More often than not, it's our view of the world and the language that we use that hold us back, not some external issue. Uncomfortable as that may seem, once we recognise this, we can take steps to change our unhelpful way of thinking and change our language in order to embrace a happier way of living.
Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the co-founders of Neuro Linguistic Programming identified a number of patterns of thinking which we use as short cuts when processing all the things that are happening around us. These patterns include generalisations, deletions and distortions and often serve to keep us stuck where we are, scared to move out of our comfort zone. Let's look at the three patterns in turn and see how we can make sure that we take control of our internal conversations and improve our outcomes.
DELETIONS - So many things are happening around us at any one time that we are unable to makes sense of and process each individual thing. If you haven't seen the gorilla playing basketball video, it's worth having a look online. In this film, we are asked to count how many times the ball is passed. A gorilla walks through the game in the middle of it. Believe it or not, many people do not see the gorilla because they are so busy focussing on the ball! If we are not mindful of where we put our focus, and let our subconscious dictate where it goes, then we can miss lots of good things. By choosing where to put our focus we start to notice more of what we want and less negatives. Try it, it really works! One exercise I frequently give my clients is to come to the end of each day and identify 2 or 3 positive things that they have achieved. This is helpful because so many of us are focussing on our slip-ups and errors that our successes don't even register. A step up from that is to start planning your successes the night before - what do you want to achieve and what will you enjoy the next day?
Deletions also show up in the language we use, where we frequently miss out vital information. For example, I have a client who never wants to 'let anyone down' - who specifically is she worried about? Another dangerous type of deletion can be seen with our use of adverbs implying a judgement - 'Obviously, I am not good enough to try this'. To whom is it obvious? A final deletion is the use of words like 'badly' or 'worse'. For example, 'I handled that presentation badly'. Badly compared with what? How should you have handled it? Very often the missing bit of the sentence is unrealistic.
GENERALISATIONS - Our ability to generalise enables us to form opinions quickly and not have to analyse every new situation or person that we encounter. Helpful of course as long as we understand what we are doing and don't allow this thought pattern to hold us back or allow one bad experience to become an entrenched belief. I had one client, for example, who frequently commented how bad she is at interviews and this fed her reluctance to apply for her dream job when it came up. The reality is that she had been offered most of the jobs for which she had applied, but had spent time focussing on one particular interview which didn't go according to her plan. By developing the skill of challenging our own beliefs we can begin to identify our own generalisations and choose more helpful beliefs. That client, for example, has now chosen to learn from that one interview while keeping her focus on all the good interviews where she performed well.
DISTORTIONS - By distorting events, we can make one thing mean another, when that meaning was not intended. For example, 'He doesn't buy me flowers so he doesn't love me'. Perhaps he is saying he loves you in different ways? Or 'My boss didn't say hello to me today, so I'm in trouble'. What else could it mean? Or when you are conjecturing but state it as fact: 'I know that he doesn't like me' or 'I know you think that I am being stupid'. How do you know? Are you a mind reader? When you start noticing what deletions you are making you can ensure that you are choosing to react to reality and not some situation that your subconscious has created.
Once we become aware of these unhelpful patterns we can reduce their impact and replace them with patterns that will help us move on and grow. Just imagine what you can achieve when you are no longer trapped in your comfort zone by the language that used to hold you back!