Try the “Yet” Trick

I said “yet,” not “Yeti!”

Everybody knows that black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking gets us into trouble. Beliefs like, “You’re either with us or against us” are not only inaccurate, but can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Not because they’re true (they aren’t), but because the belief blinds you to alternatives that are right in front of you.

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” and I’ll show you a simple trick that’s pretty good at bringing things back into your field of vision.

The trick? Take hard-edged, absolute statements like “I can’t,” or “always,” or “never,” and loosen them up:

Turn “I Can’t” Into “I Haven’t Yet”

Often people remember this one when talking to children. The child says, “I can’t ride a bike,” and the adult replies, “Not yet.”

“Not yet” is a magical phrase, from a hypnotist’s point of view, because it admits that the future might be different from the past. No guarantees, but it emphasizes the possibility. Continue Reading...

Stop Asking Why … No, Seriously!

“Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal”
— Robert A. Heinlein

“The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing”
— Blaise Pascal

Imagine a person with the following mental defect: the part of his mind that makes decisions is largely disconnected from the rest of his mind. And instead of being aware of this disconnect, he simply makes up reasons for his decisions … and believes them!

Like everything else, this mental defect has a name. It’s called (drum roll, please): “normal.”

It seems that the “conscious mind” is not doing much of our thinking. Not does it communicate very well with the parts that are doing the heavy lifting. But our conscious mind believe that it’s doing all the work.

Is this true? This is fairly easy to demonstrate, especially with such as brain imagery. In one experiment, scientists could watch the decision-making process humming along in the unconscious regions of the brain. After the decision is made, there’s a delay before the conscious mind learns about it—in some cases, up to seven seconds! Continue Reading...

“Don’t Think of a Blue Elephant!”: How the Brain Processes a Negative

Don't think of a blue elephant! Whoops, too late.If I tell you, “Don’t think of a blue elephant,” what happens? You think of a blue elephant, of course! (If you don’t, check your pulse. You may be dead.)

What’s up with that? The conventional answer is, “The brain can’t process a negative.” But if the brain can’t process a negative, phrases that contain a negative (like “the brain can’t process a negative”) can’t be processed by the brain. But  they can. The brain understands perfectly well what “don’t think about a blue elephant” means. The task is clear. The cause of the failure is somewhere else.

Language and the Imagination

The issue is that, to understand what someone is saying, your unconscious mind, you imagination, puts the words together into things it understands, out of its library of remembered and imagined things—events, images, sounds, thoughts, sensations, and so on. That means that, to know what you’re not supposed to think about, your mind has to understand what the words “blue elephant” mean, which is quite hard to do unless you imagine elephant and color it blue. By which time, of course, it’s too late! Continue Reading...

Making Magical Thinking Work for You

Flying_carpetAn article of mine, Practical Uses of Magical Thinking, was just published in the Oregon Counseling Association’s Spring 2016 newsletter. Check it out!

I’m not a counselor, but the Oregon Counseling Association casts a wide net, welcoming non-counselor practitioners or anyone else with an interest in the topic.

As a hypnotherapist, I see lots of people who could just as easily see a counselor, but have chosen for one reason or another to give hypnosis a try.

I chose “magical thinking” as a topic because it’s a focus of hypnotherapy but is somewhat skimped in more traditional therapy. With magical thinking, we, in effect, ignore the daunting and distracting difficulties of getting from point A to point B, take a magic carpet ride to B, and spend enough time there that it becomes familiar. If we like what we see, the problem is half-solved already. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and that single step is more likely to happen if you’re clear about your destination.  Continue Reading...

11 Ways We Distort Our Thinking

distorted-thinking-checklistI stumbled across this list of eleven fallacies and distortions at Surrender Works and couldn’t resist reposting it (with some fairly heavy editing).

This is an interesting checklist because it’s different from the classical list of false arguments, such as a priori conclusions, ad hominem arguments, etc., which many of us encountered in school.

Noticing Your Own Distorted Thinking (aka Cognitive Errors)

Mark Twain defined Man as “the rationalizing animal.” And, boy, are we good at it! Since we’re good at it, our rationalizations usually live up to our reasonably high standards. When we resort to fallacies, it’s a sign that something’s not right. Ideally, we’ll notice this before anyone else does, and take action.

As a hypnotist, I have a lot of respect for the power of the unconscious mind, and when the unconscious mind is pulling in a different direction from the conscious mind, it tends to win. Rationalizations are a sign that the conscious mind has little idea what’s going on, and is making up excuses to fill in the gaps. The lights are on, but nobody’s home. That’s a warning sign. Continue Reading...