It was a quiet evening. I was sitting in my kitchen, enjoying a moment of solitude. If you have family you know how rare and precious those moments are. And when I was just about to take a sip from a cup of freshly made tea, from under the fridge, there came a spider. Not an itsy-bitsy one! This guy was enormous!
I grabbed paper towel, snatched the spider off the floor and threw him into the dark and stormy night. “Goodbye, Mister Spider! My house is not big enough for two of us.”
To me it was the end of story. However, this story would have a different ending if I had fear of spiders.
I had a client once who came to me because she was afraid of spiders. And if she were in her kitchen, getting ready for her favorite cup of tea and saw this spider, she would run out of the house. And she would be standing outside, in the cold, in the dark, in the rain, in her pajamas, waiting for someone to go inside and get rid of the spider.
If you have an irrational fear you know how it can defy all logical reasoning. You may be aware of the fact that it is only a tiny insect, which is 100000 times smaller than you are and probably 10 million times less intelligent, and yet, your mind refuses to listen.
No matter how smart, strong and determined you are, your emotions get the best of you.
These reactions may seem mysterious if you believe that your eyes simply register your environment pretty much like the lens of the photo camera. However, this is not the case.
In 1970s, a young graduate student named Richard Bandler became interested in psychology. However, instead of wondering what caused various problems in human behavior, as other psychologists did, and adding one more theory to those already existing, he began to study therapists who consistently produced miraculous changes in their patients.
You might agree it was an unusual approach.
At that time there were three “wizards”: Milton Erickson, Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls. Milton Erickson was the first American psychiatrist to use hypnosis in his medical practice. Virginia Satir was a pioneer of family therapy and Fritz Perls was the father of gestalt therapy.
These three therapists were very different, but they had something in common: Their patients experienced profound changes after just a few sessions, which was unheard of in the field of psychology. This placed them in a category of geniuses (or quacks), so nobody bothered to study their methods.
Unlike other researchers, Richard Bandler wasn’t interested in WHY these methods worked. He wanted to know HOW to reproduce the results. He called this approach “modeling.” Together with a linguist, John Grinder, he studied and analyzed language patterns these therapists were using, as well as observed what exactly and in what sequence they were actually doing. He didn’t care about their theories. He wanted to know the mechanics of change. Eventually he was able to slice away everything which seemed to be non-essential to success, and then distill and package the rest in a form of a revolutionary methodology for rapid change: Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
As you may have guessed, “Neuro” refers to neurology, Linguistic refers to language and Programming refers to a process of changing deeply ingrained behavioral patterns (programs).
At the very heart of NLP lies a view of the mind as an active creator and editor of our reality. This view is reflected in the statement “The map is not the territory.” We, humans, do not interact with the real world outside our heads directly, but create internal representations of reality, which can be more or less accurate.
In Russia we have a saying, “Fear has big eyes.” This refers not only to a typical facial expression of fear with big and frightened eyes, but also to the observation that when we are afraid we see the object of our fears much bigger than it really is.
When I asked the client to show me how big was the spider she saw in her mind, she spread her arms very wide. This image was also very close to her face. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a spider that big, except during the Halloween. If we accept the idea that our mind is not a photo camera, but an active creator and editor of our reality, we would see how easy it is to scare ourselves by making something much bigger and much more menacing than it really is. Since fear is a survival reaction it is very difficult to ignore. The more you try to fight your fears, the bigger they grow in your head. This is your mind’s way to make sure you stay away from danger.
Fortunately, in case of irrational fears, which not only fail keeping you safe, but also can put you in danger, we can reverse the process. Using NLP tools developed by Richard Bandler, we can shrink the fear image and make sure it corresponds to what is really out there. By the same process we can enlarge and move closer something that we want to have more in our life, such as moment of quiet enjoyment, or our goals and dreams.
When we realize that we do not have to just accept any reality our mind creates, and that we can become active participants in the creation and editing process, we can start transforming our life for freedom, flow and fun.