Cognitive Hypnotherapist and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner in Kingston Surrey
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Harness the Power of the Unconscious Mind

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In an article from the New Scientist 1st October 2016 ‘The Other You’, several neuroscientists share their views about things you can task the unconscious mind to do. In Cognitive hypnotherapy I see the unconscious mind as part of the problem as it perpetuates unhelpful habits and patterns e.g. anxiety.

At the same time as being part of the problem, it is definitely part of the solution and the article outlines other ways that can be used as a powerful approach to change work.

  1. Think while you sleep: the unconscious mind never sleeps, its always awake even at night as it has a protective function in case of danger. I find my best ideas come to me when I’m not consciously thinking about them. You can task your unconscious mind at night to solve a problem out of your awareness as the sleeping brain can continue to process. This skill makes evolutionary sense as monitoring the environment is crucial to survival at night.
  2. Make decisions– continuing to think about a problem when you get stuck can be counterproductive. When you distract yourself by doing something else, it can help to generate more solutions. The same principle can be applied at night when you sleep as the brain is more creative as it taps into the powerhouse of resources, the unconscious mind.
  3. First impressions count: we make up our minds about people in the first seconds of meeting them and this is completely unconscious. This can be useful and yet can result in profound prejudice as well. When you have a better relationship with yourself which is at the heart of cognitive hypnotherapy, you can learn to harness the best of this skill and filter out the worst.
  4. Run on autopilot– most of what we do doesn’t require conscious thought once we’ve learnt how to do it. Using cognitive hypnotherapy, once we’ve retrained the mind to respond differently to whatever triggers problem behaviour, this can become as automatic as any other positive habit.
  5. Predict the Future– at an evolutionary level, the brain exists to keep us alive and the imagination acts as a powerful vehicle to rehearse and predict the future. So the mind tries to do this automatically based on previous experiences. Again this can be a gift or a curse depending on whether the past reference point is a positive or a negative experience.

So how can these unconscious mind traits be useful to you?

A client experiences acute anxiety in social situations; an unconscious response to a danger the mind perceives. This is a problem as he is a senior executive and has to entertain a lot for his work. It turns out the client has a fear of being judged and being rejected by others. This has its roots in an experience he had as a 5 year old when he tripped in the Christmas play and the whole school laughed at him.

So we retrain the mind to decouple the emotions from the past so he responds differently in the next networking event and now he can begin to use his imagination to train the brain to anticipate a different future from now on. Once the problem has disappeared, the anxiety dissipates and the client harnesses the resources of the unconscious mind which enable him to build confidence and self belief in social situations. Instead of his first impressions being fear and anxiety, he cultivates the skill of curiosity and learning and begins to find himself enjoying new social situations again. The more that happens the more this expectation runs on autopilot and he manages these events far more successfully without any fear and he brings a lot more business in as a result.

The human mind is a very powerful 3lb blob of jelly between the ears. When it works with you, its a very solid ally. When it doesn’t it can create, mental, emotional and physical chaos that can really hinder our lives. Don’t wait too long to get rid of a limiting belief or a behaviour that doesn’t serve you well!

Free will is an illusion

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Anyone who has had cognitive hypnotherapy will know how powerful the unconscious mind is. The scientists tell us that at least 90% of what we do is unconscious which means that we are nowhere near as in control as our mind tells us. This Psyblog article explores this idea. That means you are on automatic pilot most of the time. This works perfectly well for us most of the time except when the unconscious drives a negative pattern like anxiety or an addiction.

Logically why would you hide under the duvet with fear, have a panic attack on an air plane or eat or drink more than is good for you. Well, it’s very simple the unconscious mind believes that you are in danger so triggers a powerful fight/flight/freeze response to what it perceives to be a sabre tooth tiger that’s about to kill you.

Then an interesting thing happens and people describe it often as a war between the logical mind which can’t believe you are reacting in the way you are and the emotional, unconscious mind that continues to drive the habit even stronger when challenged by logic. Because of our evolution, the logical mind is a mere infant in out heritage unlike the unconscious which has been around for a lot longer. So when there is a choice between thinking and feeling, guess what the illogical, unconscious wins hands down. Safety and survival always come first. Try to argue yourself out of the anxiety that come from the presentation, the job interview, it’s very difficult. The skill is how to work with the unconscious mind and its concerns and then a powerful partnership can unfold which can serve you well. So the doubt and uncertainty generated unconsciously become the very things that help you give of your best. The mind can learn and unlearn anything and it is definitely possible to retrain it so it works with you rather than against you.

