NLP Techniques to Achieve Positive Lasting Behavioural Change

Recently I attended a workshop in Brussels on how to incorporate New Code Neuro-Linguistic Programming techniques into daily life as a means of achieving positive and lasting behavioural change. It’s difficult to condense the content of that inspiring three hour session (hosted by fabulous trainers Lidija and Thomas from Momentum Strategies Coaching, who offer courses in London as well as Brussels and other locations worldwide) for the purpose of this blog post, but I’m going to have a go.

During the session, Lidija and Thomas explained that behaviour change is instigated by our unconscious mind rather than our conscious mind. When we want to change a behaviour we must therefore tap into our unconscious mind. This cannot be done, however, unless we are in the right state of mind to engage. For example, if we are feeling stressed, angry or sad, we are less likely to be able to communicate our wants and desires to our unconscious in a meaningful way.

The word ‘wants’ is key here, because the unconscious mind doesn’t recognise or process negatives e.g. I don’t want to keep behaving like this. Rather, it recognises positive affirmations e.g. I want to change this behaviour.

During the workshop we did a number of exercises to promote relaxation and to help us connect with our unconscious mind. One such exercise involved asking our unconscious to support us in making the positive behaviour change we most wanted. According to NLP theory, in making this connection between conscious and unconscious mind, the unconscious mind will begin to adapt our behaviour in ways that promote the desired behavioural change, without the conscious mind even being aware of it.

One example given to demonstrate this was that of a writer who wanted to finish a novel (bit close to home, this one). If the writer were to ask their subconscious every night to support them in achieving this goal, they might find that one day, on waking, they reach for their smartphone (as is their habit) and it drops onto the floor and underneath the bed. Whilst not necessarily the case, this could be an indication of the unconscious mind forcing a change in behaviour to break the negative behavioural cycle (i.e. checking smartphone before doing anything else, and getting sucked into social media etc.), and the writer might take this as a sign, leave the phone under the bed and get their laptop out instead, and begin to write.

I admit I was initially a little sceptical about this example, but then I tried it myself, and a couple of days later as I walked to work along the normal route I suddenly veered off and took a different route, with no input whatsoever from my conscious mind. And then, also unbidden by my conscious mind, my new novel idea popped into my head, and I spent the rest of the walk to work thinking about it. Granted, this could be coincidence, but I’m interested enough to find out more about this fascinating technique and learn how to use it to make positive lasting change in my life.

As a starting point of NLP it is important to clearly state our Intentions i.e. the things our conscious minds most desire. The following is my list:

  1. I WANT TO FINISH MY SCREENPLAY
  2. I WANT TO WRITE A NOVEL
  3. I WANT TO IMPROVE MY FRENCH
  4. I WANT TO BE A MOTHER
  5. I WANT TO BE A GOOD WIFE AND MOTHER
  6. I WANT TO BETTER UNDERSTAND OTHERS / THE HUMAN CONDITION
  7. I WANT TO HELP PEOPLE

What’s yours?

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P.M.A*

In recent weeks I’ve felt my old nemesis stress creep up on me. This was, in part, why I took the decision to have a week’s ‘staycation’ last week. And, as I sit here on the eve of returning to work, I have to say it’s done wonders. Not only have I achieved lots of my writing goals – the other reason for my taking some time off – I have also created some much-needed thinking and breathing space. It’s frightening how hemmed in you can feel by life if you don’t do that from time to time, and as someone whose standard response is to run away when the going gets tough – usually by going off travelling every three years or so, when the daily commute gets so much I feel murderous – I’ve been delighted to realise that the mental peace and clarity I’ve been searching for aren’t always that far afield.

I’m writing this post because I want to hang on to this feeling of positivity, and to be able to refer back to it when I inevitably have moments of sinking back below the mire. I’ve also just been leafing through a little book called ‘Carpe Diem-Make the Most of Life,’ which was lent to me by a good friend and which is full of uplifting and inspiring quotes. Despite being a pessimist by nature, in moments like this I realise how wonderful life is, and what a monumental waste of time it is to be negative. As the page in the photo rightly says, ‘You are the hero of your own story.’ And nobody likes a negative hero, right?

