Tag Archives: think it change it

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. 

Effect of childhood on our genes

Yesterday I attended a conference about ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences. It was about making Scotland the first ACE aware nation in the world. It was certainly thought provoking. 

I particularly enjoyed the talk from Dr Nadine Burke Harris about the physical implications of what she refers to as “Toxic stress”. 

Toxic Stress

The stress response is a physical and emotional response designed to help us escape sabre toothed tigers. This set of responses is designed to give us the best chance of surviving when fighting or running away from a predator.

  1. The pre-frontal cortex – the thinking part of the brain – is disengaged, because it’s too slow to help us survive. Taking time to think and work out options, in the middle of an attack, is a bad idea.
  2. The heart rate increases
  3. Adrenaline and cortisol flood the body – preparing our organs for instant response. Adrenaline also impacts on the immune system. Not really possible to ask the tiger to come back tomorrow because you have a bad cold right now. Our immune system is directed to preparing to fight infection from any injuries. 
  4. The pain response is adjusted to allow us to keep fighting or running even when injured. 

This all makes total sense – when fighting tigers. 

But what if the threat is violence from a parent, that could happen every day of your childhood. 

What if the threat is emotional or sexual abuse where you are being hurt but not necessarily physically. 

In these situations, the body reacts in exactly the same way. It treats the thing that hurts you emotionally in exactly the same way as if it was going to hurt you physically. 

Epigenetics

In itself this is bad enough, but this toxic stress has an effect on your genes through Epigentics. 

Image result for musical notes and notations

The way Nadine described Epigentics was great. If your DNA is the music notes on a piece of music, Epigentics are the musical notation that tells you what to do with the notes such as speeding up, slowing down and pausing

Epigenetics are like a series of little switches that activate and deactive things in your DNA

Because of these Epigenetic switches, right through into adulthood, when the threat is no longer present, the physiological response can remain.

This can lead to physical issues such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, weight issues and chronic pain conditions such as Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. 


All is not lost!

There are two ways to address this:

  1. We can work we children to offset the effect of any adverse experiences and prevent them from becoming toxic stress
  2. We can work with adults to re-programme the interpretation of the childhood experiences and switch the Epigenetic switches off again. 

Can trauma be controlled?

Trauma is where your brain has encountered something so difficult to process and comprehend, that your only option is to not process it. It’s a tipping point, often from an event that is no more than 20 seconds long. This is often referred to as a flashback. 

These tipping points are often not what would be perceived as traumatic by an outside observer.  Everyone processes in different ways, depending on their experiences in life, the perceived consequences and meaning in the event, and, to some degree, their perceptions of how they should have conducted themselves versus how they actually did.

So if a child is being brutally beaten regularly, that is not necessarily traumatic. The trauma can be caused more by something the perpetrator says while delivering the beating, rather than the direct, obvious pain caused by the violence.

Problems come, not from what happens, but from the meaning found when processing what happened. 

When dealing with trauma, it is common practice for therapists to wait at least a few months after an event before starting any therapy. 

The brain is an amazing thing, that processes and files, and organises everything that happens to us. 

This process takes time. It will be different for everyone. 

If you start trying to ‘fix’ trauma before that processing has taken place, it can do more damage than good. The event may not have registered as traumatic with an individual. Treating it as traumatic will then result in the memory being enhanced and processed as traumatic.  

Image result for flasher cartoon pictures

My husband once told me a story about a time when he was in the police:

2 teenage girls had been walking down the road and a man had flashed at them. 

They reported it to the police and my husband went along to interview both girls in their home. He interviewed them individually in their homes, with their parents present. 

The first girl was distraught. The mother was raging, talking about how disgusting it was and how traumatic it was for her daughter. The daughter was really affected by it and struggled to be interviewed. 

The second girl was calm and bemused. Her mother was joking about it and saying how ridiculous the stupid man was. 

You do not decide if something is traumatic or not, your brain does. 

So whilst we should be aware of the potential of things to be traumatic, we should not presume to know how someone else will experience and process an event. What we class as traumatic will be very different to someone else.

So be cautious about labelling something as traumatic based on your own perceptions of trauma. 

Everything can change. 

I can help you clear that traumatic block from your head. It only takes one session to clear the trauma, and then a follow up session to work on some of the structures in your brain that have been effected by it. 

