When someone tells you a story, they are giving you the benefit of their editing capabilities. They don’t just feed you an array of facts and leave it to you to sort out what’s relevant. The best stories, in my opinion, leave out interpretations, explanations and opinions as much as possible, but any story will, by virtue of the storyteller’s perspective, distort the facts. By emphasizing certain landmarks, events, attributes and features the storyteller makes it interesting while leading you in a particular direction.
So, there’s no such thing as a “neutral” story, but perhaps such a thing would be so dry and boring that nobody would want to listen anyway. Since we are so good at interpreting and making meaning, it must have some survival value. Making meaning is one of the central capacities we use constantly, but is it always useful? Might there be times when we could benefit from being more open and alive to unexpected, new or random influences?
Our waking experience has sensory input as it’s raw material. If you, however, successfully do the exercise I outline below, you may begin to notice how the bulk of our conscious thoughts often detach from our present surroundings, remembering, fabricating, manipulating, calculating, interpreting, etc. We create endless stories in our heads, most of which we never tell anyone else.
The potential to pay attention to our senses is always there, and it turns out that there is an impactful and beneficial way to reconnect with the raw data. I believe this method may be similar to what a newborn experiences before they’ve had a chance to give much structure to their experience. It is a recent discovery for me, but since it has the effect of reducing the internal verbiage of my precociously scattered thoughtstream, I’ll give it high marks for the potential to yield ever more interesting insights and states of mind.
This is somewhat hedonistic. I got the idea from some of Bandler and Grinder’s material on the “uptime trance”. It can be done in any context where you are not required to talk or perform a task. I like to do it on the bus, or walking somewhere, but you can also be sitting quietly as long as there is some activity close at hand that produces various sounds or visual stimuli. I usually start out by giving attention to whatever sounds are coming to me, which means I might close my eyes to make it easier (not while walking, of course).
As you listen to the sounds around you, let them begin to wash into your awareness. Sounds without words, or at least words we understand, are the most useful. Each one has a certain character, rhythm, cadence – and can generate a corresponding feeling within you. You may recognize many of these sounds, giving them labels or images. That’s OK, but the important part is to allow every sound in, letting it massage your mind as a feeling. Some sounds will be constant – they’re the easier ones to start with. Some will ebb and flow or be rhythmic, for a higher level of interest. Some sounds will surprise you, and the feeling from those has the strongest power to take you deeper into trance because your listening concentration will increase in anticipation of more surprises. As your concentration builds, you can synthesize ALL of the sounds you hear into one grand symphony of feeling-motion within your neurology. It will take energy and concentration, and it will be pleasurable.
The same principle can be applied using your eyes. I like doing this while walking because there’s lots of movement. Let your visual awareness expand to include your entire field of vision, right to the periphery. Allow the motions you see in your environment to impart their motion-feeling characteristics, as if they are taking place within your mind and you can feel them passing through, sliding, jostling, bouncing, pirouetting or even solidly standing still. It’s a pleasurable sense of life lived in 3-D. The pleasure is good because it encourages you to do it again, which is good because it is one way to quiet the incessant chattering inside and become more sensitive to those thoughts that take us away from a more direct experience of life.
And I leave you to ponder what that might be good for!
‘We went on to speak about the nature of thought, and how our experience of life is made out of the same invisible “stuff” that dreams are made of. And we don’t try to “fix” a bad dream – we wake up from it. And this is the real promise of a deeper understanding of the nature of the human experience – not that circumstances will always go our way, but that we are able to relate to our circumstances in a way that allows us to tilt the odds in our favor and enjoy the ride.’ – Michael Neill
The idea that life is a dream has a scientific basis. Anatomy of the eye, for instance, tells us we have many more receptors (cones and rods) than there are nerve fibers in the optic nerve, implying that there is some kind of information compression taking place. Cognitive science points out that the brain constructs what the mind sees out of this “compressed” information by making “decisions” about what the raw data means, normally choosing the most reasonable, common interpretation. The brain does not function like a television screen for the mind, but actively builds a dynamic, three-dimensional model of the world that we use to navigate and make decisions. Add to this our amazing ability to construct past and future scenarios, feel empathy (the re-construction of other’s feelings using our own physiology) and accurately head a soccer ball into the net. We construct our experience of reality so well and so fast that we don’t even realize we are doing it.
