Why is it that some people in life get the jobs they need to do, done while others just keep putting them off? Yes, the term is procrastinate, quite a sophisticated sounding word for something that can potentially undermine us. 'Just do it' was the advertising slogan the massive sports wear brand Nike used to use. Does telling people to 'Just do it' really make a difference? Perhaps it does, sometimes. But say it to a teenager needing to revise for yet another exam in a subject they don't like and the response may well be one of wishing you were #%!!!**@:( somewhere else. Of course, exams are often stressful occasions but many of us, everyday, put things off because we feel we don't have the time. 'I'm lazy!', 'He's lazy!' 'We're all lazy!' People say it all the time but does hearing it help?
Now, some new research is shedding light on what is happening in the brain to lead us to procrastinate. Searching through the BBC News website I came across this article by Nazima Pathan entitled 'Procrastination: It's pretty much all in the mind.' (click)
In it she explains how procrastination is more to do with our emotions than it is managing our time! Yes, that little almond-shaped structure that we know as the Amygdala is the part of us that is responsible for whether we 'Just do it' or not.
The Amygdala is where the brain processes sensory information (from our eyes, ears, nose etc.) and decides whether this information requires action to keep us safe. It is one of those structures that dates back millennia in our evolutionary history and is key to helping us avoid threat and ensuring we say alive. In the face of a potential danger, it may decide to do nothing if it calculates we are safe. On the other hand, it will trigger an emotional response such as anger, fear, tears etc, (in conjunction with other parts of the brain), whatever it thinks necessary at the time. Yes it acts rapidly but the range of responses it has are limited. Remember, threat nowadays, does not just mean wild beasts or invading warriors. It could mean an argument with family members, colleagues at work and even utility companies wanting payment. Threats also come from our own imagination that may never happen and it is these that are perhaps more pertinent to modern society today than ever.
Back to why we procrastinate, it seems to be because the activity we are putting off has a sense of threat associated to it (Remember, threat triggers an emotional reaction from our protective Amygdala) Not wanting to deal with something like a bill is a similar response to walking away from a poisonous snake as far as the Amygdala is concerned. Because it is so primitive it does not appreciate the difference, especially the long term consequences of something like not paying the bill. In order to use reason and look ahead we need to be working in our rational, left-prefrontal cortex. When we work from here, we make our best decisions. To remain here though, we need to convince our Amygdala that we are safe.
Being able to manage our emotions then is hugely important if we want to consistently resolve those issues that arise in our daily lives. We need to remain calm, accept the challenge of the problem and find an acceptable solution. We all need to make good, reasonable, decisions not just for ourselves but for those around us too, decisions that we can look back on and think, 'Yes, that was the right thing to do.'
And yes, Hypnotherapy can help you reduce your anxiety in life and therefore help you make decisions you will be happy with both now and in to the future.
Thanks to Rebecca Hutchings for sharing this article that was posted recently in New Scientist. It sheds a light on what the brain is doing during all that time we spend sleeping,
Talking to people, I think many of us are open to the idea that dreams are the body's way of trying sort our problems out. It's fascinating though to know that Scientists believe that there is something to it and want to prove it to be true.
I say fascinating because Solution Focused Hypnotherapy uses dream-like imagery as a tool to help clients solve some of life's dilemma's, from IBS to irrational fears and phobias. In the state that is somewhere between consciousness and sleep, these guided dreams, if you like, offer the mind an alternative to work with, something new and refreshing. Perhaps it is this different kind of dream that offers a new perspective on their lives and helps them take the steps needed to achieve the sort of changes they desire.
Earlier this week I had a chance to see Rachel Gillibrand (Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the West of England) talk about the work she has been doing with an EEG machine. She, like many hypnotherapists, is interested in what happens in the brain when we are in trance. Are we still conscious? Are we dreaming? What state of mind are we in?
The EEG machine (electroencephalogram) measures electrical activity in the brain through a number of electrodes placed on the scalp. Not one to be shy, I volunteered the use of my brain to science and a short clip of the event can be seen below.
Unfortunately I was unable to control the camera at the time and so we only managed to capture the start of the session. If though we look at the four images of my head starting from the top left and moving clockwise, we are able watch delta, theta, beta and alpha waves being picked up as the group tries to stimulate responses. Delta waves by the way are associated with the deepest stages of sleep as well as empathy toward others . Theta waves are associated with the early stages of sleep, enhanced creativity and surges of emotion. Beta brainwaves .are associated with being full of energy, nervousness, excitement or anxiety.. Alpha waves seem to represent the ideal state to learn in, a sign of being relaxed and having a clear and creative mind.
Well, this sort of thing is not everyone's cup of tea when it comes to getting back to being on track during a low period but it does have value. The reason i say this is because understanding how the brain works can help us appreciate that we actually have a degree of control over our emotions. Yes, we don't have to be slaves to a primitive mechanism (the limbic system) that evolved to keep our evolutionary ancestors out of harms way. Take a look at Dr John Kenworthy's video:
Yes, that was fast but it does illustrate just how confident we are about how our stress response is triggered and what happens next. For most of us the stress response is present in many different aspects of our lives. It could be triggered when we are ushering the kids out of the door in the morning in order to get to school on time. Then, again in the car as we are trying to drop the kids off because there is no where to park. It could be a bank statement or somebody saying something at work that was a little thoughtless. As Dr Kenworthy points out, our prefrontal cortex can help hugely in reducing the impacts of these responses so we are not emotional wrecks by the time we get to lunch. It does it but putting things in to context, by using reason, and the knowledge we have based on previous experience.
Sometimes though, we become so tired, so worn down that we don't have the energy to be reasonable anymore and start responding emotionally. We revert to using primitive instincts such as anger or just staying in bed to give ourselves a break. It can even manifest itself in physical illness like headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, digestive issues or even skin conditions. Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can be an effective way of taking back control. training clients to manage their response to stress and therefore providing a much longer term solution than medication,.
'Can we wire our brains for confidence?' asks a BBC article from a recent article. Apparently we can! See: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-41097043
One of the really big things we have learnt over the past 20 years is that our brains change ... constantly ... in order to help us learn new stuff. Yes, it is real and it is happening now. For me at the moment, it's getting the hang of Facebook.
So can we learn to be more confident people? Can we learn to focus better? Can we learn to get less stressed? Why not? In fact people are doing it all of the time and hypnotherapy is one of the ways that helps the process.
Exercise remains none of the core suggestion every Solution Focused Hypnotherapists makes when it comes to relieving people of their feelings of anxiety but I am always on the look-out for news of the latest research. Delving in to the BBC iplayer, I downloaded the radio app and got listening to a series of programmes called 'All in the Mind.' The programme in question (1.05.2018) reported on a study looking at the beneficial effect of exercise over depression. Now, we have known for a long time that exercise releases endorphins in to the bloodstream helping us to feel relaxed and calm, but according to new research it does more. Apparently, it is common for people suffering from depression to have high levels of inflammation in the body. As it turns out, exercise is a natural anti-inflammatory, explained Brendon Stubbs, Psychologist at Kings College, London and can therefore help the management of depression.
So why is this of interest to hypnotherapists? The fact is that the majority of people know what's needed to lead healthy lives; spend quality time with friends, have a balanced diet, go lightly on the alcohol and get plenty of exercise. In our increasingly busy lives though, we end up taking the easy route of eating fast food, driving rather than walking and drinking too much. Once we’re in a routine it can be difficult to change and this is precisely where hypnotherapy can help.