In the 19th Century, the Russian anarchist Bakunin wrote, “Don’t waste time on doubting yourself, because that is the biggest waste of time ever invented by man.”
For thousands of years, a lot has been written about the origins of the mind. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, is even more written about changing minds. There has been an avalanche of self-help books, tapes, courses, seminars – you name it! The self-improvement business has become a bandwagon on which the self-help gurus and modern day snake oil salesmen have been allowed to bestow upon themselves a status undeserving of their actual ability or the vacuous panaceas they peddle. A good deal of what they have to say can be categorised as vacuous drivel, which it undoubtedly it is most of the time. (See the article on Neuro-Linguistic Poppycock.)
The truth of the matter is that books with seductive titles like I Can Make You Thin promise everything and deliver next to nothing. Ask any therapist. Only YOU can make yourself thin, stop smoking, rich, smarter, happier, etc. on and on, ad nauseam. Whether or not you succeed in any of these endeavours is ENTIRELY UP TO YOU. No one else plays any part in your decision making or life changing process, ONLY YOU. It’s ALL down to you. Always has been, always will be.
Having said that, there are some gems of wisdom among the dross, some mental gymnastics that you may find helpful, and so for a change, I offer here a selection of the things that can actually work. No money need change hands, this is free information at no charge to yourself, for you to put into practice, or forget, as you see fit.
Most of the success attributed to self-improvement, or perhaps self-regulation might be a better way of putting it, is based on Visualisation Techniques. But the problem with a lot of the visualisation techniques punted on the Internet and in most books on the subject is that they focus on the goal rather than on the process of achieving that goal. As a consequence, they don’t really work as well as they might: simply visualising the end result might provide some kind of short-term feel-good factor, but that’s only a temporary fix, and a fleeting one at that. In the long run, it’s far more effective to imagine [that is, create mental pictures of] the many steps you have to take to achieve that goal.
This ‘baby steps’ approach is much more useful. In other words, setting reasonable, achievable goals, and then working on them step by step is going to be much more effective in the long term. Nothing happens overnight – Rome wasn’t built in a day – so you will find it easier to set a realistic time frame. When I used to deal with clients who wanted to lose weight, I would always find out what they considered to be a realistic and achievable plan and then we’d take it from there.
So, instead of imagining yourself slim and being able to fit into a size 12 dress, it’s a far better idea to imagine yourself losing, say, 1 pound per week. That is something that is much more realistic and so the process works better. In six months, it means you will lose 25 pounds, or nearly 2 stone [11 kg.] and that’s great going! Carry that on for a year and you lose nearly four stone! [23.5kg.]
Making plans that are easy to stick with is a better way of achieving success.
But what about all those nasty negative thoughts? The very act of trying to suppress the things that make us unhappy makes us think about them even more. It’s rather like trying desperately not to think about pink elephants – the more you try not to think about them, the more they pop into your head. So actively trying not to think about something makes you think about it even more, even sometimes to the point of obsession. It’s the same problem trying to forget about cigarettes or food or anything else that represents temptation. This is a vicious circle and is more likely to increase misery rather than alleviate it.
Far better to focus on the benefits of giving something up, and how much better you will feel.
What about happiness? Being happy simply means feeling better. Really. The happier a person is, the better they perform in life and generally speaking, the healthier they feel, the healthier they are. One of the first things I learned when I was studying hypnosis was that you are a mind with a body first and foremost, not the other way round. Being happy helps the individual to cope with all the stresses and strains of everyday life, improves relationships with others, makes life generally more satisfying and strengthens immune systems. I suppose that’s obvious, but how to make that happen…?
Here’s a good exercise to try, because it’s quick and easy:
Step 1: give yourself a general ‘happiness rating’ on a scale of 1 to 10.
Step 2: now make a mental note of all the things in your life you enjoy and are grateful for, spending a few seconds to visualise each one. Think about the best and most joyful moments and spend a few moments thinking about being in your favourite place and/or being with someone you enjoy being with. Picture all this in beautiful vivid colours and imagine that all this is right up close to you, surrounding you, merging with you, becoming a part of you.
Step 3: Do this at least twice a day, every day, for a week and then on the last day, check your ‘happiness rating’ again on a scale of 1 to 10. Bet you it’s gone up!
This exercise is one of the very few NLP techniques that are of any value. It’s a mixture of creative relaxation and Emile Cue’s ‘every day in every way’ repetition exercise. It also involves your own imagination – images are a lot more powerful than words and therefore exert a greater influence on you. Why does it work? Well, it’s all about association. Emotions are associated with thoughts, so by indulging your brain in some quality time with its happy memories, your emotional happiness level will improve.
People who are materialistic tend not to value experiences such as days out with friends or trips to the theatre, at least not as much as people who are not very materialistic. Materialistic persons tend to spend a lot more on themselves than they do on others. That’s not just on the things they buy, but it includes time as well. Non-materialistic people enjoy the company of others and spend more time going out and socialising. It’s no surprise then that non-materialistic types are generally happier people than the materialists. Simple acts of kindness to others increase levels of happiness. Changing the way you behave toward others will change the way you think. Don’t believe me? Give it a try. Send me a fiver. I promise you will feel happier!
No, don’t send me a fiver – I’m kidding! OK, you can if you really want to, but I’m being absolutely serious when I tell you that spending time on shared experiences is a good way to feel happier and this in itself will help you shed a few more ounces. Added to which, you are burning more calories when you are out and about than you are when you are sat at home.
