Replaying dismissive remarks to yourself about the ‘tape’ works here. For example;

There it goes again. Really don’t have time to listen to this.

Same old same old rubbish. Time to move on.

This is getting boring. I have better things to do.

You can get aggressive about it, too. Once you identify the contents of the tape you say (out loud if you are on your own) things like:

What a load of crap!

Complete bollocks!

Fuck that!

(Anglo-Saxon swear words are particularly useful here as those add force to your new attitude).

3. Boredom 

BoredomIn a less dramatic way boredom is often the most effective response to negative thoughts. The reason for this is that boredom, when listening to tedious, repetitive people who talk rubbish is an emotionally intelligent response dictated by Bodymind. Think of the most tedious conversations, school lessons and lectures you have ever sat through. You didn’t bother trying to work out whether there was any sense to what was being said. Instead, your body pressed the ‘OFF’ button and sent you to sleep.

You can use a variation on the first technique here. Instead of replaying the tape using a comical voice you can use the voice of someone you know (or whom you have watched) who is deeply boring. Be sure to edit the voice so that it sounds slow, monotonous and, of course, tedious. You can help the process along by yawning out loud while you are doing this.

A lot of people burst out laughing when they try to do this – a good sign that the technique is in fact working.

The next article concentrates on Step 3 – Changing Focus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mind control

Mind parasites

This is the third in a series of articles that teach you a new method on how abolish worry, anxiety, obsessions, OCD, and addictive thinking patterns. In  fact, any kind of repetitive, boring, disturbing thought pattern that keeps you enslaved to the Chatterbox inside your Head.

To recap: the four steps in this new method are:

  1. Change Position
  2. Change Attitude
  3. Change Focus
  4. Practice Mindfulness

I have before written a similar article on this subject called Do You Control Your Mind Or Does It Control You?

In this post I am focusing on Step 1 in the four steps: Change Position

In this step your job is to distance yourself from your thoughts. However ‘real’ they might seem negative thoughts do not in fact belong to you. They have their origin somewhere else – in the conscious mind – ‘Headmind’ – in fact. And Headmind is stuffed full of ideas it has adopted fron other, mostly, dysfunctional, people as well as from mistakes it makes about everyday life and past experiences which it refuses to relearn.

I covered most of these mistakes in my previous article in this series: How to Stop Worrying. But the basic mistake Headmind makes when faced with any challenging situation is to replay old, unhelpful, stories from the past which give you the idea that you are a complete mess. These ‘Headmind tapes’ are like a record stuck on the groove that tell you over and over again that you are facing disaster.

The Change Position step encourages you to see that the tapes are coming from IT rather from you. YOU are not your MIND. Instead, YOU are a sentient, living, emotional person grounded in the moment who needs have no fear of what your mind is trying to do to you.

To make this step work you first need to identify the content of the Headmind tape and I refer you to the previous article in this series in order to get some more help on this. Once you have identified some destructive thinking patterns you are in a good position to identify the tape contents.

These ‘tapes’ are repetitive, conscious, or semi-conscious, ideas which trigger anxiety. You will know they are running because you will suddenly notice that you are getting uptight, frightened, obsessed, panicky or worried. Your job now is to analyse the tape.

This may take some practice and the fourth step, which relates to practising Awareness, is crucial here. I will elaborate more on that step when I get to it but here is a previous article on the subject here. Be aware that these ‘ideas’ may not be thoughts as such. Instead they might take the form of images or self-dialogue which you hadn’t realised (until you practised Awareness) were there at all.

