Perhaps yoga or Tai Chi are more likely to evoke associations with the word “flexibility,” but that’s the realm of muscles and tendons and this article is about gaining greater flexibility of thinking, feeling and behaving with hypnosis and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Both of these related communication modalities use presuppositions, simple concepts that perhaps can’t be scientifically proven as true yet are treated as if they are true because it is useful to do so. One such idea is derived from systems theory and cybernetics and goes by the fancy name Law of Requisite Variety: In any situation, the person with the most behavioral flexibility has the greatest ability to influence the outcome.
Another way to think of this is that the more choices you have, the more power you have. Here are some examples of flexible behavior.
- For a parent asking a child to clean up toys, flexibility might be a matter of patience, a different tone of voice, or making it into a game.
- Car drivers in a busy city could avoid traffic delays by knowing alternate routes.
- Doctors prescribe different medicines depending on the disease.
- Sales people close more deals offering the product or service that best matches the customer’s need or by selecting the most appropriate response to overcome a purchasing objection.
- Farmers must know which crops to plant at different times of the year and based on climate and soil conditions.
- Hypnotists vary the approach to inducing a hypnotic state based on many subtle differences in clients’ communication styles and expectations.
My recent article “Calibrating Your Thought Compass: What Thought Feels Better?” explained how thoughts create feelings; that you can gauge the usefulness and trustworthiness of thoughts based on how they make you feel; and that ultimately the best time to take action is when your Thought Compass (aka internal GPS or “gut feeling”) is aligned with True North. So flexibility of thinking and feeling is just as important and completely related to flexibility of behavior, and the Thought Compass is a technique or tool for choosing better feeling thoughts that optimize the awareness and motivation that drive your actions.
It is important to distinguish between the fleeting thoughts that may temporarily influence feelings, and those thoughts held so consistently that they become beliefs incorporated on the level of self identity. The Thought Compass works in real-time on those passing ideas that might really just be a matter of whatever you happen to be putting your attention on at that moment. The deeper level thoughts are the ones responsible for creating your beliefs so it’s worth remembering that beliefs are not inherently true, they are just thoughts you think a lot. Learning to be flexible in your thinking is about recognizing which thoughts are most useful to you, whether because they lead to good feelings and successful behaviors or because they support and sustain a robust healthy sense of self.
When your belief-thoughts limit you, there is great value in questioning them and finding ways to make them more flexible. This can sometimes be a little uncomfortable or confusing. Beliefs have a strong tendency towards self-preservation so if somebody starts questioning your beliefs it is common to become defensive. However, once you are aware of a limitation you’d like to exceed, you can allow yourself to become open to having the limiting belief questioned, even raising the questions yourself as you’ll see in a moment.
Your mind organizes and structures thoughts in a personalized way that accounts for your unique perspective. Even though that is true for each of us, there are commonalities in thought structure that help us communicate with each other even when our experiences, the content of our thoughts, are very different. NLP and hypnosis recognize these commonalities as patterns, which has led to another presupposition: All patterns are useful in some situation, but no patterns are useful in all situations.
Two of the most common patterns used to structure thoughts are A means B, and X causes Y. Let’s look at a few simple examples and then some of the questions that could make the thinking more flexible.
A means B pattern:
- Not having a college degree means I’ll never be able to earn a lot of money.
- Being short and chubby means I can’t get an attractive mate.
- I can’t dance because I’m clumsy.
X causes Y pattern:
- I’m uptight because my parents were really strict.
- The stress of my job makes me smoke cigarettes.
- I have a phobia of flying because I’ve seen horrific plane crashes on the news.
Hopefully it is obvious that none of these examples will be true for all people all the time. Plenty of people have earned lots of money without a college degree, married partners more attractive than themselves, learned to be more agile, cultivated traits different from their parents, worked stressful jobs without nicotine, and overcome intense fears of flying. So the first useful question you can ask yourself when addressing a limiting belief is whether there are counter-examples that show your belief is not always true.
Returning to our second presupposition above – all thoughts are useful in some situation – a useful question to ask is “when/where/in what situation or context could this thought have value?” At the least, awareness of the thought’s limitations may offer motivation – to go back to school, lose weight, or find a less stressful job. In the flying phobia example, the value may be in knowing your mind wants to keep you safe, perhaps leading to research of airline safety data or alternate means of travel or even reliable ways to eliminate phobias, such as NLP and hypnosis (watch demo video here).
On an even more basic level, when recognizing the structure of such limiting beliefs, you can always ask “How” does A mean B or X cause Y? How does being clumsy mean you can’t dance? Does it mean you can’t walk or drive a car either? How does a strict family background cause you to be uptight now? Does it also cause you to instill in your children the feelings you didn’t like having when you grew up?
Some other great “belief busting” questions you can ask yourself include:
- What else could this mean?
- How would I know if that isn’t true?
- What purpose has this belief been serving until now?
When examining thoughts in this way you will discover what presuppositions you have incorporated into your thinking, identifying your unconscious assumptions. Remember, these assumptions were useful in some way at some point so rather than judge yourself or the ideas, allow yourself to simply become aware of the presuppositions because this is how you get the flexibility to choose a thought that helps you feel better now and in turn make better and more flexible behavior choices. And that is how you have the greatest ability to get the outcomes you want.
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UPDATE 4/26/12 8pm: This article has been published in the April/May Isis Scrolls Magazine, widely available throughout northern CA and southern OR.
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Dave Berman is a Certified Hypnotist, Life Coach & Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). He offers private and confidential sessions on a sliding scale in his Arcata, CA office and remotely via Skype. Referrals and inquiries are welcome. Learn more at www.ManifestPositivity.com or call (707) 845-3749 for a free consultation. Subscribe to future articles from Manifest Positivity:
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