I've been thinking a lot recently about personal transformation and how that works as a Christian, because G-d is supposed to be transforming us constantly. "How specifically does that work?" I've been wondering.
Say a friend says to you, "I am struggling with [X] which I really want to change," what do you tell them? To have more faith? To understand it more? To see a psychologist? A spiritual director? A doctor? To read the Bible more? To have a stronger will? To be more conscious? To pray, and somehow G-d will make it better (but we're not quite sure how that works, or when it might, if at all)?
The psychoanalytic approach is based on the concept that insight produces change. I think that can be valid to a point (self-understanding is good) but that it's unnecessary for insight to precede change.
To that end, I've spent a good deal of time being trained in a specific way of communicating and understanding others: Neuro Linguistic Programming. Yes, it's a mouthful and I feel clever when I say it, but the reality is is that it's given me the tools to help people facilitate change within themselves, without needing to go the psychoanalytic route or the "just have more willpower" route.
Here is the introduction by Richard Bandler (one of the co-founders of NLP) to his latest book, "Get the life you want" (forgo the cheesy title, please!). I'd welcome comments on this, particularly as he's presenting an alternative here to the "insight produces change" paradigm.
I think this is a vitally important conversation for those of us who work with others to have, helping them to better understand themselves and make changes for the better. If we're using an approach which feels good and helps others unpack their realities in a way to better understand them, but doesn't lead to any change (let along generative change!), then we may want to be open to wonder about other approaches which are more helpful for the client.
THIS BOOK IS DESIGNED to be a guide for your behavior. It is a guide to help you make changes and avoid therapy-and avoid a slow, long process of change by helping you learn to change more quickly. One of the things I discovered in my work is that people acquire problems very quickly. It only takes one close call in an airplane for somebody to get an airplane phobia. After one bad accident, people can get a driving phobia. It takes bees to swarm once and people become phobic of bees. If people can learn to have fear in a short period of time, there's no reason why it should take a long period of time to learn anything else, so my policy has always been to use another approach to find a quick way to do things.
What exactly was this different approach I took? When psychologists wanted to study a particular difficulty, like phobias for example, they got together a bunch of phobics and tried to figure out why they were the way they were - effectively they looked at what made them tick. They tried experiments, like having the phobics face their difficulties and try to help them desensitize to their fear over time. The psychoanalytical approach of traveling back in time and reliving traumas, looking for deep, hidden, inner meaning was used. This idea was based on the concept that insight produces change.
This seemed like a wonderful idea! If you could understand your problems somehow or other, they would just disappear. Sigmund Freud started the concept and it was, at the time, a great innovation and has been tried for some 100 years in various forms. The suggestion was that understanding the psyche could produce change. The idea that you could help a person change verbally rather than physically was a promising insight itself. However, the idea of getting insight into your problems just does not work.
Over the years, people have used both psychological approaches and physical approaches. They've tried things like operant conditioning, conditioning people by rewarding them for good behavior and negatively reinforcing bad behavior. They would take smokers and give them a cigarette and shock the hell out of them. The problem is that most people who smoke for a while realize that it's not good for their health. They may even know why they started smoking - to look cool in front of their friends or to get over a nervous habit or to not eat so much-yet even though people know why they smoke, it doesn't make them stop.
Many people also know why they have fears. I had a client who very much understood her fears. When she was a young girl, she was attacked, not by one person but by a group of people. She was severely beaten. She was brutally raped and developed a fear of other people. She had a fear of going outside. In fact, she had a fear of almost everything. She'd seen a psychiatrist who treated her with therapy and drugs. I have to admit that taking valium made her more relaxed but, then again, taking narcotics makes heroin users more relaxed-but it doesn't deal with the real issue.
The real issue is they've developed a habit of being afraid when they don't need to be. They have learned to engage in a certain behavior that is, in and of itself, destructive. It destroys your quality of life. It destroys your freedom. It destroys the opportunity you have to live in a free society.
