In this article I will provide the groundwork by defining some basic beliefs about just “how” your brain works. Note the word “how.” That word is important. What do you do inside your head in order to have a problem and what do you have to do inside your head in order to “fix” your problem? What kind of pictures, feelings, sounds and word meanings do you need inside your head in order to do the problem? What kind of pictures, feelings, sounds and word meanings do you need to activate in your head in order to not to have the problem? By the way, we believe that brains aren’t broken; they just run sick thought patterns really well. Indeed, the brain doesn’t care whether or not you think yourself sick or whether you think yourself well. Your brain just does what you tell it to do. This is what this article is about. Those who change their thinking understand and accept these beliefs:
– The brain primarily processes information from the outside world through the five senses. You experience your world through what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. We believe that when you re-present your world on the screen of your consciousness, you utilize the same programs involved in the event of recall. When you recall something you have seen before, you will recall it with a picture (Visual). When you recall something you have heard before, you will recall it with remembered sounds (Auditory). The same is true for feelings (Kinesthetic), smells (Olfactory) and tastes (Gustatory). We call these the Representational Systems or VAK for short.
Your brain not only does this with remembered experiences, it does the same with constructed experiences. I can ask you to imagine seeing yourself where you want to be one year from now. Your brain knows how to construct a picture of the desired you one year from now.
Now, these experiences we re-present on the screen of our minds (images) often contain more than just one system. We can recall a picture and also have sounds with it as well as feelings. Furthermore, these images have finer qualities. Usually images that we hold as very important to us will be very close to our eyes visually. They will often be very bright and colorful to let us know this image is important.
– The brain gives meaning to these images with words. So, I have pictures, feelings, sounds, smells and tastes in my mind, so what? Your brain doesn’t stop there, as a thinking class of life; the human brain has the marvelous ability of giving meaning to these images with words. These words are “about” the images composed of pictures, sounds, feelings, smells and/or taste.
– The brain doesn’t stop at just the first level of word meaning you gave to the image. Your brain keeps having thoughts (primarily with words) about thoughts. The brain does not stop at one thought, it continues having thoughts about thoughts and there is where the “magic” lies. We realize that as important as Representation is, there is yet something more powerful and more magical Reference. That’s how the brain works. It starts with a referent experience, the event. Something happens. Then we re-present it on the screen of our mind with the Representational System (VAKOG). But by reflexive awareness, we develop a thought and a feeling ABOUT it, now we have our first frame of reference.
– Repeating thoughts will create unconscious frames-of-mind that will direct our consciousness to the five to nine items we can focus on. These frames of mind operate inside our head totally outside of consciousness. Our brains do not stop at just one thought. It will keep on thinking thoughts about thoughts. These thoughts about thoughts when habituated (drop into the unconscious) become our Frames of Mind our perceptual filters through which we view our world. These frames become like eyeglasses through which we view and experience our world. And that doesn’t end it. We develop frames-within-frames, each frame embedded in another frame.
These “repeated” unconscious frames of mind become our blessing or our curse. In problem framing, we can have frames of mind that say, “I am worthless.” “I can’t ever do anything right.” “In order for me to have personal worth, I have to do for other people; I am not an OK person in myself.” Etc. Such frames inevitably come from our earlier years and for that reason become quite unconscious and difficult to change on our own. However, they are changeable and they do change for they are just thoughts no matter how much they operate outside of consciousness. In “fixing” ourselves, metaphorically we delete those old frames of mind and install new frames of mind that serve us. The individuals who make personal changes accept that they have constructed these frames themselves with their internal representations and with the levels, however many, of the meanings that they have given these internal representations.
– People that change believe and are aware that “The Map Is Not The Territory” or “The Menu Is Not The Meal” and they believe it is their map and their map alone that they operate out of. This is another way of saying that our perception is not reality. It is only our perception of it. However, because it is our perception (our Internal Representation and conceptual meanings) it is what we operate from. It doesn’t matter how accurately it maps (perceive) our present reality. We will operate from our perceptions as governed by our higher-level frames of mind. This means:
a. Those who change recognize the value of creating a map (perception) that accurately, as far as symbolically possible, maps the present moment. We are a “symbolic class of life.” We do that with the VAKOG and Word meanings acting as “symbols” from our experience of our world through our five senses. But, these are just symbols about our world. They are not the world. We get into trouble when we confuse the two and label our “symbols” as being “real” in the sense that they accurately map out our world. When we consciously or unconsciously operate from frames of mind that we learned in childhood, we certainly are not operating from a map that even comes close to accurately mapping out the adult world we now live in. This is the root of most problems if not all of them.
