The Power of Visualization

By Herve Boisde

Successful athletes and coaches have long seen a connection between the ability to visualize a good performance and achieving the desired outcome.  Some coaches even go as far as saying that sports are 90% mental and only 10% physical. You may have watched downhill skiers during the Olympics mentally going through their run at the top of the mountain minutes before launching themselves down the slope. Nearly every pro skier practices this technique and they are imagining the perfect run as a rehearsal before they do the real thing. There's a reason why they are trying to visualize the "perfect" performance and not the opposite: wiping out disastrously. This is because the subconscious mind does not distinguish between fantasy and reality. So if you can imagine yourself doing something really well, your mind begins to believe that you are actually doing it, therefore it is possible. If, on the other hand, you are only visualizing worst case scenarios, well, guess what, you're more likely to get those results.

Look at the following scientific study for evidence of the startling power of visualization.

Researchers at Bishop's University in Quebec conducted a study which indicated that mental training alone could increase muscle strength.* The two-week study took 30 male university athletes and divided them into three groups. The study focused on the hip flexor muscles, since that is one muscle group that can't be readily exercised in other contexts or with free weights. One group performed physical training with a hip flexor weight machine; one group mentally practiced hip flexions at increasing amounts of weight; the third group did neither. At the end of the study, the group doing the physical exercises had increased its strength by 28.3%, which is not surprising. The group who did nothing not unexpectedly saw almost no difference. But what's astounding is that the guys who practiced only mentally saw their strength increase by 23.7%!

Positive visualization can be used with even more powerful effect in hypnosis. If you were to picture yourself healthier, smoking less (or not at all), maybe slimmer, in a new career, or maybe actually looking forward to going to the dentist(!), you are taking the first step towards positive results. By seeing yourself already achieving your goal, and having your subconscious mind believing that it is already happening, your creative imagination will start to kick in to try to figure out how you got from point A to point B. Most hypnotherapists use visualization with their clients to address phobias, change habits, improve job and sports performance, boost self-esteem, and for health issues. This also explains why limiting beliefs are so enduring since they are usually programmed into the subconscious mind at an early age before we have developed the "critical factor" which is the gatekeeper between the logical, conscious mind, and the more emotional subconscious mind. But positive visualization can reverse those limiting beliefs by creating a new template for positive ideas and habits.

 

*Reference: Erin M. Shackell and Lionel G. Standing, “Mind Over Matter: Mental Training Increases Physical Strength,” North American Journal of Psychology, 2007, Vol. 9, No. 1, 189—200.

Emotional Intelligence and Happiness

By Herve Boisde

It is pretty well accepted that IQ isn't the best predictor for success or happiness in life. Very often it's people with average IQ that seem to have the set of skills that enable them to go far in life, develop fulfilling relationships, succeed in their careers and be happier overall. Ever since the release of Dr. Daniel Coleman's groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, educators, parents and counselors have stressed teaching emotional intelligence to children at an early age to help them to be more well equipped for the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead. But experts say that your EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) can be boosted at any age. 

Emotional intelligence consists of four attributes:

  • Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.
  • Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Social awareness – You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.
  • Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.

Emotional intelligence is important because it affects so many aspects of a person's life, including the quality of work at their job, physical as well as mental health, and personal relationships. It's a concept that is so well accepted that, in fact, when it comes to gauging job candidates, many companies now view emotional intelligence as being as important as technical ability and require EQ testing before hiring.

Becoming emotional intelligent is the opposite of reacting automatically or reflexively to stresses or challenges.  When people can manage the "fight or flight" response then they are actually using a more intelligent portion of the brain, rather than the primitive limbic brain that humans inherited from earlier species. It's a misconception that emotions and feelings are a hindrance to making informed decisions. Studies on people who have lost the primary emotional structure in the brain, the amygdala, show that without the help of emotions to give importance to one choice over another choice, humans are completely unable to make even the most simple decisions, such as what color shirt to wear. Distracting emotions, such as being angry or bitter towards your coworkers can, of course, affect your decisions in a negative way. Emotions need to be understood to be used effectively.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is built by reducing stress, remaining focused, and staying connected to yourself and others. You can do this by learning key skills. The first two skills are essential for controlling and managing overwhelming stress and the last three skills greatly improve communication. Each skill builds on the lessons learned in practicing the earlier skills and include:

