I was mentioned in the local press this week, having helped a man overcome his fear of spiders. (You can read the article and watch a video of him handling a tarantula here).
But I Could Never Do That!
A family member pointed out the apparent paradox between my 100% confidence in being able to help people make significant changes in their lives, and his 100% confidence that he could never hold a tarantula in his hand.
And He Was Right!
The strange thing is that, despite the obvious successes that our clients have in overcoming the challenges they face, he was 100% correct in his belief that he cannot hold a tarantula in his hand. There is an essential ingredient which, if missing, prevents us from being able to help our potential clients at all.
The Essential Ingredient
You may have heard the old joke: “Question: How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? – Answer: Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change…”.
So what is the essential ingredient that is required for us to be successful in helping people overcome the challenges they face? It is the expectation that change may be possible.
There is actually no contradiction in the idea that someone is 100% certain that they could NEVER hold a spider like in the video – and our confidence in being able to help people. The simple truth is that we cannot help everyone. The only ones we can help are those that have some instinct that other possibilities exist compared to whatever it is they feel “stuck” about. They may not know how to get there, but they suspect there is a route. If they are convinced there is no route from where they are, to a different mind-set, then nothing that we could do would ever shift that conviction.
All that needs to happen for us to be able to get someone to a point where they could hold a tarantula in their hand (and I am aware that this might be enormously difficult – even impossible, to achieve) – is to lower their certainty that it is impossible from 100% to 99%. We can usually multiply a 1% “suspicion that it might be possible” into something bigger, more tangible, useable, even possibly successful. But no amount of multiplication will turn 0% possibility into anything bigger than 0%. Many clients who come with severe depression have absolutely no idea how to get out of their terrible predicament. But they suspect that something might be able to help. For those that are certain there is no help, we can (seriously) do nothing at all.
Ten years of experience has taught me that one of the most important things I need to do with a new client is assess their confidence in achieving a successful outcome – because that single factor has a bigger effect than anything else. I once took more than 50 sessions to help someone who was seriously stuck. My instinct was that he would get there eventually – but it was close to being a failure for me. When I first met him, he spent several minutes head-butting the wall of the therapy room. Five years later, I met him and him and his wife in a car park and they thanked me that they both have a life again. But the point is that he came for help because he suspected that there was an alternative to his terrible state of overwhelming and permanent anxiety.
But that’s not Scientific! Surely it either works or it doesn’t!
Our current scientific paradigm suggests that objectivity is a rational approach to truth. Experiments for the efficacy of drugs therefore need to cater for distortions due to the “placebo effect”. My experience in the field of mental health is that the placebo effect is the most powerful mechanism at our disposal – in fact every GP ought to be taught how to make use of this phenomenal resource. The way we use our minds seems to dictate our reality at a level far deeper than we are lead to believe. Even physics now notes that the presence of the observer changes the outcome of the experiment. I personally think this is much more generally true than simply at the quantum level (but of course, I have no scientific proof!)
Do You Control Your Mind – Or Does It Control You?
In a sense you could describe what we do, here at in8, as drawing the attention to the question of whether your mind is controlling you, or you are controlling your mind. For example can your switch off your thoughts? In any situation? Most people cannot. I cannot in all situations, but I can much of the time. Imagine having a power tool that you want to use occasionally to solve difficult problems, but that you cannot switch it off. If you cannot switch it off, then you are not in control of it. You are not the same thing as your mind. Your mind is your most powerful tool, but unless you can turn it off, it will probably be controlling you a lot of the time. When one of our client’s makes a breakthrough, you can often trace it to a simple act of mastering their own thoughts in a situation in which previously, they had no control of their thoughts – their thoughts were an automatic response to the situation. It sometimes seems like seeing a chink of light through an almost closed door, then widening the tiny gap until you are able to open the door and walk through it. If the door is totally and firmly shut, then you can’t get any leverage and you would be wasting your time and effort.
Overcoming My Own Limiting Beliefs
A year ago I believed that I could not speak while I played guitar. In 49 years of playing I have never been able to even answer a simple question whilst playing a piece of guitar music. It seemed to use the same bit of my brain (the communications section). So the idea of singing, in public, while playing guitar was about as far from my reality as you could get. But I noticed that other people seemed to be able to do it. So this year, I set about trying to find out whether it would be possible for me too. I met Henry Ray, a brilliant vocal coach, who assured me that he could show me how to overcome that particular hurdle. I saw him for five ninety minute sessions of coaching. Last weekend I achieved an incredible (to me!) breakthrough by fronting my own blues/rock band for the first time. I remembered (mostly) the words to 45 minute set of ten songs and delivered them in a pub full of people who had no idea it was my first ever gig in front of a microphone.
We can achieve magical things when we realise that our mind is just a tool, and there are many ways of using it which are beyond our normal comprehension. One of the biggest hurdles for me was to not allow my emotions (on stage), such as anxiety, doubt and fear, to stop my ability to think. Part of my approach was to ensure that I didn’t need to access much of my thinking rational brain to remember the words. I had to program them into my subconscious so that no thought was required. I spent many hours practicing to do this, every night for the past two weeks I have run through the entire set in my imagination – every note, every word, over and over. Music is sometimes about giving the illusion that it is effortless. It’s a magic trick – it actually always takes a huge amount of effort – but all the effort is invested before the performance takes place.
Are You Ready For Change?
We do not believe that anyone ever needs to be stuck in any pattern of thought. But the spark of unstuckness appears to have to originate in the person who feels stuck. For some reason the universe appears not to support the forcing of “unstuckness” onto others…. Sometimes I think this is what we are on the planet to learn. Its more about what kind of student we are (of life) than the quality of those that we look to as teachers.
Bindi and I are fascinated with how humans change, and hope to explore methods concerned with this for many more years. After all, change is just about the only thing we can depend upon!
If you feel the need for a change of attitude – about anything at all, and suspect that we may be able to guide you, then please contact us for more information.