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Why you get triggered

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What did you have for breakfast this morning?

There are a number of things that just happened without you having to cognitively engage with the question:

  1. Your mind did an instant pattern match to the word breakfast. This is like a Google search, but way quicker. The search will have returned a match to the first meal of the day.
  2. Armed with that fact, it will now search through your memories, moving back through time to whenever it was breakfast time, and zooming in on what you ate (or didn’t eat).
  3. Next the memory will be layered with meaning. Were you hungry? Did you enjoy it? How were you feeling at the time? Your mind will be flooded with the meaning of the question “What did you have for breakfast?”.
  4. What happens next depends on what that meaning was. When I was a child I used to go and stay with my granny sometimes. She lived in the North Wales hills in an old farmhouse. My home life was not great. I had a stepmother that hated me and as a result I was badly neglected, and skeletally thin due to not being fed enough. We weren’t poor. She just didn’t care. When I went to my granny’s to stay everything was different. There was so much delicious food. In the morning, breakfast was usually porridge covered in dark brown sugar and drizzled with evaporated milk. I used to stir it all in to create a wonderfully tasty and filling breakfast. So, when you ask me that question my brain has already accessed that memory. I have no choice in the matter.

All of these steps happen instantly, outside of your conscious awareness. The results are returned from the search in full 4D, with images, feelings, timings and other people, faster than you can do a google search on the word ‘breakfast’. And you have no idea that all of this has just happened when you reply with “toast”, or something else.

Memories with meaning are called Episodic memories and these are your triggers as you go about your day. Let me tell you a trigger sequence that just happened. Image result for pinball machine images

  1. I had a coffee with a friend and we were talking about a brainstorming session I’d had. I did my usual pinball machine effect, bouncing all over the place with ideas. The other person was more measured and structured, thinking about each thing. Afterwards they went a little quiet and I was worried.
  2. My friend told me that one of the things I don’t realise about myself is that I think and process and act really quickly, and most people don’t do that. The other person needed to process and absorb at a different pace. It was a valid point, and one of the main reasons why I think we make a great team.
  3. I told my friend that it’s something I often fail to recognise about myself, and also how intimidating that can be for others.
  4. I remembered a study session at Uni where a friend, who is now my husband, was running the session because he understood it and we all didn’t. He explained it in a way that made sense to me. That was it. I didn’t need any more as I now understood the whole concept. He was blown away as he’d never met anyone like me before. Incidentally this is why I can’t listen to podcasts or learn stuff form YouTube – they don’t get to the point quickly enough for me.
  5. This morning I was thinking about the conversation. My husband often tutors 15/16yo kids on maths. These have been friend’s kids so far. He works hard to plan it and makes sure that he is communicating in a way that works for that kid. He’s helped four kids but each have only done it last minute and had 2 sessions. When the kids don’t get the result he expects, he feels like he’s really failed them.
  6. I missed the last year of my A-Levels (16-18yo exams) because I was ill. If I tried to go to school in the morning I got sick. If it was the afternoon I was fine. I ended up taking my exams at home with teacher supervision. I did Computers, Maths and English. Computers was in a college in the afternoon so I always made those classes and passed the exam. The English teacher supported me really well, sent work home and even had be at her house for a tutor session. I passed that exam. The Maths teacher didn’t care and didn’t support me at all. I failed that.
  7. However, about a month before the exams my parents sorted a maths tutor for me. He was brilliant. I totally got what he was covering. I had him for 2 sessions and actually went into the exam feeling I would do ok. But I failed. Because no matter how good he was, and how smart I was, 2 sessions was not enough to prepare me for an exam.
  8. I told my husband this, knowing that he knew I was bright enough to get it. It allowed him to see if he wants to have a fair chance to make a difference, he needs way more than just a couple of sessions.

One conversation, with one idea, is enough to trigger a whole sequence of episodic memories that might take you anywhere.

Do you have an addictive personality?

