Bondi Hypnotherapy Clinic

Scrooge’s therapy session…

Ghosts in the machine

In ‘A Christmas Carol’,  Charles Dickens’ famous tale of a cold-hearted, miserable debt collector Ebenezer Scrooge, there is the acting out of alternative scenarios in his future.  Scrooge’s life unaltered delivers dreadful if unsurprising damnation for all eternity.  A miserable adult life whose misery compounds over time and, in this tale, extends to absolute misery and pain after his death.   Scrooge has a mystical psychotherapy session facilitated by some ghosts.

Scrooge’s perception is subject to a profound reframe!  In his dream, future-hallucinations present possibilities.  Including the possibility of redemption.  Future redemption is only possible if there is major change.  Scrooge can avoid pain by adopting pain.  He must make change in order to live a good life.  Change often involves pain.

Happy endings

In much of Dickens’ work there are happy endings.  Ebenezer Scrooge is frightened into understanding and acknowledging his

cognitive distortions (“stinking thinking”) and making a total, transformative, recovery.  In a single session or three!  Tiny Tim benefits greatly as does the rest of his family and all is so well past misery is wiped away and the new era of blessings cover Scrooge-World.

A really scary obituary

in change-work, there is sometimes recourse to projection into the future in the absence of present-time shift from unhelpful behaviours.  This can prove disturbing for some clients and this is not the main game.  After all, they are clients because they want help to function well and live normally.  Or, as Freud set out to turn “hysterical misery into ordinary human unhappiness”.  The experience of ‘future pacing’ (imagining future consequences of unchanged patterns) can stimulate active reorientation.  New directions can be entertained and acted on.

Give it a try…

Of course, you may not need to change anything and on New Year you could proudly declare; “another 12 months since I didn’t need to become a better person!”

If however, like the rest of us, you may be exploring New Year’s resolutions or even some strategic planning, you may give the process some thought…


Imagine, pretend, even visualize yourself having successfully resisted any inclinations to change unhealthy behaviours.  Imagine how things get worse as you get older.  Imagine, just before you die, you’ re required to write your obituary.  Your most feared obituary.  Having lived a long life with no positive change in attitudes, values, expectations of self or others?

Now is the time to let your friends and family know all, as your obituary is read aloud to the congregation assembled for your farewell.  It may even reach a wider audience through social media!  What will they hear?  What will they learn?  What will the world know?


Imagine having made the choice to step into change-work!  You did this because it just makes sense to be the best you can be.  Imagine then, a life doing good, well lived, and a now imminent death.  You’ re invited to write your obituary.  What will the congregation hear as they participate in your farewell?

This is intensely personal and idiosyncratic of course.  It can be quite helpful also.  Imagine both scenarios.  A life lived with little or no concern for personal improvement or, a life lived with frequent, even daily, challenges to be your best.  An imminent death with a kind of inventory report at the end.  At one level, there is nothing of importance here.  Consequences are the same.  Death comes to us all.  This is certain.  Whether we might be assessed, then rewarded or punished afterwards, is not.

So why bother?

 If the outcome is the same why bother with inconvenient change?  After all, by definition, change means a form of departure from our normal self.  It usually means work and even pain.

Eric Maisel among others has argued we have freedom to choose.  Stay the same and lead a life that has it’s moments of joy, grief, and a substantial bit of bland in between.  In his ‘Life Purpose Boot Camp’, Maisel suggests that making the effort is a  more worthy choice.

Freedom to choose

Once made, the free choice to decide to find meaning in day to day activities can reframe daily experience.  Making meaning, deciding to have the psychological experience of meaning, then deciding to live a live of purpose, is a worthy undertaking.  To live a life where there are options to decide on a number of life purposes and to hold these purposes as a sort of compass guiding and directing us on our path to our end.

And, at the end, there has been a life of value, contribution, goodness even.

A life of meaning.

A life of purpose.

A life well lived.

Bye Rita, and thanks for all you taught me.

Respect to  Rita Keogh, RIP.

My sister, whose recent passing involved a both release from pain and sad loss.

















Karpman’s Drama Triangle

Dr Stephen Karpman’s triangle, aka; the ‘drama triangle’ is a useful model for explaining dysfunctional conflict in relationships.  In use since the late 1960s, it is also an expedient therapeutic aid. It assists clients reach awareness of just what is going on in toxic interpersonal conflicts. The model highlights, with great simplicity, the alternating roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer.  Karpman’s use of triangles proved to be a very simple path in assisting understanding of the, often unaware, ‘games people play’ in conflict situations.