Email dawn@thinkitchangeit.com to talk about how I might be able to help you. 

What Winnie the Pooh teaches us about labels

Piglet, Pooh, Rabbit, Roo, Kanga, Tigger and Eeyore in Disney’s live-action adventure CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

Over the weekend I went to see the new Christopher Robin film. 

I absolutely loved it and laughed all the way through. 

Before I went, someone had mentioned that the characters were typical of some standard mental health issues, so I had that in mind as I watched.

It was quite a revelation. 

It showed what labels can mean, but more importantly, what ignoring them means.

Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger

Eeyore

I think Eeyore is the most obvious one. Eeyore is always depressed. His expectation is that everything will go wrong for him and all his friends will ignore him. But here’s the thing, none of them do. They totally ignore his mood and include him in everything they do. They don’t care if he’s depressed, the love him for who he is. They don’t try to change him. They don’t tell him to stop being miserable. They don’t tell him he has a great life and to snap out of it. They accept him as one of them unconditionally. 

Piglet

Piglet has anxiety. He worries about everything. He’s scared of doing anything. At one point in the film, all the friends are going through the tree, out of the hundred acre wood. Piglet stops and says he doesn’t think he can go and he should just stay behind. Once more, Pooh doesn’t try and persuade him that he’s wrong and that it’s actually safe. He just takes his hand and tells Piglet that they need him to get through this adventure. Pooh gently leads him by the hand, into the tree, all the while reassuring him that he’s an important member of the team. 

Tigger

Tigger has ADHD. He loves to bounce, is constantly high as a kite, and crashes around without paying any attention to what everyone else is doing. He will sing his song at any opportunity and you just smile when he’s bouncing around (Tigger is my favourite character). As with the other characters, no one tells Tigger to calm down. No one tries to change him. They just accept him as an often welcome distraction from things that could get pretty intense. At one point he is in a taxi and, seeing his reflection, gets a little over-excited about another Tigger existing. This leads the taxi to crash. Does everyone berate Tigger for messing stuff up? No. They just get on with the situation they are in and make the best of it. 

Winnie the Pooh

For a bear with very little brain, Pooh is remarkably wise. 

“Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something”

He doesn’t flap or worry. He doesn’t get anxious or hyper. He just accepts things for how they are and trusts that things will work out ok in the end. He is a little obsessed with honey and constantly thinking about food. But it’s not a coping mechanism for him. It’s just who he is. 

All in all I thought it was a wonderful film. I didn’t want it to end. The animation and voices were perfect. The characters were exactly as they are in the books. Whether you find the characters fascinating or just immerse yourself in the experience, I highly recommend it. 

Hold on to your past – it defines you.

When I was 3 I told that my grandfather was molesting me. Nothing changed and it continued until I moved to live with my mother at 8 or 9 years old.

When I was 12 I told my mother I was being abused. Nothing changed and the abuse continued for some time after.

3 years ago I faced my abuser in court and he walked out of the court free. The jury found him not guilty. Nothing changed.

Before I went to live with my mother, I was starved and looked like a skeleton, beaten to the point of being covered in bruises and neglected. School knew. Social Services knew. Nothing changed.

At 14 years old my brother ran away for the first time. He was returned home. At 16 years old he ran away again and this time they couldn’t bring him home.

I stayed.

I went to university, got a degree in computing, met the man who would become my husband, and went on to have a very successful career, eventually ending up on a 6 figure salary in BT. I had a wonderful house, husband and daughter. Everything was amazing.

Except I was still the broken little girl inside. It was all a pretence.

Then I found cognitive hypnotherapy and everything changed.

Nothing changed what had happened, of course. It was me that changed inside. My internal story changed. The meaning behind the events changed.

One day a friend suggested that I should let go of my past as it didn’t serve me any more. I got really upset.

Who would I be if I had not experienced my life?

I am where I am not just because of who I am, but also because of the experiences I went through.

 

If I wasn’t the person I am, I wouldn’t be here writing this, helping people, trying to change the world, one person at a time. I would be like my brother, a drug addict struggling to keep going each day.

If I hadn’t gone through the experiences I did then it would be unlikely that I would dedicate my life to helping others escape the demons of their past.