b. Those who change their thinking by recognizing that their map is not the territory will eliminate the problem of cause-effect in their lives. What do I mean? I mean that the individual who understands and accepts that our internal map/perception is not and cannot be the territory (the external world) will stop the foolishness of believing other people control his or her mind without his or her permission. No one can make you believe or feel anything you choose not to believe or feel.
c. They recognize that the words and images inside our heads are not “real” in the sense that they are set in concrete – they are changeable. They are just “symbols” of the external world.
How many times do I need to do this? Good question. The brain learns through repetition. Remember how you learned to ride a bicycle or to drive a car? You rehearsed until the knowledge dropped into your unconscious and it became habitual. Do the same thing with saying “no” to what you don’t want and “yes” to what you do want.
– The awesome power of knowing the difference between associating and dissociating. You pick up one of the quarter slices of lemon and put it in your mouth and squeeze the lemon as you feel the lemon juice pouring into your mouth. Is your mouth watering “as if” you actually had a slice of lemon in your mouth? Most people’s mouth will water. This little exercise illustrates that the brain doesn’t know the difference between what you imagine and what you are actually experiencing in the present.
Similarly, suppose we consciously or unconsciously imagine ourselves as a little boy or little girl back in our dysfunctional family. Suppose we recall hearing and seeing a parent screaming at us. We hear them telling us how stupid they believe we are. How do you think you would feel even though you are now a grown adult and not a child? You would feel bad, wouldn’t you? That is what I mean by associating. Almost universally, I discover clients are having problems in adulthood due to their imagining themselves still children. They continue using their childhood experiences as their present frame of reference.
We call this “associating.” You know if you are associating into a memory if when you recall it you do not see yourself in the picture. Let’s experiment. Recall a mildly painful memory. Get a picture of it. Now, in the picture note whether or not you see yourself or you just see the other people and environment in that picture. If you do not see yourself, mentally, you have associated back into that memory and you will tend to experience the same negative feelings you had when you experienced it.
Now, because the brain does not know the difference between what you represent by imagination or by current input, when you mentally place yourself back into some painful memory, you will have negative feelings very similar to what you experienced during that event. If you see yourself in that picture as the younger you, we call that dissociating. When people say something like, “That doesn’t bother me anymore, I have distanced myself from it.” They have in fact dissociated from the memory by seeing themselves in the picture and by pushing the picture away from their eyes so it is at a distance. This diminishes the feelings whereas associating into a memory tends to increase the feelings.
When we consciously or unconsciously associate back into our past hurtful memories and operate from the mental frames (conceptual meanings) that we gave them, we are confusing the map with the territory. When we do this we are living our adult lives inside the painful experiences of childhood. The thinking we developed then served us then but it doesn’t serve us in adulthood. If you find yourself:
- (Jumping to Conclusions) generalization
- (Being Narrow Minded) centration
- (Playing the “blame game”) transductive reasoning
- (Personalizing) egocentrism
- (Making mountains out of molehills.) inductive logic or castraphizing
- (Black and white thinking) thinking in absolutes and
- (Blocking out past positive examples.) irreversability
then you are operating from childhood frames.
– People who change know how to apply higher meta-level states to lower level problems. As we have learned, our brains do not stop at just one thought. It will keep on thinking thoughts about thoughts.
When we have a “thought about a thought” the second thought will change the first thought and that is where the magic lies. In thinking and behaving the ability of the brain to have thoughts about thoughts is crucial. Here is the secret. When you have one thought (thoughts are composed of images and conceptual meanings) and then entertain another thought “about” the original thought the original thought will change.
What in the world does that mean? It is simple. If you have an experience that scares you and from that experience you become afraid of your fear, what will happen? In this case the fear will intensify. Indeed, applying fear to fear leads to paranoia. What if instead of becoming fearful of your fear, you welcomed your fear? You applied the thought that this fear has value to me and I will welcome it? What will happen to the fear? It will modulate the fear where you can step outside of it and learn from it. Then, once you learn what you need to learn from the fear, you apply the thought of faith to your fear, what would happen? What happens to fear when faith is applied to it? Fear disappears in the face of strong faith.