In essence, the Karpman drama triangle maps out roles occupied in toxic conflict relationships.  People may enter into committed relationships based on apparent ‘compatibility’.  People who learned to feel like a victim may find the attentions of a rescuer very appealing; someone to take care of things, someone to watch over me…

Take a look at the diagram above.  The arrows indicate a certain rotation of roles.  The victim may become a persecutor when they ‘turn’ in frustration and criticise the rescuer for their excessive, even stifling, attentions.  The rescuer now becomes the victim.  Or, the critical, controlling persecutor is stopped in their tracks by a reactionary victim and they in turn become the victim feeling disempowered through the imbalance in unconsciously expected power relations.

triangle suggestive of rotating roles in dysfunctional power relationshipsInternal drama triangle

Karpman  points out that these roles (victim, persecutor, and rescuer) can rotate within a single individual as their negative experiences are assessed in different ways at different times.  For one example, a person may feel like a victim of life itself, feel unappreciated, or generally unfulfilled.  They may come to find the refrigerator a great rescuer!  Copious amounts of gelato and chocolate chip cookies can imbue the victim with a sense of comfort and even reassurance!

Internal dialogue

Alternatively, an individual’s internal dialogue may be persistently persecuting.  Self-criticism via ‘auto-pilot’ can be as damaging as any external critique.

Motivations to stay stuck

Such experiences, victim, persecutor, or rescuer, are not resourceful.  So why do they persist? What’s the pay-off?  Sometimes people remain in such states because they are familiar to the point of seeming absolute.  There is not way out.  ‘Victims’ may realise what’s happening but believe they’ll stay until things improve and things will only improve when someone else does something.  “Improvement” may mean; “until I get more of my needs met”, until there are even more considerations offered to me.

The rescuer may stay put because of felt needs of responsibility.  “If I don’t give my addicted son money for heroin, he’ll hate me.”  Alternatively, the rescuer might run an internal dialogue such as; “I can’t let my child down, that would be awful. What kind of awful parent would do such a thing?”

Rather getting than fretting

Within such stuck states it appears, by definition, choice is absent. Truth is, there are a lot of ways out of this triangular pathology.  Karpman suggests simple shorthand phrases that have some merit.  As far as internal dialogue improvements go, the victim considers; “I’d rather be getting than fretting”.  This is where the victim has been fretting for such a long time that they come to the conclusion that their needs must be met by other means.  Change is now seen as not just necessary but possible.

Smarter than martyr

Karpman, when addressing a brief therapy workshop in 2008, referred to some shorthand phrases that can prove useful.  The rescuer can say; “I’d rather be smarter than martyr.”  The rescuer realises the sacrifices are far too great and it’s time to get out of this role.  Getting out can mean significant change to life itself as subtle and even overt pressures to maintain status quo can be powerful.

The persecutor is blaming and critical.  They accuse the other of failing in some ways.  “You’re the reason our son is lazy.” Or “it’s all your fault that our families don’t get on.”  To get out of this role, the persecutor must have compassion for self as well as others in the drama triangle.  This usually comes as a result of a powerful reframe.  for one example, when the child who has been subject to sustained control, criticism and bullying from a parent suddenly turns and asserts their rights, their power and personal resourcefulness.

In therapy, much good can come of using this very simple tool provided a long time ago now by one of the members of a broad school known as Transactional Analysis.

Drama triangle in the festive season

I mention the now well-worn drama triangle at this festive season as I notice the media commercials showing brightly lit beaming joyous families enjoying whatever product is advertised to make their Christmas complete.  Domestic violence shelters are brimming, if not beaming, at this time also

Brene Brown

Brene Brown’s TED talk may appear to have little to do with what has gone before but understanding compassion is also to  understand vulnerability and the reality that many problems are attempted solutions.  Intoxication is an attempt to solve the problem of emotional pain.  Hostile, defensive outbursts, are sometimes attempts to protect a terrified private self.  And, as Brown says somewhere in the TED; “you cannot selectively numb pain”.  Take a look here…


Remembering Arthur Janov

Remembering Arthur

Arthur Janov, founder of a therapeutic approach known as; ‘Primal Therapy’ died on October 1st, 2017.   It is worth remembering Arthur Janov because of his proposition that neuroses are the result of repressed childhood trauma.  The basic premise of primal therapy is that these childhood traumas could be accessed and addressed in present time through expression of unexpressed emotion.  Healing would then eventuate and normal functioning would ensue for the liberated adult.

