Addicted to Outrage?

Can we be addicted to negative emotions? Such as outrage, anxiety, fear, anger, depression, guilt or feeling ‘hard done by’?

We normally associate addictions with more or less positive things. Substances and behaviours that make us feel good or better in some way. Alcohol, helps us to relax, or feel happier or intoxicated. Cannabis can help us to chill, calm down or get lost in the music. Amphetamines can makes us feel confident, energised or ‘on top of the world’. Porn can makes us feel powerful, in control and aroused. All these things can help us to forget or distract us from pain, discomfort or relieve stress in some way. So it would make sense that some of us could get ‘addicted’ (attached to if one goes by the old definition of addiction as I discuss in an earlier post Why is the word addiction so controversial?to these sorts of things. However, it has recently occurred to me that perhaps we can also become addicted to negativity in some way.

You may balk at the suggestion. Anxiety feels awful. Depression is terrible. Why would anyone want to continue with such negative emotions? I guess one needs to look at the pay off. What does one get by continuing with these emotional states that make us feel bad or worse in some way. Or, another way to look at it is, what do you get out of doing by continuing to feed the negative emotion?

Let’s take anxiety as an example. What does anxiety stop you from doing that you might otherwise do. Drive a car? Get a job? What do you get to do by not doing those things…. well you get to avoid the discomfort, fear and the possibility that you may get hurt in some way. You get to feel safe. You get to avoid uncertainty. And you get to avoid having to change. And, ever notice how the more you give in to your anxiety, and the more you allow depression to weigh on you the bigger and heavier they tend to get? It’s as if you are carrying around a heavy load or burden around with you…

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, spiritual teacher and all round amazing human often talks about the concept of the “pain body“. The concept of the pain body is a strange one to get your head around. It is, according to Tolle, made up of all the slights, painful experiences and unfinished business that you carry around with you in your body, unconsciously. Any painful experience or trauma memory that has not been adequately faced or resolved at the time it occurred becomes part of our pain-body. In a healthy person, it may lay dormant most of the time, but some people live entirely through and completely identify with their “pain-body”.

Your pain-body can be awakened or ‘triggered’ by anything – an event, a person, an argument, a situation. Often it is awakened by something that happens to remind us of a past trauma or event. The current painful event awakens the pain-body and in that moment we become the pain-body. That is, we identify with our pain-body 100%. In ACT we call that “fusion“. Fusion is when we are so caught up in our beliefs, thoughts, memories, or pain that we believe those thoughts and are overwhelmed by the emotion generated that we in a sense, stuck to those thoughts, so much so that we become those thoughts.

The pain-body wants to live, according to Tolle, like any other entity, and it feeds on negativity and pain. And, the more we feed it, the more it wants and the stronger it gets. When we are living through pain, or in our pain-body, it can seem as if everything and everyone is against us. We see the world in terms of black or white, us vs them, good and evil. When we are in pain, we often lash out at others, and want others to be in pain too. We want to be right about our pain and therefor unconsciously seek more pain in order to prove ourselves right about how bad everything really is. The more we live through our pain-body the bigger, stronger and more dominant it becomes.

When we identify 100% with our painful thoughts and memories, we can sometimes act in ways that are unhelpful, hurtful to ourselves and others and are generally unpleasant to be around. We can act in ways that take us further and further away from our goals, values and true self. When we act in the service of our pain-body, we may think that we are doing something about our pain, but we often act in ways that bring us more pain. I am reminded of another famous quote by Eckhart Tolle is,

addiction starts and ends in pain.

We can also become so used to being in our pain-body that we may come to prefer it. We may become more comfortable being angry, depressed or outraged that we no longer remember what it is like to not be those things. In essence, we can become addicted or attached to our pain because for some of us, that is how we identify.

But there is another way to be. When we realise that the only power our pain-body, or our trauma history, has over us is the power we give it then that is the first step towards becoming free of our free-loading pain-bodies. Often in therapy, at some point in time clients often say they feel lighter, more at ease, or as if a weight has been lifted from them. Maybe, this is their pain-body dissolving? It is worth a thought.

A positive affirmation to help dismiss or weaken our own body of painful experiences:

The only power the past has over me is the power I allow it to have.

