It’s April, and spring still hasn’t sprung here in the Hudson Valley. We’re all past ready for it at this point. The colorful plastic Easter décor has been up for weeks, the stores have summer items stocked, and yet I woke this morning to 3 inches of snow. There’s a sense that we’re all dressed up and ready to go but the party keeps getting postponed. I find a corollary to this seasonal shift coming up in my practice lately as recurring themes of frustration and restlessness in my clients. It seems like people are increasingly dissatisfied with what’s not working in their lives and the old patterns for coping are just not cutting it anymore.
Last week, one dear client nailed it when she said: something needs to change. She was speaking for herself, but her words resonated with me and were echoed in the words of many of my other clients and friends. And I’m hearing it more and more each person who calls looking for hypnosis, or tarot reading, or herbal care – they all need change, desperately. Depression, addiction, illness, compulsive habits, phobias and anxieties – there has to be a way out of such pain and suffering. But how can we initiate change, especially when the forces at play are too big for us to move or beyond our control? How does one even begin to make such momentous change?
I’m told by the fitness gurus that you cannot build from weakness, but only from strength. You don’t start by lifting the huge weights. You have to start small, with what feels easy, and build little by little. Psychologists have picked up the idea and branded it “positive psychology” which is essentially a form of counselling that focuses on taping one’s inner strengths rather than focusing on what’s wrong and fixing it. I’ve found this to be helpful in so many ways in my own life, with my children, and also in my hypnotherapy practice.
Have you ever tried to encourage someone who is feeling depressed? Or tied to calm someone in the midst of a panic attack? It’s tempting to say “don’t feel sad, it’s all going to be ok!” or “there’s nothing to worry about, just relax!” This approach is not only ineffective, it’s actually doing more harm by reinforcing the person’s state of depression or anxiety. The more you try to encourage them NOT to feel sad or anxious, the more they feel stuck. Positive psychologists would suggest you try this instead: first, acknowledge and validate their feelings and ask them open ended questions. Then see if they can think of one small, tiny thing that is already working in their life. It can be anything at all that they already feel positive, confident, or happy about. Finding that ONE thing is the beginning of shifting the focus to what’s already working. And that’s a strength, however small or seemingly insignificant that can be built upon. If you can do this for a friend, why no do it for yourself?
In practice, this often requires a scaling back, and a narrowing of focus. Instead of telling yourself “I’m so fat, I’ll never reach my weightloss goal,” it might becomes something like this: I feel very uncomfortable and ashamed of my body. In the past I developed unhealthy habits like being too sedentary, but I am changing. This week I have walked for 20 minutes everyday this week. Let yourself fully feel the success of reaching that small goal. Yes, it's there! Right there! That's where the magic happens called inspiration. Here's the formula for those of you who who need calculating: Inspiration + motivation + small action = results = more motivation = more results^3= success. leads to motivation
We've all heard it before: When you focus on one step at a time, before you know it, you’ve walked a mile. It's a cliche because it's true! Let's look at another example - depression. For something who is struggling with deep depression, thoughts like “I feel so empty, there's no point...I'll never be any different" often run in the subconscious. What would it feel like to shift that narrative into, “Even though I’m depressed, I really enjoy taking a walk in the woods. When I walk in the woods, I feel uplifted and this feeling often lasts for hours after" ? This can lead to just enough motivation needed to take a walk. A walk might seem like a small success, but it’s that mental muscle that is responsible for uplifted feelings that needs to be built upon. If someone always feels depressed, they have let their “uplifted” muscle atrophy. So the way to get the “uplift” consciousness back in shape is not to focus on the depression. What else gives that same uplifted feeling? This is where we begin. This is a crack in the doorway of change.
If you’re thinking, easier said than done, well…you’re right. This is not easy to do from a normal state consciousness. Albert Einstein said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” It’s the change in mindset that facilitates the change in feeling, that brings about positive sensations we all are seeking. And if that still sounds too difficult (and believe me, I have been there, in that place where I am so stuck in my negative thought patterns that any mention of the term positive thinking sounds like nails on a chalkboard) well, you can sit back and relax because here’s where my pitch comes in: hypnosis is one of the easiest, quickest, and most successful ways to bring about this shift in consciousness. Sure, you can do this through meditation, yoga, breathwork, or any other practice that changes your state of consciousness from tension to relaxation. But the amazing thing about hypnosis is that you don’t have to be a master of meditation to get the benefits. In fact, you don’t have to do anything but be willing and open-minded to the process. It’s effortless!