So I don’t want to let go of the past. It made me who I am.

I sometimes learn new things about my past. Recently I reconnected with a relative (there are very few people from my past allowed in my present life). I learnt things about what was done, and what people new, that floored me a little. I felt angry and upset. I asked why no one protected me, as I have done many times before.

But this time it was different for me. I didn’t ask what was wrong with me. I didn’t feel even more evil and broken.

I felt upset. Genuinely upset that people would treat a little girl that way.

And I felt in awe of the person that I am. The person that got through that. And the person I have become as a result of that.

So don’t let go of your childhood experiences. You need them. They go with your personal qualities to make you who you are today.

We’re all screwed up – including me

It’s not secret that I have had my struggles.

It’s also no secret that I had a very difficult childhood. In fact, people who have heard the story have said I should make it into a film. It is a bit ridiculous!

Cognitive Hypnotherapy has been the thing that freed me up.

Even though the actual number of sessions of therapy I’ve had is relatively low (8 in total over the last 7 years), I have been able to find an amazing level of peace, happiness and contentment with my life. But it’s not been a short journey. Every day has been about learning.

Recently I was getting very frustrated with myself.

I still hated myself. I couldn’t look in the mirror without sneering. I wanted to be someone else. I found it impossible when people said nice things. It was actually upsetting. How could they be so cruel as to say something that was so obviously untrue? It wasn’t fair.

I knew this wasn’t right. It was frustrating. How could so much else have changed but not this?

I also knew I had some behaviours that weren’t right. I would never ask a question in a meeting or at Uni, because I assumed that nobody would pay any attention to what I said. When courses didn’t sell, and videos didn’t get many views I would think “Of course, why would anyone listen to me?”. When someone disagreed with something I said in a forum I would back off and not argue my point. I physically would shake and dwell on what I said and what they said.

I know enough to know that isn’t right, and, more importantly, I don’t have to accept it.

And then I got help from a fellow therapist. And we changed the hurt child girl so she was happy.

And things began to change.

I went to my daughter’s school to talk to them about an issue. I could have avoided it but I didn’t. I felt calm when I was there.

I started engaging in discussions on forums.

I went to the doctors about a lump above my stomach. I’d done this before and they dismissed it but I knew it was not right. I had been putting off going but I made the appointment and stuck to my guns to get a scan.

I went to the hairdressers and closed my eyes and relaxed while I was having my hair washed. Something I have never done before.

To many these may seem like small things, but to me they were huge signs of change.

And then I had an opportunity to do a talk to our local ACES group (Adverse Childhood Experiences). I want to become the sort of public speaker that talks at large events. Ultimately, I would love to do Tony Robbins style conferences (obvious they will be Dawn Style by then). I know that I need to share my personal story – what brought me to this point – if I really want to connect with people. I know I have a hell of a story.

I’ve always been able to write this but never talk. This was because of my mother telling me at 12 years old never to talk about the abuse again. But she didn’t say to never write about it lol!

In the past, when I’ve tried to talk, my subconscious has shut me down. I lose the ability to speak or move. So I’ve avoided telling my story.

On Tuesday I went along to this group event with a plan to talk through my story. ACES is all about resilience, and the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on our physical and mental well-being. I know that my story shows how it is possible to be happy no matter what. I know I am a better therapist because what I’ve been through shows that it is possible to overcome anything. This was a good audience to start with.

My passion is to help everyone realise that we can all find happiness, no matter what has happened in our childhood. I have never made it so personal before.

I have never told my life story to anyone out loud, from start to finish before, let alone a room of strangers. I spoke to about 15 people. I told them everything from when I was 6 right up until I took my abuser to court. I told the whole story. I explained how if I’m ok, then anybody can be, if you just have the right help.

It was liberating. I felt so free afterwards. I had told my story and I was fine. That’s all it was – a story. Something that I could use to help other people. It did not leave me shaking (although I was a little nervous when I started talking!). It did not stir up nightmares. I did not go into the ‘no-speaking’ state. I was absolutely fine.

I felt exhilarated and I feel so lucky to have been given that chance.

So now I’m working towards a new TED talk next year. A talk that will draw on my experiences both from childhood, and from working with over 600 clients.

“Our past creates us but doesn’t define us – lessons from over 600 clients”

(if anyone can think of a better click-bait style title please let me know!)