I allow myself to be free from the past,

I release all pain, resentment and anger,

I am at ease with who I am today,

I am free to be me.

Why acceptance of anxiety is your best foot forward

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

Anxiety is a part of life and a part of being human.

Life is by its nature uncertain. We try lots of different ways to feel secure and increase certainty in our lives but ultimately we really cannot control everything.

This creates anxiety for everyone to some degree.

According to ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy), there are three fundamentally different ways we can choose to approach anxiety: fusion, avoidance and acceptance.

Fusion

We can choose to allow anxiety to control us and dictate how we live our lives. We can choose to follow its demands and try to control things as much as we can to reduce it. Ultimately however this strategy does not work very well as there are more and more things that we find we can’t control and it’s hard to keep up with all the things anxiety tells us we need to do to feel ‘safe’. An example of this is agoraphobia. In the end, a person with this condition cannot leave home at all and their house becomes a prison. Anxiety can push us to do all kinds of silly things that seem to make perfect sense at the time, like calling that friend over and over again when they are 10 minutes late, or going back to check you’ve locked the door 20 times, just in case. Anxiety thrives on what ifs and the more we listen to its shrill, insistent call the less we allow ourselves to really live.

Avoidance

We can choose to try and rid ourselves of our anxious thoughts and feelings by avoiding them. This often takes the form of distraction or numbing. We can choose to distract ourselves from anxiety by a number of ways. Some distractions are healthier than others, for example, going to the gym or reading. However all distractions can become problematic if we engage in them too much or too often. Some distractions are pretty unhealthy from the get go, such as alcohol or other drugs. Some can be o.k. in small doses but can cause problems if we allow ourselves to get ‘hooked’ by the distraction – I am thinking of things like eating, gambling, surfing the net, watching a movie or even having sex. These are all potentially unhealthy distractions. In the end however, avoidance only works for a short time to relieve our anxiety, and we often find that when we come back to reality after spending time with our distractions, things have gotten much worse in our absence!

Acceptance

The third way we can choose to relate to our anxiety is to accept it for what it is. That is, make room for anxiety in your life. Expect anxiety as part of life and that it will come up at different times. In-fact, if we didn’t have any anxiety at all, we would get in trouble real quick! Acceptance doesn’t mean you want or like the feeling but simply that you are willing to allow it. Respect anxiety as a part of your humanity and in some ways, anxiety can sometimes even be helpful. I know it sounds crazy but learning to tune in to your anxiety and really listen to what it is trying to tell you can be really beneficial. Some people might call this level of attunement to our inner world intuition. Learning to tune into your anxiety can help you to distinguish what kind of anxiety you are experiencing. That is because anxiety is not a blanket, one size fits all emotion. There are different types of anxiety. For example, there is the anxiety that comes with staying stuck and the anxiety that comes with moving forward. Both generate anxiety but one is more of an excited type of feeling and the other, the former, is more of a sluggish, mucky type of anxiety. I know which anxiety I’d prefer to feel!

So there you have it. Three different ways to interact with anxiety. Which will you choose?

 

 

7 simple life hacks to commit to in 2018.

Forget New Years resolutions. The news is out! We are not victims of circumstance or biology. No matter what your past history entails, the good news is change is possible. Our brains are flexible and wired for change and adaptability. It’s called neuroplasticity. The more we practice a behaviour, whatever that behaviour is, the stronger that part of our brain becomes. In other words, we become what we do most.

So, becoming more conscious of what we do on a daily, hourly and moment to moment basis is the key to change. Whatever it is you want to start or stop doing, there is no time like the present to take a step in the right direction.

Here are seven ways that you can change your mind, and life, for the better with the help of mindfulness practices.

1. Live mindfully

…that is, consciously, with awareness and conscious choice. Living mindfully means bringing conscious awareness to everything you do. It doesn’t mean you have to spend hours a day meditating but even a few moments of pausing, breathing and noticing what you are experiencing without overthinking can help improve mood and manage daily stress.

2. Relate to experience directly

Try using your senses rather than through thinking, analyzing or judging all of the time. Take a moment to stop, notice and check in with your self. A simple mindfulness exercise is the 5×5 pause. Going through your five senses and noticing the first 5 things you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. (Taste is sometimes a difficult one, unless you are seated at a sushi train…yum!) However, by the time you get to taste, you will have mindfully checked in with yourself.

