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People often tell me: “I don’t want to be stressed, I don’t want to be anxious, I don’t want to be frightened.” They worry about worrying. In other words, they are focusing on what it is they don’t want so they tend to get more of it.
So we’re going to train your brain to focus on the stuff you DO want – including positivity, creativity and bliss People who are anxious have practised making pictures and sounds in their minds that stress and frighten them.
They’ve done it over and over again and built up neural networks in their brains that mean they can do it very well. Constant anxiety is draining and the belief it keeps you safe is a fallacy – over-surviving all day and experiencing emergencies that never happen is exhausting and stops you thinking with clarity.
Of course, there are a few lucky people whose natural default is that they don’t get really upset about things but they still keep alert enough to spot trouble.
Back in the ’80s, one of the pilots who taught me to fly was like that. Once, we were coming in to land in a Cessna and I forgot to put the flaps down, which was a really dangerous thing to do. As I continued my descent, he calmly said: “We are going to die.”
I screamed: “Argh! Flaps!” and disaster was averted.
Afterwards, I asked him: “What would have happened if I hadn’t remembered?”
He laughed: “I would have done it, of course, but I just thought you should know, as you will be flying on your own in a week or two.”
Dr Hans Selye, who is known as “the father of stress research”, once said: “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
That’s why you don’t have to change your external circumstances to overcome anxiety, like your job or your relationship – it’s about working on yourself. Everything you do, from boiling an egg to running a business is driven by your “behaviours”.
Your behaviours are, in turn, driven by your state of mind and body. Examples include things like confidence, love, apathy, fear, creativity and happiness.
There are three things that create our “state” of being. They are: the internal dialogue in our head; the internal pictures or movies we make in our mind and our physiology. All day long you are shifting from one state to another.
But if you are experiencing too much anxiety you are on guard, preparing for emergencies that don’t happen, your brain and body chemistry are changing and tensing up and it ends up becoming a self-reinforcing loop that preoccupies you. Even after you have succeeded at something, you can still talk yourself out of acknowledging your achievement.
I was very much like that. I was frightened I wasn’t good enough, that my performances wouldn’t be right and even if they did work out, I’d think: “Well, I got away with it this time.”
I was constantly beating myself up. I lived in this world of sometimes moving towards success, but a lot of the time I was driven by the fear of failure. It was completely exhausting and I nearly ended up mentally and physically burned out.
Everything changed for me when I learned the following techniques, which are essentially simple hypnotic exercises. First, I learned to monitor my internal dialogue. I realised my internal voice talked incessantly at 100 miles an hour. It was abrupt, harsh and, at times, sarcastic. My internal critic undermined my confidence.
It’s really important to make friends with your internal dialogue, to stop unnecessary inner “negative talk” and make it encouraging, rather than sabotaging.
CONTROLLING YOUR INTERNAL DIALOGUE
1 Locate your inner voice. Ask yourself: “Where is my internal voice?” Notice the location where you hear the words coming from. Is it the front of your head, the back, or the side?
2 Now I want you to imagine how your inner voice sounds when it’s anxious and where it’s located – is it front, centre, back?
3 Talk to yourself in a calm, relaxed and gentle way. Is your inner voice louder or so than usual? Is it clearer and easier to hear? Is it stronger or weaker? Do you speak faster or slower?
4 Then put that voice in the same location as where your old internal voice was located.
5 In a strong, calm voice, say these words in your mind, over and over again: “All is well… All is well…” Continue for as long as you need to. Notice how that makes you feel.
6 Next, think of something that makes you anxious and of some of the things you have told yourself in the past like: “I’m rubbish at giving presentations” or “I’ve never been good at that”.
7 For each statement, come up with its positive opposite, for example: “I’m great at giving presentations” or “I’m really good at that”.
8 Repeat the new, positive affirmations to yourself in your new, calm voice inside your mind. Say them over and over again.
Someone asked me the other day: “If you read or hear something negative about you, how do you not let it bug you all day?”
