Allow to tell you about my first experience of fixing my inner head trash.
This was about 10 years ago. I was with my friend the late Tom Hoobyar at a conference. He’s a Master Neuro Linguistic Programming Practitioner. I knew NLP worked because a lot of top platform presenters and sales people use it effectively to persuade – with embedded commands etc.
Take-no-prisoners sales guys don’t give a rip about theory, as long as it works. So I knew NLP wasn’t hocus-pocus.
There’s a lot of NLP people out there, and most of them aren’t nearly as good as they tell you they are. Some of them are flat out dangerous. But Tom literally wrote the book on NLP. (Actually a classic book, NLP: The Technology of Achievement was being completely re-written by him when he passed away in September, and will hit the bookstore shelves late this year.)
I explained to Tom how my oldest son Cuyler, who then was 3 years old, had this odd way of being able to push my buttons and make me angry. I knew it was irrational and it was MY problem. And I didn’t like it. I tended to get mad at him very easily. (But not either of the other two kids.) I knew it was damaging my relationship with the little guy.
Tom says, “OK Perry, describe a scene where Cuyler does something that sets you off.”
I think for a minute and say, “He walks to the refrigerator, opens it, pours himself a glass of milk. Then he drops the milk jug on the floor. It splits open and sprays milk all over the kitchen and I get MAD at him.”
Tom says, “Great. Now when do you actually feel yourself getting angry? Is it when he spills the milk, or is it some other time?”
He talks me through the scene one frame at a time. I realize I get mad just *before* he spills the milk, not after.
Tom slows down the film strip even more and asks me if I’m seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling anything else.
This is odd. Like… what??? I don’t know what he’s talking about.
But he helps me slow down the frames in my mind even more. Suddenly I realize that at a certain moment there’s this sort of blue flash of light in my mind and it’s a flash of anger. It has a location in space. It has color and texture.
“Great!” Tom says. “Now I want you to do something for me.”
He stands up and walks across the room diagonally, from one corner to the other. He points to an invisible line on the floor and says, “This is the time line of your life. This corner is when you were born, that corner is someday when you die. Come stand here in the middle, in the present.”
I comply with his request. He says, “Now I want you to walk backwards on this line, towards the day you were born. Just as soon as you feel that feeling and see that blue flash of light, I want you stop.”
Man, this is weird. How in the world is this going to ever work? It seems silly.
I walk backwards slowly. Suddenly about halfway back, I see that blue flash of light and I feel that flash of anger.
Tom says, “Where are you? What do you see?”
I’m laying on my bed, with a brown bedspread, the bottom bunk of my bunkbed that I share with my brother.
I’m 14 years old. I’m crying. My dad has cancer and he’s about to have his kidney taken out and he may not make through the surgery. Or they might cut him open, see cancer all over the place and sew him back up and send him home to die. I’m terribly, horribly despondent.
“Perry, somehow you attached Cuyler’s mistakes to your grief over your dad’s cancer. That’s not only anger, it’s sadness. Every time Cuyler makes a big mistake, you relive that sad day when you were 14 years old for about 10 nanoseconds. You get angry and you don’t even know why.”
Dang. This actually makes logical sense.
“Is it OK if we fix your film strip?”
He does an exercise with me where he replaces that sadness frame on the film strip with a memory of me skiing in Colorado.
After that, I don’t get nearly as mad at Cuyler anymore. The feeling wasn’t completely gone, but 75% of that anger impulse went away. Just like that.
Wow. That is cool.
NLP has hard limits to what it can accomplish; it’s not a cure-all. But surely this gives you some insight into how our minds work. There’s all kinds of stuff going on below your awareness, flashes of sounds, smells, feelings and beliefs. They only appear for nanoseconds, but they have a huge impact on your feelings and behaviors.
I sure was thankful for that 20 minute session with Tom, where he unstuck some of my gears.
My anger with Cuyler was a minor thing compared to other land mines that were buried in the soil of my soul. Later I would seek Tom’s help on bigger, thornier issues.
Stay tuned for Part 6 – cuz the plot thickens.
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