3. Stay in the present

Resist the urge to dwell on past events or worry about future “what ifs”. Staying present involves noticing and accepting your day to day, moment to moment experience as real and valuable. Whenever you find yourself time travelling in your mind try a simple 5×5 meditation or simply stop and notice your breathing for a few moments, to bring you back to now. You can also take a moment to look around you and notice the small details of your immediate environment. It’s amazing what you see when you stop to look.

4. Avoid avoiding all unpleasant feelings at any cost

Try to welcome all feelings and emotions as temporary messengers who have something important to tell you. Feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are and they do pass. Emotions are our body’s way of communicating our truest needs, desires and wants. We don’t have to follow our emotions or do what they tell us to every time, however, acknowledging your feelings is the first step towards honoring our truth. Knowledge is power after all.

5. Accept things as they now are and go from there

…instead of how you would like them to be. Don’t waste energy or time on struggling with discontent. The more you struggle with feelings of frustration, unfairness and anger regarding those things (or people) that you cannot change, the less energy you have to put into changing those things you can. Take a deep breath, and take control of the only things you can control, your own mouth, arms and legs!

6. Learn to see your thoughts as just thoughts, not facts or reality

Some thoughts are factual, some may have elements of truth and some may be completely incorrect – learn to choose which thoughts are most helpful to you rather than focusing on whether they are true or real. Our thoughts have the ability to influence our emotions and actions. But, thoughts are really just words, symbols and images floating in and out of your conscious mind. They are not who you are. Your thoughts do not define you. One of the core mindfulness processes is taking a step back from your thoughts and watching them come and go. Like clouds in the sky, or sushi on a sushi train! You can choose your thoughts just as you can choose your sushi. Focusing on thoughts gives them undue power  however so, choose your thoughts wisely.

7. Practice self-compassion daily.

Be kind to yourself. Learn and practice how to be your own best friend and treat yourself with the kindness, compassion and respect you really want. Watch what you say, do and how you treat you. If you find yourself saying, doing or treating yourself in a way that you would never treat a friend then that is a sign that you need to be more loving to you. Take some time every day to say a kind word to yourself or give yourself some praise or encouragement. It might be useful to practice daily affirmations like, I am doin the best I can with what I have or Every day I get a little better at being me.

There you go. Seven super simple New Year strategies to practice daily to improve your mind, reduce anxiety and stress without having to start a new exercise class or join anything.

Wishing you all a safe and enjoyable end of 2017!

 

To my friends about to turn the big four Oh No!

A little less than 10 years ago now I wrote by first ever blog post. I was 39 at the time, newly single (again) and about to turn 40. I had just left a particularly nasty relationship and found myself playing the dating game again. That was the start of a long journey for me, a journey of discovery, fun, excitement, pain, heartache, joy, some hard truths and much more. I am very thankful for what I learned along the way however, it led me to where I am today and that is something I am extremely grateful for.

But that was my situation at the time. Every ones’ circumstance is different but whatever is going on for you, whether you are married, divorced, single, with or without children – whatever the case may be, turning 40 is probably the most anxiety provoking thing you will ever do. (Apart from being born, getting married, starting a new job and a myriad of other things that life throws at us.) Yes, turning 40 is one of those milestones that stumps us all. It’s the time to really say good bye to your youth and a time to accept that you are definitely on the downward slope now… (cue evil laughter).

Or, is it?

I certainly thought so at the time, and the idea filled me with a sense of impending doom and dread. Of course, I now know that I was having what Bugental may have termed an existential crisis. There is something about the shock of turning 40 that makes you feel as if death is just around the corner, that life from now on will be just that little bit worse and that it will continue in that vein until death. But, I can honestly say, that is just anxiety talking. The fact is that 40 is just another number, another year, another arbitrary marker that only has meaning because we make it so. For me, turning forty was the start of one of the most fruitful, productive, exciting periods of my life. I can honestly say, I had nothing to worry about. Now. But, that’s the benefit of hindsight.

