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Words on the Way

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Words on the Way by Trevor Silvester

Winter 2014

In September we had  Questival 2014, a get together of Quest students and graduates for a day of listening to speakers, but mainly catching up with old friends and making new ones. Unusually I gave two talks. One was on the integration of Schema therapy into Cognitive Hypnotherapy – we’re always looking to enrich our model with more and more ways of helping clients. That kind of presentation I was very used to giving. The second, not so much. I’m 55 this year. I know, hard for me to believe either, and I think it’s given me cause to reflect on what I’ve learned over the twenty years since I stumbled over my own ignorance of who I was and why I was living the life I was living, and onto an amazing path that led to a new career, and a new sense of myself. I called it Words on the Way, to reflect that this remains a work in progress, none of us are who we’re going to be yet.

I wanted to share those things that had meant the most to me, and helped me live such a happy and fulfilled life since that lucky stumble, but I was also uncertain, because so often people who do that kind of thing come across as trying to be gurus, and I didn’t want to join that particular club. From the response to it, both immediately afterwards and since, I think I avoided that fate, and Tina has asked me to share some of the key points from it here, which I’m happy to do.

I began with happiness as our destination. This graphic shows that happiness is the only feeling that lights up our whole body.

The more we can experience that feeling, the better our lives will be. The questions are how do we do that, and what prevents us? Let me begin with the second question. I think what keeps us from happiness, what stops us fulfilling our potential, taking chances and stretching ourselves, is fear. And overwhelmingly it’s a fear that somehow we’re not enough, that we don’t deserve, that we’re not loveable or good enough.

Our unconscious develops behaviours that are intended to protect us from what we fear. This can work brilliantly when it comes to helping us with things we’ve learned are physically dangerous, but not so well when what we’re trying to be safe from is other people learning of our perceived inadequacies. I have a simple adage: Behaviour driven by fear leads to the thing it’s trying to avoid. If you fear rejection, your behaviour in a relationship will tend to create it. If you fear failure, you’ll act in a way that keeps you from succeeding. I even think that common behaviours, like over-eating, are the result of a young unconscious making emotional connections between love/belonging/company/comfort/rebellion and food. And it’s not surprising. How many show their approval of their child by rewarding them with sweets, for example? So it’s not surprising that, when something negative happens to that child as an adult, their unconscious looks for something that makes them feel better about themselves. How many people have a bad day and reach for the chocolate?

Sadly, our culture has learned to manipulate this lurking fear by persuading us of certain remedies, like wearing the right clothes, being the right shape, driving the right car will make us feel better about ourselves – the list is endless. But the fear that we’re not enough is a bottomless hole that no amount of retail therapy can fill, which is why the western world is suffering from escalating levels of anxiety and depression. We fear we’re not enough. No matter how much we buy (and how hard we have to work to have the money to be able to) we never have enough to feel we are enough. Behaviours driven by a negative emotion make us feel the very thing we fear.

So how can we find happiness when we’re bombarded with messages that we’re not ok as we are?

The first thing to learn is the difference between being ELOC and ILOC. ELOC stands for external locus of control. That means how you feel about yourself is dependent on how the world treats you. If your boss is tough on you, it means you’re having a bad day. If they praise you, it means you feel good about yourself. ELOC means waiting for other people to solve your problems, not you taking responsibility. It is this mind-set that the consumer society exploits by convincing you that things you buy will make you feel better about yourself. Nothing external to us can actually do this, it has to come from inside of us. This is ILOC. In this position you always have control of how you feel about what happens to you. Nobody can make you feel bad about yourself, only you can give them that power. How can we get better at being ILOC? Well, a few sessions with a Cognitive Hypnotherapist will help let go of any initial beliefs you have that limit you – such as “I’m no good”, or “I’m not loveable”. From there, it’s actually about tapping into personal development wisdom that has been around for about 4000 years.

It’s only this year that I’ve realised that I’ve been attempting to live as a Stoic for quite a long time. I’d obviously heard of the term, used it in the popular sense, and even read some bits about it, but it was only by reading this year the excellent book The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, that I realised how much it’s part of how I want to live, and what we seek to achieve with our clients.

I realised, in a larger sense that nothing in the personal development field is new, and much of it stems from the ancient Greeks. Each generation seems to arrive at the same truths, they just use slightly different language to explain them. Each generation seems to have the same need for these truths, and to have the same hunger for them, but few within each generation seem to be able to live them.

These truths boil down to a few notable quotes:

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle. Some things are within your control. And some things are not.” Epictetus “If it can be solved, there’s no need to worry, and if it can’t worry is of no use.” The Dalai Lama

“After you’ve distinguished between the things that are up to you and the things that aren’t, and the break comes down to something you don’t control… you’ve got only one option: acceptance“. Ryan Holiday

Acceptance of an unhappy circumstance is hard, but, as my Granddad used to say, “It’s not meant to be easy, just possible.” It’s a lifelong discipline, because some days you’ll manage it, and some days you won’t. That’s why forgiveness is important too – especially of yourself. But if you hold onto one fundamental ILOC principle, it becomes easier: “The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Victor Frankl. In other words, it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you make of it that matters. We can choose the meaning of what happens to us. In any challenging situation we can ask ourselves, “What can I do here, now?” “Where’s the opportunity?” We can work the problem. And in nearly all situations there are options. Because the thing is, what appears to be a negative situation, may turn out to be the best thing ever. I’m sure if you look back over your life some pretty great things have happened as a consequence of what seemed bleak at the time. I wouldn’t be writing this now if I hadn’t been through a rough divorce. “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.” Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

What makes things ok is action. This is huge. Life is movement. We’re either growing or we’re decaying, there is no stasis. ILOC is about being the person who chooses their actions, and who keeps on acting until they get the result they want. “Never, never, never give up.” Winston Churchill.

It’s not easy, which is why success and happiness eludes so many, but it is possible. It’s just about changing, and then making change permanent.

I think changing, and helping people to change, is quite straightforward given the techniques we have available in Cognitive Hypnotherapy, but how we keep people continuing that process once they’ve ceased to see us remains a challenge. How do we make that change permanent? Turns out the secret to that isn’t new either. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an art, but a habit.” What is new are some insights from science that help us understand how to build successful habits and replace bad ones.

Another book I can highly recommend is The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. He suggests you create a series of habits which, if you followed them every day, would lead to the long term success you want. They should be easy to do – and easy not to do. If you missed them out for a day they wouldn’t make any difference that day – but if you didn’t miss them out, you’d end up with what you want in the longer term. This fits with a means of achieving goals that I find very successful.

Once you’ve set your goal, create a daily process – say, 3-5 achievable actions that will lead to you reaching it. From there all you do is focus on ticking them off every day. And if happiness is what you’re after, here are the habits to develop:

  • Exercise for a minimum of 15 minutes a day.
  • Do a random act of kindness or service.
  • Before sleep, write down three things that happened that day that you’re grateful for.
  • Connect with nature in some way.
  • Read 10 pages of something that teaches you.

Here’s a challenge. On a scale of 0-10 measure your current level of happiness. Do these five things every day for 30 days, and measure yourself again.