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*Positive Mental Attitude

Woe is Me / Fat Arses and Cake

I’ll admit it: I’m fed up. It’s been three weeks exactly since my last run – you know, the one that put me firmly out of action for the Rome Marathon 12 days later, and also catalysed the depressing spiral of back-related issues which, over the course of the past 21 days, have included – but not been limited to – the following: General/dull lower back pain/stiffness; acute lower back pain; acute pain in right buttock (particularly uncomfortable when sitting down); shooting pain in right shin (particularly uncomfortable when walking); numbness in lower right leg (problematic when attempting to walk due to tripping over of self); tingling in toes of right foot, inability to walk without being in excruciating pain (especially when involving stairs).

For the past five months I’ve been an exercising powerhouse. Now, all of a sudden, it’s a struggle just to walk around the block (and when I say walk I mean hobble at a woeful pace – put it this way, in a sports day full of geriatrics right now I’m pretty sure I’d come last). The worst thing is not knowing what the problem is – well, I have a fairly good idea it’s something disc-related, but have to wait another fortnight for an NHS physio appointment to establish the root cause of the injury, and thus begin the arduous process of trying to fix it. In the meantime I’m floating on a sea of unease, unsure whether to rest, to exercise, to use heat, to use ice, to take this painkiller or that one – or just to drink copious amounts of wine (always the preferable option). And, as is always the case in these situations, everyone’s an expert, so I’ve been inundated with (mostly very helpful) suggestions about what I should and shouldn’t be doing – my concern being that surely every back injury is different, to some extent, so what works for one person might not work for another (in trying someone’s suggested exercises, therefore, might I not be doing myself more harm than good?).

Since my lowest ebb last Friday I have at least managed to keep away from the Tramadol – a last resort in pain relief (though really floaty light) – although the diazepam’s been making reappearances from time to time when the pain wakes me in the night (as it did last night). In my more positive moments I think it’s getting better and chide myself for being a big baby, but in the lower ones when I’m writhing on the floor with pain or unable to climb the stairs without feeling I might pass out I just want to give in and cry. I’ve been signed off work but my conscience won’t allow me not to work from home, so to add to the frustration there have been repeated attempts to access emails remotely and locate files from the server that I’m sure I’ve sent myself in the event of this eventuality but which seem to have deleted themselves spontaneously upon sending.

Put simply, having a bad back sucks. This experience has been exhausting and depressing in the extreme, and has made me feel enormously sympathetic towards all who suffer chronic back pain every day of their lives. I can at least be fairly confident that with time and patience (the latter sadly not being one of my strong points) I will heal, and that one day (soon? Please God, let it be soon) I’ll be back in the gym and training for my next big challenge, whatever that may be – but not everyone has that luxury. So I will close on a positive note: Normal service will resume shortly. In the meantime I’ll be sitting on my increasingly fat arse eating cake.

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What I may look like soon if I can’t start exercising…

Giving thanks

This morning at work we had an informal staff meeting, during which everyone (there were about twenty of us present) was asked to ‘check in’ – a technique used in the psychology practice that underpins the work the charity does. When you check in, you simply tell the other members of the group how you are feeling, and any other information that you wish to share. Today, for example, we all talked about our experience of the summer, where we’d gone on our various holidays and how we generally felt the season had gone. We also talked about our work, sharing our successes and any challenges we had faced. At the end of the meeting one of our facilitators and two of our young people turned up and joined in, which felt really lovely and inclusive.

I must be honest and admit that I usually begin sharing sessions like these with an attitude more befitting of a petulant teenager than a grown adult. I feel a bit awkward and embarrassed, and I can’t concentrate for worrying about my ever increasing to do list and how the gathering is delaying me actually getting any work done. But as soon as the sessions begin I start to relax. And today, as I listened to all the positive things my colleagues said I felt a warm glow and a real sense of pride at being part of such a fantastic and inspiring team.