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There is an accepted idea out there that once addicted to something, you will always be prone to returning to your addiction. This idea is reinforced by mainstream media, with constant stories of celebrities going into rehab or, even worse, taking their own lives through substance abuse. Alcoholics Anonymous encourage the idea that you will always be an alcoholic but that you can follow 12 steps to get off and stay off using alcohol. Many smokers will still answer that they are a smoker even when they have given up smoking for a while.

It is also assumed that, given a certain set of circumstances, people will return to their addiction. It is also accepted that there is such a thing as an addictive personality. In fact, for many years I believed I had an addictive personality and would stay away from addictive substances because of the belief I would never be able to stop if I started.

I no longer believe that to be true. I do not think people have addictive personalities. I believe that people have a need to use some substance to help them cope. As long as there is a need to cope, there will be a need for the substance (or behaviour because gambling and shopping can also be addictions). I had a lot of difficult stuff in my childhood, if I had found something that allowed me to escape from that, I would definitely have used it. Luckily for me, nothing really worked.

To understand why it is possible to permanently overcome an addiction, we first have to look at what an addiction truly is.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is using a substance to either give you a feeling, or escape from a feeling.

For example:

Alcohol: Some people drink alcohol to feel more confident in social situations. It allows them to forget their inhibitions. Some people drink alcohol to the point where they can’t remember what happened when they were drunk. This allows them to escape from unpleasant thoughts in their head.

Drugs: Some people take drugs to relax. Drugs like cannabis are often smoked in a social environment where people are chilling out together. Some people take drugs to forget. Hard drugs like Heroin totally take you out of reality. This is often taken by people who really need to escape from the harsh realities of life.

Food: Some people eat because it makes them happy or it gives them comfort. Eating reminds them of happy times. Some people eat to create a window of nothing-ness. This is often true of people who binge eat; they often describe it as a mindless act.

So What?

If addiction serves a purpose, then the logical step to take to get rid of the addiction is to get rid of the need for it i.e. get rid of the purpose.

If we try and work on addiction as a behaviour or as a disease, we are merely treating the symptoms rather than the cause. It is like trying to get rid of a tree by chopping the branches; for a while it may seem like it’s been very effective, but eventually new branches will emerge from the root. The only way to get rid of the tree is to get rid of the roots.

How Addictions are Formed

From working with hundreds of clients, I have learnt that connections are made in our subconscious in early years. It is like a massive web, where something that happens right now can vibrate a small thread which sends a signal right back to an early memory. That early memory holds with it the instructions on how to respond. When the triggering event leads to a memory where there was a feeling of hurt, the response returned is one of protection and is designed to enable damage limitation to give you the best chance of survival.

The problem is, these memories are from when you were a child. As a child you didn’t understand the complexities of adult emotion. It was easy to feel hurt by small things, such as your father telling you that you should have done better at a test at 8 years old. If your subconscious equates that moment to feeling hurt, it will lock in a lesson from it and it will become a significant event. When, as an adult, something pattern matches to that significant event, such as feeling like you messed up a presentation at work, you get a protection response that is disproportionate to the event. Messing up the presentation becomes further evidence of how useless you are and how you will never be good enough; all because you disappointed your father at 8 years old. The other problem is that the subconscious is a primitive part of the brain. “Hurt” in the subconscious equates to physical hurt, which ultimately equates to death. So it will do anything it can to stop you getting hurt, even when the hurt is only emotional, as it is these days.

Addiction is Not Necessarily an Addiction for Life

The problem is, because of the spider web of memories, if you try and address the problem in your present reality, you are not changing the early memory. You are merely getting rid of one thread. There are many routes back to the significant memory.

If the memory that keeps getting triggered is painful, then it leaves you with nowhere to go. No matter what you try, eventually something else will trigger it. This is when people turn to a substance. If you can’t avoid the thing that causes the pain, the only option you have is to dampen or escape from those feelings.

