Overcome barriers to wellness. Become your true potential. This article covers an extension of CBT - how to apply cognitive behavioural therapy in a deeper and more enriched way.
Your self-image is based on who you think you are and what you project to the world. Your self image filters and designs the kind of life situation you find yourself in. This is based on a combination of the world view you are carrying with you and life circumstances as they occur. These are filtered by your sensory apparatus and interpretive bias (the spin you put on things as they occur), and you then respond to the combination of experiences and bias. You will also get feedback from this combined interaction and you then react to this again, etc. The outcome is that we each have a different experience of life and the world; we all lead different lives. This difference may be subtle or huge. It is similar to a cinematic projection; we project on to the world.
Our world view is like a scaffold used to erect a building; your life situation is like this building. We often have this scaffold erected outside of our awareness (unconsciously) stemming from pre-programmed experiences in childhood. This programming develops over your youth and adult years. This is unconscious for the most part as in your beginnings you were vulnerable and impressionable; totally dependent on your care givers and environment, so you inherited a lot of your scaffold (core beliefs, attitudes, family values, etc.) from this early scene.
It will always be difficult to build this building (your life situation) in rough weather (life circumstances) and with little support staff (riggers and builders, equating to friends, family, colleagues, community, health professionals, etc.) the building may end up ‘wonky’ and suboptimal, because your scaffold is inappropriate for you. Whilst we can’t necessarily change the life circumstances directly (the weather), we can change the scaffold to make it the most supportive (of yourself) that we can so as to weather any storm.
Your core beliefs are what you believe in, what you tell yourself on a daily basis (in the form of self-talk) and these seed your daily thought patterns. Accordingly your thoughts and beliefs will create a perceptual filtering process. You filter your experiences through your self image and through your core beliefs about your self and about the world. This is what leads to resultant feelings (the experience of emotions generated by how you think and what you believe). Additionally you behave in a concordant way with your thoughts and feelings. Now that we understand how we have come to be the way we are, we can re-engineer our life situation.
To improve your life situation we can:
- Change your thoughts:
- Using a combination of techniques and methods, requiring discipline to change underlying habits. These habits are addictive. Therefore when you make these changes you may experience ‘withdrawals’ from old ways of thinking, feeling, behaving and being. A part of you may even try to self-sabotage a positive change process. However, if you persevere, new more functional and life enhancing patterns will emerge, and the internal resistance will reduce. We continually focus on this change process over several sessions (e.g. 4 to 12 or more depending on your need) and you can bolster this with additional day to day life practices.
- What do you need to acknowledge, validate and explore?
- What thoughts and beliefs hold you back from emerging into your true potential? What ideas and attitudes have you inherited that are not appropriate for you?
- What thoughts and memories are you afraid of? Why do you think you are afraid of them? What happens to you when you avoid thoughts and beliefs and memories, and how do you do this? How much energy do you waste on keeping things at bay? What do you need to accept and forgive, and what needs changing?
- Change your behaviour:
- Some activities will deflate you; others will inspire you and build you up to be what you want to be.
- Do you have self compassion? Are you considerate and representative of your needs or do you constantly defer to others and put your self last?
- If you do what you want, and you aren’t hurting anybody, what is wrong with that? Will you feel better if you do what you want or if you do what you think you should do or what others expect of you? Also – are you acting in your own best interests? For example, you may want to do something that will bring you short term relief but also longer term problems. So what is the best thing that you can do to bring long term growth? Think in the long term, act in the short term.
- Change your feelings:
- Probably the most tricky of the above as feelings often result from what we do and think. However it is possible to turbo charge the change process by focusing on emotions and their underlying roots within you. Sometimes unconscious patterning processes will be uncovered which create greater self awareness, ownership of what is yours and giving up what is not yours (i.e. value systems, guilt, the problems of other people) that others ‘implanted’ within you through association. Then you have a clean slate to learn to know yourself, clean the slate, and focus on what you can do. With greater self awareness and self knowledge comes genuine power.
- Allow yourself to feel. There is a big difference from feelings and what you do with them. You can feel all you want, but how you respond to these feelings requires appropriate ethics (how you live).