It strikes me as I write this how sad it is that few people take the time to really get to know the people they work with and spend what is, let’s face it, the majority of their waking lives in close proximity to. When work builds up and you’re feeling the pressure it’s far easier to fire off an email than pick up the phone or meet face to face. It’s also easy to let small niggles about another person build up so that, before you know it, your whole relationship has deteriorated beyond all repair, with you treating one another at best like automatons and at worst with ill-disguised contempt rather than as fellow human beings with feelings, wants and needs.

Key to the checking in process is the act of congratulation – praising people for the things they have done well, and saying it from the heart. It really means so much to be recognised for your achievements, not in a generic appraisal email but in person and in front of your co-workers. This is why, despite the inevitable frustrations that arise in any workplace, I’m so thankful to work in an environment where people genuinely care. Don’t get me wrong, we’re hardly the Waltons of the work world – far from it – but it’s certainly a world away from the hard, corporate environments I’ve worked in before. And you know what? At this stage in my life, that’s more than enough for me.

How could I not be inspired working alongside these fab young people?

Group mentality

At different times in their lives people may fluctuate between complete independence and the desire to be part of a group. That group will often be linked to a personal interest such as reading (a book club), writing (a writing group), cooking (a cookery course) or exercise (a running club) to name but a few. But no matter how diverse the interest, all share one common feature; the desire to be supported and encouraged.

I myself have experienced such fluctuations, particularly with regard to exercise and writing. In my early twenties I had very little interest in exercise but joined a gym in a token effort at getting fit. Needless to say when the (extortionately expensive) membership expired I could count on one hand the number of times I’d been. And on those rare occasions I had been I would never have attended exercise classes-why on earth would I have wanted to get sweaty with a bunch of complete strangers?

Some years later when (to the great surprise of those friends and family members who had known me as a chubby, exercise-fearing school girl) I decided to take part in a triathlon and signed up to a triathlon club I had my first experience of group exercise since the awful days of being picked last for the hockey team  and being repeatedly put in goal because I wasn’t any good at anything else (I wasn’t very good in goal to be honest, but at least if I stood in the way of the ball there was a chance I’d stop it going in).

I can’t say the first few Tri club sessions went all that well (I cried in the first swim and the first spin class-how embarrassing), but within a few weeks I was much more confident, and even started joining club members on weekend bike rides. When the Tri was behind me, however, my resolve crumbled and I let my membership lapse just as I had done that first gym membership and went back to solitary exercise in the gym.

The writing club followed a similar pattern. Back in London post-travels and enthusiastic to begin my writing career I found a group that met weekly in Battersea. To begin with I got a lot out of it, but as the weeks wore on I began to find a similar thing to the online forums I had previously been a member of; I was putting in more than I was getting back. That, and the fact there were a couple of people who had started coming to the group whose ruthless promotion of (what I personally felt to be sub-standard) self-published material I found hard to deal with. By the end I was drained rather than energised so I stopped attending and went back to writing alone.

More recently I’ve tried again with both group exercise and joining a writing group (albeit an online one), with more positive results. I’ve now been a member of a local running club for several months, and with the odd exception I do manage to attend every week. It helps that I’ve befriended two of the girls that go, one of whom has now even managed to talk us into signing up to a month of “boot camp” on Clapham Common, starting tomorrow (though I can’t deny I’m dreading it, military-style fitness drills not being my most favourite form of physical exertion).

Where the writing group’s concerned, we don’t critique one another’s works in progress, per se, but we do keep one another motivated and give advice on plot, structure, agent queries and such like. As an amateur writer I feel privileged to have been invited to join the (private) group, which includes a number of highly acclaimed published authors, and I’m getting a lot out of it.

When it comes down to it we humans are a sociable bunch, preferring to share experiences than to go through them alone. I suppose it therefore follows that we’re especially fond of sharing those experiences we find the hardest and/or feel least confident in, because on joining a group we feel included, accepted and, ultimately, validated. Which is a lovely feeling, just so long as the balance between what we put in and what we get out is equal.

Change

The following fictional post was inspired by the certificate ceremony I attended today with work at a youth centre in Islington, where teenagers from four of the schools my charity works with were commended for their participation in the Teens and Toddlers programme:

Change

I never thought I’d amount to much. Why would I? My parents told me every day that I was useless. Then even my teachers started giving up on me. It’s like a downward spiral, see. You start acting up to get attention, but all too late you realise it’s not the right kind of attention you’re getting. You wanted to be popular, not the class clown – the one the other kids laugh at and the teachers label as a troublemaker.