That particular girl didn't live in a terrifying place where bombs drop every day. She wasn't being attacked, and she hadn't been attacked in over twenty five years. Yet, every day she woke up afraid. Every night she went to sleep afraid. She was afraid to meet people, afraid to date, afraid to love, afraid to work, afraid of everything.
When she came to me after all the years of therapy, it was quite by accident. She enrolled in a course with over 500 people. I have people throw notes in the box on stage with questions they have, and she literally wrote down what had happened to her. She said she understood why she had a problem but still she didn't seem to be able to get away from it.
After I'd spoken to her privately, I brought her on the stage and explained to her the real truth-that I didn't need to understand how she became the way she did. I needed to understand how she kept being that way. It was pretty obvious why she was the way she was - something bad happened to her and she kept reliving it and everything in the world triggered that memory.
That wasn't based on what had happened. It was based on what she did with what happened. It was based on the fact that when she woke up she was asking the question What could go wrong? and the same answer came up every single time. She would imagine a life-size memory where she saw the bad thing happening to her over and over and over again.
It only took me a matter of twenty minutes to get her to stop doing this because I didn't have to find out why she did what she did, I just had to get her to stop it. Better yet, I had to get her to do something more important: develop a habit of feeling happy.
If you've been afraid most of your life, you may not have good examples of what "happy" is. In that case, you can build it in. That's what I do. You have to give people a really strong feeling of being relaxed, a really strong feeling of feeling good as a guide for their behavior. You do this so that, in the future when they wake up, they start asking, How much fun can I have today? How much freedom can I find? How much more can I do than I've done before?
When people start asking good questions, they make good pictures inside their heads. If you make good pictures, you will get good feelings. Then life becomes something that you feel more enthusiasm for. This girl is a good example of how you can go from having almost no life to having a rich, full life where things get better from the top to the bottom.
In order for you to turn your own life around, it's good for you to know how all these ideas came about so you can discover why they are so effective. When I first started out, I asked psychiatrists to name one of the toughest problems they faced, and they would tell me it was phobias. So my approach began by figuring out how to help people get over phobias, and the same approach turned out to work well for other problems too.
When I studied phobias, I didn't study the people who had them. I studied the people who got over them. I found a whole bunch of people who, without any kind of therapy, had gotten over them. These people had beaten their fears. I began to interview them methodically, using the tools I had developed in writing my earliest book, The Structure of Magic: Volume One. In this book, we discovered some of the secrets of the most successful therapists of the time and created a model of their skills. This was known as the Meta Model.
The Meta Model is a way to ask questions to find out how people process information at that time. It's not concerned with how they processed it in the past, or even how they will process it in the future, but what they do right now. How do they manifest their fear? How is it done as an activity? How is it done over and over again as an activity? Better yet, How did they get over their fear? What were the steps they took to overcome the phobia after being paralyzed for years?
A few of the people I talked to couldn't get on elevators. There were some with a phobia of bees. I had another person who had a phobia of dogs and several people who had a fear of driving. There were people with a fear of heights and a fear of open spaces. I even went to interview a few people who had agoraphobia, a fear of going outside of their home, and, suddenly, it was gone and they were able to go everywhere.
All of these people, as they told me their stories, shared certain things in common. One example was that they reached a point where they got so fed up they stopped thinking about what scared them. They started to look at themselves being afraid and started thinking, This is really silly. Elements like these, which they all shared in common, allowed me to develop the first "phobia cure." It wasn't really a "cure" so much as a "lesson."
It was at that point in time that the psychiatrist who I worked with sent me droves of people with different kinds of phobias so I could test the work I had developed. I took the mental process of people who successfully got over phobias and I undertook installation. Very simply, this is the process of teaching people to think differently. Thinking isn't a passive process unless you do it passively. Thinking should always be an active process where you think in a way that gets you the results you want.
This approach turned out to be applicable to almost all the other problems people had. If you can help people to think differently and actively, they can change their lives. If you're trying to motivate yourself and you're thinking about how hard it is, it will be hard. I always say to people, If you're lookingfor difficulties, you'll always find them. If you ask the question, What can go wrong? then something probably will. On the other hand, if you're asking the question, What works? then you can find it and, in this case, I did.