- Feelings are not facts and they often do not accurately reflect the truth of your life situation. Therefore be curious about them, yet at the same time allow yourself to feel them.
- Feelings often come then go. They will not kill you. Learn to manage your feelings, validate them, but don’t always react to them as they are fleeting, like a child’s moods.
- Respect yourself and be kind to yourself. Learn to self sooth when you are feeling down. Learn to self regulate when you are feeling out of control. Feel the feeling, think about what the feeling means, then act in your best interests.
- STAR: Stop, Think, Act, Reflect.
Patterns vs. change and neuroplasticity:Everything you do, especially if you do it often enough, the body and especially the brain will change in accordance with. As a result, the brain makes it easier to do whatever you do often. The ability of the brain to change its structure and function is called neuroplasticity. This principle is relied upon when people have brain injuries, such as injuries from stroke or head trauma accidents and brain needs to heal. If parts of the brain have lost function, then other areas of the brain can reconnect themselves to take over this function and as a result the person rehabilitates. The same principle applies to psychological, behavioural and emotional disorder and dysfunction. This includes negative, unhelpful and dysfunctional activities, thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Therefore if you think negatively and helplessly a lot, your brain will change to set you in this pattern. If you often think in fearful ways, your body will have a rapid short-circuited fear response that causes you to avoid what you are afraid of and thus preserve it as a fearful thing. Similarly if you have an anger problem, your anger response to otherwise neutral things becomes rapid and short-circuited, and you become angry about things that other people may not mind in the slightest. This is due to what you associate with those things and what they cause you to remember. Because this is automatic and you get blinded by the emotion of anger you are often unaware of the irrational anger that you embody and may take out your frustrations on people and things that don’t deserve it.
Remember when you first rode a bike or drove a car. In the car you had to master a complicated and integrated activity in order to drive it and stay on the road. All those things were difficult at first, but now you do it automatically without even thinking. So too you can acquire new skills in living in the same way. At first it is difficult, and may even feel weird, but over time it becomes automatic and effortless and becomes the norm. Your brain is an efficiency machine that adapts to what you do with it. This is like walking down a hill. If you continually take the same path, a track will form on the hillside which you will easily see and slip into whenever you walk down the hill. As a result, the walk will always be the same. You will see the same environment from the perspective of the track, and feel pretty much the same way as a result.
The brain is bundle of nervous circuitry that actually works in the same way, but rather than tracks on a hill, the brain forms neuro-transmitter pathways resulting in a neuro-network of integrated pathways based on what you think, feel and do. This is why people often feel ‘stuck’ in a life situation. They may make some changes to their life, such as leaving a bad relationship, but may end up meeting someone else who is similar to their previous partner and then have another bad relationship. Reality conforms to the expectations you have of it, and the overall collective approach you have to life, the things you notice and the things you fail to notice paint the same picture over and over again. It is almost like living out of an internal prison, a box that reality is filtered through. Because of this we need to change the box, then the reality filtration is changed and then your life situation will change accordingly. This is based on changing ingrained habits, changing the way you think, feel and act with repetition. If you do this enough, with the vast majority of things in life, you will start to see a different life situation emerge. It is not things in themselves that are the problem (for the most part) but how you see them, what you don’t see (alternatives, openings and opportunities) and how you respond. Life is not the problem, but the life situation may be and you can change it.
A good example of this is prejudice. If you have prejudice toward people of a certain race, and then you interact with a person of this race, your responses toward them will be biased due to the prejudice. For example, you may be harsh with them, critical and contemptuous even rude and dismissive. How would you react if someone treated you this way? You would most probably be rude, dismissive and contemptuous back to them. If the person you are prejudiced towards acts like this, they will only confirm your initial prejudice about them, and so on. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy and is a powerful way that our reality is filtered, our life is patterned and our life situation is self-generating.
