Saturday 1 November 2014

A Bit Of Train Spotting From The Comfort Of Your Own Home?

Train-spotting and Mindfulness, who would have thought!
Those train spotters are onto something. Or are they?
Have you ever found yourself thinking that anyone who spends their spare time spotting trains or planes etc. are completely barmy? I mean, what’s that about? Would you not have better things to do than sit and spot moving things?
I definitely would.
That said, I do remember a teenage summer job working for the local authority in Finland responsible for maintaining roads. That was ‘back in the days’ when electronic traffic monitoring was not yet invented. I was sent off to a stretch of road to sit by the side of it and count passing traffic. It was a tick for a cyclist, pedestrian, car, lorry, tractor….
The job was fun to begin with. What would be easier after all than to sit by the side of a road under the beautiful summer sun with a simple job to notice passing traffic and make note of it? So, there I sat and ticked my A4 sheets diligently. I do remember being quite excited in the beginning and was paying close attention to the cars that were passing by. Their colour and the make and so on. I was enjoying occasional conversations with a passers-by getting off their bikes to find out what I was up to. I was also entertaining myself by imagining where the cars were on their way to. 
Hours passed this way but soon I found myself getting bored. I mean, it was a beautiful day in the middle of a beautiful summer and warm one as such. Perhaps some of those people were off to a nearby beach for a cooling swim and to have fun? On their way for an ice-cream? And there I was, doing this boring summer job to earn a few quid while the rest of them were enjoying the freedom of summer holidays. Why was it me who had to do this? I found myself thinking that I should be entitled to have fun like any other teenager or at least be given a task that was at least a little more interesting. Instead, I was dumped on the side of some road to sit there like some weirdo. I started to feel little stings of envy.
The portable picnic chair I was using started to feel increasingly uncomfortable as the passing traffic became a source of angst. I started to count the hours and then minutes, waiting for my ordeal come to an end. And as I counted the cars and the hours and the minutes, silently cursing the job, I felt my anxiety increase as the minutes seemed to double in length. I was wishing for the day to end and feared that I would be sent off to the same mission again tomorrow. How would I be able to survive another day of this?  
I also felt ashamed.
I had chosen to do that summer job after all, so really what was there to complain about? Why should I feel envious, anxious, angry, and also more than a bit fed up with myself with what I had chosen to do? Except that I had not chosen to sit by the side of the road. Oh no, I was put there like I did not matter and was not given a proper job to do like some of my other teenage friends working for the same department. I would not be feeling like this if only I was doing something worthwhile. Every person who passed by reminded me of this as they headed out for fun and more interesting things to do!
When I returned to the office to hand back my A4 ticks-sheets of paper, I did not speak to anyone and when I got home took my emotions out on my younger brother and my cat who were both running for cover!
I understand now that my predicament was not caused by the situation I found myself in. It was not the fault of the company, who put me on the side of the road to count the traffic, that I felt the way I did. It was not really my fault either. I did not understand then that the way I felt and behaved was because of the endless unconscious and conscious thoughts I had about the situation, and the beliefs that supported those thoughts. In my mind my thoughts were more than thoughts. They were the reality and I was being carried away by them even when they were clearly not helping me.
Now, this is where train spotting comes in, because, the key to learning to let go of unhelpful thoughts is to become aware of your thoughts and beliefs and by learning to spot them. Just like spotting a train. It is surprising how few thoughts we are actually aware of at any given time. In fact, the ones that we are aware of thinking about are just the tip of an iceberg. What sits below the waterline of an iceberg are our unconscious thoughts. All those thoughts that go round in our minds but which we are not aware of. Yet all of these thoughts and the ideas we believe in, both conscious and unconscious, effect the way we feel and behave.
So, how about becoming a train spotter of your thoughts!
In order to spot your thoughts, first of all you need to give yourself an opportunity to do so.  Sit yourself down and become aware of the present moment. A great way to bring yourself into a present moment and keep yourself in there is to focus on your breathing. Noticing how your abdomen expands with every in-breath and lowers with every out-breath. Up and down, up and down, up and down.
After a while you may notice your thoughts starting to drift away from your breath. When you spot that, congratulate yourself. You have just spotted your first thought train!  It is perfectly natural for your thoughts starting to drift… to the plans you have, the million other things you could be doing instead of observing your breathing and the movements of your abdominal muscles as you do so. Simply notice when that happens and bring your focus back on to your breath. Up and down, up and down.
On occasion you may begin to notice thoughts that keep on coming back.  Thoughts that are emotionally charged. That’s okay too. Each time you notice them, congratulate spotting yet another thought train and escort your focus gently back onto your breath. By doing this, you are training your mind that your thoughts are just thoughts and it is not always necessary to react to them.  They are just like carriages of trains coming and going. You may not like some of them and may feel discomfort and that is fine too. Allow yourself to accept that and simply continue to observe them and let them pass by.  
Of course you could choose to jump into one of the carriages and let the train take you away with it, and remarkably so that would be the easiest thing to do in the network of your own mind, but how about choosing to carry on as a train spotter of your thoughts instead? This could indeed become a new hobby of yours. Few minutes of thought-train spotting a day.
There are quite a few benefits of becoming a thought-train spotter. After some time of regular practice you will begin to notice how you have a real choice on how to feel and behave. So that you are not being simply lead by your thoughts and beliefs and end up reacting.  You will learn how to insert a pause between an unhealthy thought and a reaction and how this will help you make better decisions in your everyday life. Your stress levels will decrease and you will truly become the one who is on the driving seat of your own life. And when it comes to hobbies, this way you do not even need to leave the comfort of your own home, unlike those ‘real’ train spotters!
And the result of my day by the side of the road? All those ticks on the A4 sheets of paper were enough to go convince the local authority that the gravel road needed a proper surface. It was what the regular users of the road had been asking for the past year and until then denied.