Some common ‘tapes’ include:

  1. An image of something terrible happening to you
  2. The thought that you cannot bear what is ‘about’ to happen
  3. The idea that you are going to ‘pay’ for past mistakes
  4. Self-talk that you are useless, worthless or otherwise fucked-up
  5. Flash-backs to past traumas
  6. Injunctions to ‘get it right or else…’

Once you have identified the crap that Headmind is relaying on to you the next step is simple. And that is change position; to distance yourself from it, treating as something alien to you. A good way to do that is to engage in some self-dialogue:

  1. The Chatterbox is working overtime today…
  2. Those stupid tapes are playing up…
  3. The Control freak is off on one…
  4. There it goes again…

This step is immediately followed by the next step: Change Attitude, which is closely linked. More on that in the next article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new solution for anxiety, worry, obsessions and lots more besides

Obsess
Research shows that at least 10% of the population, at any one time, suffer from an anxiety disorder. But if you take into account the figures for those experiencing stress-related problems – which are clearly related to worry and anxiety – the figures are likely to be far higher. And most of us have problems with negative thinking: gloomy thoughts about the future, guilt over the past, the idea that we can’t cope with the present and obsessions about having to get it all right.

On that subject the National Institute of Mental Health – NIMH – calculates that around 1% of the population in the USA suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – or OCD – (that’s over 3 million people). But millions more are bothered by obsessions about work, about our personal appearance, about our success or failure in life and anything else that might have to do with the Ego. Incidentally, obsessions are also the driver for addictions to drugs, alcohol and gambling, about which I wrote in my last series of articles.

I have recently been carrying out renewed work with clients suffering from chronic worry, panic attacks, OCD, negative thoughts and anxiety. As a result I have been refining my method of working with these problems. The next few articles show the way out.

The method comprises four basic steps as follows:

  • 1. Change Position
  • 2. Change Attitude
  • 3. Change Focus
  • 4. Practice Mindfulness

For any worry, obsession or negative thought you first change your position to it. Instead of identifying the thought as coming from you, instead you change to seeing the worry as coming from IT – meaning Headmind at it’s worst.

Next you change your attitude to these ‘Headmind tapes’. Instead of getting upset by them you learn how to get bored with them, or to laugh at them, or to treat them with the contempt they deserve.

Then you change your focus of attention, immediately engaging Headmind with something focused, productive, entertaining or calming to do.

Finally, you practice Mindfulness on a daily basis. This could entail Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qui Gung, Sensate focusing or a myriad other ways of focusing on Bodymind or on present moment awareness. This isn’t strictly a ‘fourth step’ but a way of making the other three steps easier to practice.

More on this method in the articles that follow.

So stay tuned.

How to make that breakthrough

Breakthrough

My good friend and collaborator Mark McGuinness recently alerted me to a stimulating new book by Steven Pressfield called Do The Work which is about a subject dear to my heart: how to overcome Headmind when it is messing your life up.

I was doubly intrigued because Steven Pressfield once wrote a powerful historical novel about the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae called Gates of Fire – one of the very few books of that kind which had me (and my wife) in tears by the end.

Taking time off from writing fiction Steven’s new, very short, book is about how to achieve your goals when you don’t think you can.

The premise is simple: whenever you work on a project that is really important to you, but which is going to take time, hard work, and personal sacrifice then you are going to hit a wave of resistance. And that resistance comes not from outside but from within;  your own personal version of Headmind in fact: doubts, excuses, distractions, worries, whinges, procrastination, or so-called ‘low self-esteem’ – in which Headmind keeps on repeating the mantra that there is no point in your doing anything very much because it is bound to end in failure.

The solution is also simple: just do it. Once you have decided that the project really is important to you then you ignore Headmind when it is trying to do you down and sabotage your goals. Specifically, you ignore the Chatterbox. Or just tell it to shut the fuck up while you get on with things.

Here are some examples from the world of Therapy:

You are working on your recovery from Depression and you have decided to get out more. The Inner Voice says ‘what’s the point?’. Your response: go ahead and call a friend and make that date regardless.

You are working on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and you have decided to increase your morning exercise routine to 10 minutes. Your Internal Saboteur says: ‘you’ll make yourself ill’. Your response: increase it to 15 minutes.

