We are training our son to sleep in his own bed at the moment. Having grown accustomed to having his mother beside him, always ready to sooth him back to sleep, it has been a challenging transition for him. And he isn’t afraid to share that he’s upset, so our whole household has shared the experience of him screaming, crying and begging for his mother.
The first night was hard. It took several hours before he dropped off to sleep, only to awake again around dawn. The second night was also hard, though he more quickly came to understand that he was going to be sleeping in his own bed. The third night? We’ll find out tonight 🙂
My son’s feelings are largely an effect of his experiences. If I throw him up in the air, he’ll laugh. If I feed him some ice cream when he asks for it, he’ll smile. But even at this early age, it’s not a simple cause-effect relationship: If he’s in the ‘wrong mood’ and I throw him up in the air, he’ll still be crying when I catch him, and he won’t always want ice cream.
As we grow older, the relationship between how we feel and our experiences becomes more and more complicated. While one of the common presuppositions of NLP is “the meaning of communication is the response that you get”, if someone is angry with you for making fun at them, telling them that it’s their decision to feel bad or their fault that they are angry with you might not help you very much!
But you do have a lot of choice about how you feel, don’t you?
And if you want to change how you feel, you can, can’t you? I love playing music to ‘manipulate my state’ – there are some songs that I can listen to that will transform how I feel in just moments. Smells are powerful triggers too, as are seeing people or even just remembering something.
In NLPese, we talk about anchoring: Triggers that are used to access particular states. These triggers – these anchors – can take many forms, go across sensory systems, and powerfully affect our subjective experiences.
If you ask someone, “How satisfied are you with your life?” on a scale of 1 (terrible) to 10 (ideal), you will get a score that is one of the most widely used measure of life satisfaction. Amazingly enough, your mood determines more than 70% of your result!
Most of us aren’t taught how to choose how we feel.
But we can learn.
We can learn to use a negative experience to trigger a resourceful state.
We can learn to harness difficult people and confronting conversations.
We can learn to respond to difficulties and obstacles with tenacity and determination.
We can learn to accept reality rather than fantasizing that things were different.
You can learn to choose how you feel.
How you feel profoundly impacts how you live, relate and work. After all, if you can change how you feel, you can transform your state of being. What if you could learn to put yourself into the driver’s seat rather than being a victim of circumstances and outside influences?
Here are a few strategies that can help:
- Rhythm: Think about a challenging situation, relationship or context. Maybe someone that you work, or when you are at the gym, or even when you’re trying to sleep. You might notice what sort of rhythm that context seems to have; Or maybe it’s so erratic that it seems to have no rhythm at all! Then create a rhythm – something simple or something complex – that seems to “make sense” for that situation. Even something very simple to start with can make a huge difference. Take on this rhythm, maybe by clapping or even dancing, and maintain this rhythm as you start to think about the challenging context. When you lose the rhythm, just pause and regain the rhythm before going back to the context.
- Music: Listen to a piece of music while you think about the context. You might even try a few different styles of music, noticing what difference each makes to how you feel. Some of us have specific states that are really useful for us – these “high performance states” can be really powerful; you might try getting access to those states in situations when you need them.
- Modeling: Some people can do things that you wish that you could do. One of my past clients was intensely self-critical – and even self-critical of being self-critical – and he asked me how other people who were less successful than him could still be ‘content’ while he was feeling inadequate. So I asked him to study them. Get to know them and find out, how do they do it?
- Questions: Ask yourself about how you could feel how you want to feel. For example, if I want to feel “grateful”, I could ask myself, “What do I feel grateful about right now?” And if you can’t think of anything, you can change it to, “What could I feel grateful about right now?” And of course, you can just replace “grateful” with any other emotion that you like – excitement, joy, love, delight, passion, peace or anything else you would like to feel.
We are surrounded by teachers in the world around us. I was once told that when I met someone who was excellent, that I should recognize what it was in them that was excellent, and strive to emulate or copy that, and upon meeting someone with had a character failing that bothered me, that I should strive to amend that defect in myself.
Being able to choose how you feel – what Carmen Bostic St Clair refers to as State Choice – is one of the most direct ways to upgrade your performance. You’ll be amazed at how easily you can start to notice the change.