Let’s take alcohol. One day you are drinking and as you drink more and more you being to realise that you are not feeling so much. Night after night you tell yourself you won’t drink but the thoughts are in your head and won’t go away. Soon the night time drink spreads into the day when something happens and you just need to escape. Even though the consequences can have a really negative impact on you and your life, in that moment where you are hurting, you do the thing you know works. Soon it has become a habit. Even if the situation that originally made you turn to drinking has now changed, you are now in the habit of using alcohol to cope with everything. Where others may draw on their innate skills, you are now conditioned to use the substance. This is how an addiction is formed.

How Do You Permanently Overcome Addiction?
If we work off the basis that a significant memory from childhood ultimately becomes the root of an addiction, then overcoming that addiction is simply a matter of changing the significant memory. Of course, we can’t change time, but we can change our perception of it. Have you ever compared childhood memories with someone else who was there? I am sure you found that they either don’t remember the same things as you, or, if they do, they remember them differently. We remember things based on the limited understand of a child. This means if we look back on a memory, we have the benefit of hindsight. We can see something differently as an adult than we did as a child.

How Do You Permanently Overcome Addiction?

Now, I’m sure we all know the rules of time travel? If you go back in time and change something, then it will have an impact on the present day. So if you go and look back on a memory with your adult eyes (and maybe an external guide for perspective) then you will see what happened in a different way. If you see it differently you can change it. If you change a significant memory, it loses its significance and becomes just another of the 7,363,228 minutes that you experience by the time you are 15 years old. If a memory is no longer significant, when you vibrate a thread there is no response and no need to go into a state of protection i.e. there is no need to cope. The addiction ceases to serve a purpose.

This process takes time. Imagine you broke a leg really badly when you were 5 years old. The doctors told you that you would never be able to put a weight on that leg again. You spend the whole of your life using a crutch to take the weight of that leg. Then one day, when you are 43 years old, you come and see a therapist like me. I tell you that your leg is perfectly fine and kick the crutch away. Does that mean you are going to run out of the therapy session? No! You will need to learn that you can trust that leg. You need to learn that it can support you. There will probably be times in the early days where you still use the crutch, just to be sure. Eventually though, you will realise you don’t need it. You will never need it again.

Getting over addiction is a slow process, but it can be a permanent one, if you approach it by getting rid of the need for the substance, rather than cognitively choosing to stay away from the substance.

The Neuroscience of learning new things

In schools in our area they have a great approach to learning bases on the growth mindset.

Have you ever noticed how uncomfortable you feel when things are unfamiliar? This is because your brain releases a drug called dopamine whenever you do something familiar.

Not something good.

Not something bad.

Just something your brain recognises.

This means that whenever you do something new, like learning something new, the first thing that happens is you lose the drugs the make you feel comfortable.

You go cold turkey.

Cold turkey is uncomfortable.

This is what leads to the negative mindset when you first have to do something new.

The more you make the new thing familiar, the quicker you get the dopamine back, the sooner you feel comfortable again and can begin to climb out of the pit.

This is the neuroscience behind the learning pit.

Change is hard to see

When I used to work in a call centre consultancy, we had a rule that in order to say “I did X and it led to improvement”, you had to have 3 consecutive points where the data showed improvement. These points could be represent weeks or months, but they had to be over time, and a trend.

The easiest thing about the therapy journey with me is the work we do in the room together.

The hardest thing is the bit in between the sessions where you have to look for evidence of change.

Most people have an idea of where they want to be.

Most people don’t look at their life as a trend, it is more about absolutes. You compare now to the person you want to be, losing sight easily of how far you’ve come from the person you used to be.

The problem is, everything you know about yourself comes from your past experience. That is your evidence. It is rock solid. It tells you “When this happens, I react this way”

When you leave the first session with me, you know something has shifted but you don’t know what. I task you with finding evidence of things that are different. That evidence will form a trend over time.

The biggest challenge happens in the first few weeks, while your brain updates. The data points that act as evidence of the change are interspersed with evidence of how things have always been.


I may be good but I’m not good enough to change everything overnight!

So the task is to build our data and evidence of change into a trendline. You can then use this trendline to predict where you are heading. Instead of using your past which has produced most of your evidence so far.

This is not easy. Even I still struggle with this. How do I know who I am, if I am not what happened to me?