This is my next step and I can’t wait.

Over-thinking

“I over think everything”

“I wish I could stop over analysing. My mind is constantly racing”

These are things I commonly hear from my clients in the first session.

They believe that we can stop those thoughts.

There is nothing wrong with over thinking. In fact, try and think of nothing.

Go on…think of nothing…

You are thinking of the word “nothing” the number zero or an empty space. And I guarantee that empty space has a colour because you can’t think of a nothing colour!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with thinking, analysing etc.

The problem is believing your thoughts and letting them stay in your head.

Thoughts are like a fast moving river. You can’t stop them. You can’t contain them. You can just smoothly direct them onward.

Your thoughts are lying to you. They are not real. They are an illusion created by your brain. And most of that illusion is caused by your subconscious. Your subconscious is in charge at least 90% of the time, so most of the thoughts you have are primitive and irrational. But they hide amongst your rational thoughts. I call them ninja thoughts because they sneak in and pretend they are real.

Imagine this scenario:

You are at work and someone gives you a weird look. You stop and wonder what it is about. You decide that they are not happy with you because you haven’t done that thing they asked for yet. And that’s really out of order of them, because you’ve had loads of stuff to do and you’ll get round to their thing as soon as you have a second. How dare they be offish with you! They have no idea what you are having to deal with. You glare back at them, projecting your anger straight back at them.

Now, we know we can’t read minds. So the weird look was probably because they were thinking about what to do for dinner later, or going over a conversation they’d just had with someone else.

You believe the first thought: they are not happy with you.

Imagine if you could recognise that it was just a thought and it wasn’t true. You wouldn’t go off on this whole story. You wouldn’t react to the thought. You’d observe it and let it go.

The problem is not having thoughts, it’s believing them.

 

Weight Loss and Calibration

There are more and more studies that show that diets don’t really work. Doing something for a temporary period of time to deprive your body of food is not how we are designed. Our body goes into starvation mode…slows down our metabolism and waits. When you have a day off your diet, it stocks up in readiness for the next starvation period.

And so you enter a cycle. Because almost everybody eventually has a day or a week or even a month “off the diet”. And each time you come off it, it’s harder to go back on again.

That’s not to say they can’t work. With a lifestyle change that involves fundamental changes such as exercise, weight lost on a diet can be kept off.

However, why not take a different approach. Often we connect food to something emotional – eating for comfort, food meaning more than fuel.

Imagine if we can reprogramme our brains to remove the emotional meaning of food and just see it for what it is – fuel to get us through the day. Able to truly enjoy what we eat because we can trust ourselves to stop when we’ve had enough or turn down those treats because we genuinely don’t want them and not because we feel we should.

It is possible. Using Cognitive Hypnotherapy to retune the mind. You can read about how I can help with that here

Now most people come to someone like me as a last resort. When they have tried every diet going. Some of them pretty extreme. These people have amazing willpower. Willpower they have used to deprive themselves of something they love. I help them so they have a more natural relationship with food – without constantly battling their subconscious and using their willpower.

But…those of us who have dieted for life (and I am one of those people!) are so used to following strict rules about carbs, syns, points, calories etc that we have never let our body and mind communicate with each other on what they want.

And that can be a tough step to take.

That is where calibration is important.

Think about when you play a game like netball, basketball, bowling etc. Any sport that requires you get a ball into a limited space. Let’s take basketball.

You throw the ball to the net and you have not thrown hard enough so it falls short.

You throw it harder but this time it’s too hard and it bounces off.

You throw a couple more times going a bit too far left and a bit too far right.

And eventually you find the net. You respond to the feedback from the misses and adjust your throw until it goes in.

What does this have to do with weight loss?

Well when you lose weight by retuning your mind you need to calibrate your mind and body. They need to learn to communicate with each other on what works and doesn’t work for you because they’ve never had the freedom to do that before. They have been ignored in favour of diet rules!

So to calibrate sometimes you need to eat more. Lots of food so you know how uncomfortable it is to feel full. And other days you may eat a lot less so you can know how much is too little. That’s calibrating on quantity. It’s important that you take the time to eat whilst doing nothing else. To listen as your stomach becomes more full. To be focussed on that and nothing else.

