Engineering The Mind
Working with young people (and their parents) means helping them understand the basics of designing a future self who is calm, confident, enjoying successful relationships, and is thankful for learning some basic secrets of happiness.
This process applies to any age!
“It is impossible to control any goal that requires other people to change.”
Case study: Lonely Lana
Moving schools had been a good decision for 14-year-old Lana but had left her yearning for her old group of pals. But her mind had played tricks on her, recalling the past in a kinder light, yet in truth, she had been quite unhappy with them. The NEW friendship group felt impermeable, and she came to see me asking for help with ‘social exclusion’.
We established that a couple of girls in the group were being really kind and friendly towards her, but this didn’t satisfy Lana and she found herself:
- Dismissive of easily available friendships.
- Keeping her sights fixed on getting attention from the big personalities.
- Negatively mind-reading the new group’s intentions.
- Negatively interpreting the body language of certain group members.
- Feeling awkward and self-conscious
- Fantasising that the old school friendship group was perfect.
We summarised our initial discussion in terms of her:
THOUGHTS – the group was unsure about her and viewed her with suspicion.
FEELINGS – self-conscious, unhappy, and awkward.
BEHAVIOUR – wanting to withdraw from the group.
Delving deeper into her thinking patterns she soon revealed some fundamental beliefs that were triggering her own unhappiness.
Trigger thoughts included:
“Making new friends is hard work and tiring”
“Why don’t they? …. (act the way I want them to act)”
“I have lost my perfect old friends”
These thoughts triggered her ‘feel-bad’ strategy.
She ran this strategy in her mind ‘on-repeat’.
Neural plasticity meant that those self-harming thoughts became automatic – because she had practiced paying attention to them.
Soon into our session, Lana realised that her true (unconscious) friendship goal had been to be the popular one amongst a large group of girls. But she didn’t yet realise that goal was impossible to achieve since it required:
- Exhausting effort to try to change the opinions and behaviours of others.
- The others to prioritise her needs above their natural ordering.
I invited her to understand that it is impossible to control any goal that requires other people to change. Trying to do that had been exhausting and frustrating, wasting energy and leading to disappointment in others and (self) generating feelings of unhappiness.
I wondered if Lana could amend her friendship goal to “I want to feel relaxed and authentic around new people”. That would require her to expect nothing back from them, just to be curious and interested in the evolving relationships.
After all, a goal like this means being in charge of a goal you can actually control!
We worked hypnotically to visualise Lana pitching up at school, looking for fun people to get to know while feeling relaxed, interested, humorous and happy. This imprinted a new neurological template which she could practise (through neural plasticity) until it became her autopilot.
We reframed her thinking so that SHE could reflect on, and positively adjust, her personal thoughts, feelings, and behaviours – it’s an inside job!
I taught her techniques for self-regulating wayward feelings.
We looked through time to visit her future-self. The person who is calm, confident, enjoying a range of successful relationships, and thankful for learning some basic secrets of owning next-generation happiness.
Think this is just about children? Think again!
Do you have your own definition of good mental health? Have you ever thought about this? What are your guiding principles?
According to the UK Mental Health Foundation, good mental health is:
- The ability to learn
- The ability to cope with AND manage change and uncertainty
- The ability to form AND maintain good relationships with others
- The ability to feel, express and manage a range of positive AND negative emotions
In which of these areas do you excel? And which one needs some development? Does this resonate with you?
I’m a big fan of wellbeing personal audits since all of these ‘abilities’ once brought to your conscious awareness, can be trained, and refined. Accountability helps balance the current trend of victimhood.
You probably know how important it is to get clarity about the future you are aiming your brain towards. Aiming your mind and body towards better mental health seems like time well spent, don’t you think?
With that in mind, I’ve adapted the MHF definition into an easy exercise to help you do review your own needs. I suggest you write out your answers as it has a stronger imprint on the sub-conscious mind.
- Is learning new things important for you? Is it easy? What would make it easier?
- How adaptable are you to change and uncertainty? Where in your life, would you like to grow more flexibility and how would the ‘future you’ benefit from doing this?
- Do you easily form new relationships? And how do you nurture longer term relationships? Where could you better connect with others?
- Are you comfortable with your full range of emotions? With which emotions do you need to get more comfortable? Which ones do you want more of and which ones do you need less of?
- Are you being the best you can be so that any time, any place anywhere you shine? Which aspects of your personal growth do you prioritise?
Is your ‘north star’ shining from the constellation called thrive?
Do you or does someone in your family (any age) struggle to revise in preparation for a test?
Whether it’s an academic exam or professional standards test, or some other measurement of knowledge and skill, here are a few things you should know about revision:
- Revising is not learning something new. It is the process of checking in with knowledge and information already installed inside the brain.
- By bringing information to the surface of awareness, it can be examined more closely, modified, and re-packaged for (short-term) easy recall.
- Stress states divert energy away from the brain and prepare the body to fight or flight. That massively disadvantages the brain’s ability to focus and sets up scattered attention. Strands of important information get attached to ‘unrelated’ information.
- Thrive states assist the brain’s ability to focus, embed knowledge in simple units of information that connect to other ‘related’ units of information.
- Brains quickly associate the activity of revising with associated states of brain chemistry.
- Your thoughts ‘about’ revising, can either help or hinder the quality of processes involved in revising.
- Thinking drives emotions (chemical signals) which motivate people to avoid something or move towards it. This movement generates behaviour.
Which of these statements are most true for you?
Being motivated by others is an important driver.
Self-generated desire is a powerful force.
Performance guarantees future success or failure.
Performance provides useful feedback to build upon.
The performance of others is an important benchmark.
Personal previous performance builds powerful feedback loops.
Getting clear about your personal thoughts, beliefs, and motivations will help you steer more elegant behaviours through times of revision. There are no right or wrong answers here as the world is full of examples of people who have both succeeded and failed tests and exams, yet gone on to live successful, happy, fulfilling lives.
The question on my mind is how can you help yourself or another person, learn how they are currently handling their magnificent learning machines? While making adjustments that enable greater flow towards a more desired future.