The answer is simple. I recall the words but in the voice of Mickey Mouse, so I just can’t take it seriously.
The next technique will cause that unnecessarily critical inner voice of gloom, doom, stress, worry and fear to lose its power over you.
CONTROLLING YOUR INNER CRITIC
1 Think about a time when you criticised yourself severely and remember what you said.
2 Listen carefully to your inner voice and where it is. Is it in the front or back of your head? Somewhere else? Notice where it is coming from, what tone it has and how loud it is.
3 Now, change the sound of the internal voice so it sounds like Mickey Mouse or a crazy cartoon character.
4 Next, hold your hand up in front of you with the thumb pointing upwards and imagine floating that voice away from your head and out to your thumb.
5 Imagine hearing that same critical voice again but with your voice coming from your peaking thumb and speaking like Mickey Mouse.
6 Now, listen again, whilst feeling relaxed and amused by the silly tone of the voice you are hearing. Now I’d like to show you another super simple way to continue to reduce your anxiety and install calm, good feelings. It is something I’d like you to start each day with.
CALMING YOUR INTERNAL DIALOGUE
1 Get quiet and still. Peaceful. Hopeful.
2 In a gentle, powerful voice inside your mind now say these words over and over: Safe. Calm. All is well.
3 Notice how you feel. The second that influences our “state” of being is the movies we make in our mind. The next step is to take control of our imagination and rewrite the script into a movie where everything goes right! Successful athletes run the opposite of disaster movies by doing something called “mental rehearsal” where they imagine their event going really well over and over again. This affects their “state”. It even affects their muscle memory and performance and enables them to “practise” being a winner so it’s familiar by the time it gets to the real thing.
When people are anxious, their brain is running them and they are not running their brain. The way you picture things can strip the potency of a negative emotion but also exponentially increase the feel-good power of a positive one. When you remember things that feel great, it’s a good idea to step inside the memory and become a part of the image or movie in your mind – this is something known as being “associated”.
STEP INTO THE GOOD TIMES
1 Remember a time when you felt good. Imagine happening.
2 Return to it like you are back there again. See what you saw, hear what you heard and feel how you felt. When you do that, you will start to feel good, as you are inside the memory, you are inside the movie. That is called “associated”.
3 Now make the colours richer, brighter and bolder and the sounds louder. Notice what feel like.
STEP OUT OF THE BAD TIMES
1 Now I’d like you to remember a time when you had a mildly upsetting experience – it could be an argument or a disappointment.
2 I want you to stop and freeze that image in your mind. Literally press the pause an button.
3 Next, step out of the picture and float it further and further away from you, so you can see the back of your head in the image like it’s happening to somebody else, over there.
4 Drain the colour out of the image, so it is black and white and shrink it down in size until it’s as small as a postage stamp.
The final step of harnessing the movies and pictures in your mind in order to boost good feelings is to visualise life going brilliantly.
A simple technique to overcome anxiety is to watch a movie in your imagination of things going well and then associate or step into yourself in the movie.
It trains your brain to have the self-fulfilling prophecy of what you want to happen.
GENERATE THE NEW BEHAVIOUR GENERATOR
1 Close your eyes and imagine you can see a cinema screen of you.
2 On the screen watch a movie of how you would ideally like to be and act in an upcoming event. Notice your posture, expression and manner. The way you interact with other people and the world. The light behind your eyes, the sound of your voice, everything that lets you know you are in a relaxed, alert state of total confidence.
3 When the movie looks really good, float into the screen and into yourself.
4 See through the eyes of your more confident self, hear your internal dialogue and feel how good it feels. Do this process as often as you need to in order to train your brain for success.
- Adapted by Matt Nixson from by Paul McKenna (Welbeck, £14.99). Visit expressbookshop.com or call 020 3176 3832. Free UK P&P on orders over £20. Paul McKenna will be touring the UK and Ireland next month with his Instant Confidence show,
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