Starting at about 1974, right up to the present date, I have yet to have a single individual come in with a genuine phobia and walk out with it. Many people ask me about the amount of resistance I must have faced over the past thirty-five years, but I never did face very much of it for one simple reason. What I was doing was working!
When you learn how people think, you can teach them how to change the way they think. The process I learned from these people was something that could be recapitulated not just by me but by others. I could teach it to people in a short twenty-minute lesson. I've done it over and over again.
I made films back in the early 1980s where I took three people: one with panic attacks, one with a terrible phobia of leaving Huntington, West Virginia, and one with a fear of authority figures. Their phobias all disappeared. Each of them was treated slightly differently but each of them was taught a lesson about how to think of their fear in a new way.
When you think in a new way, you get to do new things and you get to feel new things. This whole book is about ways of thinking differently. Think about it as a lesson plan for future living. This is only one example of the things that matter when people want to make changes in their lives. You can take the process that is common to a bunch of people, apply a successful technique, and refine it down to something that can be taught to an individual.
We also did it with simple things like spelling. When people are good spellers, it turns out that they make pictures of the words, remember the pictures, and they check them with their feelings to make sure they're right. So, we developed an educational program where we taught kids to look at words and we made every single letter a different color.
After they'd looked at the words, we had them close their eyes and make a mental picture of them, and then we began to ask them questions like, What color was the third letter? What color was the last letter? The only way to answer those questions is to have a truly remembered image of the word, and we had them check it with their feelings. We'd show them the word spelled incorrectly so they got a bad feeling with that. Then we showed it to them spelled correctly so they got a good feeling with that. Mentally, they began to develop a process that worked.
When you see a word, you can encode the image of it. In order to remember things, you have to first encode the memory. If we teach children to properly encode the spelling of words, they'll be able to properly decode the spelling of words. The same thing is true about all memory tasks which is why the educational system has been affected by my work. If you check out Kate Benson's website Meta4Education, you'll find all kinds of information for teachers.
There are now many books on Neuro-Linguistic Programming for the field of education. There are books on NLP applications for sports athletes. We found golfing strategies telling how great golfers are able to go into an altered state and visually adjust their body. Prize fighters and football players also use NLP to improve their performance. All people can learn to do things better.
Every task has a mental component to it. A lot of what we call talent is when people stumble upon these strategies easily. Certainly, you can't beat a good set of genes. If you're seven feet tall, it's easier to be a good basketball player. If you like basketball, it's easier to practice. If you like playing guitar, it's easier to practice, but if you don't have the mental capacity of a great musician, you can begin to adjust it and to learn talent. Talent isn't just God-given. It's partially God- given; the other part is accessed by human beings insofar as they're able to teach each other.
Lessons aren't just about what to learn. Lessons should be about how to learn. It's not enough to show a child words and ask them to remember them. You have to tell them how to remember them. It's not enough to tell a phobic not to be afraid; you have to teach him what makes fear dissipate.
For almost four decades, I've gone through and I've studied everything about people with all kinds of problems. I've worked with people who were schizophrenic and have learned from people who weren't schizophrenic and were able to do specifically what a schizophrenic was unable to do.
One of my more famous cases was brought to me by a psychiatrist a number of years ago. This was a lady who couldn't tell the difference between fantasies and memories. Every time she would come in to the psychiatrist, she would cry and moan about having killed her parents. He would bring in her parents and she would chat thoughtfully with them, but when they left she would claim she had killed them.
Why she fantasized killing them isn't important. The fact is she couldn't tell which memories were real. So I turned to the psychiatrist and asked him how he knew which one of his memories was real and which ones were fantasies. I had them both make up a memory on the spot. They both made up a fantasy of how they got to my office and put in all the necessary details, and then I asked them both how they got there.