Freedom of expression, janov style

In a therapeutic setting (with a trained psychotherapist) the adult is encouraged to access memories and express

primal scream

painful and disturbing past experiences releasing repressed anger for example.  The loudness of screams and apparent hysteria gave the therapy a certain dramatic effect in 1970s America first.  Furniture could come off second best as the client expressed unresolved rage.  There was greater emphasis on physical enactments rather than intellectual understanding of underlying causes of current unresourceful behaviour in the adult who should know better.

The Primal Scream

After Janov’s first publication of the “Primal Scream’ there was considerable popularity of this somewhat spectacular if controversial approach and once adherence from celebrities such as John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and others gathered it received wider popularity.

The problem of pain

Janov’s ‘Primal Scream’ contained numerous example of cases where people claimed to be healed of childhood trauma and even images of scars emerging on adult bodies relating to childhood injuries which were only permitted to be presented in adult life through primal therapy.  For Janov, “pain” is a consequence of unmet needs and the child has many needs.

The scream silenced?

The abundance of criticism of Janov’s work during his career as ‘unscientific’ have been met by his assertion that the real test of validity of such therapy lies in the feeling state changes of clients.  Eminent psychiatrists and psychologists have criticised his simplicity questioning the assertion that childhood trauma necessarily leads to adult neurosis.  Others have asserted that many clients were faking their primal experiences in therapy.  Ultimately, there appears to be considerable support for the therapy’s status as; ‘discredited’.

Key factors in successful therapy

Therapies are coming and going as frequently as fashion statements.  Important considerations in terms of efficacy lie in the quality of the relationship between therapist and client as well as the expectations of both for positive lasting change.  Transactional analysis (TA), Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), solution focused brief therapy (SFBT), neurolinguistic programming (NLP), mindfulness based stress reduction therapy (MBSRT) are all examples of a wave of approaches that produce positive outcomes, except when they don’t!

Ingredients of successful therapy

In considering the ingredients of a successful therapy it appears certain elements are critical to lasting change for the client:

  • Therapist’s competence. Of course, qualifications are just one part if the therapeutic equation. We all know people who are very well educated, but more than a little thick! Competence is born of education, aptitude, and experience.
  • Client orientation. It sometimes happens that clients say they would, ‘like’ to stop taking drugs, but in truth, they would rather not be nagged by loved ones about their taking drugs. One is not the same as the other and both effect motivation to change. Another element of client orientation to any form of therapy; ‘magical thinking’. When a client presents with some long-standing issues, such as anxiety, they may hold an expectation that such long-standing matters will be terminated in a couple of “mentalist” sessions.  A sort of, “here I am, now fix me”, attitude.  Yet another dimension of client orientation to the work can emerge if the client has been sent by someone else to be ‘fixed’. This usually requires a substantial shift of attitude if success is to be achieved.
  • The therapeutic partnership. The truth is, in any therapeutic relationship there are requirements on all concerned. The therapist must behave with complete congruence and professionalism, adapting and applying their skills to best meet the needs of the client. The client can eventually come to full participation in the process even after initial skepticism in some cases. After all, if people are trying several approaches and have been disappointed up ‘til now, some skepticism is understandable. So, whether the therapy involves wrecked furniture, wailing screams, gentle sobs, laughter, throat singing, or intellectual awareness, if it works it works.





Alright or RUOK?

RUOK Day is on Thursday September 14th. 

The official site explains the significant beginnings in 1995, of Gavin Larkin’s initiative, based around one simple but powerful question; Are you OK?  This was the very start of what has

sad demeanour on countenance

woman considering change

become a fixture in both calendars and minds across Australia and beyond.  September 14th Even though Gavin is no longer alive, his proud legacy continues as ‘RUOK Day’ approaches once again.  concern for people with suicidal thoughts calls for courage to ask the question; “RUOK?”  and the skills to handle the answer.

A simple question many conversations

The simple question continually delivers many conversations.  The RUOK teams travel to public venues like shopping malls across Australia with a simple but powerful resource; how to ask the question and then have the conversation.

