NLP & Stoicism....
I'm in the midst of writing a new 'self-help-styled' book...
OH NO, I hear you say, NOT ANOTHER SELF-HELP BOOK!!!
Well, yes, but hopefully very different.
It will be s firmly based within the realms of evidenced based approaches, and may well challenge some of the fluffy ideas in some self-help tomes which I have come to think are part of the problem and do not really approach the personal solutions people are seeking.
But, more of that later...
In my pondering I have been considering the possible link between stoicism and some of the NLP presuppositions we all know and love.
Let's first look at Stoicism...
One of the definitions of stoicism is ...
the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.
But that's perhaps an oversimplification.
Wikipedia reliably informs us that ...
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy that flourished throughout the Roman and Greek world until the 3rd century AD. Stoicism is predominantly a philosophy of personal ethics which is informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world.
Tim Denning notes that:-
Stoicism is focused on uncomplicated theories of life
– Stoicism is so clear that you can take action from the advice immediately
– Study is not required to understand Stoicism
– The most read Stoic is Lucius Seneca. Marcus Aurelius is also very popular
Denning points out in his excellent article (see reference below) that far too many self-help style writers focus on 'what is wrong' or the negative aspects of life. By definition, perhaps, the idea that someone needs to find 'self-help' suggests that something is 'wrong' in the rose garden.
Stoics do not suppress the thing that is wrong, but remind themselves they are actually 'in the rose garden' in the first place. Hence stoicism is about a state of mind, a way of perceiving things if you like. Those versed in NLP ideals may already be getting that tingling sense of familiarity.
Here are a few of the key ideas of Stoicism and, I suspect, the 'that's kinda like the NLP view' spider-sense will trigger for many of you.
Events are Events - It is the individual that gives them meaning
Where we focus our attention, our emotions and our actions create the definition of any event. The events are not YOU, but they can impact upon you. The degree of that impact is more about the personal relevance you place on the event rather than the event itself.
Shit Happens - things will disrupt our personal peace and tranquility.
A bit of a truism here. Bad things happen to Good people, and Good things happen to Bad people. (Note that here we are giving a value of good or bad to an event or indeed a person - such a value is a personal judgement). if you accept that things can disrupt your plans, then you can be flexible in your responses rather than spending time and effort trying to hallucinate the cosmic reasons for the shit!
Remember, what is shit to some is fertiliser to others.
If what you're doing isn't working - Do something else
As mentioned above, the ability to be flexible in responses - the law of requisite variety perhaps?
We always have choices
Whether times are 'good' or 'bad' we can still choose how to respond. When we feel we have no choice, then look again and create some.
Be reflective and look inward for solutions
In someways, perhaps, this is the ability to be present, mindful and soul-searching. This activity is about finding solutions rather than getting lost in a downward spiral of self-doubt and or regret.
Anger doesn't help & Being fearful and paranoid does not help you either
Self explanatory really.
It's good to emote and recognise those emotions rather than repressing them, BUT you have choices about how to express and not become them.
Seek not to impress others, since this takes you from your own path
Impressing others is the need of the ego, and perhaps not fully reflective of the nature of your own advancement
Your mind becomes the thoughts that you think habitually
Hey, it's the neuro-plasticity thing!
Is optimism and pessimism 'hard wired' or (and) part of the attitudes we allow to evolve?
Without proper training you're a fool!
As Tim Denning puts it - If you seek to master a skill, then without proper training you will (by default) rely on ignorance, and you’ll act in a way that lacks discipline and requires chance.
This, perhaps, comes back to the NLP dictum - Get It Right First and Become Artistic Later - when learning, experiencing NLP models and interventions?
The More You Learn, The More You Know You Don't Know
To once again quote Mr Denning...
The harsh reality is that many of us walk around as though we know everything. We know nothing of the infinite knowledge there is to acquire.
That sort of humbleness is where all the best learning starts from. Thinking less of yourself is the ultimate power: it’s where you can grow from and serve others. It’s this way of thinking that births leaders.
Focus on Building Character...
It's not about labels, stereotypes and other people's judgements - it's about you, your path and your choices. Your character is defined by the work you do on yourself each day and the person you become.
Mastery is a Journey not a Destination
You will never know everything about everything since change moves through all. The student never stops being a student. Even the teacher is still a student at heart.
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.
Tim Dennings Article
NLP is, arguably, about creating models of behaviour; models of excellence.
It is also about creating choices.
I have heard people say to me that sometimes they have far too many choices, leading to choice confusion.
So here's a simple idea which could be called a model or approach.
Take ANY option you are considering.
Think about it in 'sensory based' terms.
Create a bright, vivid vision of what that choice/option leads to - what kind of future for you.
Then add sounds, feelings, thoughts to that internal 'movie' of the future created by that option/choice.
Spend time there in your mind; in your heart in your thoughts.
Then ask yourself..
"If I could have this TOMORROW would I choose it?"
You do not have to think about HOW it would happen. This is a MAGIC QUESTION.
If the internal response is an immediate YES, then perhaps this future is in line with your values, wishes and hopes.
If there is ANY HESITATION then it may be at some level there is a degree of resistance. It may be that the future does not match your unconscious values or attitudes.
It may be that at some level there are unconsidered 'down-sides' to this possible future.
The next step is then ..
To either move towards that desired future
Consider the possible blocks, what lies behind your hesitation.
In some ways this second step may be more likely to require the support and reflective questions of an external coach...
One of the interesting challenges NLP faces is that some of its detractors seem to want to accept that some of NLP's presuppositions are statements of fact or demonstrable truth.
In so many cases this is, quite simply, not the case.
Take for example the idea of Eye-Accessing-Cues; the notion that looking-up to the right means that someone is visually remembering something; down to the left means they are 'into their feelings'...