Here’s what I wrote back in 2009:

I’m not forty, yet. But it is looming around the corner like the bus my best friend stepped in front of when she was 18 and which kept her in hospital for 6 good months. I mean, she knew the bus was close, on it’s way, due even… like, it was a busway she was crossing at the time, but still, she didn’t see it coming. But that didn’t stop the bus from whacking her one and leaving her broken up and unconscious on the side of the road. I have the feeling that turning 40 is going to feel a bit like that…

I can tell you now, it was nothing like that.

So if 40 is in fact just another number and reality is scary the truth may be somewhere in between, but, whatever that truth is make it yours and make it count.

To all my friends and about to or who have just turned forty and are, as I was at the time, freaking out, take comfort. Life is a process and every stage has its challenges and benefits, its good points and bad. I hope that your forties give you everything you ever hoped for and more, and try not to freak out.

 

 

 

If you want something to change

When working with persons who are struggling with any mental health or emotional issue, it is interesting to note how attached people become to the behaviours, beliefs and/or relationships that are the main cause of their difficulties and the reason for their appearance in the consulting room. This is not surprising, in psychology, defensive behaviours […]

Meditation on flying

 

Caught a plane to Melbourne yesterday morning. I was allocated a window seat, first time in a long time that I have. I also had the entire row to myself which was unusual considering the plane was otherwise full. Not that I’m complaining.
It was a beautiful, blue and sunny Sydney morning, so I took the opportunity to not read, or look at my device but to just sit and enjoy the view and the experience. I augmented my experience with music by way of what I had on my phone, which was also an unfamiliar experience for me. I rarely wear headphones around, I’d rather hear what is going on around me, most of the time. But for this flight, I thought it might be a nice change.
As I looked out of the small window, my view was restricted by the wing. Not that I’m complaining about that either, I am really glad that it’s there but my mind did go to some future place in which planes were designed to be mostly glass – that way you’d really feel like you were flying among the clouds. But that hasn’t happened yet. As such, I had a small window framing my view and that would have to do.
As the plane gathered speed, about to take off, I marvelled at this feat of human engineering. This pinnacle of human achievement. What was once thought of as impossible was now an everyday occurrence, something we mostly took for granted, like so many of our current technological advances. I use that word with some hesitation, however, I cannot think of a better one for now. But, I think it prudent to sometimes pause and reflect on that which we take for granted lest it get away from us, or overcome us somehow…
The plane gathered speed and soon it lurched forward and the ground was no longer supporting me. A weird, unnatural feeling which gave me a sudden feeling of anxiety. This is not natural. Humans were not meant to fly! I am literally putting my life in the hands of a stranger. How do I know he isn’t throwing back tequila shots in the cockpit? Suddenly the whole idea of leaping into the sky in what pretty much amounted to a tin can with wings seemed completely preposterous. The definition of madness! I felt my amygdala ignite and my brain flood with chemicals which signalled ‘danger, danger’ to the rest of my body. My heart started beating faster and my breath felt short and strained. Was it too late to turn back?
Then, I was overtaken by the sight of a fluffy white cloud which seemed in hands reach – if I were able to open the window, and by how solid the clouds all seemed, I almost expected to see an angel or two, lazily plucking at a harp string. The sky beyond the clouds was blue and the ground had pulled away from us enough so that you could see the curve of the earth on the horizon. Another reminder to me that my existence is depended on the vehicle in which I am travelling. Be that a tin can catapulted by jet fuel, or a big round rock obiting a sun, which is itself moving through space. Or the body that houses my consciousness.
Nothing is that stable, or that permanent. If this was my last day on earth then I was grateful for the time I had been alotted. Beauty comes at a price, truth depends on your perspective and joy is a choice you make every day. Yesterday I chose joy, and gratitude, and hope.

Trusting the “process”

A while ago now I wrote a post about the shitty shower-head in my apartment and the meaning of my resistance to getting a new one. (You can read it the whole post here if you like.) For those that can’t be bothered, the basic moral of the story was about acceptance. I hated my shitty apartment and was so focused on the future that I was choosing to live with a shitty shower-head in the present that dribbled out water rather that accept my current situation for what it was. Crazy, huh? Hmmm, well we’re all a little crazy, especially therapists! But, it’s recognizing the ways in which our own unique brand of craziness manifests that makes us wiser as we go. We are all trying our best and learning as we go.