So the illusions the mind creates that it is in control can be very helpful. In cognitive hypnotherapy we retrain the unconscious to keep you safe in a way that is relevant for you today at the age you are now. I haven’t seen many sabre toothed tigers in Kingston this week!

Friends reduce anxiety

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It’s official, good friendships stimulate our natural, feel good chemicals according to this article from Psyblog. We have evolved as a species to seek solace, support and strength in groups all of which made us safer from enemies and predators in the caveman days. It’s not just having friendships that can help us to manage anxiety or any other strong emotions, it’s the quality of those friendships.

Where I used to live I had one neighbour to the left who had a glass half empty. On a beautiful day he would tell me that it would probably rain later. He wouldn’t allow himself to feel good for long. On the other side I had a neighbour who was always looking on the bright side. Every conversation was up beat and positive- nicer to be around but when I was feeling low, he really irritated me by saying things like’ tomorrow’s another day’. He’d also tell me to’stop worrying’ which is the worst thing you can say when someone is experiencing anxiety

So we need friends that can tune into what we need when we need it. We need friends who will be there for us no matter what and we need friends who make us laugh as well. Take a look at the five people closest to you. If you were feeling anxious or down in the dumps, could you get what you needed from them. Your friends reflect the kind of water you are swimming in in your life. If you don’t like the look and feel of them, maybe its time to rethink who is around you so you can get what you need anytime you feel wobbly or anxious.

Goal setting moves your life forward.

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If you continue to do the same things, you get the same outcomes.

How many times have you read a book, a blog and had a light bulb moment! Lots of times if you are anything like me. How many times have you done this and never done anything about it? Lots of times if you are anything like me.

So if you want change, it requires you to take action. If you do one small thing everyday to move yourself forward within a week that’s 7 things, within a month it’s 28 and change happens more and more consistently.

Do you know what the average attention span is? 8 seconds. Do you know what the attention span of a goldfish is? 10 seconds! We live in fast paced times so in order to follow through on your goals, you need to focus everyday and cut down all those distractions.

I like this model it’s called WOOP

So, write down what you want to achieve in the next year. Be specific and focus on what you do want rather than what you don’t. Put as much detail in as you can. What you’ll be doing, where, with who, whats important about this goal and what difference it will make to your life. If developing this solution is difficult start with what you don’t want and find the opposite

What are the opportunities that this will bring for you?

What obstacles are getting in your way and how will you deal with these?

Write a plan, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s just a start and you can adjust it as you go.

Take a look at the plan – does it excite you and make you feel alive or does it scare you?

Are you confident you can achieve it or maybe you need help from someone like me?

So I’ve shared some thoughts briefly about the importance of a plan. A goal without a plan is just a wish. So start somewhere, write it down and start shaping your tomorrow, today.

‘Even if you are on the right road, if you just stand there you’ll get run over.’

 

Building Emotional Resilience Part 2

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I’ve had two clients this week both of whom are very much in their heads and as a consequence have built very successful businesses and really have nothing in life to be bothered about. So why have they come to see me?

They have both experienced extreme anxiety and can’t seem to get it under control and have tried every tactic in the book to run away from it and it’s not working!

The thing is. if you don’t find a way to work with your emotions, they can get stronger and for my two clients their emotions were getting in the way of doing the things that were important to them.

So whats going on?

I’ve written before about the divided brain and how emotions are generated in the older limbic brain to protect us. So when we get stressed by moving house or a challenging meeting or an argument with a loved one, this older part of the brain feels threatened and it triggers a strong fight, flight, freeze response. This can trigger a whole range of emotions; frustration, sadness, guilt, fear and anxiety to name a few. Most people tend to bury their heads in the sand and avoid these emotions through distraction, resorting to unhealthy habits like drinking or eating too much and the list goes on. These strategies can provide a temporary fix but if the emotions are too strong they can start a whole set of behaviours that make us feel even worse.

The best way to deal with these strong emotions is to face them and understand them. The unconscious mind generates these emotions because it’s concerned about something and it wants us to do something. Emotions are a call to action.