I have learned…

When I was 6 my stepmother hit me for the first time. I had a mark on my top when I came home from school. I learned that doing something that wasn’t allowed resulted in a beating. Unfortunately it wasn’t clear what was and was not allowed.

A year later I cried one night when I heard my stepmother and father arguing loudly. She came to my room and told me she’d hit me if I cried. I learned not to cry.

We were left outside for long periods of time and I learned that my stepmother didn’t want us around. I learned not to complain. I learned not to need anything.

When my grandfather drove me and my brother to my granny’s house, I learned that my brother was older and I had no choice but to do what he told me. He told me to sit in the seat next to my grandfather. My grandfather would put his hand down my pants and molest me on the journey. I didn’t like it. It was uncomfortable, but in comparison to later stuff, it was nothing.

When I was 8 I told a lady from Social Services that I wanted to go and live with my mother, despite being warned not to. That day my father told me he was sad that I didn’t want to live with him any more and that he didn’t love me. I learned that even when I speak up for myself, it makes no difference.

When I was 10 my stepfather came to wish me goodnight. When he kissed me he shoved his tongue into my mouth and said “Not like that a proper kiss”. He went on to teach me “what boys did to girls” over the next few years. I learned anyone could do anything to me and there was nothing I could do.

When I was 12 I told my mother about the abuse. She lost her temper with me and told me never to talk about it again. I learned to shut down. I learned that I couldn’t trust what I felt. I learned to not feel. I learned that it was never safe.

When I was 18 I learned that no one knew anything about my past. I learned that I could be whoever I wanted to be. I buried the child, grew a shell and lived a successful life.

When my first child had to be delivered at only 26 weeks old I learned that my body was as hateful as I’d always believed. I learned it was outside of my control and that this time it had killed my child.

When my daughter was 3 years old and started asking me constantly if I was happy, I learned that it was not ok for my screw ups to affect her and I learned that it was time to change.

When I started Cognitive Hypnotherapy I learned that I was ok. I learned I wasn’t broken. I learned that bad people did bad things to me.

When I took my stepfather to court 6 years ago I learned that I was believed. I learned I could tell my story, and deal with a huge amount of pain.

When he was found not guilty because my mother didn’t corroborate my story, and the defence cleverly suggested it was all stuff my grandfather did, I learned that it wasn’t about me. It wasn’t my fault. Bad stuff happened and the judicial process was not sophisticated enough to deal with it. I learned I was ok.

When I struggled last year because I felt my core was rotten, too rotten for anyone to care about the child me, I learned that I have great friends. They helped me re-connect and forgive the younger me because she was just unlucky. Bad people did bad things. She couldn’t change that.

And all through I learned that I am ok. I am strong. I can deal with anything.

I learned that no matter what you can be happy and connected with your friends and those you hold dear.

I learned that everything can change always.

And now I’m still learning. I’m learning that it’s possible for my head to be fine but for my body to hold on to the fear.

And because I’ve learned that everything can change, and because I have great friends, I am working on that now too.

It’s not what happens to us that causes the problem, it’s the meaning. It’s the meaning that hurts and the meaning is prone to misinterpretation.

You too can change.

You too can learn to see that it’s amazing that you are here, reading this with me now.

It’s not what happens to us

Sometimes, when I talk to clients or even potential clients, they say things like “I had a great childhood” or “I feel bad because what I went through was nowhere near as bad as you”. But you see, none of that matters.
It’s not what happens to us, but the meaning that our subconscious takes from it that causes the problem. In that context, having a school friend betray you can have just as much of an impact on the rest of your life as being beaten by your stepmother.

You have two different types of memory:
1. The first type is autobiographical memory. This is a chronological memory a bit like the old-fashioned photo albums, or photos on your phone that are sorted in date order. Moments in type are stored in order, connected by sequence. Individual examples of that time are stored as snapshots. These are relatively two-dimensional memories without significance. I went to four different schools as I was growing up. If you asked me which schools I went to and when, I would start with the first, on Anglesey, then move to the second which was in Manchester. To do this I would visualise my first school, and some connected event from the second school. The third school was a primary school back on Anglesey. I am now thinking of the headmaster of that school and the house I lived in. From there I can make my way to the fourth school which was the last one I went to. It’s easy to approach this kind of autobiographical recollection. You simply pull on a thread and see where it leads you.