You are working on Anxiety. Your Internal Control Freak says: ‘I worry that you won’t be able to stop worrying because you have been a worrier all your life….’. Your response: you focus your attention on a non-worrisome activity for the next few hours.

One difference between using Steven’s method on creative work, and using it on personal problems is this: in creative work you just get on with the project (for example: your next novel, or work idea, house redesign, etc.). In that way you force Headmind to get on with doing something useful.

Whereas if you are depressed, anxious, obsessional, etc., you may need to give Headmind some substitute activities to do. A good example relates to giving up drug/alcohol/cigarette/ gambling addictions. Whenever the Internal Saboteur twitters on about needing a fix/drink/fag/bet then you just do a 180 degree attention turn and go off and do something more worthwhile. My experience with my clients is that when they do this repeatedly, then over the ensuing weeks that Internal Voice will gradually dwindle away to a whisper.

Image by permission of Fuyoh

Do you control your mind – or does it control you?

Robot

This is yet another addition to the lenghthening list of articles on controlling Headmind that have appeared on this blog.

It seems to be the one problem most people struggle with in therapy and in life:

  • Eliminating negative thoughts
  • Ignoring the Chatterbox
  • Laughing off worries
  • Heading off panic attacks
  • Forgetting guilt
  • Putting the brakes on obsessions
  • Doing the dirty on perfectionism
  • Postponing procrastination

So I am continually being asked for more techniques on how to control what some people like to call ‘Rational Mind’ when it is doing dumb, stupid, things. And I agree that it helps to have a variety of techniques on offer so that if one does not work something else will. So I am going to share one of my recent discoveries with you.

It came about when I was looking up one of my favourite works – The Wasteland – by T.S. Eliot and I was reminded that Eliot had, in fact, had a nervous breakdown shortly before completing the poem.

I then learnt that Eliot recovered from his breakdown in a sanatorium in Lausanne during the summer of 1922 while under the supervision of Dr Roger Vittoz, who treated anxiety problems by teaching his patients how to control Headmind with the aid of specific techniques devised by him.

His premise is that anxious people have lost control of their own minds and are paying attention to garbage. When they learn how to edit out negative words, objects, images and statements and replace it with their own content they get back control. Many of his exercises seem quite trivial at first but if you practice doing them every day for, say, a few weeks, the accumulative effect is that one is back in charge. And I can vouch from personal observation that some of the exercises work very quickly indeed.

One of them works like this.

Write out a worry statement. For example:

I CAN’T COPE WITH OTHER PEOPLE

Now imagine that you are flashing up each letter on a screen, one by one, until you have the complete statement.

Now delete each letter of the statement one-by-one, working backwards.

Next, you replace the first statement with something more empowering. For example:

I AM LEARNING HOW TO COPE BETTER

And then you ‘flash’ each letter of that statement up on the screen until it is complete. Look at the statement for a few moments, and then decide on one thing you can do in order to act on it.

Like all Vittoz’s techniques, it works on repetition. So use it every time you catch Headmind giving you a hard time with that particular worry.

If you would like to get a free copy of the English translation of Vittoz’s book on mind control  – How to Control Your Brain at Will then you can download it from here.

 

Recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Well This is a reprise of an email session I held with a client two years ago. I have edited some details to preserve anonymity. She had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for six years and is well now.

The aim is to give anyone with M.E/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome some thoughts on how to get well. And, of course, any of our clients in Reverse Therapy out there can learn from this too.

Client: During my second appointment with you last month I had difficulties in saying what I needed which you helped me to overcome by teaching me how to put things into words. I told you I was confused with what you were telling me and that I did not understand. You told me to establish contact with my Bodymind and I felt relieved. I think there is a lot of fear inside me. Fear of staying ill, fear of not being able to succeed with Reverse Therapy.

