Managing and Changing States
In everyday conversation it’s not unusual to describe someone as being in a ‘state’ of some kind – a state of panic, a state of boredom/excitement, a state of curiosity. When people are emotionally and physically at low ebb, we often say they are in ‘an awful state’. A person’s state of mind is the combination of all the emotions a person is feeling, their physiology and the way they are thinking (pictures, sounds etc). Mind and body are one, so thoughts influence physiology and vice versa.
As we go through life, we continually move through different emotional states. One of the best ways to understand states is to experience them.
How do you feel right now? Allow your attention to go ‘inside’, into both your mind and your body. How’s your breathing? Is you body tense or relaxed? How are you mentally? What state would you say you’re in right now? Is it one of curiosity, confusion or excitement, etc? Now think back over the last couple of days. What other states have you been in? In a typical day most of us go through a range of states, some of which we experience as positive and enjoyable (happiness, love, pleasure, confidence), others which seem negative and unpleasant (frustration, tiredness, anger, sadness). Some are only fleeting, others are more enduring, and we have them for most of the day, or even longer.
The state we’re in is important because it not only affects how we feel; it also determines how we behave and our ability to perform well. When we feel confident, we act with boldness. When we feel apprehensive, we act timidly. When we’re in a ‘negative’, unresourceful state, we struggle with things we normally find easy to do. Although we’re still the same person, our state makes all the difference.
Most of us experience states as ‘happening’ to us, and think of them as being outside of our control. In fact we can influence our states, rather than simply react to what happens on the outside by the way in which we perceive the world. When we alter any aspect of our neurology and physiology, such as rate of breathing, blood pressure, temperature, muscle tension and posture, there’s a corresponding variation in our mental state. And the thoughts we have – that is the way in which we represent the world internally – have a powerful influence over our neuro-physiology. When most people look at someone they love or hear a favourite song they get a warm feeling inside. And when they look at an unpleasant photograph or hear footsteps behind them in the street at night the feeling they get is uncomfortable. These are examples of how external stimuli create or change our state.
People vary in how they perceive and interpret and react to different situations – and that makes an enormous difference to the state they end up in. Say you get up in the morning, go outside, and find your car’s been stolen. How will you react? Some people will fly into a rage while others will be philosophical.
It is useful to be able to manage state, because when you’re in the right state for the situation you’re more likely to achieve your outcome. Here are some of the ways of changing state;
One of the quickest and easiest ways to change your state of mind is to change your physiology. Try this exercise;
- Bring to mind a memory that makes you mildly uncomfortable. Imagine yourself back inside the experience as fully and as vividly as possible. What do you see, hear and feel?
- Now, trying to hold onto that uncomfortable feeling, dance or jog or hop or jump around the room. If you’re like most people, you’ll find it hard to stay uncomfortable. This is known as changing state or breaking state in NLP.
- Now think of a calm, safe place, where there’s nothing to do – for instance lying on a beach or under a shady tree on a sunny day. Fully associate into it, so you can really feel it in your body.
- Next increase your rate of breathing, bringing it high in your chest, whilst trying to hold onto that feeling of calm. It’s not easy is it?
So, doing some kind of physical activity enables you to break out of undesired states. Similarly, adopting the physiology (posture, gesture, head position, breathing rate, muscle tension) that you exhibit when you are in a certain state (e.g. relaxation, creativity, peak performance) can activate that state.
“Fake it to make it.” Pretend. When you pretend to go into a certain state, your nervous system gets the idea very quickly, and the state soon manifests. You can pretend to be in whatever state you like: the more convincingly you do it, the more you will get into it. So, if you want to be in a more confident state (remember a time when you were really confident and fully associate into that memory), speak clearly, in a confident tone of voice, breathe evenly, with your head up and your posture erect. Similarly, you can “act as if” you are someone else e.g. if your role model is Richard Branson, take on his physiology and think like you perceive he might think! Notice how your emotional state changes.
Use of anchors
An anchor is anything that accesses an emotional state, e.g. a favourite piece of music that brings back a pleasant memory or the ringing of an alarm clock that causes us to get up. You can create anchors so that you can summon resourceful states at will by the following process:
a) Sitting comfortably, identify the situation in which you would like to be different, feel different and respond differently. Then choose a particular resourceful state (e.g. confidence, creativity, persistence) that you would like available to you in that situation.
b) Think of an occasion in your life when you had that resource. Take your time, noticing which examples come to mind and choose the most intense and clear example.
c) Select your kinesthetic (e.g. touching thumb and finger), auditory (e.g. a word or phrase) and visual (e.g. a symbol) anchors which should be unique.
d) Step into another location and in your imagination put yourself fully back into the experience of that resourceful state. Remember where you were and what you were doing – see what you were seeing; hear what you were hearing and feel what you were feeling. Take some time and enjoy reliving that experience as fully as possible. When these feelings have come to a peak and start to diminish, change state.
e) Now you are ready to anchor the resources. Step into your place for the resource state and re-experience it again. As it reaches its peak (sensations increase in intensity), see your image, make your gesture (e.g. squeeze your thumb and finger gently together for a few moments, then release) and say your words. You must connect your anchors to the resource state as it is coming to its peak and not after the peak. Now break state.
f) Test by firing the anchors in the same way and sequence, and notice the extent to which you access your resourceful state. If you are not satisfied, go back and repeat the anchoring process to strengthen the association between your anchors and your resourceful state. You might need to repeat this a few times.
g) Lastly, think of a future situation where you are likely to want that resourceful state. What can you use as a signal to let you know you need that resource? This signal will remind you to use your anchor.
With practice, you will be able to go into the states you desire, quickly and easily, whenever you wish. You don’t have to be the victim of your moods and emotions – you can choose how you want to feel at any moment in time. This is not, however, to suggest that you ignore your emotions and simply ‘look on the bright side’. Most of us would rather not have grief, frustration, guilt, fear, disappointment and so forth, but jumping around to get rid of them may not always be the best option. However, many emotions contain a message about something in your life that needs attention. A feeling of overload, for instance, often means that you’re trying to deal with too many things at once, and need to re-evaluate what’s important to you. Once we allow ourselves to fully experience an emotion we can get in touch with what it’s trying to tell us, and then if we take action – which may sometimes involve changing the way we think about things – we can be in control of choosing our own state.
We are also incredibly sensitive to the states of others. Generally you can get a good idea just by looking at someone what kind of mood they’re in. Recognising the states of others is extremely important – especially in terms of rapport and communicating effectively with people in their current map of the world.