Conversation with both purpose and structure

The RUOK official site makes the important point that, ibn order to be well placed to support someone else, you must be OK yourself.  Self-care then, is the starting point relating to any initiative around concern for people who may be struggling with life.  And, just because you may not be the best person to ask someone you’re concerned about if they’re OK, perhaps there’s someone else who might ask the important question and even have a vital conversation.

Not being ready or able to ask the question; RUOK, can simply mean you don’t have the time to spend on a conversation that could be very important for someone’s wellness.

What if the answer is NO!

The question as the RYOK site suggests is the beginning.  Most questions generate answers.  What if that answer to this one is “no”?  It is important then, to know what to do (and what not to) if someone answers; “no”, they are not ok.  Maybe it is not the best time for them to discuss their challenges right now, or privacy might be an issue, or the timing is not right somehow.  These are all important considerations for any important conversation. Especially this one.

Useful attitudes

If asking such a question as; RUOK? is uncomfortable for you, consider rehearsing until you get easier with the implications of the possible response.  Ask open question to encourage them to speak more and you also show the specific things that caused you to be concerned in the first place.  For example, “I notice you didn’t seem yourself at the match yesterday, and I’m just wondering how you’re doing?

Avoid confrontation

Even if you’ve prepared and said your piece, asked your questions, started the conversation, this does not always mean they’re ready to open up and talk.  This does not mean you’ve failed or are in any way responsible for their behaviour.  Leaving the door open for talk later on is still worthwhile.  Checking if they’d like to talk to someone else, reminding them that you still care, are still worthwhile.

The art of listening

Listening is an art. Listening well and paying good attention can be powerful resources in attempts to support someone in pain.  Avoid finishes their sentences, rushing them with head-nods or other gestures and don’t judge.  Silence itself is golden sometimes.  Giving ‘space’ to someone so they can process their understanding of their experience before they speak about how they feel can be powerfully supportive.  Encouraging elaboration on something they’ve said can also communicate that you’ve been listening well and paying respectful attention.

Professional help

Sometimes, the problem just might require professional help.  This reality implies no criticism of anybody.  If it is too hard or complex to address, contacting professionals is just a next logical step.  The official RUOK site encourages people to contact professionals. They suggest a range of services including; the family doctor, Helpline (131114), Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), Grief Line (1300 845 745).  The official site for the RUOK? Day link is








Personal circumstances and life purpose

fit in puzzle

last piece to fit in

Personal circumstances are important considerations when exploring life’s meaning and purpose.  In this short series, I am referring to content from Dr Eric Maisel’s book; ‘Life Purpose Boot Camp’.  Maisel drives home some important points. One, meaning is a psychological experience and, as such, it is fickle and unpredictable. We can try and find meaning and even try unsuccessfully. We can make meaning investments, seize meaning opportunities. We can take charge.

More than one purpose!
Another important point is that notions of a single life purpose are fraught with risk of disappointment.  Here, I want to point to what Maisel calls the ‘crucible of reality’, your own reality.  Your own personal circumstances.  Some of which may be need a little attention, or a lot!

Understanding and even changing circumstances is crucial to living life purposes. Your personal circumstances are your constraints, or at least they can be.  It can be confronting to face reality squarely, preferring perhaps to avoid inconvenient truths. But the truth is; reality matters! It matters a lot. Making meaning that is based in your values is making meaning that is grounded in your circumstances.  The ones that help and the ones that get in the way of progress.

Importance of attitude

Attitude is one part of addressing circumstances. It is not just useful but sensible to face personal realities with an attitude of resourcefulness but attitude is just one part of the deal. Facing circumstances, armed with a resourceful mindset facilitates action that is resourceful also. And it is usual for circumstances to require action above mere awareness.

For example, the notion of making a difference in the world, as noble as that may seem, cannot be pursued meaningfully while personal devastation of addiction is a feature of daily life. You cannot adequately lead a principled life while avoiding responsibilities.