  • The ability to quickly reduce stress in the moment in a variety of settings
  • The ability to recognize your emotions and keep them from overwhelming you
  • The ability to connect emotionally with others by using nonverbal communication
  • The ability to use humor and play to stay connected in challenging situations
  • The ability to resolve conflicts positively and with confidence

Mindfulness is considered important to many of these skills. Activities that increase mindfulness, such as meditation, creative projects, or anything that allows you to be more present in the moment, create self-awareness and therefore, mindfulness. Meditation is also useful for it's ability to help manage stress. Being mindful means having more awareness in general, so that also includes awareness of your emotions and the emotions of the people around you. Hypnosis can help with suppressed emotions due to trauma, unconscious habits, or out of control emotions related to phobias.

These skills can be learned in other ways as well, for example, seminars on conflict resolution, drama classes for non-verbal communication, and going to comedy shows to keep your sense of humor primed. The important thing is to stay focused on developing the four attributes of EQ by exploring the abilities listed in the key skills above. With regular practice, emotional intelligence will become a habit hardwired into your brain, helping you to create a more satisfying life.

A Common Mistake that Makes Your Anxiety Worse

originally posted on Calm Clinic

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Many people make mistakes with their anxiety. In fact, one of the problems with anxiety is that anxiety itself can make mistakes more likely - because anxiety changes thought processes and feelings in a way that can lead to you to making decisions that are counterproductive for curing anxiety.

Alcohol abuse is a great example. People turn to alcohol to reduce anxiety because it can dull anxiety away, but in reality it actually makes anxiety worse because it replaces your mind's ability to cope with stress. But that is an extreme example. There is actually a single, common mistake that nearly everyone makes that causes anxiety to be worse.

The Most Common Anxiety Mistakes

There are so many mistakes that people make with their anxiety. Many people with panic disorder drink lots of coffee, for example, and coffee can make panic attacks worse. Others try to breathe in more when they're hyperventilating (because hyperventilation makes you feel as though you're not getting a full breath) but that actually makes hyperventilation worse.

But by far the most common mistake that people make with anxiety is moping. In this case, moping is the idea that you need to "be alone." The idea that you need to go home after a tough day at work and just sit and think so that your stress and anxiety get better.

The Problems With Moping

Moping - or some form of moping - is incredibly common. Feeling like you need to sit and do nothing to feel better is a function of anxiety. Anxiety completely drains the body. It makes it hard to want to do much of anything. You feel like you want to be alone, and that you want to go home and "veg out" until you feel better.

Unfortunately, this is a common mistake that has the potential to make your anxiety much worse. Ideally, you need to stay active. You need to be surrounded with friends and try your best to get out there, exercise, and have new experiences. Avoiding those experiences because you want to cope with your anxiety alone causes several issues that make anxiety worse:

  • Inactivity Easily the biggest problem is inactivity. Exercise and staying physically active and moving are extremely important for not only physical health, but mental health as well. Movement and exercise improve hormone function and neurotransmitter production, and drain the body of excess energy that would otherwise cause the mind and body to become more stressed. Moving and staying active in general is crucial to anxiety management, and inactivity from moping makes that much more difficult.
  • Uncontrolled Thoughts Anxiety changes the way you think, and unfortunately that often means that your own thoughts are your worst enemy. Many people don't realize that anxiety and anxiety attacks are often caused by letting yourself sit and think, because the mind eventually starts thinking about negative things. Staying active gives your mind distractions, and distractions provide you with a mental break that can reduce future anxiety symptoms.
  • "Giving In" There is a behavioral reason to avoid moping too. Namely, it essentially lets your anxiety win and controls the way that you react in the future. If you often keep to yourself when you have anxiety, then every time you have significant anxiety your body's reaction is to want to you give in again. It becomes your coping mechanism, and makes it harder to stop moping in the future.
  • Social Need Being around people that you like and make you happy is an important tool for combatting anxiety. Obviously those with social anxiety disorder are at a bit of a disadvantage here, but in general if you can spend time with people and talk to others, you're more likely to find life more enjoyable, and the more you enjoy life the easier it will be to treat your anxiety.
  • Happy Memories Finally, anxiety itself makes you focus too much on the present. One of the strategies to help reduce anxiety is goal setting, specifically because it gives you something to look forward to in the future. Staying active with enjoyable activities provides hope, and hope is important for committing to anxiety treatments.