2. The second type of memory is Episodic. These are memories that are easy to recall because they have some sort of meaning. Unlike Autobiographical memories, they often appear unbidden. Taking the example of my four schools: as I typed episodic memories were popping into my head. My first school made me smile. I remembered the dinner ladies standing at a table with my brother and I after dinner time. The hall had no other kids there. They’d all gone out to play. The dinner ladies had put one of the giant metallic pots they used on the table. This one had custard in it. They were ladling a runny pale yellow custard into our bowls and we were hungrily polishing it off. I was starved as a child. Not because we were poor, but because my stepmother hated me. We had to be invisible or we would get a beating, and she often neglected to feed us. Many years later I found out school knew all about this. So, the memory that I have just described made sense as the dinner ladies were doing their best to feed us up.

It’s the Episodic memory that causes us the problems. It’s that memory that triggers a protective state in your subconscious. It’s that state that disengages your thinking brain and takes control away from you.

Today is my brother’s 48th birthday.

When he was 16 he ran away from home and hitchhiked to London. He lived on the streets for a long time. He got into hard drugs to survive. His life has not been easy. He has a little place of his own now but he still has to take methadone every day. And he drinks. I really have no idea how he survived this long! But he is a survivor my brother. He’s always landed on his feet. We had a similar childhood. This was his response.

My response was to escape by going to Uni.

We all respond to things in different ways.

So remember, it’s not what happens to you that causes the problem. It’s the meaning. And it’s the meaning that interrupts your ability to live your life and be happy.

We can’t change what happened, but we can see it differently. That’s what I do.

Are you ready for permanent change that you control?

How often have you spent money on weight loss and fitness plans, lost weight and then put it all back on again (and some) when you stopped following the programme

EMERGENCE is a new approach to weight loss and self-esteem that uses the principles of Neuroplasticity to guide you to change yourself – permanently.

It is 4 week self-paced programme with live expert support to help you permanently change your relationship with food and yourself.

This programme will deliver permanent change, tailored to you, for a one off payment. It puts the power back in your hands – empowering you to change yourself. Gone are the days where you have to pay out weekly or monthly, only to find that when you stop paying, the changes also stop

Here’s how it works…

Following the programme:
The programme is delivered over 4 weeks into your email so you can fit it around your day-to-day life. Blocks start at set times through the year and are strictly limited to 20 people so fully personalised support can be provided

More than just an email:
Each email will come with simple explanation videos so you will always understand why you are doing what you are doing. Each task will be supported by a powerful MP3 track that helps with each stage of your journey.

Fully supported:
Online logs will be used to track progress and provide personalised feedback from an expert as you experience changes. As long as you work through the programme in the 4 week block you will always have someone there to answer questions and make sure it’s working as well as it can for you.

NO MONTHLY PAYMENTS
Just a one-off payment of £99 to cover the whole programme

Yes, I want to start changing today 

(No money will be taken by following this link. Once you’ve registered,  you’ll be sent a link for payment)

100% of people who have taken the programme would recommend it to a friend
“The most exciting change was not binging on food, it was a relief to stop eating. The guilt has stopped too because I’m not bringing anymore. Words can’t describe my gratitude.”

“Awareness of my emotions and the function of food as a safety tool. How the subconscious works was fascinating too.”


“Not feeling emotional when i eat just seeing it as fuel”


“I’ve stopped turning to chocolate and crisps and my portion sizes have decreased dramatically”


“I feel I know the real me the one that’s been hiding and my life has stopped revolving around food ! “

Yes, I want to start changing today 

A FEW TECHNICALITIES
*The programme starts on the 7th of January, 2019. Spaces are limited to 20 people per block. 
*As spaces are limited they will be allocated on a first come first served basis. Completing the form will ensure you are registered to complete the programme.
Will it really work in only 4 weeks?
Yes. This programme uses an understanding of how the brain works around addiction and anxiety to guide you to permanently change the way you think. Once a change has been made it can’t be undone. It may take longer than 4 weeks for you to experience all of the changes, but the groundwork will be done during the programme. 