7 circumstantial questions

Maisel asks 7 questions in order to guide you through the challenges of facing up to circumstances>

  1. What, in fact, are my circumstances? How can I really know what parts of life require attention?
  2. What circumstances do I most avoid confronting?
  3. What aspects of my personal experiences might I reasonably forget about because they don’t impact my capacity to live my life purposes? A nuisance can be a nuisance without interfering with my path to purpose!
  4. Could I adopt a better attitude to my circumstances to help me live my life purposes? Do i approach my circumstances with a victim mentality.  “I cannot succeed with living my life purposes, I’m doomed…” does little to set the scene for great things to come.
  5. What actions can I take to repair circumstantial aspects of my life that are unhelpful?  Some things we can control some things we cannot.  Knowing the difference is a start. Knowledge is great, then comes the work!  Actions will be particular for particular circumstances.  Dealing with unhelpful habits can be a great start!
  6. What’s coming up ahead that I can prepare for?  It’s not always possible to see all the lies ahead in life.  But it is worthwhile to take a good look now and then.
  7. Can I make a simple way of keeping control of my realities?  Simple steps such as choosing to journal progress, marking obstacles, detours from your path and returning to basic principles of making meaning investments are all useful tools in holding a good path.

The answers to the 7 circumstantial questions encourages a proactive approach to managing personal circumstances. Living life purposes, making meaning informed by values and principles, can be powerfully impacted by circumstances. Improvements in one greatly improves prospects for both meaning and purpose.  If you stick to this short series I will have more soon.

Mental wellness, including freedom from anxiety and depression is greatly enhanced by connection to realistic goals, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.  Maisel’s contribution can help.






Personality, meaning and life purpose: there must be some way outa here!

Personality, meaning and life purpose are very closely linked.  In an earlier post I discussed Dr Eric Maisel’s; ‘Life Purpose Boot Camp’ and his views on personality.  Here, I want to explore further some more practical steps that will, hopefully, support people willing to move beyond insight and into the work of naming, framing and living life purposes (yes, ‘purposes’ plural).  Personality for Maisel has three elements: ‘original’, ‘formed’, and ‘available’.  We use our available to make meaning adventures.

Maisel asks for two things prior to calling out life purposes.  Firstly, he suggests a personality upgrade.  For some this may prove irksome, at least initially.  Upgrading your personality simply means considering the relationship between your formed and available personalities, talking to yourself about what parts of your formed personality require attention, upgrade in Maisel’s terms.

The language of freedom

The language of freedom means noticing you have choice.  Many of us all too often use the language of obligation or necessity.  “I should be a better person”, “I must get my career sorted” which may be accurate are rarely helpful.  Saying; “I am free to choose to be a value-based actor in the world’.  Or, “I have many career options open, even in this economic climate”, are based in the language of freedom rather than the pressure of compulsion.

Facing defensiveness

We all refuse to face up to the realities of our own personal circumstances from time to time.  When it’s easier to deny unresourceful realities of our formed personalities, it’s also the case that we are refusing to access self-knowledge.  Do you have things you find difficult to face and accept and need changing?

Unresourceful thinking

Noticing familiar ways of thinking that you know are unhelpful is an important step in actualising your life purposes and being on the front foot in terms of making meaning.

Your available personality is a powerful resource in defeating unhelpful thinking patterns.  Regarding yourself as somehow ‘less than’ needs to be addressed as soon as possible.  Running an internal dialogue which is self-critical can prevent resourceful meaning making.  It can also provoke an inaccurate self-image.

Ideas are great, except when they’re not!

Just because you have ideas, this doesn’t mean they’re to be acted on.  Feelings are not reliable guides to action.  Judicious evaluation of ideas, especially emotionally loaded  ones,  through your available personality can be a powerful means of holding a solid stable direction.  Your available personality is your greatest ally.

Notice, appreciate and enjoy your strengths

Your formed personality contains rigidities, rote ways of operating.  These are problems and also strengths in some contexts.  Rigid tenacity in the face of life’s difficulties can prove to be a great asset.  Your own personal unconscious style of conduct could well prove endearing to others.

Be a value-based meaning maker

Some values are very useful and worthy of upkeep, some values need to be evaluated!  Some people value working long hours to the detriment of home life and personal health.  Some people hold the value of ingesting drugs to enhance artistic creativity.  Re-evaluating values through your available personality can prove powerfully resourceful.  Your own values can be explored for example here:

Consider your identity

An important meaning opportunity is your own identity.  How you identify yourself is important.  If you identify yourself as a loser, a failure, or some such unhelpful type, you could well dissuade yourself from investing in yourself and therefore living your life purposes.  If you identify yourself as ‘broken’ in some way, or mentally ill, you could limit your options to a stifling degree.  Imagine yourself as self-assured, calm, confident, considerate, and also responsible for your own direction.  From this perspective, at very least, more good is

girl at sunrise

woman considering meaning and purpose

possible. Resourceful meaning investments can be made and action on life purposes is much more possible.