Thing is, some lessons are harder to absorb than others. For me, it’s my own special brand of silly ‘futurizing’ anxiety which drives me around the twist at times, if I let it. It’s a constant effort of vigilant, compassionate self-awareness which keeps my anxiety at bay. If there is one thing I have learnt about anxiety, both from observing my clients’ and my own is that is not something you can ever really ‘beat’. It’s something you make peace with, shake hands with so to speak and learn to live with.

I came face to face with my futurizing anxiety today by way of a HB pencil. Yes, a pencil. One of those refillable ones that you put the leads into. When I picked it up I realized that it only had one lead left in it. That made me anxious. Here is a running dialogue of what went on in my mind for the next few minutes: What if I run out of lead while I’m using it? Should I go and see if I can find some spare leads to refill it now before I start? What if I don’t have the right ones? Should I go find another pencil instead of this one? And so on. Exhausting isn’t it? I was worried about the future instead of focusing on the present task which was to simply write down a few notes. It was in the noticing of my anxiety around a silly pencil that gave me the clue that my anxiety was manifesting itself again. It was the same brand of anxiety that manifested itself when I refused to get a new shower-head. So what did I do, I simply repeated my mantra – Trust the process. Instantly I felt calmer, took a deep breath and wrote with the pencil with only one lead. If and when the lead runs out, I will deal with the situation when it arises.

I know this is a overly simple, silly example, beyond silly really but it does illustrate my point. Anxiety starts with the small things, it’s when you let it continue without interruption or give it your full, uncritical attention that it can get out of hand.

Then I thought to myself, why does the phrase “trust the process” work for me? I’m not sure about that but it really does. (I suggest that if you are suffering from some kind of anxiety that you find your own phrase that works for you.) I think it’s because it short circuits the route that your brain has been so used to taking (probably straight to the amygdala, where your emotional responses come from) and re-directs to the neo-cortex area of your brain (your rational, thinking, processing mind). However I think the phrase, trust the process might be a good all-round one to have on stand-by whenever you find your anxious mind trying to take over.

Why that phrase in particular? I think it’s largely to do with the word ‘trust’. Trust is a safe word, and whatever it is you put your trust in can be the right circuit breaker for you. For example, if you are religious, you could substitute the word “Jesus” or “God” for process. As in “Trust in Jesus”. Just as an example. Or you might be humanist and then you would put the word “self” in a sentence, as in “Trust yourself” or “I trust me”.

Whatever your phrase, try it yourself and see. Oh, and remember to ‘trust the process’.

🙂

Yoga for stress reduction & anxiety

Yoga is one of those things I’ve dabbled in on and off since I can remember. It is something I do for a while, and while I’m doing it I love and really enjoy the benefits of, but then for some reason or another I just stop. And then, after a while I start to feel crap again, disconnected with myself, tense etc and then I remember…oh yeah! Maybe I should do a yoga class.

Since I’ve discovered the benefits of mindfulness practice, this has bought a whole new dimension to my understanding and appreciation of yoga. There is really no better way to connect the mind with the body than to connect the breath with movement. Yoga really is mindfulness in action.

So, having said that, I was pleasantly surprised to find this infographic appear in my inbox this morning from the wonderful people at Happify.  It’s an infographic of 7 yoga inspired breathing exercises and poses to instantly destress any time of the day. And you don’t have to be a yogi to do any of the poses, as they are very simple. This is something I am definitely going to be sharing with my anxiety clients so I just wanted to share it here with you’all.

Here you are:

7 yoga poses for stress reductionOh.. and if you want to get into yoga again in the comfort of your own home none the less, I really recommend Yoga with Adrienne’s YouTube channel. She has heaps of yoga videos for whatever mood you happen to be in, and if you really want kick start your yoga journey, I highly recommend taking her 30 days of yoga challenge.

Namaste y’all for now!

Impermanence

I used to write a lot of poetry. Especially in my angsty late teens and early 20s. (Those that know me won’t be surprised to hear this.) Somewhere, there is a folder containing all those old poems, some on loose bits of paper, napkins, wrappers etc. Some torn out of the pages of whatever notebook I carried around with me at the time. I always had a notebook and pen with me wherever I went. Most were typed on an actual typewriter. (Yep, I’m that old). How I sometimes miss that clack, clack sound. (I don’t miss making a mistake and ripping the page out in frustration to start all over again though!)

