WHEN YOU THINK, you do it with words and
pictures mental words and pictures. Usually when you're
trying to change your thoughts, you try to think different
thoughts. But have you ever tried thinking the same thoughts
in a different way? For example, if you are criticizing
yourself using words in your head, what tone of voice are you
using? If it is a harsh tone, if you are kind of yelling at yourself,
then try saying the same thing only with a kinder, softer tone
of voice. Does that change the way you take it? Sure it does.
You respond to the way you say something to yourself just like
you do when someone on the outside speaks to you. It makes a
difference if I command you, "Get me a glass of water!"
or if I ask politely, "Would you mind getting me a glass
of water?" You feel differently in response to different
tones of voice.
A man named Richard Bandler came up with
this idea. The first book of his I read, Using Your Brain--For a Change: Neuro-Linguistic
Programming, hit me as a revelation. It had never occurred
to me to change the details of a thought (tone of voice, volume,
etc.) rather than the thought itself. I've experimented with
it, and it does indeed make a difference. If you feel bad, try
to discover if right at that moment you are making pictures in
your head or saying something to yourself. Then notice how
it is being done.
If you are saying something to yourself,
try to discover the details and then try changing them one at
a time to find out if it makes a difference in how you feel.
Turn up the volume a little. Notice how you feel. Turn it down
a little. Notice how you feel. Try saying it with different emotions.
Try different peoples' voices: A wise old person, a person of
the opposite sex (saying it seductively), your best friend, etc.
Try putting a sound track in the background. Try to determine
where the voice seems like it is coming from. Then imagine it
coming from somewhere else. Imagine your thumb saying it to you.
Imagine a spirit sitting on your shoulder saying it to you. There
are endless possibilities. Some won't make any difference. Some
will change the way you feel.
The hardest part of this is noticing
what you are picturing or what you're saying to yourself in the
first place. Those thoughts tend to go by "unconsciously,"
that is, you don't really notice them. You're paying attention
to what's happening on the outside, and you notice your feelings
and it seems like the stuff happening on the outside directly
causes your feelings. But there is something in the middle that
determines what you feel: your thoughts.
Those thoughts are unconscious. It is not
that the thoughts can't be conscious. It's just that you
don't usually pay attention to them. You don't notice them. It
works the same the other way too. Haven't you been reading a
book while there are sounds going on around you that you didn't
notice? You were busy listening to the voice in your head as
it was reading the words, and perhaps you were making pictures
in your head about what you were reading. At times like those,
you have so much attention focused on your internal words and
pictures, you don't really notice what's going on in the outside
The same thing happens in reverse: when
you are paying attention to what you are seeing and hearing and
feeling, your internal thoughts go by unnoticed. And that's fine
for the most part. If you were always paying attention to your
own thoughts, you might miss what people were saying to you or
you might not see a car coming.
But when you are feeling a negative emotion
and it is interfering with your work or your relationships or
something important, then pay attention to what you're thinking.
And experiment with it.
not just negative uses
You can also make nice things better. For
example, you can increase your enjoyment of pursuing your goal
by making your thoughts about it more motivating and pleasant.
Take a weak voice talking to you positively about your goal and
make it deep and strong and powerful and a little louder. Add
energizing or inspiring music to the background. If you hear
thoughts about how maybe you won't succeed or maybe you don't
have what it takes, make those thoughts small and weak
and squeaky (like a little mouse is saying them).
When you experiment and find things that
work, use them often. After awhile, just like anything else you
repeat, you will start to use the new changes unconsciously,
without even trying. Over the long run, this will make you more
effective and put you in a better mood.
All this goes for pictures in your head,
too. There are actually more things you can change visually than
there are with sound. You can make a picture brighter or dimmer,
smaller or larger; you can make it a movie or a still picture,
color or black and white; you can look at the same picture from
a different point of view, in focus or fuzzy, and so on. Usually
when you think, you are probably making pictures and talking
to yourself, so you have lots of room for creativity. Make your
pictures of your goals bright, colorful, and vivid. Bring them
up close. Make sure it is a wide, deep, three dimensional moving
picture. Bring in an inspiring sound track and say things to
yourself in a confident and inspired tone of voice. You'll be
up and working, feeling confident and motivated.
You can also change the impact of memories.
If you have a memory that makes you feel bad whenever you think
of it, try making the picture a little smaller or move it away
a little bit, make it black and white, maybe even make it a still
picture. Now add a narration from the future describing what
you learned from that experience.
Everybody is different. For some people,
when you take a painful memory and make it black and white, the
pain is less intense. But for some people it will make it more
intense. You'll have to experiment with it. The reason I didn't
suggest you make the picture disappear is because we learn things
from experiences, maybe even especially painful ones. You want
to retain the memory so you can retain what you learned. But
if you can make it less painful and still retain the information,
I used to have a problem with criticism.
It really bothered me. But I knew if I could take it better,
it would be very useful to me to be able to listen to criticism
without feeling bad. I would be able to gain what was valuable
from the criticism.
Here's what I did: Whenever someone criticized
me, I imagined I was in a fort. I imagined an impenetrable fort
guarded by the meanest, toughest guys I could imagine. I was
in the fort, completely safe. And I was looking at a little TV
monitor of the scene, only I wasn't looking from my own eyes.