I’ve upgraded my personality, now what?

Following a personality upgrade, perhaps even in parallel with your personality upgrade, there is the vital
requirement for realism.  It is critical to operate in the real world, to face your circumstances, especially the ones we resist facing.  For more about facing up to your circumstances please visit my next post coming soon.

Mental wellness, freedom from anxiety and depression are all helped by realistic and positive life goals.  The setting of these goals and taking steps to achieve them means living life purposefully, investing in meaning, and taking personal leadership.  Wellness, happiness, and freedom are important life purposes!

Life Purpose: the meaning of life

Meaning and life purpose

Feeling lost?  Fed up?  Bored? It appears many of us are at a loss somehow.  In parts of the world where we have

girl silhouette against sunrise

pondering purpose and meaning

the most stuff, most money, most toys, there seems to be something missing.  Meaning and life purpose.  Mental wellbeing can be closely linked to meaning and life purpose.

Dr Eric Maisel, a prolific author by any standard, has produced a book called; ‘Life Purpose Boot Camp’.  This is a guide through an 8-week course aimed to help build clarity about taking charge of  your life.  I should really say directions. Because Maisel is very clear you can have several life purposes.  He is also clear that your experience of meaning is quite fickle.

Disconnect between what is and what could be?

For Maisel, the metaphor of ‘boot camp suits.  If you experience disconnect between the way things are and the way you want them, then ‘enlisting’ could be a big help.  Maisel, a one-time soldier, drill instructor, and now proponent of what he calls; ‘natural psychology’, calls for the application of a boot camp approach to both personality and circumstances.

Your 3 personalities

In natural psychology, you are regarded as having 3 personalities.  Firstly you are born with your own, original, idiosyncratic personality. The good in noticing this is just to log the fact that we are all different.  You have, from your very beginning, very your own ideas about things, as well as your own developmental path.

Next, there is your formed personality.  This, Maisel says, is your “rote, mechanical ways of operating.  Formed personality both helps and hinders.  For example, it helps to just simply know that there are 100 cents in a dollar without having to figure it out every time you want to buy milk.

Your available personality can be used to address parts of your formed personality that don’t serve you.  Your rigidities are often both convenient and damaging.  For example, it is convenient to never apologise under any circumstances.  But not necessarily helpful.  There may be circumstances where an honest, authentic apology can heal rifts, repair relationships but your formed rigid position refuses to face such a prospect.  Your available personality holds the freedom to choose to make change that will improve functioning, embrace life purposes and make meaning.

Making meaning

For Maisel, meaning is a psychological experience.  Life Purposes are decisions, intentions that are informed by your values, your principles.    Life purposes are not dispensed from some existential superpower.  Life purposes are not provided by the “universe”.  No, it is up to you to decide for yourself not just what your life purposes are, but if you are to have any life purposes at all!  Meaning and life purposes are made by our own thoughts and actions.

As a ‘Life Purpose’ instructor and having supported numerous courses through the wonderful Sydney Community College in Australia, I find people sometimes grapple with some nuances in Maisel’s work, his language, and his open declaration that ‘work’ is involved.  But the psychological experience of meaning and the naming and framing of life purposes (plural) is important work. For many the most important part of the wonderful journey that is life.  To consider the “how” of meaning and life purposes please visit my next post on this topic.




FOMO can seriously damage your health!

Fear of missing out, "FOMO" can have deadly consequences.  Feeling a need to reach for your mobile device while driving may make great sense. But doing 110 k down a motorway and responding to a loved one's tweet means you have to split your attention. Life can be rearranged in an instant, in a tweet in fact! The Sydney Swans are supporting a very recent campaign to help.
[click to continue…]

Personal change work: a simple sequence

Any enduring personal change work usually follows a fairly predictable sequence…
1.   Awareness, 
2.   Ownership , 
3.   Strategy, 
4.   Action, 
5.   Self-compassion

1. Awareness
For any change work to be called for there has to be awareness of a need for change.  Awareness alone, while important, is not enough. Many of us are aware our diet needs changing or our internet browsing could do with a cutback, but we grab that muffin and log on anyway! Of course, change will not happen without awareness (unless we’re locked up and deprived of access) and awareness acts as the initial motivator.