What happens if I need more help with other stuff after?
Sometimes there is more going on than your relationship with food and others. In this case there will be one-to-one sessions available at the end of the programme at a significantly discounted rate. Change is always possible. 

I’m not very technical. Will I be able to follow it?
As long as you can receive and respond to emails, and have a smartphone, tablet or laptop that will allow you to play audio files, then you can do this programme. That is all that is needed. 

Do I have to stop all my other programmes?
Sometimes people are doing other weekly programmes such as Slimming World, Lighter Life or something else. They won’t conflict with this programme although you may find that you don’t see the point of spending money on them any more as you progress.
**PLEASE NOTE**
The programme is delivered via emails. Please ensure you are capable of receiving and responding to emails for the next 4 weeks BEFORE you sign up. The programme can not be paused.
At many stages you will receive an MP3 audio to listen to. This is a critical part of the programme. Please make sure you have access to a device capable of playing MP3 audio files BEFORE you sign up.
Because of the one-to-one structure of the programme, it will be run at pre-allocated times throughout the year. It will be run with a block of people. There can be NO MORE THAN 20 PEOPLE IN A BLOCK.

In 2019 I will…

My Word of the year is “Strong”

A year is a long time. Lots can happen that is outside of our control. At the end of the year we can get very reflective. We set ourselves grand goals “This year I will…stop smoking…lose weight…get fit….follow my passion…find love…etc”.

Most people give up on their resolutions within a few months and forget it covers the whole year.

So I tend to approach it slightly differently. I imagine I am at Christmas 2019, looking back on my year, what would I like to say I’ve achieved? I then aim to do something each day that brings me a step closer to that vision of Christmas 2018. If I get blindsided by something, it doesn’t matter, as it’s an aspiration rather than a fixed goal I can succeed or fail at.

**Here was what I wanted to have achieved in 2018 and an update on how it went**

1. Continued to develop my reputation and become the known expert in my field: I want to do a new TED talk using my puppets and with a better title : “We’re all screwed up, and that’s ok”. I also want to get into high schools and do some more practical talks building on my latest book. I also look forward to the results of my Masters Dissertation and hearing the findings quoted on the radio!

UPDATE: I developed a totally new, more personal, version of my talk and delivered it numerous times. It worked really well. I also did a talk to hundreds of high school students and rolled out a new programme of talks and workshops designed just for schools. The results of my Masters are really interesting and are opening doors. I need to contact the newspapers to get a piece done on them.

2. Completed my Masters and made progress towards signing up for a Phd: My Masters is due for completion in August 2018. Before that point I would like to have started the process for applying for a Phd. I can not conceive of life without University now. I love the place. Dundee Uni is awesome and I can’t see myself walking away from it at the end of the year. So I would like to look back at the end of 2018 and know I am making progress towards the Phd and possibly lecturing.

UPDATE: I got my Masters and I no longer plan on doing a Phd. Academic writing is very outdated and it is rare for anyone in the “real world” to get access to the results. I also hate writing that way. I love to make things real and understandable – not complicated and confusing. I am not willing to waste 4+ years doing something I hate. Plan scrapped!

3. Created a stable income: I started a very exciting collaboration at the end of 2017 where I developed a 5 week online programme for breaking the emotion connection that people have with food. It has been piloted with 10 people who have all said they would recommend it to others. There is nothing like this on the market. It will create a secondary channel of income for my business.

UPDATE: Well that collaboration didn’t happen but I recently took that programme back to be owned by just me and I will be launching it in 2019 with the help of a Marketing student. I am really excited about where I can take this and how many people I can reach.

4. Climbed out of a hole: In 2017, I made it through the challenging times by ignoring them and employing distraction techniques. This is not sustainable long term so I hope to resolve some of these issues in 2018 – although I have no idea how!