My comment: It is important to distinguish between Headmind worry and Bodymind fear. Bodymind sends you a fear emotion when it notices that you are vulnerable in some way – in order to encourage you to express your need for help and support, and take small steps to raise your confidence in that situation. Your Headmind worries about not being able to get well and not being able to do Reverse Therapy. This is natural but unhelpful. It is important not to give any time to these worries. Instead, do something like this:

  • Go into your Body
  • Remind yourself that you know how to be well
  • Spend a little time in your body deciding what feels good to do next about your messages and go and do that straight away

Client: This is all Headmind stuff, I know, but fear is somewhere stuck deep in my cells. One day, soon after my first Reverse Therapy session I was in a meditation group – and we were guided to recall our most important event over the summer. I “went” to my first session with you while I was in a deep state of contemplation and I felt – very strongly and clearly – how something was “melting down inside” as tears were rolling down my face and this was helping my recovery. I was impressed when this “something” that I was feeling so clearly deep inside me came out as “fear”. That fear I felt at that time when I was recalling the first RT session was deep in my body and the whole process of retrieving that RT session while in a meditative state was helping a lot in letting it go.

My comment: This is good work! You may indeed have become vulnerable and your Body created fear to remind you to be gentle on yourself and take good care. There is no need to let go of fear – just honour it and act on it.

Client: Is this fear – which I’m not generally aware of – a fear that my Bodymind developed when I was under a lot of stress, specially when I had glandular fever and I kept working under stress, without resting? Is this fear misinterpreted by Headmind and leads me to be afraid of not being able to recover?

My comment: See above. But Headmind stuff will be worry rather than fear.

Client: One of my concerns is my need – I guess a Headmind demand to “understand”. Which probably comes from a need to control. So I spend too much time in my Head. Although I am learning that when I am living in the moment, in Bodymind, I feel at peace. But the thing is that I live in a world that is run by Headminds!

My comment: Yes – it is about ‘unlearning’ the Headmind habits and conditioning you received through unbalanced education. Reverse Therapy is a discipline (like meditation) which needs to be practiced every day until it becomes more natural to stay in the moment and let go of Headmind’s need to explain, worry and control. We have to acknowledge that the world is mostly run by ‘Headminds’ but that doesn’t mean we have to play that game any more

Client: Getting onto the more practical aspects of doing Reverse Therapy, I am not keeping the journal up to date. Nor am I planning activities. I have never been good at organizing my time. And having spent 4 years without working has not helped me much in that.

My comment: OK – let’s not make the Journal into a burden for you. It is only used to help you remember the discipline of noticing your symptoms, acting on the messages, and noticing what happens to the symptoms. But if it has become another Headmind chore for you then let’s drop it for now.

Client: I am now trying to do more things I enjoy – like visiting friends, arranging dinner-parties, shopping, and the like. And I have had fun, and people who knew me before the illness have mentioned to me how much more energy I have. It shows in the way I talk, in how I am with people, and in the joy I have in doing things. Just as an illustration, the other day, over a dinner with a group of friends, I told a joke – a long one! And I realized when I was about to start that it was the first time I had done that for more than 4 years! 

My comment: Very good! Please do more of this as your Body clearly enjoys being with your friends. Interestingly, it has been established that laughter is a sure way to enable Bodymind to release endorphins, which both reduce symptoms and confirm that you are on the right path towards recovery.

Client: Yet a couple of hours before we all met for dinner I had symptoms. My energy level was very low, I was feeling sick and I just wanted to lie down. There was kind of a “fight” inside me and finally I won through the faith I have in you. My Headmind could not get that something other than lying down could help me in that situation. But I trusted Reverse Therapy and I did what I was told to do in these situations. I regained confidence and energy started to come back. The problem was my partner was late getting back from work and we were going to be late for dinner. After getting into Bodymind and reading the message I started to act with serenity and coped with the situation. The dinner went great!

My comment: Excellent! You really let go of that Headmind trap there!