I imagined the camera was in an upper corner of the room looking
down on me so I could see both me and the person who was criticizing
me. I could see us, and I had a little printer there spitting
out a transcript of what the person was saying.
I did it this way because I have found
the thing that caused my feelings to be hurt was not so much
what someone was saying, but the tone of voice they used
when they said it. So by imagining reading it, I was only
reading the information without the emotional impact of their
tone of voice.
I tried to practice this when someone criticized
me, but I felt terrible so quickly, I wasn't able to do it. So
I practiced with my wife. We spent an hour or so practicing.
She would think of a criticism, and then I would imagine I was
in my fort, looking at the little monitor and the printer, and
then she would tell me the criticism (and she used real criticisms).
We practiced it over and over. I got pretty good at it. As soon
as I suspected I was about to be criticized, I yelled to myself,
"Into the fort!" and there I was, safe and protected,
watching what was happening from a point of view other than my
own (from the corner of the room) and then I read what was being
It was probably too elaborate. I was determined
to be able to listen to criticism without feeling bad, so I went
to the extreme. But it worked. And it changed my relationship
with my wife drastically. It also improved other areas. I used
to feel bad when people criticized my writings, so I was hesitant
to let anyone read it. It would have been hard to make a living
as a writer not wanting anyone to read what I'd written! So it
made a big difference to my career.
I sometimes feel a little twinge when someone
criticizes my work, but for the most part, I don't feel bad.
I listen and wonder if the criticism is worth anything. If it
is, I use it. If it isn't, I have an attitude of, "Well,
that's your opinion, and you may be right, but I don't happen
to agree with you."
That attitude about criticism was a big
change for me. The main things I changed were the visual point
of view from which I saw the situation, and the tone of voice
(when I read the printout of what the person said, I used a calm,
distant, neutral tone of voice).
This insight (that you can not only change
what you say to yourself and what you picture, but how
you say it and picture it) opens up a whole new area for experimenting.
And since you spend a good deal of your waking hours picturing
things and saying things to yourself, you have lots of opportunities
to experiment. I was out on a walk once, feeling depressed, feeling
hopeless about one of my goals, and I thought it was a good time
to experiment. I imagined people singing. I imagined the park
I was walking through lined with people I know on either side
of the walkway, singing to me. It was an inspiring gospel tune,
but I changed the words. They were singing, "Don't give
up! You can do it, we know you can!" Within five minutes,
I had tears coming down my face and feeling thoroughly inspired!
You can imagine hearing and seeing things
any time you aren't actively engaged in some project. You can
experiment endlessly and find new ways to change how you feel.
Does it sound like a weird thing to do? Going around imagining
people are singing to you? Seeing pictures and hearing things
that aren't there? Isn't that kind of psycho? It's kind of funny
that it seems like a weird thing to do when you think about doing
it intentionally to feel good. It's funny because we do it all
the time to feel bad.
Worrying about something means hearing
and seeing upsetting things that haven't happened. People make
themselves angry and depressed and afraid regularly by imagining
they see and hear things. But that isn't done on purpose. They
are usually just old mental habits from childhood and the mind
just seems to keep working whether you try to direct it or not.
It even works while you're asleep.
But just because you imagine seeing and
hearing things automatically that make you feel bad doesn't mean
you couldn't deliberately imagine things that would make you
feel good. You can still worry. That's all right. It is a useful
thing to do once in awhile. But when it is useless, when you
are feeling bad and it isn't helping anything, take control of
what you are thinking by deliberately imagining seeing and hearing
things that will help you.
A few years ago I was coaching a friend
of mine. He asked me to help him change his thoughts. He had
difficulty walking up to women he was attracted to and meeting
"When you look at an attractive woman,
and she looks at you, what do you think?" I asked him, "Are
you picturing anything? Are you saying anything to yourself?"
"I imagine her saying something to
herself," he said, "She says something like, 'What
"Gee, I wonder why you don't want
to go up and meet her?"
"Yeah," he said, looking sheepish,
"why would I want to go up and have her reject me like that?"
"I want you to try something,"
I said, "Close your eyes and imagine seeing an attractive
woman. Imagine she is saying something to you mentally. Imagine
she is telepathic and she is projecting her thoughts into your
mind. You can hear her voice clearly in your head. Her voice
is soft and inviting. Alluring. She says, 'I want to meet you.
Come talk to me.'"
His eyes were closed, but he had a smile
on his face.
"Now imagine a different woman you
find attractive," I said, interrupting his reverie, "And
imagine that she is also telepathic. You can hear her voice,
lovely and inviting. She says, 'I want to know you. Please come
and talk with me.'"
We did that a few more times to make it
a habit, or at least to make it a mental option when he is attracted
to a woman. He said he felt different about meeting women. He
didn't feel afraid. But the real test was yet to come.
A few weeks later he told me "that
little thing" we did made a huge difference. He had no problem
walking up to attractive women and talking with them, and he
had gone out with several of them. It is now five years later
and he is happily married to the "woman of his dreams."
This stuff is powerful. Try it. Experiment.
I think your future is looking brighter already. Doesn't that