Friday, 22 May 2020

Why catastrophe thinking is neither accurate nor a good idea


With everything that is going on in the world at present, anxiety could feel like a natural, even inevitable, response. But there is nothing inevitable about it; there is a key thinking pattern involved in anxiety, often called catastrophe thinking, and there are simple ways to learn to change it. Feeling anxious generally involves telling yourself a horror story about your future ….. usually the worst possible outcome and then some! Our brain goes something like this; if I focus on the worst thing that can happen, I’ll be prepared for it, and if something better happens, I’ll feel relieved and pleased. And if I keep repeating this, I will always be prepared.

But there are several reasons why that doesn’t work:
  • None of us know what will happen in the future. When we predict the future it’s a guess, a story that we are telling ourselves. However, by focusing only on the worst thing that could happen, our brain ends up believing that this is the truth, not just one of many possibilities, so you are not giving it accurate information.
  • It’s not even the most likely outcome. Mostly you are choosing the possible or the very unlikely, rather than the probable. 90% of what you worry about never happens!
  • You scare yourself, and turn on the fight or flight response. But since this story is about the future, there is nothing to run from or fight. Instead, the chemicals associated with the inappropriate fight or flight response just stop us from thinking straight or making good clear decisions, stop our immune system from working properly, and create all the symptoms of anxiety. And if you repeat the same horror story time after time in your mind, you get stuck in this state.
  • It’s the story that creates the anxiety, not the event. Human beings are really good at problem solving. People are often surprised to find, when something they fear actually happens, that they rise to the occasion and find the inner resources to deal with it. They may even become stronger, happier, and more resilient people as a result. We miss this ending out of our horror stories!
What you can do to change this pattern

Start noticing the stories you are telling yourself, recognise them as stories rather than the truth, and ask yourself, ’Is it helping me to focus on this?’
If the answer is no, here are some ways to learn to tell yourself more useful stories;
  1. Start by remembering times in the past when you successfully resolved a challenging situation. What did you do? How did that feel? Notice how creative we can be in these situations.
  2. Don’t allow yourself to tell the same story more than once. Interrupt the repetitive cycling round by insisting that you change it each time.
  3. Deliberately tell yourself as many different stories about what could happen as you can. Use your creativity! Include ones where everything goes really well, and ones with good and difficult things mixed together, to balance your original “worst case” scenario.
  4. Make sure every story you tell has a successful outcome, in which you rise to the occasion, find the inner resources to handle it well, and move on to a happy life. Go far into the future if you need to: ‘What will I feel like in 10 years time?’ Psychologists talk about post traumatic growth; the idea that difficult experiences can be a powerful positive impetus to move forwards and grow.
  5. But most of all, keep coming back into the present. Our amazing ability to predict the future and problem solve can be very useful, but it’s important to come back to the present and remember that the future doesn’t actually exist! My favourite way of doing this is to look at a tree:



Sunday, 10 May 2020

A Better Future is Possible

In Bristol a few days ago I saw a colourful banner that read "A better future is possible." 

Here is an inspiring children's story about how the dramatic events of the last months could lead to a much more positive future for the world. 

The stories that we tell ourselves DO make a difference! What story are you telling yourself?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nw5KQMXDiM4

Friday, 14 February 2020

What IS the Lightning Process?


I am often asked this question; and it is surprisingly hard to answer, given that I have been a Lightning Process practitioner for over 11 years! This is mainly because it is quite complex to answer, and takes 3 days to explain properly. But over the years I have tried lots of ways of giving a flavour of the LP, and I thought I would share a few of them.

The one line answer is ‘It’s a training course that teaches you powerful tools, to enable you to influence your health and life’. All human beings have amazing abilities, but often we don’t even know we have these abilities, let alone how to use them to help ourselves. The Lightning Process teaches you this.

Using how your body works to make changes to your health

People’s next question, especially when they want to influence their own physical health, is often “How on earth can a training course help me to get well from a physical illness?” Good question! I generally find the most effective way to answer is to explain a little about how your body works.

One of the amazing abilities that your body has is the natural ability to heal. Think of how a cut heals, or your body recovers from a cold. The LP shows you how to activate this innate natural ability, and get it working well for you.

Our brain and nerve pathways (in fact our whole body) are constantly changing in response to how we use them. That’s neuroplasticity, and it’s behind all learning. This means that you can learn to strengthen your healthy, happy pathways, and allow stuff which is not useful to fade away. To find out more you might like to look at my blog about sheeptracks and neuroplasticity.

Then there is the powerful fight or flight response. This is only meant to be turned on when there is a true physical emergency. But sometimes, without meaning to, our body has learned to turn it on for situations where running away or thumping someone is the last thing that is going to help! As a result you can end up being stuck in the fight or flight response long term, which takes a huge physical toll on your body. In the LP you learn to:
1.      Turn off the fight or flight response if it is inappropriate
2.      And the rest of the time keep your healthy happy physiology switched on instead.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Is it a threat or a challenge?


