Look on the bright side


Techniques such as neuro-linguistic programming teach people to expect the best and ignore negative thoughts to reach their goals, writes CLODAGH MULVEY.

IMAGINE YOU are driving to a long-awaited job interview. You’ve got your new suit, polished up the interview skills and set out on time. You are perfectly prepared. On your way, do you tell yourself, “I’ll never get this job, too many people are going for it”, or do you say “I’m going to get this job, it’s perfect for me”?

The difference between these two statements has been at the nerve centre of Richard Bandler’s work for nearly 40 years.

The co-founder of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) – which claims to help people understand how they create their own experiences through their thoughts, language, actions and perceptions – Bandler has written almost 25 books since his career change from computer programmer to life-enhancement guru in the early 1970s.

In Dublin recently, to promote his latest book, Get The Life You Want, Bandler says: “If you’re looking for what’s going to go wrong, you will always find it. If you’re looking for what works, life just gets a lot easier.”

Averse to psychotherapy for, what he says, is its inability to guarantee problem solutions, Bandler insists “it is based on the idea that if you understand what went wrong in your childhood, somehow, magically, it would change and that’s not really the way our brain works”.

Although NLP claims to be a quick-fix solution to such problems as phobias – with results achievable in just 10 or 15 minutes – Bandler says it takes a scientific approach based on his study of the neurology of volunteers under MRI scan.

“Our brain learns things and it never forgets them, so if you’re going to change behaviour you have to build a new learning on top of the old and you have to understand how the neuro-cortical structure works in order to be able to do that.”

By examining how his subjects successfully encoded and decoded information, Bandler was able to develop a set of techniques, he claims, that amplify good feelings and eliminate bad ones.

“I try to get people to build a machine inside their head that builds positive thoughts, so that they pick directions and goals that they’re drawn towards as opposed to things to move away from,” he explains.

Understanding the neurological structure of one’s own thought patterns, he says, “gives you the ability to not be at the mercy of your thoughts, but to literally use your thoughts as a productive mechanism”.

However, Prof Ian Robertson of the school of psychology and neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin, says “the brain’s neural pathways respond to everything, because the thoughts are the activity of the neural pathways”.

“Positive thoughts can cheer you up, but to say that they change the neural pathways means no more than saying they cheer you up.”

At its conception, NLP was also influenced by Bandler and linguist John Grinder’s study of the work of three prominent psychotherapists – family therapist Virginia Satir, hypnotherapist Milton Erickson and Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy – and the technique is widely treated with scepticism by the field of psychology for its association with hypnosis and use of vague language.

Dublin-based medical doctor and emotional freedom technique (EFT) practitioner Dr Anthony Sharkey argues that the use of positive language, rather than being vague, actually achieves pin-point accuracy.

He says people are affirming all of the time, whether they mean to or not. Knowing this and then utilising it in our own best interests is key to good mind-body-spirit health, he explains.

“If you say to somebody: ‘how are you?’ And they say: “Awful’. what they’ve just done is affirmed awfulness. So you can’t not affirm. Every time you open your mouth, you are affirming – a world view or a reality.

“So many people are going around affirming what they don’t want. ‘I don’t want to be poor’ for instance, is someone affirming, poverty. They’re not affirming, ‘I want to be rich’, which is quite a different thing.”

In his practice as an energy medicine practitioner, treating people with emotional and physical problems, Sharkey says affirmations of acceptance and forgiveness of one’s illness are essential to achieving results.

EFT combines body work on the acupressure points of the body’s energy system along the meridians, with positive affirmations.

Many studies looking into the immune response of people who affirm positive thoughts, have found that the number of white blood cells is higher in this group of people as compared with those living in states of anger, shame and guilt, Sharkey says. “For me, as a medic, that’s just completely without argument. If you’re going around in a positive mental state, the probability is that you are more healthy than somebody who’s going around in an angry, resentful state.”

Bandler agrees. “The trouble with telling yourself ‘I don’t want to be hungry’ or ‘I don’t want to be sad’, is that it’s like saying ‘don’t think of blue’ – it pops into your mind. If you have positive affirmations, where you decide what you want and what you desire, you’re headed in the right direction.

“Too many people are driving by looking in the rear view mirror and not looking forward in their lives, and I try to tell people that the best thing about the past is that it’s over.”