NLP fallacy and the body rules

NLP fallacy and the body rules

It seems to me there is an important misunderstanding at the centre of NLP. I can only guess it comes from a cultural perspective, a blindness, really. I’m reading the classic text shown in the image above. (And I chopped up the book cover a bit so you could see it all in the wide format image.) “NLP, the new art and science of getting what you want,” by Dr. Harry Alder.

‘Round about page 91 the book gets to a key issue that was pointed out to me by a friend who swears NLP is the reason for his success and happiness: That every action fits a belief. But what is a belief? Dictionary definition says there is conviction attached to a belief. It’s not just observations and conclusions, something I as a scientist can hold for now and change tomorrow when I have new observations. I understand it’s tentative, not a conviction. Or more to the point, it’s a logical expression, an inference, a bit of truth given a certain set of facts. I try to avoid having beliefs. Maybe my belief is that beliefs are dangerous. Certainly many of them are limiting, and that limit can be protective or harmful, depending on the situation.

The woo factor kicks when people turn that around and claim that beliefs can free you from limits, can open you up to abundance in substantial elements of your life. You can choose what to believe. It starts to sound like “The Secret” or “Law of Attraction” and magical thinking like if you write things down they’ll come true. Wouldn’t have thought of that myself, but was recently told that by someone I know. No, you silly bunny, it wasn’t the magic of writing that did it. You set down the problem in an email and sent it to people with the power to do something about it. That’s not magic, even if the relief of a solution feels wonderful and delightful, almost like a magic trick.

I suspect that even tentative opinions or predictions can trigger emotional reactions. If I think this noise is going to go on all day, I will be more stressed than if I know it is temporary. But just telling myself, “All things must pass” isn’t enough. I don’t need a mantra or a soothing lie. I need to know I’m going to get relief from this torture of constant interruption or jarring bodily sensation, or both, from noise. No matter what I think, a day without noise and interruptions is going to be superior peace-wise, than one without.

It seems to me that logic and probability are much more exciting and useful ideas than the idea that you can limitlessly change your beliefs. Positive affirmations only make sense if they are logical and probable. My friend telling himself repeatedly, “I’m attractive to girls,” a sort of brainwashing attempt, doesn’t help him as much as smiling and improving his hairstyle would. It’s logically possible that doing those two things could make a difference over the long term. “Every day I am getting better and better,” as explained by Robertson Davies in his lovely book, “Fifth Business,” is just silly.

So, where does this idea that beliefs determine actions come from? Well, back on page 89, right before the aforementioned important pronouncement on page 91, Seligmann’s famous learned helplessness research is described. This rendition includes an interpretation I hadn’t heard before when my intro psych text covered this concept. The horrible experiment torturing dogs made them give up in terror, but this book actually describes the dogs’ belief process:

He saw that the dogs had learned helpness. Their interpretation of the situation was that it was hopeless to try further, so they stopped trying.

To say that the dogs had an interpretation seems a tad abstract. Sure, maybe dogs have thoughts and ideas like we do. Would it be better to call that an expectation, akin to a prediction? I think so. That is more in line with the problems we have, as well. It’s not that we necessarily have a definite belief, a conviction. It’s that we have an expectation. We don’t expect things to change…and yet that’s exactly what we logically should expect. Habits don’t tend to change, ruts don’t tend to change, and then suddenly they do. More importantly, they can if we work at it.

NLP says to work at changing beliefs, which I would call expectations. Probability – 70-90 percent? That’s pretty high, but it’s not a conviction, a certainty, a belief. The sales cliche is that  you get nine no’s out of 10 queries, and maybe you get a yes. Playing the numbers. Expecting the worst, but keep trying for that nugget of gold. You don’t need much gold to make all the sand worth it. Kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, that kind of thing. (Yes, I realize the first NLP book wsa called “Frogs into Princes,” way back in the day.)

Alder’s book talks about the patterns within the belief of helpnessness: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization. (Same section, page 89.) These are useful concepts that align with the ideas of probability and scientific thinking.

We cannot know that things are permanent. We want to feel secure, but the world is not secure. We are surrounded by ambiguity and cognitive dissonance and uncertainty. But corrolaries are the power of probability as well as the opportunities of choice. Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule – 80 percent of value will be in 20 percent of the volume. You could say everything is 80 percent crap! And you can then go looking for the 20 percent.