Sometimes, at random times, some lines come back to me from poems I’d written so long ago. Lines that have stuck with me for some reason, for example this one:

Where are you my love that will understand me, not just for my hair, my skin and my teeth?

You don’t fucking exist. It’s me, all alone. I don’t need anyone. I couldn’t care less. 

I wrote that when I was 19. Teenage angst much? Yeah, well. I also wore a lot of black at the time… I remember that line because for me it was triumph of independence and powerful rage. And so, so transparent in its ache for just the opposite. Of course I cared. I cared a lot. Of course I needed love and connection, we all do.

Another line of poetry that sometimes floats back at me, is this:

Constant flux. Constant. Flux.

Is all we can rely on. 

That was the last two lines of a longer poem which I can’t recall right now. But, I marvel at my insight. I think I was 17 when I wrote that. And it came back to me the other day when I was having a conversation with someone who said, and I am paraphrasing here but it went something like this:

“At the heart of it all I think is a desire for permanence, for certainty. Everything changes, and can change in an instant. Nothing lasts forever, and you can’t really rely on someone to be there for you because from one day to another, everything can change. I find it hard to go all in because….well, what’s the point? At one point or another, you’re gonna get hurt.”

There-in lies one of the great existential challenges that we all face as humans on this small, blue planet that we call Earth. Nothing lasts, everything changes. Impermanence is built into the nature of existence. Yet, we try and resist this essential quality of being with all our might. We resist loving completely because, we will – not may, WILL lose that love one day. It’s inevitable.

Buddhism has a name for this. It is called Annica, and is considered one of the three basic facts of existence. The other two are suffering (Dukkha) and non-self (Anatta). The last one is kind of hard to define and calls for a whole other post, and more so let’s just leave it alone for now.

But, and perhaps the one thing that I wish I had said to my friend, because at the time I didn’t say much. Or what I did say didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, and it’s been playing on my mind. What I wish I had said was this,

What’s the point?
What’s the point of loving or giving yourself completely to another human being, a cause, a passion or an animal even? When there is no guarantee that those things will last? Well, that is the point. That is precisely the point.

Why your unconscious brain hates you.

Ever wondered why it’s so gawd dang hard to change?

To quit smoking,  to start that gym routine, to stick to that healthy eating plan, to just say no to drugs, alcohol and/or sex? (All three perhaps.) The answer is simple: Your unconscious brain hates you.

Well, maybe hate’s a strong word. But if you had a friend that constantly ignored you, wouldn’t you start to hate them a little bit too? Well it pays to know your enemy so here are a few bits of information I’ve found out about the unconscious that may be of interest.

Your unconscious brain’s main two concerns are to protect you and keep you alive and to give you more of what feels good. It doesn’t care how those ends are achieved, only that are accomplished. This may seem contradictory when you are trying to change negative patterns in your life as all the changes you want to make are good for you, and some of the things you want to stop doing are clearly bad for you.

Take smoking as an example. Everyone knows that smoking can kill you in the end, but as far as the unconscious is concerned, the danger is not imminent. The other thing that makes it so hard to drop all those unwanted bad habits and behaviours, the one thing they all have in common, is that they offer the unconscious brain instant rewards. Short cuts to feeling better, well worn paths that have been etched from years of use exactly because they are a short-cut to some desired end. Why take a longer route when that short-cut is so temptingly efficient… And your unconscious brain is nothing if not efficient.

In neurology there is a saying, neurons that fire together, wire together. The more you repeat something, the more adept your brain will become at executing that function.  If something has worked to date, and by ‘worked’ I mean in the most primitive sense, then your unconscious brain, also known as your ‘reptilian’ brain co-incidentally, will see no good reason to change.

Scientists surmise that our unconscious brain is responsible for 90 – 95% of what we do, our conscious brain – what we think, reason and supposedly make rational decisions with, accounts for only about  5 – 7%. So guess what, if you want to change something, then forget trying to talk yourself into it, forget reasoning with yourself, will power, forget all that. You have to get your unconscious on side and working for you, instead of against you. And you can only do that by learning to pay attention to what your unconscious is trying to tell you.

Freud, great grand-daddy of psychology likened the unconscious to an ice-berg. What we can see (our conscious mind) is only the top. The bulk of the iceberg lays beneath the surface.