Lets have a look at what this could mean:

  • Anger in its various forms usually means that a line has been crossed. Once you explore this, you can move into the logical mind and then you’ve got some options and choices about what you can and can’t do.
  • Anxiety is fear associated with the future. So what is it that the older brain sees as threatening and what can you do about this threat?
  • Sadness and grief are normal responses to the loss of someone or something that was important. It’s an emotion that enables us to reconnect with others to find a way to overcome the loss

When you begin to explore emotions in this very different way, it’s surprising what a difference it can make.

Both my clients this week left understanding their emotions much better. One was able to fly again having been crippled by a phobia for some years, the other was confident that he was able to grasp a new business opportunity in both hands using his anxiety as a checklist of what needed attention to take his business to a new level.

I like this article in psychology today on the purpose of our emotions in evolutionary psychology. In evolutionary terms, if we didn’t have positive and negative emotions, we would be extinct. They are at the very core of what makes us human. All of the magical experiences in our lives wouldn’t have happened without them and at the same if we don’t work with the negative ones, we can feel tortured on a daily basis.

Building Emotional Resilience

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This is the first of a series of articles on how to develop emotional resilience.

If you think back over your lifetime, there have been some amazing discoveries in science, medicine and technology to name but a few, that have transformed the way we live in the world. As human beings we have immense capacity and potential and we are still learning about the brain, the mind and the body and how these systems work together to create such genius- so there is plenty more to come!!

So how come when we have such incredible potential are the rates of mental illness, stress, anxiety and depression getting higher and higher? How come when we have more and more of the things we want, the rates of unhappiness are soaring? I work with a lot of clients who experience anxiety, depression or who resort to other habits to mask their emotions: eating, smoking, drinking etc. What’s going on here? Well I think the answer is how we manage our relationship with ourselves and the world around us and in particular how we manage our emotions.

I was at the Quest Institute conference recently and Oliver James, author of ‘Affluenza’, suggests that mental illness increases when we pursue what we want rather than what we need. What he means by this is that the goal of having- the right house, the right car, the best gadget etc focuses on external factors to keep us happy. In contrast if we focus on what we need and enjoy the process of being, this creates more intrinsic happiness.

In a nutshell happiness is an inside out process rather than an outside in.

What does this mean?

Have you ever noticed how children have a natural ability to be happy? They live in the moment, enjoy being in the moment and are at one with themselves? The truth is that as human beings this is our natural resting state so we all have this ability. If you’re not sure, remember how relaxed you feel when you are on holiday, when all that clutter of life seems to clear itself and you rediscover what’s important to you. I describe this ability as having an inbuilt, innate compass that knows exactly what’s right for you in any given moment. Using this you can understand and navigate emotions effectively, activate the amazing problem solving skills we all have and find a solution or a way forward for most things.

My primary goal in all my work with clients is to put people back in touch with this ability. It’s always been there but it gets lost in the turbulence of negative thoughts and feelings which is a factor for every client I see.

When you begin to realise that you can experience and manage your reality in a very different way, that can open up a wealth of possibilities, new horizons, new ways of making sense of the world and a way to use and manage your feelings constructively. Could you just begin to imagine how powerful that could be?

In the subsequent parts in this series, I will give you some simple tips and techniques so you can begin to experience this for yourself.

“Life is not the way it’s supposed to be, it’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”

Virgina Satir

How to Beat Procrastination

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So why do we procrastinate? It’s usually a fear of making mistakes, a fear upsetting others, it’s effectively an emotional freeze or flight response in the older part of the brain. The limbic or emotional brain is far more hardwired in our neurology that the more modern brain, the cortex, and its sole goal is to get you to your death bed safely. If it feels unsafe it will trigger a fight, flight or freeze response as it thinks making a decision is as threatening as a sabre tooth tiger.

So procrastination is a miscalculation of risk by the older part of the brain. Every behaviour or response we have is appropriate in some contexts. Sometimes its good to procrastinate or even better put a decision on hold for now but not if its getting in the way of you committing to someone or something to move your life forward. This blog by Tim Urban goes into more detail.