Here’s another exercise. Stand upright but with your head down, shoulders slumped and hands hanging limply down by your side. Now try to feel happy. Can’t do it can you? Now try it the other way. Stand upright with your head held high, shoulders back, chest out, and put a big smile on your face. Now try to feel sad. Can’t do that either? Well, it goes to show that just by improving your posture, you can improve your level of self-confidence, which will in turn boost your happiness rating. If you want to feel happier, behave happier. Maybe there was a reason we were told to sit up straight when we were at school! The down side of this is that the happier people are, the more likely they are to make rash or unwise decisions, so be careful out there!
Of course you could always put a mirror on the fridge door, but the real secret is to take everything step by step, keeping to the plans that are achievable. A more detailed list of sub goals is easier, measurable and time-based. Really, I promise you – this is the best way. Actors don’t learn their lines in one go. First they read the whole script to give them an idea of what the story is about, and then they break it down into small chunks that are easier to memorise. NLP calls this ‘chunking’ but in actual fact, it’s a method that has been around for hundreds of years. Musicians do the same thing. When I had to perform solo pieces with the Max Jaffa Orchestra, I learned them all by heart and I did this by breaking them up into eight bar phrases, learning one phrase at a time until I was ready to string them all together for my big moment every Saturday night. I still have every one of them in my head thirty-odd years later!
Telling friends or family about your sub-goals is also a good idea because not only can they can be a source of support, but it helps to reinforce your own decision.
Once you have achieved one sub-goal, it’s easy to experience feelings of success, and this in turn spurs you on toward the next. Every achievement, no matter how small, becomes associated with these feelings and slowly but surely, you inch toward that final goal. Each sub-goal can even have a reward attached to it, so long as it’s not a cake of course!
Don’t overdo it! Working on any activity for just a few minutes teaches you to stick at it and see it through to completion. Everything in bite-size chunks! [Sorry, no pun intended.]
It is also important to decide upon a realistic assessment of the problems as well as thinking about the benefits of achievement, and there are tried and tested ways to reduce your appetite:
- Start eating at the normal rate and then slow down
- Place food out of sight – this has a big effect on consumption.
- Starting to eat a meal at the normal rate and then slowing down has been shown to work because once food is put into the stomach, you start to feel full sooner and your appetite wanes.
- Remember – food gets eaten faster from a stockpiled fridge.
- Avoid large plates – using smaller plates encourages you to eat less.
Reducing your appetite is one way to get things moving in the right direction, but you can also help things along by giving yourself a natural environment. Every little bit of effort helps!
People function better when there are trees and plants around. We know that workers don’t perform as well in the concrete jungle. We also know that a more natural environment reduces antisocial behaviour. It also makes people more creative. You could also give yourself a more relaxing environment.
A study by Robert Ulrich of Texas A&M University showed that placing plants and flowers in offices made people an average 15% more creative. It increased the flow of ideas and flexible solutions. Psychologists noticed that children engage in more creative play in ‘green’ areas. So why not try it? A bit of foliage around the place can work wonders. Psychologists have also found that looking after a few plants lowers stress levels and improves performance. I bet it will help you too!
People under stress become focussed and risk averse. They tend to fall back on tried and tested methodology. In just the same way, people who are relaxed are more likely to explore new ways of thinking and seek out more creative solutions to problems.
At Nijmegen University in the Netherlands, a team of psychologists carried out a simple ‘thought test’ on a large group of volunteers. Some of the group were asked to think about themselves as hooligans while some of the group were asked to think about themselves as university professors. The results of this experiment are astounding. Those volunteers who had thought themselves as brilliant academics went on to achieve increased scores on a series of simple tests.
Jens Forster, at the International University in Bremen, Germany, took the experiment a stage further. Again, a group of volunteers were asked to think of themselves as either a boring person or a true artist. Again, those volunteers who had concentrated on thinking of themselves as artists displayed increased creativity when tested later.
This is all information we can use to help ourselves. The current vogue is to Think Thin! However, ‘thinking thin’ by itself won’t get you very far. You have to adopt all of the techniques listed above, or at least most of them.
So far I haven’t said a word about will power. This is a serious omission and you are going to have to include it in your regime. In other words, YOU MUST STICK TO THE DIET! One ray of sunshine on the horizon though is that most people, once they see the weight coming off, are spurred on to lose even more! That’s when it starts to get easier.
Accessing your own will power is not nearly as hard as you imagine. After all, who are you doing this for? Yourself, right?
Remember – reasonable goals are achievable! You don’t have to starve yourself or live on rabbit food. Just remember the 5 simple rules:
- Eat a little less and stop when you feel full;
- Take a little bit more exercise every day. That just means walking to the corner shop, not driving;
- Avoid snacks that are high in fat content such as crisps and nuts;
- Avoid sugar and sweet things like cakes and chocolate;
- Cut down on your alcohol consumption.
The most difficult obstacle you have faced so far, is the will to believe in yourself. Don’t worry, this will happen soon enough when those pounds start falling off! Diets that start tomorrow, never work – you have to start TODAY! And that’s the first baby step.
“If you believe you can, or believe you can’t – either way, you’re right.” – Henry Ford.
PS. I lost 16 pounds last year just by following the 5 rules above.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.