Pervasiveness is similar to permanence, an idea that whatever is at this moment extends throughout time or our lives.  Similarly, personalizing or identity attributes character to an entity, oneself. I do not have much sense of self. I feel we change a lot. What is permanent? Neither I nor many meditators can find something permanent. We are Heraclitus’ river. We rise and fall.

A few pages later the book says there are degrees of belief. I feel this would have been a much more useful approach than focusing on beliefs as entities and rather black and white thinking.

In a way, it comes down to what Bertrand Russell said in his book “On Happiness,” that if you can’t bear to think about certain things, then think about something else. The power of focus and all that.

So, there are some useful scientific and logical ideas in NLP, but they tend to get lost in a simplistic barrage of claims about belief, which wander into woo territory when they are used by everyone I’ve met so far. These ideas are popular and silly. The best part of NLP is the next part, about somatic responses.

This NLP book goes into a lot of practical detail on how to identify your own somatic response preferences, i.e. , how your body reacts to different situations, memories, thoughts, and so on. We’ve crossed the body-mind dualism into the rich territory of the body, now. The body is easier to pin down, doesn’t require tricky word and concepts. The body gives direct experience. Seems to me that it is more economical to explain the helpless dogs’ behaviour this way, also.  Their bodies learned to expect a trap, just as ours do. No words are needed. I’ve felt trapped and in a panic when I seemed to be locked in a room at one point. The panic made me unable to see a sign that pointed to exit stairs.

Most importantly, the body is an important source of healing and doesn’t get the respect it deserves in our culture. I think this cultural blindness is quite pervasive. I find rare pockets of freedom from it. Our world is dominated by body oppression, I suddenly conclude as I am writing this. Our bodies are far more important than words and beliefs, given that most of us are primitive and ignorant with words and ideas. Let’s at least go down to the bottom, “where all the ladders start,” to the body, the apparent locus of emotion.



Supersize v. Superskinny


I’m late to the reality-TV party, but I recently discovered the UK show Supersize v. Superskinny, which is kinda reality-TV because they are real people taking part in a filmed interactive situation. But this show uses its shock value for a very constructive purpose rather than just for entertainment. Basically, Dr. Christian Jessen, often just called Dr. Christian, guides one obese and one near-anorexic person to learn from him and each other, in order to revampt their eating habits. Dr. C, with his sensible comments and caring voice, has taken up residence in my mind along with my favourite participants, and encourages me now.

Two different people each week meet and compare visual display of a week’s worth of food. They are each going to have to eat what the other one did in the past week, as recorded in a food diary. They enter the feeding clinic and the skinny person is presented with a vast dinner, often followed by unwanted snacks. The fat person gets some sad excuse for a meal, like a chocolate bar, a piece of toast and an energy drink, or if they’re really lucky, decent food, but a portion fit for a four-year old.

So this past week, I set up a “feeding clinic” for myself. No one else here, just the show participants and Dr. C to cheer me on. From the show, I learned that you can reset your appetite. I planned three sensible meals a day for myself, and a protein shake as an option if rushed or heading out for a long swim and the like. Currently the two key points for me are to do without snacking, and to make a plan and follow it. I already eat high quality food made from scratch, for the most part, and now that is exclusive. No more fast food burgers and other not-great stuff I’ve enjoyed in the past. Time and again the supersizers suffered through some hunger but pretty soon were okay with their tiny portions. I can only guess their bodies started burning a bit of fat.

Amazingly, most of these people started to look noticeably better after several days in the clinic, especially people who were there for a whole week, and especially the super-skinnies. Even though they were often eating takeaway food with lots of bad fats and carbs, just getting more calories put colour in their face and took away some gauntness, immediately. I also noticed after the first day on my feeding clinic, immediately my complexion looked clearer, just like most of the supersized folks on the show.

So, I got a bit of glory. I found something that I know will work. I saw it work for many others. Planning your meals is not a new thing, but it’s something I resisted till now. I like flexibility, but now I need control. I always cooked in bulk and saved it in the fridge and freezer for meal convenience, so I’m used to that level of planning, but the point is here is planning for portion control. Limit intake to three meal periods and a scoop of protein if necessary. So far I’m not defining the meal portion extremely. That will be the next step, once I have the 3 meals without snacks habit down pat. I’m quite sure this alone will make a decent difference, as I was quite the opportunistic grazer up till now.