The psychiatrist answered me calmly. The patient screamed and moaned that it was one thing and then it was the other and then it was one thing and then it was the other. She couldn't tell them apart. It turned out that when I asked the psychiatrist how he knew, he told me that his fantasies had a black border around them and his memories didn't. This was a very precise way of knowing which images were created and which images were remembered. I'm sure he had no problems telling his fantasies from his reality.
I hypnotized this lady into a deep altered state and had her lift up her arm and go through the fantasies she had made up and put black borders around them. She had to do so with everything from killing her parents to any other fantasy, including the one she had made up in the room for me. I then told her that when her brain had gone through and recoded all this information, she could let her hand come down. When she opened her eyes, I asked her if she'd killed her parents and she calmly said no.
This approach is about being able to teach people as opposed to therapize them. The truth is that after all the years of giving people insight and change not occurring, the lesson to be learned was that insight was a great idea, it just didn't work. Communism was a good idea, but it didn't work in practice.
When ideas don't work, you have to put them out in the backyard with the square wheels because when something isn't working, it's just not working. So, what I've tried to do over the years is find the things that work in human beings-simple things, teachable things. Some of them are taught better in the waking state, and some of them are taught better in a hypnotic trance. To me, it doesn't matter which it is, it only matters that people get to where they want to go. It matters to me that they have the freedom to live, the freedom to be happy, and the freedom not to waste their time with bad habits. I believe the truth is that most ongoing problems are just a manifestation of having the same bad habit over and over again.
People with obsessive compulsive disorder have the bad habit of building rituals to try to stave off their anxiety. Every single ritual may give them a little bit more comfort, but in the end it continues to build more fear.
The more comfort you have to build, the more fear you need to have. It's a vicious cycle, and most stupidity works in this way. I'm not saying stupid in the sense that it's bad. If you discover something's stupid and you laugh at it and you stop it and build something more effective, life just gets better. I'm a firm believer that you can learn to get over your problems.
For thirty-five years, people have walked in my doorway miserable and walked out with more freedom. They have walked out happier and continue to walk out that way. People have always said, Well this phobia cure is good, but what if it comes back in six months? Simple: you just take another twenty minutes and you banish it again.
The truth is that it will only come back when you start doing the same things you did before and thinking the same things as you did before. Otherwise, it will stay gone forever. In fact, something wonderful will happen. You'll have more time to enjoy your life.
All of the time you spent feeling bad, you could be feeling good. That doesn't mean that bad things don't happen. People die. Horrible things happen. Sometimes people get into car wrecks or they go into debt. There are horrible things worth feeling bad about, but those are things worth doing something about so you get on with your life as quickly as you can and become the best person you can be. If you can look at yesterday and say you are a better person today, even if it's just a tiny bit, then you're still headed in the right direction.
This book is about how you do just that. The outline of the book is very simple. First, I have outlined an inventory, which will explain the basics and help you to take stock of the tools you have at your disposal.
Next, I will discuss many of the problems that you might face in your life. You'll learn about how to get over problems such as bad fears, memories, and relationships. You'll find out how to get through things like bad habits, recovery, and the times when you feel like giving up. You'll discover how to get to the things that make life worthwhile such as fun, love, sex, and making big decisions about your life.
Throughout the book, I'll be sharing certain stories and insights I have gained into working with each problem and challenge I deal with. You'll also find plenty of techniques and tips outlined in a step- by-step guide so that, as you read, you can change instantly. Again, it's critical that you follow the steps and you do them thoroughly.
I got a postcard one time from the Grand Canyon. When I first wrote the book The Structure of Magic, I didn't get too many postcards. However, when I wrote the book Frogs into Princes that laid out ways people could get rid offears and anxieties, I got a postcard from the Grand Canyon.
Somebody wrote me a postcard and it simply said the following:
"I'm hanging off the side of the Grand Canyon. I had a height phobia for many years. I spent lots of money on therapy. But for just $8.95, my problems disappeared. Thank you." When I decided to write this guide so people could get over their own problems, what I had in mind was something that would allow you all to write me a postcard.