Have you ever missed the last bus or train home? You might have felt panicky, scared and flustered, telling yourself  ‘everything’s gone wrong’: or, you might have calmly started to think through possible solutions. Or, has your boss / teacher ever told you that you need to do a presentation to lots of people – tomorrow! Did you immediately start to run around like a headless chicken? Or did you decide you’d do your best and it’d be good enough? We are faced every day with events that we need to respond to, and choices about how to respond.

Is stress good for us?

Clients often ask me ‘Isn’t a bit of stress good for us?’ or ‘Don’t we need some adrenaline to get us going? I’d never get anything done otherwise’. And it’s true that a state of deep relaxation and calm – while lovely to experience – is not going to be the best state to be in when responding to situations like these. But what do we actually mean when we talk about stress or adrenaline? There is a lot of confusion that goes on here, because there are actually TWO states involved.

What many people refer to as ‘stress’ is that state where you feel threatened by a situation: the result is often feeling rushed, snappy, not able to think straight, not sleeping … Sound familiar? Ironically, being in this state does nothing to help us resolve a problem or be at our best!

But there is another much more useful option, a motivated ‘rising to the challenge’ state. And this is the one that enhances our performance, and enables us to think clearly and problem solve.

The key to which state we are in seems to lie in how we THINK about the situation, whether we see it as a threat or a challenge. This makes all the difference to how we respond and the results we achieve, but interestingly it also makes a difference to what goes on in the cells of our body.

So how do we know whether we are in the challenge state or the threat state? Here are a few pointers.

The threat state involves:
·       Focusing on the negative.
·       Imagining and fearing the worst that could happen.
·       Feeling like you can’t do anything about it.
·       This actually means that your performance gets worse just when you want to be at your best.

The challenge state involves:
·       Believing you will be able to find a way through.
·       Being curious: ‘How will I resolve this?’.
·       Then looking for solutions and opportunities, focusing on what you want.
·       You have calm energy, focus and concentration, so you are at your best.

The science bit

Interestingly (if you like science!) there is some new scientific evidence to show that your body produces different hormones depending on whether you think there is a challenge or a threat. In both, your heart rate increases, but in the challenge state adrenaline is produced, which expands your blood vessels to accommodate the extra blood; so your blood pressure does not go up. When you think you are being threatened, this sends different messages to your body, cortisol is the main hormone produced, and adrenaline production is actually inhibited. Without the adrenaline your blood vessels do not expand, and your blood pressure rises. Cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) is known to be involved in a range of health problems, especially when it is around long term.

All of this is your body responding to what you think about what happens to you!

Monday, 30 September 2019

Learning to be kind to yourself


We are often told to “Be kind to yourself” or “Love yourself”, but this can feel harder to do than to say. A client asked me recently “What does it MEAN to be kind to yourself? I try, but either I don’t know what to say, or I don’t believe what I say”.

This simple exercise had a transformative effect for her, so you might want to see what changes for you as you do it:

Think of someone who has been kind, supportive or loving to you in the past. Step into their shoes, and imagine you are them. How does it feel to see yourself through their eyes? What do they feel or know about you? What would they say to you, and how would they sound as they said it? How much do they know that you deserve this support? As your supporter, feel what it feels like to feel this compassion, love, acceptance and kindness towards you.

Then step back into yourself and hear what they have just said. Let it in, both what they said and HOW they said it (the non verbal communication which makes all the difference). How does that feel different from usual?

Another way of experiencing kindness and support is to imagine how you would talk to a friend or family member, and talk to yourself in the same way. So you can try this too.

What would it be like if we all treated ourselves like kind and supportive people treat us – or, as we treat other people? I would love to hear what you learned about kindness from this exercise.

"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive." Dalai Lama

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Enjoying the whole walk


I love climbing hills and mountains. I love the fresh air, and the views which change every time I pause for breath and look around. I also love the feeling of moving and stretching my body, and even that great feeling when I take my boots off afterwards! I do it for fun. The view from the top can be wonderful, but it’s a small part of the experience and it’s the whole thing I enjoy.

But it is equally possible to treat climbing a mountain as hard work, by focusing on the effort required, or forgetting about the experience of climbing and fixing solely on the goal of getting to the top. Why would we do it like that?

It is so easy to approach life like a series of goals to be achieved. A list to be ticked off. If we have things that we want to change in our lives we can end up approaching our self-help tools like that too. Like a summit to be reached rather than a walk to be enjoyed.

The trouble with fixing on the summit is that we are only there for 5 minutes. Sometimes we don’t even enjoy that because we are focused on getting to the end of the walk – usually a road, pretty uninteresting!

It is always our choice where we look for joy, and if we look for it in the whole experience we will find a lot more of it than if we focus solely on the end result. I clearly remember the impression it made on me when someone reminded me that the end result of life is actually death!

What would it be like to approach the changes that we want to make in our lives like a fun walk, and to really enjoy the whole experience; the ups and the downs, and the views along the way?

“Don’t do anything that isn’t play.” Marshall B Rosenberg, Non Violent Communication



Sunday, 26 May 2019