Things at home weren’t great. Dad’s drinking was getting worse and Mum, well, she was so doped up on depression pills she hardly knew what day it was. I pretty much did everything; cooking, cleaning, looking after my baby brother. If I hadn’t been there I don’t know what would have happened to him. He’d probably have been taken into care. Sometimes I wondered if that would’ve been best for the both of us.

When my teachers told me about this mentoring programme that paired teenagers with toddlers in a nursery I wasn’t interested at all; I had enough experience of looking after children with my baby brother, why would I want more? I only agreed to do it ’cause it got me out of school one afternoon a week, and gave me something to do apart from hanging around the recreation ground and causing trouble with my mates because I was bored.

But when I started the programme things started to change. My toddler was a challenge, mainly because he was like me; hyperactive and angry. We even looked alike, with wild hair, dark skin and brown eyes. He didn’t trust me at first, but after a few weeks he started coming up to me when I walked in and holding my hand. It made me feel special, and in those moments the big ball of anger I carried around inside me would get a bit smaller.

I’ve learned a lot about myself through the programme. I realise now the consequences of my actions on others, and I’m not so hell bent on trying to hurt people, mentally and physically. I feel more responsible, more in control. I want to achieve in life. I want to be a success. But above all else I want people to look at me and, instead of seeing the clown, the troublemaker or the joker, I want them to see the responsible man I can and will become.

The beautiful sunset on the last night of my recent trip to Italy.

Choose life

After yesterday’s doldrums I went out of my way to get to work early, intent on having a cheerful and productive day. But despite my best efforts to complete the main (now urgent) task on my to do list I was thwarted at every turn; pulled into meetings I hadn’t known were happening or that I was meant to attend, asked for input on far less urgent things and generally wound up by events that were beyond my control.

By 5.30pm I was thoroughly disenchanted with life, having achieved none of what I’d planned. I was also, thanks to the weekend’s excesses, still feeling under the weather, which I knew full well would mean abandoning running club and sitting on the sofa enveloped in a grumpy mist of Eau de Woe for the remainder of the evening.

It was then that I remembered the film screening that two of my colleagues were attending with some of our young people this evening. It was for a documentary called One Mile Away, about two ex-gang members from warring factions in Birmingham coming together to try and bring about peace and end gang violence. I’d originally said I couldn’t go but now what was stopping me? My grumpy voice turned up its nose, folded its arms and demanded I go home and mope. But a louder voice said no, I will go to this screening, because instead of making it all about me I should do something to support my colleagues, our young people and the film makers who risked their lives to bring this issue to light.

And so I went. And I’m delighted that I did, because it interesting, illuminating and inspiring (and also because there were free drinks and popcorn, though I appreciate that doesn’t paint quite such a philanthropic picture). The young men in the film were intelligent and frank about their reasons for wanting to change their ways and fight for peace. They explained how hard it was to make the film, how frustrating it was to come up against so much opposition, time and time again. But at no point did they give up, because what they’re fighting for is too important to give up on.

I was particularly struck to learn that two young women in the audience had done 12 years in jail between them, one for armed robbery and the other possession of firearms. These were attractive, confident, articulate girls who had been dragged into gang culture and whose lives had nearly been ruined. And yet here they were, backing the cause for peace to ensure that other girls in their situation didn’t make the same bad choices they had.

Because that’s what it’s all about, this life: Choices. You can make good ones, you can make bad ones. At 5.30pm today I made the choice to turn my back on a frustrating day and the opportunity to wallow and instead spend the evening at an inspiring event with inspiring people, learning about a cause that needs to be shared. And just as I made my choice, so did the boys in the film, and the girls in the audience. They’ve chosen to shun the negative choices they made in the past and make new, positive choices for themselves and their families.

I’ve learned today that whilst you can’t always change your circumstance, you can choose the way you react to it. It’s never too late to turn things around, no matter how bad they seem. We only get one shot at life – no pun intended – so we should everything in our power to fight for it.