It’s possible and likely for us to make mistakes during all of this. Most of the raw data from our senses, compressed as it may be, gets ignored because otherwise the awesome powers of the brain would be overwhelmed. Then, the majority of our construction gets ignored because our conscious attention (also awesome) is limited in scope, so the parts of reality that we focus on are such a small sliver of the reality that exists “out there” that it is silly to think we perceive anything accurately. To make up for this, a large portion of our cognitive power is taken up with the ability to make corrections based on new sensory feedback. Part of our model involves correcting the model!
When we dream at night, we use all the same faculties of construction, except that the majority of the input is from within the brain itself. “Our experience of life is made out of the same invisible “stuff” that dreams are made of.” We are living in a dream, and your dream is not the same as mine, even if we agree on some aspects of shared reality. In our shared reality dream, we need to take action, look after ourselves and our world, act within the dream as if our construction is accurate because that’s what we know.
Feelings are the motivators of our actions, and the main difference between a good dream and a nightmare is how we feel in it. If our feelings arise out of our interpretation of events, and that interpretation is based upon a constructed reality, we can change the feel of our experience by:
- re-interpreting it, or by
- re-introducing deleted perceptions back into the construction, or by
- shifting sensory attention to different aspects of the situation.
These interventions involve working with different levels of the construction process. You could say they are different paths to “waking up” within the dream.
When things are going well, we rarely feel like changing them much. It is when the dream becomes a nightmare that we want to change it, so suffering and dissatisfaction become an impetus for change. I would not suggest that we stop working to make changes in our world, but what if it were easier, more enjoyable and more effective to wake up in the dream. What would that be like? How could I do it? What’s involved? If I ask the questions, I’m more likely to discover the answers. Perhaps if you come back here in a week or two, I’ll have something to say about it.
What I’ve come up with so far is that the most accessible wake-up option is at the highest level, the one involving identity, belief and interpretation. Nine times out of ten, painful relationships and experiences involve miscommunication and narrow perception, producing beliefs and interpretations with painful meaning while ignoring other possible, more pleasant or more useful interpretations. “How do I wake up in this situation?” is a simple way to interrupt an old pattern and open the mind to new possibilities. Earnestly asked, this question is often enough to instantly change everything, shifting experience to a different set of priorities and relieving mind and body of the burden of fixing things.
It may sound strange, but we can learn to cherish our bad times when we use them to remind ourselves to open up and be present.
There are many ways to model the activity of our minds, and one way is to think of ourselves as a flowing, cascading river of goals – or outcomes. Our brains are well adapted to the pursuit of goals. Every living organism, in fact, has its tacit and fundamental motivation away from painful stuff (heat, bad pH, loud noises, bankruptcy, Nazis) and toward pleasurable things (food, sex, rock and roll, visits from the grandchildren). If we think of our brains as highly-evolved goal-seeking machines, we can deconstruct our real-time thoughts and emotions as being embedded in a matrix of outcomes and the mobilization of our nervous energy (resources) to reach those outcomes.
You may not always be aware that you are seeking something – and since this is just a model, I am willing to concede the possibility that a person can be without motivation of any kind whatsoever. But on those occasions of emotional arousal, such as anxiety, excitement, enjoyment, irritation and so on, it seems likely that some desired outcome is being pursued, satisfied or thwarted.
The NLP sense of outcomes includes sensory representations that help us “envision” the outcome and provide us with criteria for measuring whether or not the outcome has been reached. I know, for instance, that when I get home from work, I will be able to drop my burdens (backpack and bike helmet), have some liquid refreshment and begin thinking about what to do next. I may not think about these exact things as I ride up the hill to my place, but if my progress toward these pleasures is somehow arrested, I will feel frustration. Even if I am not aware of my outcomes, they are functioning whenever I feel a sense of motivation towards or away from something.
