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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

30 great ways to reduce Anxiety and Stress

Bong1I have been working a lot recently in Reverse Therapy with clients who are stressed or anxious and am frequently asked for my list of remedies that work for either. So here goes:
  • Learn how to control Headmind. See previous articles on this subject, in this blog here.
  • Exercise. Few things can help relax you more quickly than a bit of vigorous exercise. Whether you box, jog or play a game of tennis, aerobic exercise will release endorphins, thereby improving your mood, eliminating tension and giving you a natural high. 
  • Meditate. When you think you are getting overwhelmed,  take at least ten minutes out to clear your mind of worries and meditate. If you have trouble doing it alone, try using a guided tape, or a Binaural Beat CD.  
  • Focus on the breath. Concentrating on your breathing is a powerful way to promote inner calm. Increase the number of counts as you breathe out, and then in, from 3 to 8. Then reduce the count from 8 back to 3, slowly. This is one of the oldest known meditational techniques in history: at least 4000 years old. 
  • Use Yoga. You can learn how to use Yoga from a group or personal instructor, or even from a DVD. Our work in Reverse Therapy shows that Yoga is an exceptionally effective antidote to Headmind-produced stress.
  • Use Tai Chi. See previous item as similar advice applies.
  • Focus on an Eye-Movement Program. You can learn how to do this by going to a an article I wrote about how to do that here.
  • Take a Break. Force yourself to break away from what is bugging you and do something pleasant that is completely unrelated.
  •  Slow down. Most people when they get anxious do everything faster, so deliberately slow down your movements, and the speed at which you are doing things.
  • Talk slowly. See previous item. Speak at 50% of the speed at which you were talking before, with frequent pauses in between sentences.
  • Think slowly. This is usually effective while you are taking a break. Slow down the speed at which Headmind is racing around its worries by recalling a calming memory, situation or person.
  • Let the past go. If you’re stressing out about something bad that happened yesterday then keep your attention on the here and now. Focus on something important to you and ‘drown out’ the internal control freak who wants to keep going over problems.
  • Let go of the need for control over events.  You can’t control the events that happen to you; only your response to those events. Focus on what you can do, rather than what is not in your power to do.
  • Laughter. A good laugh releases endorphins. So either mix with people who make you laugh or watch one of your favourite comedies.
  • Limit your intake of caffeine. Caffeine is a unnaturally strong stimulant and adds existing anxiety, making you worse than otherwise. If you’re stressed then avoid drinking coffee and other caffeine-based beverages.
  • Use lavender oil. Research suggests that lavender oil is one of the most effective calming agents available. One reason for its effectiveness is that it works through the olfactory centres in the brain; smells are particularly powerful.  Try lighting a candle or putting some lavender oil on your skin, or in a bath to help you relax.
  • Drink green tea. Green tea contains theanine, an amino-acid which improves mood and reduces arousal.
  • Use herbal supplements. If you’re into natural remedies you may want to consider taking some herbal supplements like valerian root or passion flower. Both of these were extensively used in the Middle Ages as natural tranquillizers.
  • Eat dark chocolate. For reasons not yet clearly understood, dark, bitter, chocolate increases endorphin release. Chili has a similar effect.
  • Take a shower or bath. This does not work for everybody but many people find that bathing increases calm. That may be because of the slow down-effect noted elsewhere in this article/
  • Get a massage. See last item. But effectiveness of this strategy depends on the skill of the masseur or masseuse – so select your practitioner wisely. But you can also use self-massage or the EFT movements.
  • Create variety. If you love to browse bookstores, take long walks in the park, or if you have a favourite hobby, or game, then take more time out of your day to do those things.
  • Work at simple chores. This doesn’t work for everybody but many of my clients find that some chores help then wind down. For me it is washing up the dishes but others report that gardening, hoovering, cleaning, tidying up or clearing things away, make them feel better afterwards.
  • Spend time with a pet. Playing with, walking focusing on your pet’s needs is a useful distraction from worry – it also tends to raise endorphin release.
  • Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. When you’re faced with what looks like an overwhelming problem, focus on small, concrete, steps you can work on today, rather than worrying about ‘big’ solutions that might never happen.
  • Avoid people who make things worse. If you are indulging in worry yourself then avoid other people – no matter how well-meaning – who worry, exaggerate problems, have doom-laden opinions, or who keep asking you ‘whether you are going to be ok?’.
  • Put on some music. Music is another powerful trigger for endorphin release. Always keep your favourite tracks available to you on your ipod whether you are at home, out and about, or at work. It only takes 5 minutes.
  • Ask for help. If you really just have too much on your plate then don’t hold back from asking people for help. Too often, anxious people are people with a banana which dictates that asking for a help is a sign of weakness. Do not make that mistake.
  • Use the word ‘No’ more often. It’s simple, powerful, and incredibly effective when you are up against it. if you have a phobia about it, try practicing it when standing in front of the mirror.
  • Make time to be with people who love you. This is possibly the most important item on the list. Do it now.

