The task of engineering science is not only to know, but to know how – Alfred Korzybski
In the realm of behaviour change, or mental health, the internet is awash with ‘whats’. Each day, there are thousands of Gurus and Coaches and Motivational Speakers spreading out millions of quotes, suggestions and advice as to what you need to do in order to live a happy and fulfilling life.
‘Live in the now’
‘Let go of the pain’
‘Keep your face always towards the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you’
‘Stop worrying and start living’
‘Don’t downgrade your dream to fit your reality. Upgrade your conviction to match your destiny’
When you read these quotes beautified across calm and soothing pictures of sunrises and sunsets, they seem to be perfect solutions to all the problems of the world. The only staccato in the flow is that these don’t answer a basic question essential to put them into action – ‘HOW’? Some coaches and therapists will tell you how to – based on their experiences. Unfortunately, each one of us has an unique way of doing things. And if what’s been told to you to follow does not align with the manner in which you do things, well, you won’t do it. And get even more stuck. And add frustration to the list of emotions that you have been struggling with.
Which brings us to the question that I wish to address in this article, how can therapists and coaches help their clients in a way that the clients are empowered to lead self sufficient, happy lives independent of therapy/coaching.
We create a self image as per our experiences and act in accordance with that image. That image that we form are a result of beliefs that we have created from our culture, from our parents/caregivers/teachers, and from how we have experienced physical, psychological and emotional issues and how we have reacted to failures and successes in our lives.
Some of these learnings are dependent on society – language and culture. Heritage makes each one of us a unique individual in physical structure, appearance, and actions. Society dictates our mode of dress, and thereby makes our appearance similar to that of others. By giving us a language, it makes us express ourselves in the same way as others. It instills a pattern of values in us and sees to it that our thoughts and behaviour operate in a way so as to make us wish to become like everyone else – as there is safety in numbers. The chances of survival increase manifold once we move from being alone to being as part of a group. And the absolute very basic task of the human brain is to make you survive this day.
The essential flaw in our Education System as it exists today is that it is based on ancient and often primitive practises whose equalising purpose is designed to churn out clones thinking the same way leading to creating same solutions to the same problems. This design to mould individuals who will not be social misfits has a flip side, formal education does not always succeed entirely in suppressing individual learning. Since a child develops individual characteristics, he begins to choose among what is available. He does not accept everything that training tries to impose on him. And that is the starting block for all forms of creativity.
So, each one of us create self images (yes, plural) depending on the various roles that we play in life (a professional, a student, a mother, a daughter, a spouse) and at each point in time we operate from one of these self images. Sometimes, due to a Significant Emotional Event (SEE) in the life of a person, an unresourceful self image is created. And the person, from that moment on, till even later in life – in case of any event jogs him/her emotionally, will switch to operating from that self image. You will thus sometimes find mature and professionally competent people throwing tantrums and behaving like ten year olds. That’s when the healers ask you to get an ‘Inner Child Healing’ done. What that involves is collapsing that image so that you no longer behave like a ten year old when actually you are thirty five, or fifty six.
Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord. It’s a broad term encompassing numerous, more specific disciplines, including cognitive, clinical, and developmental neuroscience. According to the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) the three main objectives of neuroscience are to:-
1. Understand the human brain and how it functions
2. Understand and describe how the central nervous system (CNS) develops, matures, and maintains itself.
3. Analyze and understand neurological and psychiatric disorders, and discover methods to prevent or remedy them.
Advances in technology combined with an increased knowledge of how the brain and nervous system work have lead to many new breakthroughs in the field of neuroscience. Individuals with traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, psychological disorders, and brain diseases are now the beneficiaries of once unimaginable scientific advancements. What was once viewed purely as science fiction is now a focus of mainstream scientific research and medical intervention. Each day, researchers across the world are bringing about revolutionary changes reiterating neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to structurally and functionally change itself.
Our brains are constantly being shaped by experience. Most of us have very different behaviours and thoughts today than we did 20 years ago. This shift is termed neuroplasticity in action; changes in brain structure and organisation as we experience, learn, and adapt. With every repetition of a thought or emotion, we reinforce a neural pathway – and with each new thought, we begin to create a new way of being. These small changes, frequently enough repeated, lead to changes in how our brains work. Maxwell Maltz talked about the 1 mm shift. We don’t need to get a complete overhaul done. We need a small change – a 1 mm shift.
Neuroplasticity can be termed as the ‘muscle building’ part of the brain; the things we do often we become stronger at, and what we don’t use fades away. That is the physical basis of why making a thought or action over and over again increases its power. Over time, it becomes automatic; a part of our unconscious competence.
As Budhdha proposed as early as 400 BC, we literally become what we think and do.
Neuroplasticity is at work throughout life. Connections within the brain are constantly becoming stronger or weaker, depending on what is being used. Younger people change easily; their brains are very plastic. As we age change doesn’t come as easily; the brain loses some of its plasticity and we become more fixed in how we think, learn, and perceive. Since the brain is pivotal to all we think and do, by harnessing neuroplasticity we can improve everything we do and think. And for that, it is essential that Coaches and Therapists posses a fundamental knowledge of neuroscience and the manner in which this quality of the brain can be utilised to change unresourceful states.
So how do we bring about change? Before we attempt to change, we have to figure out what to change. What is the core issue that is causing this behaviour? Unless we address that, we may be able to correct the presenting problem, but something else will manifest.
For example, a person may come to address an issue of rage. He shouts and screams at work and at home and wants to stop doing that as it is causing problems in his relationships. So what is that issue that is causing him to behave in this manner? What is he getting this way that he doesn’t think he would get any other way? Now, any problem exists because to the person there is only one solution to a problem and that solution is not resourceful. As soon as other alternatives are made available, the problem will cease to exist.
The easiest (and fastest) way to get to the core issue is by deciphering the language spoken by the client. Our thoughts(the deep structure) is converted to language (surface structure) and spoken. The listener then takes that surface structure and converts it into deep structure using his own experience. And since no two people have the same set of experiences, most of the time, unless you know how to decipher language – you will go wrong in your diagnosis.
For example, if the client says ‘I want to let the pain go’
I – By using the Referential Index I, he is associated with whatever he is saying.
want – You can only want something that you don’t have and having something means someone has to give it to you.
to let – follows the linguistic form ‘to be’, which is called a loop as the criteria for existing the loop is laid down by someone else and hence the client does not know how to ‘let go of the pain’.
the – specific. The pain he is talking is in relation to a specific person in this case or a specific event.
pain – pain is in the form of a Nominalisation. Nominalisation is a noun phrase generated from another word class, usually a verb. (Other word classes include adjectives and nouns) In other words, the process of nominalisation turns verbs (actions or events) into nouns (things, concepts or people). In this case the client is using the word as a noun (a thing) – which can go on its own mode of propulsion.
go – The verb go is the only word in the sentence which has some action attached to it. However the deletion of the destination makes the sentence incomplete. Where will it go?
The Implication of this ‘breaking down’ is that the individual is passive and awaiting someone to take the pain away from him. Hence not taking responsibility of his situation. He is still looking for an Authority Figure to solve his problems for him.
The NLP Meta Model, is an effective diagnostic tool for deciphering deletions, distortions and generalisations in everyday language, and get to the how the person has stored internal personal experience.
If you are Coach or a Psychologist or a Therapist and are still working in the old way of remedial change – think again! You have a tool that will take you straight to the problem without encountering roadblocks of deceptive language.