So far so good: we are goal-seeking organisms with the capacity to create a model of a goal and how to reach it and then mobilize ourselves to follow the plan to get there. So what happens when there are two or more outcomes working simultaneously? This could be multitasking, which most of us consider to be good, or it could be cognitive dissonance, confusion, stress, paralysis, insanity. For instance, let’s say you see an attractive person on the street. You may, without any real conscious decision, immediately formulate the goal of deriving pleasure from gazing on this person, commonly known as cruising or ogling. On the other hand, you may also want to be well-regarded by them. Getting these two incompatible goals to co-exist is an art-form that has been developed with varying degrees of success by numerous North American males. One of the strategies for successfully reconciling these two values is to recognize that the pleasure derived from both looking at and talking to women is a product of the imagination.
The feedback from reality may be different from the imagined result.
Learning to use feedback as information is, of course, a goal-seeking adaptation for which our brains are well-equipped. The processes that interfere with this can also be related to specific outcomes we may have. For instance, if I want to tell you about some experience but you keep getting distracted, I might get frustrated. This will lead me down a different path than if I adopt a new outcome of seeking rapport with you by attending to the distraction along with you.
We normally have multiple outcomes – and even multiple levels of outcomes – running at the same time. There are the big, global, driving sorts of values, such as learning various skills, building financial security, cultivating a relationship or making a difference in your community. Within those are smaller-chunk outcomes, cascading down in a hierarchical way to the small, moment-by-moment goals that direct our outward behaviour. Some outcomes will be active and others dormant at any given time. Some seem to run in the background and only reveal themselves occasionally. Some are routine outcomes we use often in pursuit of a wide range of other values, such as “travel from here to there”, or “check the time”, or “get out of this conversation now”.
There is plenty of opportunity for conflict among all these shifting, constantly transforming outcomes that interact with our senses and our conscious minds. So much of this content is unconscious that we often don’t identify the sources of our feelings, and the perception is that events “cause” feelings. This is a distraction from the more useful strategy of the Outcome Scan, which is very simple: interrupt your process for a moment and find out what your outcomes are right now, because these potent little ideas are motivating and mobilizing your energies.
What conflicting outcomes are producing the tightness in my throat? Am I confused by the conflict between my long-term outcome of building a life and my short-term need to get along with some person? Has contact with reality made something I wanted before seem unrealistic? Has the need to adhere to realistic plans and outcomes suddenly taken precedence over cherished dreams? Are the dreams still there, seeking expression?
Try this experiment for a couple of days: Program yourself so that whenever you experience an uncomfortable feeling, you will stop and perform a quick outcome scan. You will be pleasantly surprised at the effect. You can become so sensitive that you will notice things like how reading words on a page can conflict with your desire to believe certain things.
And, for a chance to practice your other NLP skills, join us for NLP Boot this Monday August 9 at 7 pm. Email me for details.
If you’re interested in NLP you have no doubt heard of the 4-stage learning model – you know, the one that says learning goes in 4 stages:
- unconscious incompetence
- conscious incompetence
- conscious competence
- unconscious competence
At a Boot session in the far distant past, Edward showed us his own cyclic version of this model, which can also be run backwards, eg. from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. When you think about it, NLP is full of examples where we can bypass the model and run straight to unconscious competence, then de-construct the result to tinker with it (conscious competence) only to discover certain weaknesses (conscious incompetence).
For instance, take state elicitation. Let’s say you want to boost your rapport-building skills. In my experience, rapport is usually discussed in terms of observable behaviour, such as matching and mirroring. Just like we can train our behaviour to match and mirror, we can also go a little deeper and train the intentions that guide our behaviour, and one way to do this is state elicitation.
Rapport is something we all do, sometimes very competently. Can you think of a memory of intense rapport? I mean the kind of moment when you felt everyone involved (including you) was delighted to be present and participating. What did it feel like? Where did you feel it in your body? Can you associate a colour with the feeling? Can you make it stronger so it permeates all your cells and spills out into the space around you? Can you give it a name? Is there a gesture that will help you call up the feeling?