It’s great to have a plan I can believe in, live by, and refine, and be free from emotional eating. Yes, I had a few thoughts of indulgence over the past few days, but I focused on my goal to get through to a new state of being, like the peiople in the show. They are sent off for a few weeks or months and come back to reveal their results. They are encouraged to continue beyond that. Unfortunately, I won’t have a feeding clinic buddy to keep in touch with, but I can at least remember a lot of the delightful and inspiring people who have been on that show.

Just one thing about me – I’ve never been a dieter. My life has been going through hell the past two years, due to my marriage breakdown. I did manage to lose some weight during the separation part of that, but gained more than half of it back. Yoyoing is not fun and I don’t want that pattern to repeat. I’m taking it slow, steady, and comfortable (except being willing to feel hungry while adjusting), so it can be a solid lifestyle change.

I know all the supersizers and superskinnies and Dr. C would wish me success.


WCCMT – a secret

WCCMT – a secret

West Coast College of Massage Therapy is an awesome place in my town. (And in a few other towns, actually.) See, the students work there in a clinic, and it’s incredibly inexpensive to get an hour’s treatment. Discount for seniors. I don’t feel like a senior, but I’m over 55, so I got the discount. I can handle that a lot better than being offered the senior discount on my 40th birthday because my hair turned white rather early. Yes, that really happened. I especially liked stepdad’s comment, at the time, on the hat I always wore in those days, a canvas canoe hat which I indeed was wearing during that senior incident: “Well, it does age you.” Somehow that cracked me up.

So, this week is the last week at the school, and the fifth term students are off to their professional careers. They will be RMTs – registered massage therapists. They do relaxation massages, but they specialize in therapeutic ones. Not if you have a WCB/ICBC claim, of course, but if you have a problem area. I have quite a few. I learned the most awesome and helpful things!

I learned that if you have a painful muscle, maybe you should not stretch it but rather look at its opposite, which may be so tight it’s pulling and making the other one sore. Story of my hamstrings. Hurt to sit on them. My pelvis had other tight muscles that were pulling on them.  Now the pain is 95% gone.

I learned that for my inflamed tendon on one side of my foot, I need to strengthen the muscle that opposes it, on the other side of my foot and leg. Wow, the tendon pain went down by about 3/4 and I am going to keep doing my leg days and strengthening those muscles.

But it’s also important to stretch. There are certain muscles I’ve trained for years – chest, triceps are two groups – but I never stretched them. Unlike a lot of women and especially dancers who well know about lengthening muscles, instead I thought like a man: it feels good to be strong, so build up those muscles with weights, strength training. Clearly we need both, and my student RMT has a great depth of knowledge. He’s one of those lucky people who, though young, knows what he wants to do and has dived in and is doing a wonderful job of it.

I went to two different people there, but the first one was a fifth term student, and for a bit I had a fourth term one when the fifth wasn’t available. He was better than she was, so I went back to him when he was available again. The term ends tomorrow, and the mood in there today was like floating on a cloud. They had their last exam this morning. But in September, a new term begins, and a new calendar to fill up with lovely massage bookings. And, yes, I am also going to be a private client of my fave student. He wants to go independent in a year, and I am happy to help him out with that and also get the benefit of his excellent skills and sensitive touch in my healing journey.

If you check out their webpage, you’ll see they actually do some spa type things as well. I saw these offerings and signed up for one on a whim. I have never done a spa thing. It was just a crazy idea: Salt Glow. So I’m lying there naked with a towel wrapped under and over around my crotch to cover the crack and all, and getting scrubbed with basically sodium chloride and some essential oil. It was rough, like sharp sand. It was different. It was okay, but as he pointed out, it makes your skin incredibly soft. A week later, it’s still softer than I ever remember.

So, apparently exfoliation is a thing. As you can tell, I’m really not very girly and never experimented with exfoliation nor had girly friends to tell me I had to do it. I guess I’d like to try a facial now. Maybe it’ll make my face skin similarly soft. Not that this place offers those. But I think I’m on a roll here, of self care as well as self–pampering.  If you want to do the same, move fast as I understand the school is phasing out the spa stuff and sticking with the higher value (my view) therapeutic massage stuff.

To the grads… and next term! 🙂