Ice berg image metaphor courtesy of Mind Talk.

According to NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) and attachment theory, the unconscious brain has some funny ‘quirks’ and these could be responsible for some of the reasons why you find it so hard to make those changes you say you want. (For more on attachment theory see this previous post).

Some weird things you may not have known about your unconscious brain:

  1. The unconscious brain is kind of lazy. O.k. lazy is a bit harsh however, its motto is: If it ain’t really that broke, why fix it? It’s quite happy for you to get by on ‘good enough’ because as far as it’s concerned if it’s worked for you until now, what’s the big deal?
  2. The unconscious brain is super-protective. It’s main aim is to keep you alive and safe, so that’s why it perceives any negative emotion, trauma or stress as a danger – which is what is behind many anxiety issues. Thing is, your unconscious brain doesn’t know whether the danger is real or imagined and it doesn’t care. All it understands is, danger, danger! Like the robot from Lost in Space. (I am so showing my age right now!) So it re-directs your energy away from unnecessary processes, such as ‘thinking’ and puts it into what it perceives as more important; blood flow to your heart, limbs and lungs so you can make haste. Cue: Stress and anxiety!
  3. The unconscious brain is not reasonable, it is 100% pure emotion. It thinks in symbols and its language is the stuff of dreams. All non-verbal communication is handled by your unconscious brain, and according to body language experts about 80% of all communication between humans is non-verbal.
  4. The unconscious brain does not understand negatives, which may sound like a positive thing but if you say, for example – I don’t want to be poor, all it will understand is ‘poor’.
  5. The unconscious brain will believe whatever you tell it. Literally. So be careful how you speak to yourself. CBT spends a lot of time talking about ‘automatic thoughts’ and ‘core beliefs’. Narrative Therapy talks about ‘meta narratives’. The messages, beliefs, unquestioned and accepted things we tell ourselves that are, for the most part pretty negative. When you stop and take a moment to actually listen to the things you say to yourself, well…no wonder you’re reading this blog right now!
  6. The unconscious brain is like a seven year old child. It just wants more good feelings, and less bad. Kind of what Freud called, “the pleasure principle”. It doesn’t understand that sometimes, you have to experience a little discomfort in order to achieve a greater goal. It will try to stop you from doing things like, working out, going to a new class, or making that dreaded telephone call because in the interim there will be some pain involved. And pain, all pain, is bad.

These are just of the unconscious brain’s quirks that make it such a mysterious ol thing. Bless its cotton socks!

However you shouldn’t go dissing your unconscious side too much as it really does do a lot for you. Is your heart beating right now? Good. Well, it’s not like you have to wake up each morning and ‘kick start your heart’ now is it? (Even if the members of Motley Crue might do.) It’s not as if you have to remember to ‘set your heart alarm’ each night before you go to bed. No. Your unconscious mind looks after all of that. Your breathing, sight, digestion, all of that. Imagine how exhausting it would be if you had to tell your body what to do to digest food. You’d get nothing much else done!

Another thing your unconscious looks after is memory. It stores every single memory you’ve ever had and organizes those memories for you. You can only really think of about 5 – 7 things at any one time. You might not remember the name of your third grade teacher off the top of your head, but your unconscious does. It remembers everything. IN DETAIL. Your unconscious also decides what memories are too traumatic for you to deal with and suppresses those until it decides you are ready for them. Yes, your unconscious is one mean, lean, ripped, pretty powerful entity so… it might not be a bad idea to be on good terms with it now would it

So, if you are struggling to change something in your life, maybe it’s time you had a talk with you and asked yourself, well your unconscious side of yourself… So, what’s it gonna take for us to get along. Huh? How can we work on things together so that we are both happy?

Well, I’ve give you some answers to those questions soon. Promise!

Sources / Further reading:

http://www.simplypsychology.org/unconscious-mind.html
http://www.mindtalk.co.za/unconscious_mind.html
http://www.nlpacademy.co.uk/articles/view/understanding_your_mind_conscious_and_unconscious_processing/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/focus-forgiveness/201307/conscious-the-unconscious
http://www.psychologistworld.com/bodylanguage/
http://www.nlpinfo.com/prime-directives-of-the-unconscious-mind/
http://www.psychologistworld.com/bodylanguage/