UPDATE: I did it! I still don’t actually no how. It was more about taking one day at a time. I can’t say I’m back to my happy place quite yet but I’m definitely not teetering on the edge of the precipice either. My word for the year is strong so I think good things are ahead of me

**So what do I want to say when I look back on 2019?**

1. Progress was made on a stable income. The Emergence programme is well established with each month being filled up at least 50% of the year. In my role as Mental Health Mentor I have a good number of students I mentor providing a stable weekly income.

2. I did a new TED talk.

3. I wrote and published my new book “We’re all screwed up”

4. I delivered numerous workshops including more to corporate clients and my new range of workshops for therapists.


So what would you like to say at the end of next year ?

Dealing with difficult people at Christmas

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I bet you think you can read minds don’t you? In fact, I would go as far as to say that you think you have mind control super powers and can make people think things about you and even, change the way they think about you. Don’t worry. It’s not just you. Everybody thinks they have mind control superpowers.

What do you think happens in that first 6 seconds when you meet someone? They judge you.

Of course.

You judge them.

Of course.

But whether you judge them because of what they are wearing, how they sound, what their hand shake is like, whether they make eye contact etc has nothing to do with them. It’s all to do with you and the way you see the world.

I had a client that felt it was very important to remember people’s names. They made a point of paying attention to that fact. They would get offended if the other person didn’t remember, and use, their name. I couldn’t care less if you remember my name or not. I respond to anything. This unique perception can be referred to as your model of the world.

We weigh up situations based on our model of the world. This has nothing to do with reality. It also has nothing to do with what is going on in the other persons mind – because you are not a mind reader.

This can often be a bigger problem at Christmas where you are forced into the same space with other people you don’t know very well for a length of time.

Why do we struggle with some people and not others?

So when you don’t get on well with with someone, or even out and out fight with them, it’s because you have a different model of the world to them. But beyond that, it’s because you assume they have the same model of the world as you and are deliberately and maliciously doing the exact opposite just to get up your nose.

Not true. In fact, they believe the same as you. They believe you have the same model of the world as them and are deliberately and maliciously doing the exact opposite just to get up their nose!

This difference in the way we see things is the basis of pretty much every relationship problem. Ever.

Is there anything you can do?

No matter how it comes across, it’s not about you.

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Imagine they are wearing a pair of glasses with a filter on like a Snapchat filter. You know the ones. The ones where you end up with dog ears or an abnormally large mouth. Now, everything you say, you will say with that filter on. It doesn’t matter if you try and speak more clearly, or are less animated – they still have the filter on so will always see you in the same way.

Nothing you can do to change that, so stop trying. Most of your frustration will disappear if you stop trying to be someone that your non-existent mind reading skills tell you that you should be!

How can you avoid getting into arguments?

Have you noticed how some people really wind you up and others don’t? Have you ever had to talk your other half down from a rant about one of your mates that they really hate and yet you can’t see why?

The thing is, this model of the world thing means that you don’t see people for how they are.

Your brain is constantly pattern matching. It’s looking for things in your environment that may be of some risk to you. How did it learn what those things are? It learnt as you grew up. Like a baby tiger learns to hunt safely and sleep safely from it’s parents, we learn from ours. Not how to hunt. But whether we are good enough, whether we listen, whether we are clumsy or can turn our hand to anything. We learn the things to avoid. In terms of your subconscious, those things you avoid are the things that would hurt you (and as far as it’s concerned, hurt equals death). These days it treats things that hurt you emotionally in the same way as things that hurt you physically. It triggers the fight or flight response. People forget the “fight” part of fight or flight. It comes from the same basis. When you get angry with your own (or your partners) relatives, it’s just a protective response to feeling threatened.

I did a survey recently of people who had a fear of public speaking. Of all the respondents, 88% could remember a childhood event that was connected to the fear. Of those 88%, 69.1% were from a time in school. Not big things either, small things like being put on the spot and not being able to answer a question.