Once you’ve practiced anchoring the feeling with the colour, gesture and the name, you can start using it to target random people and see what happens. Take that colour/feeling/name synthesis and reach across the room with it to touch a person. Let it infuse the inside of that person with the same delightful feeling.
Regardless of whether or not you can psychically infuse someone with your good energy, here is what will happen. You have generated a congruent state in which your whole neurology is favorably predisposed to connect with the other person, and it will show. The unconscious signals you will be giving off – exuding, dripping with – will be apparent the moment that person’s eyes come anywhere near your air space. Do you think this might increase the chances of a positive reaction from them?
Even if you cannot maintain this state for very long – it takes a lot of energy – the residual thought patterns will linger and, for a while, be anchored to that person, or even that place or situation. You have trained your intentions which are training your responses. Now you can relax and let the mirroring, matching, attentive body language and welcoming facial expressions come out naturally, in tune with the moment-by-moment. You can notice what contributes to the atmosphere of rapport. You can even notice what is destructive to rapport. This is Edward’s backwards cycle!
And…you now have a well-anchored synesthesia that can help you evoke rapport-building behaviour in those times when you don’t feel like it, which may be when you need it most.
Let’s back up a little more. Once you have trained your intentions to cloak yourself with rapport magnetism … or invisibility … or invincibility, now what? You might not want to spend all your public time projecting neurological states. You can just relax and let your deeper intentions guide you about when to call up one of your super powers. Life starts to get more interesting.
For more ideas and practice, come to the next NLP Boot tomorrow night (May 24) at 7 pm. Email me for the location.
If you’ve ever had moments (or entire days) when your actions seem infected with klutz-itis, you might find this helpful. If you ever feel stuck in an emotional response that you know is counterproductive, you can try this out. On those times when you can’t seem to “get it right” it’s a good time to hit the RESET BUTTON. This is a quick strategy in three steps that will help you get back your A-game.
A friend of mine introduced me to this idea which he developed after he found himself repeatedly engaging in heavy political conversations at work and realized that he was wasting valuable time in an unrewarding way. His idea was a simple pattern interrupt, initiated whenever he began feeling stressed out. In other words, without knowing a thing about NLP, he managed to link the stress of incongruity with an intervention that resets the system back to a configuration that works better – a reset button!
After playing around with it, I’ve added a couple of things to make it more robust. These three steps are nothing new to those familiar with NLP, and can be practiced easily by themselves. For simplicity and ease of execution, I express them in the form of three questions:
- What am I perceiving right now? (a quick uptime trance)
- start with foveal vision, then peripheral
- add auditory channel
- add kinesthetic info about the environment, such as temperature, air movement, vibration, pressure, etc.
- How do I feel right now? (an internal congruity check)
- Congruity means what I’m doing is what I want to be doing.
- Incongruity is the gap between the present state and the desired state. As such, it can serve as a guide and motivator, leading to…
- What do I want in this situation? (an outcome frame)
- this flows naturally into an evaluation of resources and obstacles and…
- mobilizing internal resources to begin closing the gap between the present state and the desired state.
To be useful, this strategy needs to be connected with context – the events and situations where it will help. I started connecting this up by remembering times in the past when I thought it would help, getting the feelings of frustration or whatever and linking them with the first step (uptime trance) by practicing the sequence: stress leads into uptime trance, which leads to congruity check, etc. After this initial linking and some future pacing, it’s becoming a habit, generalizing into more and more contexts.
And, sometimes the uptime trance alone will be enough to transform the pattern into something more better.
By the way, NLP Boot tomorrow night (Monday May 10) at 7pm at my place.
Last night, I was conversing with my colleague Andre and his wife about how to move our voice teaching practices from the “fun” and “barely happening” stage to “going concern” territory. As usual, I was full of ideas both practical and “creative”, looking for solutions, possibilities, excitement, etc. Andre, to the chagrin of his wife, was shooting down ideas as fast as I could articulate them which, with the help of some performance enhancing wine, was pretty fast. I began to grow frustrated and then, thankfully, reframed the situation by asking myself “what is Andre doing here that works to our benefit?”
The answer, of course, is that he was being an Owl.