How you react to anxiety does matter. It can be hard to control, but it matters. Those that push themselves through and try to stay active and distract their mind from these negative thoughts aren't going to cure their anxiety, because anxiety isn't that simple to solve. But they may find that when they finally commit to an anxiety treatment, they're more likely to see the results, because they've put themselves in a position where their anxiety isn't able to control them.

Moping behaviors are not the only mistake people make with anxiety, and it may not even be the worst. But it is an extremely common reaction to anxiety and stress and one that needs to be stopped in order to continue to control anxiety.

Other Anxiety Mistakes

Anxiety mistakes occur nearly every day. It can be hard enough to control anxiety even with the most effective treatment, so when mistakes occur it can really make it challenging to reduce your anxiety - especially without any help. Examples of other common anxiety mistakes include:

  • Listening to negative/moping music, rather than upbeat and happy music.
  • Purposely subjecting yourself to anxious and stressful situations, like horror movies.
  • Spending time with those that are generally negative.
  • Taking medications without combining them with a long term treatment.
  • Quitting an anxiety reduction strategy when it doesn't work right away.

The list of anxiety mistakes is incredibly long, because anxiety causes people to focus on far too many negative feelings and emotions that get in the way of better decision making.

Healing By Using Forgiveness

By Herve Boisde

When people meditate or go into hypnosis their brainwave activity actually changes. These brainwaves can be measured with medical equipment such as an EEG. Studies have shown that when people go into hypnosis or practice meditation, their brain activity switches from the common waking patterns, or Beta, to the more relaxed frequencies associated with Alpha or Theta state. Alpha state is awake but relaxed and not processing much information. When you get up in the morning and just before sleep, you are naturally in this state. When you close your eyes your brain automatically starts producing more alpha waves. Theta is associated with light sleep or extreme relaxation. Theta is also a very receptive mental state that has proven useful for hypnotherapy, as well as self-hypnosis using recorded affirmations and suggestions.

Both of these brainwave patterns are naturally very healing for your mind and body, since they induce homeostasis and your mind sends out signals to the body that you are "safe". This safety encourages the body to heal itself, boost immunity, and regulate itself in way that wouldn't be a priority if someone is in the opposite mode, "fight or flight." This is why hypnosis and meditation is so effective at managing stress and the physical effects of stress. By learning self-hypnosis or meditation, a person can not only have a greater feeling of well-being, but also help themselves to heal, both mentally and physically.

However there's an additional tool that you can use to allow yourself to heal even more. That tool is forgiveness. Forgiveness has been shown to create spikes in Alpha wave activity in people's brains that sometimes exceeded those attained through other methods.

How To Truly Forgive & Liberate Yourself

(courtesy of Vishen Lakhiani)

Step 1: Set The Scene

Firstly, with your eyes closed and for about two minutes or so, bring back all the anger, frustration and pain you felt when someone in your life wronged you. Feel yourself in that very moment when it happened and picture the same environment you were in when you interacted with them.

Step 2: Feel The Anger And Pain

As you see the person who “wronged” you in front of you, get emotional. Relive the anger and pain. Feel it burn. But don’t do this for more than a few minutes.

Once you bring up these emotions that these people created in you, move on to the next step…

Step 3: Forgive Into Love

See that same person in front of you, but instead, feel compassion for them. Ask yourself what did I learn from this? How did this situation make my life better?

So think about what lessons you could derive from this situation as painful as it might be. How did these lessons make you better? Or help you grow?

Next, think about who this person is. What pain or anguish could they have have gone through in their life that made them do what they did.

Now there’s something important to distinguish here. “Forgive Into Love” does not mean to simply let go. You still need to protect yourself and take action if need be. Criminal acts, especially, need to be reported to authorities.

But what it does mean is that the pain of what happened no longer eats at you.