Self Developments Greatest Secret

I genuinely hope I’m wrong, but my gut feeling is that you’re highly likely to massively underestimate the power of what I’m about to tell you.

In fact, you may already be aware of the information at a conscious level because it’s something I mention to almost every Life Coaching client and have written about it both here and in How To Be Rich and Happy.

However, if this is your first exposure to it I highly doubt you’ll employ it. And do you know why I’m skeptical you’ll utilize something so crushingly simple and yet so incredibly powerful and liberating?

Two reasons.

Firstly, to make the most of this requires a lot of conscious effort, at least to begin with, and unfortunately most people can’t be arsed to do anything that requires conscious effort. Not when it comes to self development anyway.

Reading a blog post or book is the easy bit, implementing what you learned, not so much. That’s why my post The 20 Greatest Motivational Quotes of All Time went viral and had almost 40,000 views and a post like this never will.

Reading quotes is easy, fun and doesn’t require action, and it’s action part that most people are leery of.

Secondly, there is a mountain of social proof to suggest that it’s ok to ignore what I’m about to tell you because almost everybody else in the English speaking world does. So surely it can’t be that big a deal, can it?

Yes it can.

And it is.

It’s a very big deal.

So pay attention.

Do you know what dictates how you feel about yourself and your life?

Sure you do, it’s the thoughts you have. Nothing more, nothing less.

As Shakespeare said;

“Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

You’re a product of your thoughts because leaving to one side primal autonomic responses like fight or flight, it’s your thoughts that create your emotions and it’s your emotions that dictate how you feel.

You have a lot of thoughts. In fact you’re thinking all the time unless you’re dead or a seasoned meditator, it’s just what your brain does to keep itself busy.

Nobody truly knows how many thoughts the average person has each day because the overwhelming majority are happening at an unconscious level and are tricky to measure.

However, we do know that it runs into millions each year, and that explains why taking control of them is so crucial to your happiness levels.

Leaving your brain to its own devices is akin to leaving Motley Crue, your new puppy and Charlie Sheen to look after your house whilst you go on vacation. Sure everything might be ok when you get back, but it wouldn’t be wise to bank on it.

The two most effective ways you can choose to stress yourself senseless, or anybody else for that matter, are to:

  • Remove choice
  • Remove autonomy

Losing either one or both of the above leaves you feeling helpless and out of control, and it’s that out of control feeling that frequently leads to anxiety, stress and even depression if allowed to continue unabated.

Take a glance at the following statements and ask yourself, what do they have in common?

  • I should lose some weight and get fit
  • I really need to get a cup of coffee
  • I have to go an visit mad, incontinent Aunt Betty at some point this week
  • I’ve got to stop taking on more projects than I can deal with
  • I must quit smoking before it kills me

I feel sure you’re ahead of me and you can see they all remove choice and autonomy, and as such are almost guaranteed to increase the stress levels of the person using them.

Modal Operators Of Necessity

And they do this because of the use of something in NLP called, modal operators of necessity.

Model operators of necessity are are words like must, should, have, need, got to etc and as the name implies they insist that something is a necessity and not an option.

That being the case, why do you think so many people frequently have many conversations like those above both with themselves and with others?

The honest answer is I’m not sure, although I suspect it’s because most people have no clue as to the impact the language they use has on their well being.

To them it’s just words and what harm can using the wrong words do?

Actually quite a lot, but don’t take my word for it, check it out yourself by closing your eyes and visualizing yourself saying any of the above.

What do you see? Is it a happy scene? Are you smiling as you talk? Do you look lighter? Pumped up? Full of the joys of spring?

Or is there almost an audible sigh before you start speaking? And do you have a slight downward turn of your mouth as well as a drooping of the shoulders that suggests you feel like what you just said is really a pain in the ass?

Presuming your verbal and body language were congruent, I can say with certainty it was the latter.

And the reason I’m certain is because it’s almost physiologically impossible to induce any other response because you have effectively just told your brain;

“This sucks, we’re backed into a corner and we absolutely have no say in the matter!”

And your brain being the loyal servant that it is, responds accordingly by creating the relevant negative feelings to represent your onerous situation.

Doing that every now and then really isn’t a problem, and yes indeed there are times when we really must, need and have to do stuff. But it’s way, way, way, way (and one more for good measure) way, less often than you think.

In fact, I could really boil it down to the bottom level of Maslows hierarchy of needs.

You do need to breathe, eat, find shelter and warmth and perform bodily functions etc, but after that almost everything else is a choice you make.

On the whole and presuming it’s not an overwhelming amount, choice makes you and your brain feel great, so what stops you giving yourself as much as you can by using the correct language?

You really don’t need to heap a load of unnecessary stress on your shoulders if you don’t want to. That in and of itself is a choice, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

The Double Whammy

You can now see that using words that remove choice creates stress, but it can and often does get worse than that.

If you currently weigh in at 400lbs you may not unreasonably say to me, “But Tim, I really do need to lose weight” and it would be hard for me to disagree.

But I’d still respond with “Do you want to though?

And the reason I’d do that is because if you keep telling yourself you must lose weight and you never do, you will batter your self-esteem. Which in turn will massively reduce your ability to trust yourself, which will then reduce your chances of shedding the pounds.

What’s The Solution?

Before I revisit the phrases above and make them a gazillion per cent more appealing let me head off at the pass any “Yeh buts” that may be coming my way because often with clients this is the part where I occasionally get accused of being unrealistic.

Firstly, we decide what is realistic for ourselves, so if you would rather cling on to a version of reality that makes you feel bad, please be my guest it’s a free country.

Secondly, bear in mind at all times what I said about most things being a choice so it’s a bit like reframing because we’re not lying about any of this or trying to change the event itself.

And thirdly, I sometimes get people complaining that if they don’t use restrictive language they won’t get anything done.

That’s simply not true. You are way more likely to do something you want to do than something you think you must do.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is not an exact science and there will be contradictions on both sides, but we’re playing a numbers game here and this shit works PERIOD!

  • I want to lose some weight and get fit
  • I’d love to get a cup of coffee
  • It would be fun to go an visit mad, incontinent Aunt Betty at some point this week
  • I’d like to stop taking on more projects than I can deal with
  • I’d be pumped to quit smoking

Notice the difference?

Now we are using modal operators of possibility.

If you were to repeat the visualization exercise you would see a completely different scene. You would be lighter, probably smiling and your physiology would be that of somebody free from stress.

And all that from changing one or two words.

Implementing this really does take quite a lot of work because you have to be consciously aware of what you’re saying and thinking, but the upside over time is huge.

So what do you say? Are you with me and are you going to give it a go, or do you think I’m talking bollocks and need to get a real job?

Photo: ‘Whisper’ Courtesy of Cortto