Any good hypnotherapist can rapidly shift your attention from your pain and problems to the state of being that you desire - toward what you want, and away from what you don’t want. It often feels so natural that you don’t even realize it’s happened. And this is essential for success. But it’s not always enough. A good hypnotherapist will also help you identify the places in your life where you are already succeeding and determine how to build on those. I don’t offer guarantees, but I can tell you I’ve seen this method work many times, for some of the more challenged individuals.
So how can you apply the concept of build on strength, not from weakness in your own life? I can tell you that for me, it often means I have to scale back my grand visions and ambitions. I've been called a perfectionist, but really I like to think of it more as a over-doer. My therapist would probably identify my a detached/avoidant attachment style. But that's a blog post for another day. Let's just say that I'm goal oriented and perhaps a little more driven than average. Do you identify with any of that? My ability to envision is one of both my greatest strengths and weaknesses. Because I can see the desired outcome so well, I try to take on too much to make it happen. I set myself up for failure, often. Some mornings, I rise with a fire to create, to accomplish, to move mountains. But by midday, I’ve already depleted my reserves of energy and disappointed in my failure to complete my vision for the day. If I don’t catch myself, this can spiral into negative thinking pretty quickly. Maybe you can relate to this. So I’ll share a strategy I’ve learned to cope. I think of it as creating a cozy corner in the rooms of my ambition. It looks like this: when I set out my goals for the day, for the week, for the year, I go wild. I list them all. I let my drive go into high gear. It’s like designing a grand mansion. But this is just writing, on paper. Then, when my list is so big and ambitious that I feel tired just looking at it, I take a big breath and let it out. Let it go. In reality, who really wants a house that grand? Too much work! Sometimes I’ll tear the list up and throw it out. Then, I find one small thing that I’m inspired to do that I KNOW I can accomplish. Some days, that may mean doing a sinkfull of dishes. Other days, writing a chapter or tackling those documents I need to file. Yesterday, it was repotting my cherry tomato seedlings. Whatever the single thing is, I imagine it as one cozy corner of my grand vision – like a little room of my to do list that is just for me to play in; it’s a task on which I can focus my attention fully and create something I can manage. Then, I go about my day as normal, being sure to build in time for my task. While I am doing the task, I do it with as much ease and presence and enjoyment as I can muster. After all, it’s only ONE thing. Easy. By the end of the day, I sometimes make a new list – one of all the things I’ve done, accomplished, completed, or enjoyed. On these days, I go to bed feeling full and satisfied. This, to me, means building from strength.
Because I find plant analogies useful for pretty much every point I want to make, I’m going to indulge in one of my favorites here. Think about those lovely crocuses and snowdrops or other early spring flowers that are beginning to bloom right now. The crocuses were always my favorite as a child. My mother would shriek in joy and drag me outdoors as soon as she spotted them in bloom – a breath of colorful delight in the dismal grey chill of March. Always in the same places each year. Even when I was small I wondered how the little green stalks could push their way through the cold, hard earth and open in full bloom, often to be covered in snow and frost. I still wonder how something so delicate can thrive in the harsh late winter/early spring. Their secret, I understand now, is in the bulb. They spend all fall and winter drawing in minerals and hording nutrients in that bulb, building strength night by underground night. Waiting for the right moment. Can you imagine that?
Crocuses. They really know how to get things moving. Gosh, they blow my mind. Anyway, this is what I thought about this morning, when I woke in frustration at the unwelcome snow. I thought about a little crocus, laughing at the falling flakes, enjoying the blanket that keeps her strong bulb cozy. I thought about how tightly her petals were folded together, waiting for the sun to unfurl her purple and orange colors to flag down spring for landing. Thinking of this little flower for a few minutes was all it took to change my mindset from disappointment and frustration to inspiration. It worked. Try it!
So the next time you notice yourself stuck in a state of anxiety, tension, despair, or frustration, think about this phrase: build on strength. Go ahead and acknowledge how negative you feel and breathe. Then find where in your body you can sense strength. Think about something you’ve already done today. Something you are already good at doing well. Something you feel good about already in your life. Focus on that. Then find another. Narrow your focus and zoom into those feelings. Scale back your striving and find one place to be, just for a breath, or for two breaths, or for three. And if nothing else works, imagine those heroic crocuses unfurling their garish colors above a blanket of snow. You’ll feel better, soon.