It’s not that long ago the consensus regarding brain development was that your brain was programmed at childhood, and further development in adulthood simply did not happen. So if you believed or were told you were “a born worrier” or had a melancholic personality, the accepted belief was that there was nothing that could be done to change this programming in your brain.
However, clinical hypnotherapist Fiona Brennan points out that more recent scientific evidence has revealed that we can rewire our brains, alter our thoughts, perceptions and experiences, and change a negative mindset into a positive one.
Neuroplasticity research demonstrates that the brain is flexible and malleable, as opposed to being rigid and unchangeable, and has the ability to change and adapt throughout life.
Brennan says she sees evidence of this every day in her Dublin hypnotherapy clinic, where clients from all over the country attend for treatment for anxiety, stress, low mood and other common mental health issues.
“If you have consistently told your subconscious that you are a born worrier, it becomes your belief system and then you become a worrier. It’s such a defeatist thought. Nobody is born worrying, we are born in a positive frame of mind. What neuroscience has found, which is so uplifting, is that you can rewire your brain so you do not need to stay stuck in this negative mindset,” she says.
With the average cost of face-to-face hypnotherapy starting at €100 a session, Brennan has developed an online programme, The Positive Habit. The six-week programme is priced at €69.95.
She explains: “I think self-help will be moving more online in the future, and my programme is designed for the person on the go as it is user-friendly, interactive and accessible on all devices.”
Once you sign up online for the programme, you follow a different pathway each week, watch videos featuring Fiona Brennan, carry out simple exercises and listen to self-hypnosis MP3s. Progress is monitored closely with a “positive feelings survey” that you complete at the start of the course and the end of each of the six pathways.
I started the programme last July with an open, yet slightly sceptical mind, having tried many other alternatives over the years that did not have any long-term beneficial impact on my anxiety levels and mood.
Although my current antidepressant medication regime has been quite successful in helping to keeping the worst of my clinical depression at bay, I was still not really “enjoying life”.
My goal at the outset of the programme was to become more positive, get more energy, and to enjoy life more. The result of my initial “positive feelings” survey was 19.4 out of 100. Having read far too many self-help and positive psychology books over the years without ever really getting anything of value out of them, I was much more interested in the MP3 element of this programme.
What really appealed to me was the fact that listening to the hypnotherapy recordings would not take any time out of my already jam-packed day as a working mum of three young children.
Every night in bed for 20 minutes, I listened to the MP3s through earphones. I often fell asleep while listening to the recordings but as Brennan explains, this is not a problem, as your subconscious absorbs the messages. That was the main reason I stuck with the programme: a self-help programme that works while you snooze and in fact sends you into a deeper sleep, happy days!
Another reason was that I could feel the benefits after one week. I felt a general sense of calm and wellbeing that I cannot remember experiencing before, having lived with depression since my early teens.
When a major family trauma hit out of the blue at the end of week two, I coped with it far better than I ever would have expected to. I realised that the programme was having a noticeable impact on my anxiety levels, the little things simply weren’t bothering me as much.
In the middle of the programme, we went abroad on a family holiday, which turned out to be the best holiday I have had in years. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it which was very unusual, as over the years, I tended to struggle with major changes in my routine like holidays.
As well as the MP3s, I found the affirmations worked really well for me. I’m normally not a fan of affirmations or visualisations as I lack both the concentration and patience for them, but this was slightly different.
One of the exercises involves identifying three positive core emotions that link back to a happy time in your life and using these in your affirmations eg mine were I am happy, I am positive, I am energised. I said those every night before bed, every morning when I woke and any time during the day when I felt the need to do so.
While I watched all the videos and read all of the course content, I must admit I didn’t complete all of the exercises, but I still felt the benefits of the programme. Brennan also provides a number of stress reduction techniques for moments of high anxiety.
I knew from the way I felt that the programme had worked for me, but the proof was in the pudding when I saw that the result of my survey at the end of week six was 88.89, a massive jump from my starting result.
Following the sixth pathway, I listened to the last MP3 for a further 21 days to ensure full reinforcement of the positive messages. I continued to listen to the MP3s two or three times a week until around October, but then stopped altogether.
Within a couple of weeks, I felt a definite dip in my mood and realised that the benefits of the programme would not last unless I continued it, which, in fairness, Brennan does stress from the outset. She says that while the programme lays the foundation for mental wellbeing, it takes a lifetime commitment to maintain a positive attitude.
So now I listen to the recordings two or three times a week (or rather my subconscious does because I am usually fast asleep) picking whichever one resonates with me on a particular night, and do my affirmations (when I remember to), to keep my ship on an even keel.
For further information, go to www.thepositivehabit.com