To change an undesirable life situation, we must change our patterned responses. Even the little things that we do, if we change them, will change our whole day as a day is made up of little things overall. We challenge or dispute our negative /biased/ distorted thinking styles and assumptions about people, places, things, times and events. We develop healthy curiosity and open mindedness in order to change our patterns. Breath awareness meditation is very helpful to create free space of clear thinking to start with. Even if we meditate for 10 minutes a day, then practice affirmations for 10 minutes we are making a focused dent in our patterns and thereby our overall life situation will start to change. We can still continue to be mindful of our self talk throughout the day (the ongoing commentary in our heads of reflecting and judging what happens to us and what we are doing), and the focused dent will serve to bolster our efforts and set the scene for the whole day. Don’t let the scene set you, you set the scene. Otherwise you will continue to be a patterned robot, going through the motions of your unhelpful patterns and continuing to suffer.
What if change is scary?
Change is often seen as a scary thing. This is because we like to be comfortable in how we predict our day-to-day lives will be. Everyone likes to have a sense of control over their lives. We like to know when we will be finishing work, how long our lunch break will be, whether we have enough money for the week and enough food in the pantry. We like to know that the bus will arrive at the specified time, and that our friend will arrive when they say they will. As a result we can live an ordered life, get things done, and not worry too much about it. Even if the things we are predicting are unhelpful and destructive we will still predict them. Often people will prefer the predictability of suffering to the unpredictability of positive change. People are often worried that positive gains will be taken away from them, some people will say to you ‘don’t get your hopes up’. We don’t like to be disappointed. However, if the status quo is not a good thing with endless problems I would say that disappointment is something that may never happen and we really have nothing to lose by setting about changing our patterns and thereby changing our life situation for the better. The only disappointing thing would be if things did not change. Reflect on this the next time you feel fear at overcoming unhelpful things in life. You are simply fearing change as you prefer predictable suffering. By being aware of this you can challenge it by saying ‘I do not prefer suffering, and I am prepared to give up the comfort zone of predicting suffering by being open to positive change and joy, even if it may seem unpredictable at this time. I have changed things before and will be able to change this problem in my life for the better’. Courage is feeling the fear and doing something about it anyway. The more you do this the easier it gets and becomes precision mastery, where you can start to refine the change just how you like it to be. Reflect on change, and any positive outcome and good feeling as it occurs to bolster confidence for further change. Momentum starts to take flight and it gets easier over time.
What is a problem?
Eckharte Tolle wrote in his book ‘The Power of Now’ that problems only exist when we fail to do one of two things, these being: Change the situation or Accept the situation. When we do one of these two things there is no longer a problem, just a course of responses to a life situation. The problem exists when we flounder by not accepting and not changing. If you feel that you cannot change the whole problem, ask yourself what part of it you can change. Break the problem situation down into bite-sized steps that you can then address one by one. You are either closer to resolving the whole problem or you remain further away from resolution by avoiding it and denying it. Laziness is also a big factor here, and many people will continue to endure suffering because they are too lazy to make even the smallest change. And to these people I would say, ‘that’s fine, you have free will and you don’t have to do anything, neither change nor acceptance - but know that you are choosing suffering over potentially positive change, or the peace of mind that comes from acceptance’.
The sense of connectedness to things within you and things outside of you has been called many things over time. The law of parsimony states that the simplest solution is often the best. There is also the rule that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Put together these maxims have caused many people over time to sense that there is a grand interconnectedness in life, as it is simply too complicated to think that it happened ‘by itself’ or as some kind of ‘cosmic freak accident’. This grand interconnectedness has often been assigned intelligence, creativity and generativity, whether looked upon as mono or poly (one or many) and seen as an overarching deity or god(s). Every culture known to man has a spiritual philosophy and a belief in a higher power of some description; it is only the version which is different. So do we throw the baby out with the bathwater and say that primitive man is ignorant? Or do we appreciate the cross cultural validity which is apparent; the notion that people actually need a sense of belief, understanding and feeling of interconnectedness, a sense of a higher power. I think that without it, we may wither and feel lost and confused.