 

 

 

 

 

Connecting to the genius in you

Connect

In my last article I wrote about Enneagram weaknesses: how we develop a false personality by getting fixated on the way we appear to other people.

Today I want to write about Enneagram strengths. Specifically, how each of the Nine types, when the person is at a highly developed stage and is free of the ego, can be an expression of your Personal Genius.

In previous articles on Personal Genius I have described how your Genius is an expression of the divine in you. Your Genius drives you on to become the best you can be and fulfil your personal mission. It cares nothing for the approval of others; it is only concerned with making the world a better place.

My experience is that most of us are naturally drawn towards becoming one of the NIne types. Some of us make the mistake of getting hung up on approval from others, so we end  up with weaknesses rather than strengths. Some of us mistakenly identify with a lower type (usually out of  cowardice) and lose our divine mission altogether. But some of us go for one of the types, in a healthy way, because that type resonates most with our personal mission, how we see our selves impacting on the world.

Here is how each of the Enneagram types, in their original, untainted, glory seeks to express Personal Genius:

The One is a Reformer. Wants to help people  become better, purer and more honest. Ones are often Teachers, Writers, Preachers. Many great religious leaders are Ones. Example: Leo Tolstoy.

The Two is a Nurturer. Wants to help people be more loving and forgiving. The  developed  Two  tries to set an example through self-sacrificing compassion for others. Example: Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

The Three is a Manager. Seeks to make things more efficient for the common good. At their  best they make great managers, leaders and (respected) politicians. Example: Barack Obama.

The Four is an Artist. They can be artists with words, images, fabrics, sounds – or  even artists of life. They want to bring out the playful, creative, and original in people. They may be designers, writers and artists; or they may come across as intensely fascinating and original people in their own right. Example: Van Gogh.

The Five is concerned with Knowledge. They are  clear-thinking, objective, often brilliant – experts in at least one field. They make great teachers, scientists and philosophers. On a smaller scale they make good advisors: consultants, therapists and coaches. Example: Albert Einstein.

The Six is a Helper. They want to  make the world a friendlier place. They  sacrifice themselves for the good of the community. They prefer to work behind the scenes, keeping the family together, building up the team at work, or helping in community schemes and  organisations. Example: Princess Diana.

The Seven wants to help people become more intensely alive. They are extroverts who are fun to be with, and who bring out the best in people.  They like to entertain and make great comedians, musicians and stage performers. Or they may just  be the life and soul of the party. Example: Mick Jagger.

The Eight wants to  protect others. This  drives them on to be leaders in some way. They may  fight  for the rights of an oppressed minority, or they may want to rescue people who are in trouble.  They are natural fighters who will champion any cause they have taken to heart. Example: Martin Luther King.

The Nine is a Harmonizer. They  try to see the world through other peoples eyes and understand  how each person sees things differently. Then they  seek to bring people together and promote mutual understanding and forgiveness.

Many Enneagram teachers (including me) believe that becoming a developed Nine who is able to become any of the other 8 types, in an impersonal way, is our ultimate goal. Unlike all the other types, the Nine is not drawn to any particular vocation. Example: William Shakespeare.

 

Can feeling grumpy be good for you?

Moods1 I receive a mischievous communication from my very good friend Mark McGuinness who wants me to comment on a research article he has looked into, written by some ‘Australian psychologists’, which claims that being in a ‘bad mood’ can be ‘good’ for you.

Now, some of my best experiences in life have been prompted by my ‘bad’ moods. With the aid of those I have got rid of countless annoying relationships, irritating jobs and pointless activities. So my first thought was that – yet again – a bunch of overpaid academics were being subsidised to announce discoveries most of us learned in primary school. And that Mark had forgotten our many rambling midnight conversations about emotions and the meaning of life.

Yet I realised immediately that these gorgeous, Bondi-beach seeking academics have made yet another category mistake: While bad moods can, indeed, be ‘good’, those are not the same as ‘bad emotions’.

To remind you: there is no such thing as a bad emotion. Emotions are an expression of Bodymind
intelligence. A mood is different. It is a  Headmind attitude. It expresses a relationship between our attitudes and the world as we find it. You can read more about moods here.

A grumpy mood, for me, is a relationship based on suspicion. It means that I no longer trust that experiences, situations, people, or the Lord God himself are doing me any favours. And that, in turn, is a cue that I need to revise my trusting attitude towards these entities. I need to retreat, stand-off, complain, and have a moan. I may even need to disengage – permanently.

So yes – a grumpy mood can be good for you if it helps you get rid of your intellectual garbage.

The funny thing is that I actually find grumpy moods enjoyable. Entraining my suspicion and pessimism on the planet gives me a god-like sense of detachment and playfulness. It also gives me a playground for wit.

Rather like one of my favourite philosophers – Arthur Schopenhauer – who once wrote:

“If we were not all so interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.”

Come to think of it, Schopenhauer deserves an article all to himself, so I will write that next.