So if your brain decides that the way someone is speaking to you is just the same as the time Mrs Fudgebucket, when she asked you a question at 12 years old that made you feel like a total muppet, then you become 12 years old again. You react as the 12 year old you. You feel stupid. You can’t tell that it’s not them making you feel stupid. You just know how you feel, so you go into fight of fight or flight. You fight back. You will not let them make you feel that way! But they have no idea this is all going on, because they can’t read your mind. All they know is that you are having a go at them. And so they fight back…and neither of you is really in the room. You are both off in your head working of memories.

What happens when it’s too late?

The problem around Christmas is that people often drink, and drinking can lower inhibitions. It may be that no matter what you try, you still get into the argument.

There are a couple of ways you can counter the pattern matching going on in your head.

One is defensive and one is preemptive.

The defensive way is the easiest. Image you have a shield of some sort around you. It can be an invisibility cloak, a two way mirror, a blanket, bubble wrap or something else. Inside that space is your happy place. Think of a happy or a calm memories. Use it to reinforce that shield. Nothing that they say can get through to you. After all, you can’t read minds. You can deflect it away so it bounces off. You can transform it like Harry Potter and Boggart so it becomes harmless, or you can distract from it by totally changing topic. Either way, you don’t let it in.

The preemptive way takes a little more time and preparation. You need to stop the memory becoming a trigger. We need to re-programme your brain so there is no match when your brain goes searching. This is far more simple than you might think thanks to neuroplasticity. Try something for me. Don’t think of a pink elephant. Did you manage it? If you did, it’s only because you thought of a blue elephant instead, or maybe a different animal. You can’t not think of something. Now, your brain doesn’t have a revision history. There is no track changes like there are in Word. So every time you change something it’s permanent. You can’t go back to a time before you thought of a pink elephant. Too late. Update has happened. We can use this to change the way memories are stored.

So let’s go back to the memory of Mrs Fudgebucket. Let’s change her voice to something that is impossible to take seriously. Donald Duck is good, or like she’s breathed in a helium balloon. Your brain doesn’t learn from things that are silly, only things that hurt. The minute she sounds silly the memory loses the meaning and, because of neuroplasticity the memory is permanently changed. When your in-laws say something that reminds you of that moment, it no longer reminds you of feeling stupid, which means there is no protective response and you don’t rise to the bait.

So see if you can think of how they make you feel when they say what they do, then see if you can find your earliest memory of feeling the same way, then change the memory to make it ridiculous. Job done.

Repairing arguments

Now, you are only human. Things get said. Emotions get out of control?

What if it’s too late?

What if the same thing always comes up?

Well, it’s never too late. If it doesn’t matter to you what they say, then you can just ignore it. It’s a lot easier to push off something, so if you don’t respond to what they say, then the argument will automatically lose momentum. You can then resort to the distraction or transformation options mentioned earlier and just change the topic.

Useful phrases can be “I can see how you see it that way”, and “I guess we just see it differently” or “Here’s 10p, phone someone who cares” (ok maybe not that last one).

So there we are. Just remember we are all screwed up and we are all operating from our own model of the world. Nothing is really about you. You are not that powerful!

Here’s an MP3 that might help if you need a timeout moment 

The path less travelled

If you walk through a field, then it makes sense to follow the worn path. It’s an easier route to go. 

Unless the worn path goes all round the field. Then it might make more sense to cut a new path straight through the middle. 

At first that new path will be hard going, but pretty soon it will get easier. 

When others notice the new path, they will probably use it too. More footfall means it gets worn down quicker. 

As the other path gets less used, it will grow over until eventually it will not exist at all. 

This is like your brain as you change. 

Each time you do something new you create a new path – a neural pathway. 

Each time you travel that neural pathway by doing the new thing you reinforce it. 

Old pathways disappear as you stop using them. 

Seeking that new pathway and thinking about that new pathway makes it stronger quicker. 

Pretty soon the old way of thinking and behaving is a long forgotten path. 

This is Neuroplasticity. This is what every client I work with goes through. Permanent changes in the brain.