And then there is calibrating on quality. Sometimes you need to eat that food that you regard as unhealthy – fatty food, food that is all carbohydrates, sweet food. To allow your body to see how that feels. To truly taste it without guilt or fear of consequence because you’ve blown that diet for the day. And then other times you need to eat healthy food or diet foods. And with quality you need to truly taste it. See how it feels on your tongue – the texture and flavour. Savouring and enjoying each mouthful. Or maybe not. Because it might be when you truly notice what you eat that you realise that some things don’t taste as nice as you though they did.

Following rules of a diet are like playing basketball with a blindfold on. You can never calibrate the results if you can’t pay attention to the consequence of what you do.

They don’t understand me!

Ever come across those people that you can’t seem to get through to. Every interaction with them is really frustrating? And yet with other people we feel like we click instantly.

Often this is just because we process information and communicate information in very different ways from each other.

Did you realise the direction that people look in can give you a clue as to how they communicate?

The following diagram is thanks to NLP (it’s based on a right handed person)

image

Seeing (Looking up and left)

“This is how I see it”

“How do you see it working?”

In order to make sense of things we need to see them. Memories are triggered by images. For me, once something has formed a picture in my head, I understand it. I describe things visually. Everything turns into a picture in my head (you can imagine that whole “imagine people naked” technique for alleviating nerves in presentations just makes me blush!).

Hearing (Looking to the side and left)

“This is how it sounds to me”

“How does that idea sound?”

This is where sounds are more significant. Memories are often triggered by the music that was heard at the time etc. People who are hearing focussed often like to talk a lot because hearing things allows them to make sense of them, even if you aren’t responding.

Feeling (Looking down and right)

“It feels like this…”

“How do you feel about that?”

This is where the way things feel is the most significant. Memories are triggered by how someone felt or by the feeling of something. Feeling people probably have a harder time of it than the other two because things need to be tangible for them to understand them. Experiencing something is how they understand it so they tend to be more practical. There is no point trying to explain something to them. Until they experience it they are unlikely to fully engage.

Thinking (Looking down and left)

“I think it’s like this”…”

“How does that seem to you?”

An thinker has a constant internal dialogue going on in their head. They are never alone because they are always talking to themselves! Everything has to make sense for them to ‘get it’. If you are communicating with them they won’t be listening half the time because the cogs in their head are whirring. The rest of the time they are unlikely to accept something without understand how.

So next time you are struggling to communicate, spend time trying to work out the other persons communicate preferences and then try and match it (you don’t have to move your eyes!) and see how much of a difference it makes!

Chemicals in the brain

Our brains give off a whole bunch of chemicals. In fact it is the understanding of the way the pleasure receptors in our brain and body worked that allowed the development of drug treatment programmes.

An interesting one is Dopamine.

Dopamine, like many things, makes us feel good. We all want to feel good.

So when the brain gets what it wants it releases dopamine and we feel good.

Simple.

However, our brain getting what it wants is not the same as getting what we need.

For example, our brains love familiarity. When we do what we’ve always done we get a dopamine reward and we feel better.

So if we’ve always felt useless, we get a chemical reward for feeling useless.

If we’ve always avoided social interaction because we are afraid of it for some reason, then we get a chemical reward for avoiding it.

This is all well and good but makes it even harder when you’re working to change. Especially if you have help from a Cognitive Hypnotherapist like me where the change can be quick and profound. In this situation you have to work hard to specifically focus your brain on learning about the new you. You need to make your new behaviours as familiar as the old ones. The sooner you do this, the sooner you get a dopamine reward for those new behaviours.

The good news is that if we specifically work towards being positive, science  has shown that not only are healthy hormones released, but the unhealthy release of cortisol and stress related hormones is less and less. So we get healthy hormones to make us feel good, we get dopamine for repeating it and our body becomes healthier.

So what can you do to change?

Well it’s actually not that difficult. You just need to train (or prime) your brain to focus on the good stuff. Try this simple task everyday – you may be surprised at the difference

At the end of every day write down 3 positive things that happened.

That’s it. They don’t need to be big things. Just positive things.

And because you do it at the end of every day your brain knows to look for it the next day. And the more you look, the more you notice. And the more you notice, the more it becomes familiar.

Try it out.