Change Work July 2008

Seeing is believing

"No - I can't see myself doing that."

You often hear this phrase used to soften a refusal.  Somehow it doesn't quite sound like a refusal, despite the "no".

Sometimes though, it reveals an underlying state that is exactly as described! When you literally can't see yourself doing something then you don't know how to go about doing it.  It amounts to the same thing.

Conversely, when you have (or can create) a mental image of yourself carrying out an action then you know how to do it.

By "knowing how" I don't just mean the obvious physical steps.  It's more to do with how you handle yourself.  For instance, consoling someone who's received bad news involves more than simply expressing sympathy.  You have to be able to use an appropriate tone of voice as well as choosing the right words.  You also have to be ready to respond to whatever they say or do in response.

Perhaps your mental image of this latter part involves them releasing an embarrassing emotional outburst and you being thrown into confusion.  Better not to mention it at all!

For many people, me included, seeing ourselves doing "small talk" is very hard. For some, it's impossible and so they habitually avoid situations where they might have to socialise.  And if they find themselves there they can only think of escaping!

So what do you do?

I've talked about the different forms of mental rehearsal in past articles.  For instance, the New Behaviour Generator is a technique for visualising yourself doing exactly what an expert does; taking on their values and beliefs as well as their actions.  So you create an image of yourself doing the task (interview, presentation, difficult conversation etc.) and doing it well.  Then you "step inside" the image and see what it looks like from the inside.  I.e. you run through it again in an associated state, as if you're actually there, seeing what you'd see, hearing what you'd hear, and so on.
Then, the next time you're in that situation, your unconscious mind uses the memory you've created as a template and you find yourself acting with confidence.

It still amazes me that a memory that was entirely imagined has the same impact on your unconscious processing as a "real" one.

And this brings us to the matter of "self image" in general.

As well as seeing yourself doing things (and maybe seeing things going badly wrong), your self image can embody lots of unfounded beliefs.  For instance, beliefs about what other people are thinking.  Specifically, what they think about you!  And this can easily become what you think about yourself.

I recently described the SWISH method (Change Work May 2008) for fixing a positive image that replaces a negative one.  That can certainly be used to change your overall self-image.  However, this time I want to talk about the "Most Resourceful Self" pattern devised by Penny Parks, and originally used for resolving the effects of childhood trauma.

Your most resourceful self is the person you would like to develop into, and the method involves creating a very vivid and comprehensive image of that person.

When you have this in as much detail as possible - remembering that this is the most resourceful self you can imagine - then step inside that body and experience the world through their eyes.  Feel what it feels like to be that person who is confident, respected and looks good too!

To make it easier to bring back the image when you need it you can anchor it by looking at your most resourceful self and imagining them dissolving into a misty, coloured "essence". Remember what colour it is.

Now, breathe that essence in so you are like the lamp containing a genie.  Then, whenever you want, you can breathe out the essence and see your most resourceful self again before stepping inside and becoming that person.  And, as with all of the visualisation techniques, the more often you use this the better and easier it becomes.

So, what can you see yourself doing now?