Client: Next day, we had a lunch at home with a friend. I woke up very tired and thinking I could not be able to manage it. I was feeling sick again. Headmind telling me it was because I had done too much the day before (although I didn’t believe it). We normally do things at the last minute and my Body was probably telling me to slow down. After reading my message I calmed down and I decided to take it easy and got on with other things. It was like I was expressing my needs to myself. It worked well. We both enjoyed having lunch with our friend and we had a wonderful time.

My comment. Hmmmm. Might be an idea to get together with your partner and look at some ways for you both to have more time to get ready.

Client: One of the things that concerns me a lot is my sleep. I seem to need to sleep forever. As a student, I always stayed up until late during exams and woke up late in the morning. When I was working, I always tended to stay late to do tasks that required more concentration. What is happening now is that, in the absence of any activity that requires me to be somewhere early, I tend to wake up very late in the morning, which gets me very restful but feeling quite useless.

My comment: I am afraid it does take time for your Body clock to get back to normal. It is important not to stay in bed too long but get on with activities you have planned for that day. Please also ensure that each week has a balance of early nights and late nights. Remember, your Body might be using morning fatigue to warn you that there is not much enjoyment available. Finally, watch out for Headmind and its yada-yada-yada about your being ‘useless’ because you have symptoms.

Client: The other main concern is about my poor skills in planning and organizing. As I told you, I have never been good at that, but now it’s even worse. Over the
week I have few fixed activities, but I still struggle to get to them in time. And I have not yet learnt how to fill the gaps in between, unless I improve, which does not take me very far. I simply do not know how to design an activity schedule. I feel quite frustrated and helpless about that, especially now that I realized how important it is for my recovery,

My comment: Can you not get your partner or a friend to help you do this? Otherwise we can work on it together when you next see me.

Client: Something else I wish to tell you is that I have put my hopes in Reverse Therapy and that I trust you. I think you are a very talented person and I feel very thankful to be able to get Reverse Therapy from you. I also get lots of confidence from reading the testimonials of people who have undertaken Reverse Therapy and have recovered. But my Headmind –here it is again – keeps damaging my hopes with doubts. One of them has to do with the apparent simplicity of the method. If Reverse Therapy is so simple then I think that what I have suffered during these years was “only in my mind”. I fought a lot during these years against the doctors who had no idea about this illness and who have even told me that I had nothing wrong with me. And when I asked them why I was feeling so ill they would shrug.

My comment. Your symptoms were certainly not all in your mind! Reverse Therapy is simple (although not always easy) but Headmind always wants it to be more complicated because it demands ‘explanations’ and intellectual control.

Client. Am I fearing recovery? Am I fearing that this is an underlying process that I cannot understand? I trust you, and I just want to be very honest with myself and to you, so I can help you to help me.

My comment. No – this is your Headmind daring not to believe that you can be totally well. Because all it has ever known for the last six years is pain, exhaustion and worry. The more days you have when your energy comes back and your symptoms go, then the easier it will be for Headmind to let go of the idea that you cannot get well.

Client: I feel good that I can share with you my inner concerns, and what I believe is Headmind resistance to the process. It is like if my Head wants to know “the secret of RT”. Also, I think there is some reasoning going on like “if it is so easy to overcome the symptoms that have got me to a completely disabled life, I must be an idiot”.

My comment: This is something many of our clients tell us. We always say to them: ‘It is not your fault that you became ill.’ As for the simplicity of the method, it is only ‘easy’ once someone has shown you the solution. Like one of those psychological puzzles when people can’t ‘see’ the face of the old woman/young girl in the drawing. But once someone shows you it is easy to see it. Surely, the real idiots are the people in the medical and psychological professions who have spent years studying the illness without coming up with any answers?

Client: It is not easy for me to write down what I have just said but I know you are not judging me, so I should not judge myself and I should feel confident in expressing my thoughts, no matter how distorted they might seem, even to me. So, being honest to you, John, it has been because I have faith and confidence in you and in Reverse Therapy that I do the assignments, not because I understand what I am doing. And this brings humility – the realization that the answers come from somewhere that is far beyond my head, and far deeper inside me.