I’ve been working with a client recently who finds it difficult to commit and if there was an olympic procrastination team, she’d be the captain! She prefers to leave everything until the last minute and loves to live in the present, enjoying the moment. Yogis spend years learning how to live in the moment so it’s not that procrastination in this form is a bad thing, its just that its not a good strategy all the time. So, as we explored this issue, her unconscious mind was telling her that the  past has become a place of regrets- so she won’t go there. In her mind, in the future are a whole load of catastrophes waiting to happen, so she won’t go there either. So her unconscious mind decides that the only safe place to focus her attention is in the present moment.

My client wanted to plan a house move, have a change of career and commit to a longterm relationship. This requires decisions to be made and actions to follow. Her strategy wasn’t working for her anymore and her longterm partner was about to leave her.

 

So, we had a conversation with the procrastinator part of her mind and found out that it wanted her to have a happy, fun life. It had a positive intention but did not realise that its strategy was outdated and not working anymore. We engaged the ‘ get stuff done’ part and these two smaller parts of herself can now begin to work together to get on and do what needs to be done and find time to relax and enjoy the moment afterwards. The upshot of this was that my client walked away feeling so much calmer, each part of her had a role to play now in her life, the battle was over. The new partnership that formed started to help her make better, more balanced decisions.

Interestingly, as these parts began to build a partnership, the future became a whole series of possibilities for her rather than threats and the past became good learning and the regrets faded away.

If you want to find a way to overcome your mind struggles get in touch. 

 

Mastering Fear

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One of the biggest challenges we all face is how to master fear, I see this a lot in the clients I work with.

We can work with fear at different levels.

Level 1

Were all afraid of something; spiders, heights, hospitals, the list is endless. We were only born with two distinct fears; fear of falling and of loud noises. You’ll see these innate responses in small babies. The rest we come to learn from our parents- about 60% of phobias are learnt by observing parents- and others we pick up as we go along. Whatever is learnt can be unlearnt. In cognitive hypnotherapy we train the mind to not respond to the thing that triggers the fear,

Level 2

There are other types of fear

  • Protective fear that stops you – I won’t go for that job interview or do that presentation because I won’t get it or people will laugh at me or realise I’m no good and that makes me feel unsafe. When the brain goes into protection, it generates a strong fight, flight or freeze response to stop you taking the risk.
  • Fear that spurs you on – I’m frightened of being poor so I’ll work harder and harder. I’ll make sure everyone likes me because my parents didn’t.

When we understand this kind of fear has a positive intention we can retrain the mind to meet these needs in a more balanced way by exploring and reframing underpinning beliefs we hold about the world or ourselves.

Level 3

Fear comes and goes and it’s a very natural response whenever we step out of our comfort zone. When we begin to recognise that fear comes from the inside. It is an emotional response to something like the effect of a scary film that’s not real. Fear has an energy to be harnessed that can bring excitement and satisfaction at doing something new or challenging. Experiencing fear in this way creates space for our innate curiosity and wisdom that allows us to explore and try new things in a spirit of learning and growth rather than fear and protection.

Challenge yourself in 2016 to find new ways to understand and harness your fear. I’m planning to do the Great North Run even though I can barely run around the block. It frightens and excites me at one and the same time. I want to get fitter and try something I never thought I would do.

The Brain that Can Rewire Itself

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Apart from the fact that the Dr Dispenza looks like the love child of The Osmond’s family (which depending on your age and preferences may or may not put you off), this is a great TED talk. Joe Dispenza explains how the wiring in the brain works and how we can change our response to things with practice. There are some great visuals of how the neurological connections in the brain work.

‘You generate more electrical connections in one day than all the phones on the planet’. This complex three and a half pound blob of jelly between your ears is an amazingly sophisticated bit of kit that can shape your experiences moment to moment. He goes onto to explain how our thoughts and feelings relate to memories in good and bad ways and how the brain doesn’t understand the difference between reality and imagination.

The basis of cognitive hypnotherapy is to retrain the brain to respond differently by shifting our thinking in the present by draining the negative emotion from the any memory that’s been overlaid on the present. Consequently, newer thought patterns and beliefs that are more helpful can rewire themselves quicker than you might think. Joe Dispenza calls this the ‘the science of changing your mind’. You don’t have to hold onto limiting beliefs anymore; you can build and shape new ones chemically and biologically and the more you do this, the more skilled you become and what seemed impossible once becomes very achievable now.

If you think you are ready to make changes in the way you think and feel, get in touch.