by Paul Howard
One of the key things clients struggle with is their negative self talk. As I said in Part 1, planning for success clients plan to fail on a regular basis and they really struggle to make that change. One of the key reasons for this is something I call “The Guessing Machine”. This part of your conscious mind can be taken too literally and when this happens it distorts the whole purpose behind the mechanism.
2) The Guessing Machine
The guessing machine is a part of your conscious mind that predicts the future. Let’s look at how it does that. The guessing machine uses your past experiences, conditioning and beliefs to predict the outcome of any forthcoming events. However, it only really predicts the worst case scenario. This is because it wants to prepare you for any danger that may occur. Now this may seem strange, but the sole purpose of this mechanism is to keep you safe, to help you avoid any possible danger. Now unless you have had some clairvoyant training, obviously it’s not always right. In fact by definition it has to be wrong in the vast majority of cases. This is because it predicts many different outcomes and obviously only one can be correct. For most people we listen to our guessing machine but we also apply logic and reasoning to the possible outcomes. However, for people with anxiety these outcomes appear to become very likely in their mind and let’s remember FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. Let’s look at an example of how this works.
For the sake of this example let’s look at someone with anxiety over public speaking. This person has to give a speech at a social gathering, say a wedding. Now if this person has had problems in the past with public speaking, perhaps made to read in school in front of the class where they were ridiculed by the teacher and/or their peers, their guessing machine might create thoughts like “When you stand up to talk everyone will be watching you”, meaning that they will make a fool of themselves or “When you’re talking you won’t be able to get the words out”, meaning that everyone listening will be judging them negatively, etc, etc. For someone with anxiety these thoughts will cause the subconscious to detect danger (of embarrassment) and instigate the fight or flight response that we call anxiety.
Now for people with no fear of public speaking they will rationalise these thoughts, generated by the guessing machine with opposing thoughts like “I don’t really care if I make a fool of myself, it will be a laugh. I’m in front of friends after all”, or “There’s no way I won’t get my words out. Why would that happen?”, and in doing so they negate the negative thoughts allowing the subconscious to relax and feel safe.
So how do we deal with the thought processes generated by the guessing machine? Well the first thing to understand is that the guessing machine has to be wrong most of the time. Quite simply the worst case scenario rarely happens. However, of course with an anxiety situation, because we take notice of the guessing machines predictions we make it far more likely to happen. So we have to rationalise and be able to differentiate between what is likely and what is unlikely. This is the key to getting a more rational behaviour pattern in an anxiety situation. For instance, is it likely that people at a wedding are really going to care if you are nervous? Highly unlikely as most of them will be thanking their stars it’s not them having to do it, and as most of them will be friends they will be willing you to succeed. When you start to dismiss the unlikely outcomes out of hand and rationalise the possible outcomes in terms of how bad will it really be, the feelings start to change.
Part 3 – The 6 year old rule.
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