Can You Make Me Bark Like a Dog?

“Can you make me bark like a dog?” I get asked quite regularly when I tell people that I am a hypnotherapist. “Not unless you want me to!” is my equally regular response.
Hypnotherapy is slowly growing in popularity in treatment of issues and conditions that number of traditional treatments have not been effective for, and is for example recommended by NICE for IBS. Despite of the growing popularity however, hypnotherapy still suffers from number of different misconceptions about what it is and what it is not!
One of the misconceptions is that the hypnotherapist can make the client do something they do not want to do. We all have seen programmes in TV of hypnotised people carrying out silly acts in what seems an uncontrollable manner. I often tell my young children that I wish I could hypnotise them to do their homework or tidy up their room. Unfortunately for me I cannot. This is because a person cannot be made to do anything they do not want to do while in hypnotic trance. Yes, people in those TV programmes bark like dogs, or cluck like chickens and so on, but that is what they have given themselves a permission to do! They have willingly entered into the experience knowing it is to entertain others. And they have been carefully selected for their suggestibility by the hypnotist.

As a matter of fact, a person cannot be made to do anything in hypnosis that violates their personal ethical code or values. Any suggestions that go against personal values and ethics are rejected by the person. I often run group sessions and remember a particular one in a series of weight-loss sessions. We were half way through a group hypnosis session when I suggested that all left over food should be thrown away. It is sometimes difficult to tailor-make suggestions to fit everyone’s beliefs in a groups setting and so it happened that one of the participants was having none of this. She opened her eyes and sat up suddenly and told me that throwing food away is being wasteful!

All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Our familiar experiences of not remembering a journey on arrival, or having concentrated at work with such intensity that hours had passed in what you thought were five minutes, are examples of hypnoidal states, everyday trances, we all go in and out of several times a day. During a hypnotherapy session a trance is induced with help from the therapist, but ultimately the person goes into a trance by themselves.

I work primarily with clients who have anxiety related conditions or suffer from phobias, post-traumatic stress and depression. Some of my clients have tried several different types of therapies and medication without permanent help and have turned into hypnotherapy as a last resort. This is when I sometimes face the misconception that hypnotherapy is a magical cure that can fix all problems in one session! Yes, there are treatments that are carried out in a single session, such as smoking cessation. This is based on the principle that you will give up your habit in one go and leave the session as a non-smoker. Unless of course there are other underlying issues for which smoking is a manifestation of undesirable behaviour and which need to be addressed first.

Many of my clients have had their specific issue for quite some time. It has taken them a lot of effort and courage to try to overcome their issue and then finally seek this type of help. It would be unrealistic and unethical to promise an overnight cure or even expect for one; that somehow you can be hypnotised to simply forget your problem. Well, you can if you want to, but not with a permanent result as the problem will find a way of re-reminding you that it has not been resolved. Or in worse case creates another problem to hide behind!
Overcoming issues with hypnosis can be very effective and often a lot faster than traditional treatment either on its own or in combination with other forms of therapy, but it also requires time. Hypnosis is a skill that needs to be learned first. More often you practise self-hypnosis the faster you will obtain a trance state and deeper the state will become each time. And this allows by-passing the conscious part of your critical brain which in order to protect you from something or the other has created the issue being dealt with in the first place, and so the unconscious mind can be harnessed to reinforce the conscious mind’s effort to make a change.
Complicated? Not really, but it does take some effort and some time.  We need time to adjust to the changes we have made. Sometimes the process also involves what feels like a step backwards as one change initiates another and other issues are coming to surface or are resurfacing.
Each treatment and the number of sessions required to overcome a personal issue is as unique to the person as the person is unique. 
I see hardworking clients who are determined to overcome their problems. And I believe that if you are willing, you can, and that the time it takes is what it takes. Sometimes it takes two sessions. Sometimes four. Sometimes people see me twice a year for something. It all depends. But I will never promise a magic wand because hypnosis is not magic despite of how much we would want to believe it is.
The magic is in fact in the person in front of me who has all the resources available already to be unlocked for healing.