2. Ownership
Many people started smoking to appear cool, present as more mature, or even appear sexually attractive! Smokers are aware of the harm their habit does but many continue anyway. Ownership of the solution is crucial to progress with any personal change work, smoking included. Ownership of the solution means adopting a wholehearted decision to quit. Wholehearted decision-making calls for squarely addressing circumstances, facing up to the rationalisations that help maintain unhelpful habits. Some people continue smoking believing they’ll gain weight, or be unable to cope with stress, or believing they’re so addicted change is not possible. Wholehearted ownership of the solution leads to resourceful strategy.

3. Strategy 
 In our smoking case, the strategy is simple; never, never, never, smoke again! This simple strategy calls for several important tactics. These involve preparing for risky contexts. Those risky contexts can be places, events, even times of day where smoking was a feature. The morning coffee, the night out, or invitations from a work colleague to step outside for a smoke and a chat. Tactics involve formulating replacement activities, polite refusals, even new undertakings such as exercise. Important tactics include urge management. One useful approach involves reframing the urge experience as cause for celebration! Imagine an urge experience being met with; “awesome, this is great! It means I’m succeeding!” Such a response can be a powerful affirmation and will power strengthener. Many people limp along for weeks or even months in the grip of a contest between the urge to smoke and the decision to refrain. 
 Reframing an urge experience is a powerful tool!

4. Action
Such formulations are great but require action. Massive action that supports the strategy. Hypnosis and even self-hypnosis can be a powerful resource especially in early stages of change. The relaxation involved in the hypnotic experience affords a great opportunity to access personal strengths and resourcefulness.

5. Self-Compassion
Self-compassion supports gentleness and is a powerful contradiction to unhelpful self-criticism. People undertaking change work (like quitting cigarettes for example) often criticise themselves for the mess they’re in. Practicing self-compassion implies self-acceptance, understanding that we are flawed but rising above our past to make the required change without recrimination of self or others.

Cognitive dissonance

Know of Dorothy Martin?

The ‘Seekers’, was the name of a cult who believed outer space aliens in flying saucers (from the planet Clarion by the way) would come to save them from the horrible flood which would end life on earth.  Dorothy Martin (an ex-scientologist) claimed to be receiving secret messages detailing the impending doom.

Precisely at midnight on December 21st, 1954 was the time that everything as we know it was to come to a horrendous end.  The Seekers gave up their homes, their money, everything, in advance of this event.  They had absolutely invested in their belief.

One of seekers was a fraud.  He was Leon Festinger.  He was very interested in how the members of this cult would react when, as he believed, there would be no flood to speak of, no devastation, and no end of civilisation.

So, the time came, and past, and nothing! Zilch! Zero!

Here was a bunch of people standing around. No aliens and not a flying saucer in sight! Nada!

What happened next amazed Festinger.  The Seekers, who had been secretive up until now, avoiding publicity, actually wanted it.  They wanted to share with everyone what a near miss there had been.  They wanted to share how their faith had saved the world from disaster.

Festinger coined the (now common) term; ‘cognitive dissonance’.  This he defined as:

                “…a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions that are psychologically inconsistent.

The interesting power underlying the Seekers’ curious response to the non-event was their need not to face the truth and change their minds but relieve their tension, to make themselves feel comfortable.  They ‘explained away’ the reality, they rationalised it.

When reality conflicts with our beliefs, we accept the new reality, explain it away (as the Seekers did), or deny it in order to reduce the dissonance between our ideas about how things should be and how they are.

Sensory acuity, self-objectivity, self-knowledge defeats any need for denial.  I have seen addicts, abusive people, deny any problem when the contrary evidence is mounting daily.  They come for “help” because they were sent, there is no problem except with other people in their lives.

People sometimes talk themselves out of going to social events by offering ‘reasons’ such as; “it’ll be too hard to get a cab at that time of night.”  This ‘reason’ is favoured over the more uncomfortable reality that, as soon as the invitation was received, I felt extremely anxious and worried about other people’s opinion of me.  Excuses are the lies we tell ourselves!  Excuses shield us from painful truths.

An alternative approach is to notice my discomfort, my anxiety process in operation, and feel the fear and go anyway!  Some even advocate celebrating the fear response!  “Great, awesome! This means I’m facing inconvenient truths rather than soothing myself with excuses.”  In a similar vein, I encourage people working on weight loss to reframe their hunger experience to be a cause for celebration!

Denial is a form of protection, a defence mechanism, a protective behaviour and cognitive dissonance is not just something relevant to a curious cult in 1950s America.