This oft-quoted model of the NLP Representational System is not really a truth and is indeed far from a 'fact'.
What has been observed, as long ago as the 1940's, is that when people think (internally process) their eyes move. This is demonstrable and understandable.
In NLP the generalisation of LEFT = Create and RIGHT = REMEMBER and so on, gained traction and popularity through the 1970's.
It is, today, an interesting idea which has a 'degree of truth' about it but remains as a model around which to base observations/calibrations of individual responses to questions which demand some degree of internal processing. It is, perhaps, better considered as a reminder to 'pay attention to the non-verbal communication patterns' of another.
To seek to prove or disprove the models actually validity (that eyes do move consistently to specific points), maybe interesting, but does not disprove NLP.
In a similar way looking at some of the 'behave as if frames' NLP promotes through a number of presuppositions, as statements of fundamental truth also misses the point.
To make the statement : "If one person can achieve a thing then potentially any one can" and see that as a statement of a truth NLP Practitioners promote misses the whole point about the discussion that such .a presupposition could promote.
To suggest that because Edmund Hillary and his pals climbed Everest means that I can do it is a vast over-simplification of what this presupposition is about. To me it forces me to want to ask questions about HOW HIllary did what he did; WHAT motivated him; WHAT training/experiences did he undertake?
It is not about undermining the achievement, but about celebrating possibilities.
If simply assume that Hillary achieved what he did because is 'more special than me', then I devalue both of us and our potential.
Imagine you were to give an empowering and inspirational talk and someone says you made that look easy. Are they recognising the work, effort and (possibly) natural communication skills developed over time or are they dismissing your efforts because you're 'good at it'.
The Behave As If Frame about each of the presuppositions is not about blindly accepting human potential; but honouring, exploring and learning from the achievements of other human beings.
Of course NLP skeptics will now simply throw back the challenge that if these 'models' are not 'claims' but just questions about possibilities, how can NLP be 'tested'?
However the same could be asked of other therapeutic approaches...
How can we test the validity of Carl Rogers' Core Conditions in counselling?
Clearly, lots more to think about...
In simplistic terms Emotional Resilience is the ability to adapt to stressful situations, personal crises or change (unexpected, traumatic or undesired).
Well over a decade ago, Hara Estroff Marano, Editor-at-Large for Psychology Today, wrote in an article “The Art of Resilience” in which she identified 'ten traits' of emotionally resilient individuals.
In summary these were;
1. They know their boundaries. Resilient people understand that there is a separation between who they are at their core and the cause of their temporary suffering.
2. They keep good company. Resilient people tend to seek out and surround themselves with other resilient people, whether just for fun or when there’s a need for support.
3. They cultivate self-awareness. The self-aware are good at listening to the subtle cues their body and their mood are sending.
4. They practice acceptance. Pain is painful, stress is stressful, and healing takes time. When we're in it, we want the pain to go away. When we're outside it, we want to take away the pain of those who we see suffering. Yet resilient people understand that stress/pain is a part of living that ebbs and flows.
5. They’re willing to sit in silence. Being in the presence of the moment without judgment or avoidance - a practice we'd now think of as mindfulness.
6. They don’t have to have all the answers. They find strength in knowing that it's okay to not have it all figured out right now and trusting that we will gradually find peace and knowing when our mind-body-soul is ready
7. They have a menu of self-care habits. They have a mental list (perhaps even a physical list) of good habits that support them when they need it most.
8. They enlist their team. The most resilient among us know how to reach out for help.
9. They consider the possibilities. We can train ourselves to ask which parts of our current story are permanent and which can possibly change. Can this situation be looked at in a different way that I haven't been considering?
10. They get out of their head. When we're in the midst of stress and overwhelm, our thoughts can swirl with dizzying speed and disconnectedness. We can find reprieve by getting the thoughts out of our head and onto our paper. As Dr. James Pennebaker wrote in his book Writing to Heal, “People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing
These seem to sound aspirational, attitudinal and behavioural approaches - ones we can cultivate in our own lives.
Edith Grotberg provided us with another way of thinking about the issue of resilience.
She took a I Have, I Can and I Am approach to the question. Her researches and surveys guided her to define these 15 attributes, beliefs and attitudes that served for the development of resilience
I HAVE …
People around me I trust and who love me, no matter what
People who set limits for me ….
People who show me how to do things..
People who want me to learn to do things on my own.
People who help me …
A person people can like and love.
Glad to do nice things for others and show my concern.
Respectful of myself and others.
Willing to be responsible for what I do.
Sure things will be all right.
I CAN ...
Talk to others about things that frighten or bother me
Find ways to solve problems that I face.
Control myself when…
Figure out when it is a good time to talk or act…
Find someone to help me when I need it.
These can be summarised as:-
I HAVE - Love/Trust, Boundaries, Role Models, Initiative, Advocates
I AM - Self Worth, Empathy, Respect, Responsibility, Confidence
I CAN - Communicate, Think, Be aware of my Emotions, Make Decisions, Share
All of which hints at the notion that those who are unable to develop emotional resilience may be lacking in one or more of the above 'internal', social, emotional or environmental 'attributes'.
Those who have not had the benefit of being in and within supportive or positive relationships or have not developed any meaningful understanding of their own self and self-worth will, it could be argued, lack some degree of emotional flexibility.
Restoring emotional balance; supporting the development of resilience has mental, physical, emotional and spiritual components.
“I am, I have, I Can: What Families Worldwide Taught Us About Resilience” by Edith Grotberg. “Reaching Today’s Youth”, vol.2, Issue 3, p. 37, Spring 1998
Dr Alan Jones PhD, FRSA