Owl, you say? What the heck is an Owl? When I brought this pop psychology terminology up in the conversation, I naturally got a derisive snort from Andre, so I was committed to explaining myself in order to salvage my dignity.
I described an idea I read years ago in, I think, Robert Kiyosaki’s book, that describes how Walt Disney had an ingenious system for getting the most out of his people. He divided his troops into 3 groups who specialized in certain kinds of thinking:
2. Realists, and
3. Critics, the aforementioned Owl mindset.
Disney’s strategy was to move his projects through repeated cycles of these three modes of thinking: First the Dreamers would get to make wild and wacky nonsense and freely generate ideas from inspirational to ridiculous. Then the Realists would devise strategies for implementation. Next, the Critics would do their Owly thing and poke at it to uncover weaknesses, flaws and other disagreeable aspects. Then the project would go, limping and bleeding, back to the Dreamers for a new chance at life, and the cycle would repeat. After a number of iterations, the project would either survive or not. If it survived, it meant that the whole thing had evolved enough so the Owls couldn’t wreck it any more.
My point to Andre was that his Owl is very important, but that we don’t want it to short circuit the Dreamer or the Realist. If we start the process with Owl-ing, everybody gets discouraged, packs up and goes back to watching TV.
Which brings me to the subject of our next Boot session. Edward has prepared something about the elicitation and evocation of STATES, a logical extension of the work we’ve been doing lately. This will also help move us forward if we can evoke high learning states and then anchor them into our Boot sessions…
…and who knows, we might also play with evoking the classic Disney States. Everyone is, of course, capable of Dreaming, Strategizing and Owling. Segregating these states from each other can provide them with some freedom to do what they do best and, as I tell my singing students, functional independence of the parts enables them to become stronger and coordinate together more effectively.
So, please consider joining us for NLP Boot in Vancouver on Monday April 19 at 7pm. You can email me if you need directions to get there.
There are plenty of situations where it would be nice to be able to exercise complete control, to exert dominion and the executive prerogative. If we can see many instances of the success of achieving this, from the dynamic “type A personality” to potent military command and control structures, it is easy to believe that the idea of absolute control is the best way to get things done. Hence, structures abound in our global culture that are designed to produce domination and control.
This idea emulates natural systems, since the most successful animals are vertebrates possessing a centralized executive function. While it is true that having one, central decision-making faculty produces advantages, in the most successful control structures the information flows both ways. My brain receives information from my body and senses that informs my decision-making. In this way, the control systems that lead to success are actually responsive, flexible and dynamic. They are structures more in the sense that language has structure that is fluid and ever-changing than in the sense of a corporate command hierarchy.
To further complicate things, the majority of biological (and corporate) functions are under distributed, rather than central, control. DNA is distributed throughout an organism and a company’s employees need to express their own talents and abilities in order for the corporate body to function. This happens from the cellular level right on up. Many important nervous functions, such as motor reflexes, proprioception and various autonomic responses are decentralized.
This distributed intelligence is why we generally progress faster in things like sports and singing when we simply tell ourselves to execute well-designed exercises and then let the body figure out the best way to do it. For the voice, the art of teaching consists of choosing helpful exercises designed to strengthen weak muscles and then encouraging the student to allow the voice to accomplish them. This very challenging process of directing, then allowing, quickly leads to the experience of new vocal movements and the disconcerting loss of control! If the student is able to follow this path, he will soon begin to detect and follow messages from the voice, intuitions about where to put his efforts for more and more optimal vocal response. This is possible when aesthetic considerations are temporarily put aside in favour of engendering healthy function and the hedonistic pleasure of getting the most bang for your buck.
This is, of course, a metaphor for NLP training. The idea is to execute a well-designed, appropriately-selected exercise and then follow the process. It works best if you are not attached to any particular result and remain open to new information and unexpected responses. It is a fluid kind of control, really, somewhat like language is a fluid, responsive kind of structure.
You may have guessed that I am preaching to myself. Think of me as Maxwell Smart, the guy from Control, learning to loosen up.
Which reminds me to invite you to our next NLP Boot practice session on Monday, Jan 25 at 7 pm. Email me if you need directions.