Research shows us that people who are religious or spiritually minded are typically happier (that is, unless the religious pursuit is oppressive and distorted in its teachings). Even if you are secular, and religion does not appeal to you, you can still be spiritual. For example, many people have a deep respect for the planet Earth and feel a deep reverence and love for nature. In this way nature would be your church (Naturism), and caring for nature would be your tithe, and your sense of connection, of tapping into the interconnectedness of the ecosystem around you. You are not just an individual, isolated and alone, you are interconnected with all things. On the gross material level you breathe oxygen expired by trees and from the ocean, and the sun gives you food when the plants turn sunlight into energy for their growth. On the micro or quantum level, the same atoms, electrodes, protons and neutrons also make up the stars in all the galaxies. In deed the planet is the result of exploded stars or condensed gas clouds as wide as whole galaxies, and you are of the earth – where all elements within your body come from the earth and will return to the earth. Therefore in truth you are ancient sunlight. Take heart from this.
Some people also believe in consciousness which is interconnected outside the human brain. Along the lines of ‘the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts’ this whole can be seen as a unity of collective consciousness that actually has an identity, like God. For example, Pantheism is the view that nature as a whole has a consciousness, and where we are a part of that consciousness. In this way we can see that we are living within the mind of God. Many people have an aversion to the word ‘God’ due to connotations. Many wars have been fought and many people killed and abused due to religion so this aversion is understandable. But we need not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We can still become aware of, feel and act in accordance with ‘a greater power’ without giving our personal power away and taking on dogma as our belief systems.
Contemplate this if you haven’t already, and notice what comes up. Be mindful of how you feel in response to these thoughts. What are you curious about now?
In order to proceed with this new course of action, changing your life situation for the better, developing your awareness and practicing new skills, you will need courage. This is not easy. Life was not designed to be easy, it was designed to challenge us. But this is okay. Human beings get bored pretty easily and we like adventure, we like puzzles and we like seeing and doing new things. The only thing that holds you back is fear. Sometimes fear comes from somewhere else and we need to become aware of this through fear tracking. Becoming aware of the source of your fear can help you separate the fear response from the issue you are addressing now. This can take care of most of the challenge and most of the fear. For example, if you were constantly criticized as a child, you may feel fear at doing new things because you automatically associate fear with going out on a limb and trying something new. You might think ‘if I stay quiet, and keep doing what I’m doing, people won’t notice me and as a result I’ll stay out of trouble. Well, perhaps you’ll stay in trouble too. Perhaps the boat needs to be rocked because it’s not a good boat and you need to get off it and on to a new one.
Take heart in this process, be kind to yourself and treat yourself well. Do not put yourself down. Do not punish yourself. You deserve a better life situation due to the simple fact that a better life situation is possible and yours for the taking. You have been growing and developing since you were born – so why should this have stopped? Imagine how things would be if you never stopped being an infant. It is natural, normal and healthy to grow, develop and change and we see this throughout nature. Because we are talking about you we are necessarily prompting you to keep developing, and move on from the layby in the path that you have gotten stuck on. In this way, the purpose of life is You. You’ve just forgotten this, and may have had toxic messages implanted into your mind. You may have experienced terrible things which dragged you down to keep you there due to its sheer horror. Take heart. Even the most terrible things come and go, and so too you can move on from these sticking points in your life history. Talk about them well, resolve them well, correct any distorted meaning and acknowledge all pain and suffering. Have compassion for yourself. Think of yourself as a child if this is difficult. How would you treat a child? Why should you be treated differently? You deserve to be happy and free from being stuck in the past. Afterall, the past no longer exists so why keep preserving it?
Sometimes people are told to ‘get over it’. I find this disrespectful and unhelpful, and it is certainly jumping the gun. Yes of course we want to get over it, and in order to do that we first need to heal our wounds, correct faulty meanings, acknowledge our suffering and learn our life lessons. What meaning are we taking away from our trying times? Then we can naturally return to the present time, the Now, which is the only thing that exists, and do something to make our life better and to improve our life situation. This is a natural course once the past has been dealt with. Similarly we can plan for the future, but need not dwell there either as that will only make us anxious and stop us from putting our plans into action steps Now. If we stay in the future we also become disillusioned with manifesting the future. So collect your time. Reflect on the past, heal it and learn from it then come back to Now. Plan for the future, predict, contemplate then return to Now to live toward a better future. Ask yourself ‘how do I want life to be? Now what do I need to do to achieve this?’ Do it. Get help if you need it, as people love to help. Then just do it.