Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Change or Die

I loved Alan Deutschman's article "Change or Die" when it ran in Fast Company, and I love the book he expanded the article into: Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change in Work and in Life.

In 2004, Deutschman attended a conference to explore solutions to the world's biggest problems. A dream of experts who spoke on health care said, "A relatively small percentage of the population consumes the vast majority of the health-care budget for diseases that are very well known and by and large behavioral."

Smoking. Drinking. Eating unhealthily. Stress. Not enough exercise.

And only 1 in 10 given the "change or die" choice changed their behavior.

Deutschman spends the bulk of his book examining the components of successful change. It is possible to change the way you think, feel, and act. Deutschman identifies three motivators that don't work -- fear, facts, and force -- and three that do -- relationships, reframing, and repeating. He uses three major case studies and a number of others to illustrate these principles and describes how individuals and organizations can use these processes to make deep-seated, lasting changes.

In clear, practical language, Deutschman explains important tools for change:
  • Frames
  • Denial and other psychological defenses
  • Short-term wins
  • Community and culture
  • Acting as if
  • Recasting a life story
  • Walk the walk
  • The brain is plastic
  • The solution might be the problem
Giving people hope is far more important than giving them facts, says Deutschman. Then give them the skills they need and help them practice, practice, practice.

Nothing in the book is really groundbreaking (Deutschman himself points out that the patterns for successful change have been known for decades), and I think his model is simplistic at times, but that's part of what I enjoy about the book. Deutschman takes a range of change models and in clear, direct language synthesizes their mutual and most powerful elements in a practical handbook for change. For me, the real strength of Change or Die is that simplicity.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Steve's story

In the September 2008 issue of The Journal of Hypnotism, there's a brilliant article by Stephen Greco in John Weir's column on "Enthusiastic Professionalism."

Steve was 22 years old when he awoke one morning with a tiny blind spot in his right eye that quickly grew until he was 80 percent blind in that eye. The doctors did tests, diagnosed probable multiple sclerosis, and asked if he had any tingling or numbness in his limbs. He became watchful for those symptoms, which soon manifested. Steve had been avoiding further tests, but when is arms became weak, he called the doctor.

"Both arms?" asked the doctor.

"Yes," said Steve.

"It's usually one arm at a time," said the doctor.

Immediately, Steve says, his life changed. He thought, "If he had told me that it was going to be one arm at a time, it would have been." The power of suggestion had done a number on him.

Steve began to systematically dismantle all the negative suggestions he'd been given (and had been giving himself!) and within two weeks, his eyesight returned to normal.

I tell this story to people to illustrate the power of expectation, suggestion, and belief. What we expect tends to be realized.

But often, people respond to this story with disbelief and analysis. "You mean it was all in his head?" As though it were imaginary blindness. As though somehow an illness created by the mind were less measurable by objective standards.

In 1982, in my home town of Monterey Park, California, a few people fell mildly ill at a high school football game and after being questioned by authorities, an announcement was made that no one should drink any soft drinks because of suspected contamination. Immediately, the stands were filled with fainting, retching people. One hundred and ninety-one persons were hospitalized.

There was nothing wrong with the soda. It was a case of "mass hysteria," which does not mean symptoms were imaginary. It means the symptoms were stimulated by mental processes instead of physical ones.

Many people think "in the mind" means "not real." Steve's story makes clear this isn't the case at all. Placebos operate on the same principle. Recovery after taking a placebo doesn't mean the illness was imagined or the recovery was imagined.

I once had a severely sprained ankle just days before I was supposed to drive to Seattle (with a standard transmission). I was desperate to go. I used a hypnotic process and the swelling and discoloration subsided enough that I could drive. (I once had a person look at me skeptically and say, "You'll forgive me if I don't believe you." Sure, dude. No problem. For me.)

Everything starts in the mind. Whatever you're sitting on -- started as an idea. The computer you're typing on. The TV programs you watch, the books you read, the people you interact with -- all a product of thought. Change your mind and change your life!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Is it real, or is it satisfying?

The brain can't tell the difference between a real experience and one that is vividly, fully imagined.

That's right. The brain processes the thoughts identically. Especially in hypnosis, when a person is told they're hearing a sound, the same part of their brain lights up on an fMRI as when they're actually hearing the sound.

In the June 2008 issue of The Journal of Hypnotism, Richarde Harte, FNGH, OB, in his column "The Heart of Hypnosis," writes about how he lost weight by satisfying cravings with hypnosis.

As a pizza aficianado, he had put on some pounds. There was a yummy pizza take-out joint near his office, and after stopping in (too frequently) for a quick and easy lunch, he'd gained a belly more suited to Santa than a hypnotist.

So he began eating a hypno-pizza whenever he got a craving. Dropped himself into a trance, imagined eating a delicious slice of pizza, slowly savoring every bite, amplifying the experience to a high level of satisfaction, and then, when he was done, ate a salad.

He lost weight and didn't deprive himself.

It works with other stuff, too. Smoking, desserts, morning coffee... give it a try! The key is a vivid, fully imagined experience, with lots of sensory details. Take your time. Let me know how it goes.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's Thanksgiving morning in the USA, and in Portland, Oregon, it's a cloudless, sunny (if cold) morning. A seagull just flew overhead, rosy in the rising sun. Glorious.

Michael Hall has developed a wonderful exercise he teaches in his Accessing Personal Genius seminar. I think it's appropriate for Thanksgiving, because it sets up a sliding anchor for acceptance, appreciation, and awe. Here's a summary.

(If you want to learn how to do this exercise on your own, without a partner, and to learn more about Michael's work, pick up his book, Secrets of Personal Mastery, visit his Web site at Neurosemantics.com, or attend one of his excellent seminars.)

Get a partner. Extend your arm, palm up. Figure out whether you are an "innie" or an "outie" by having your partner slide their finger up the inside of your arm from wrist to elbow crease. Then have them slide their finger the opposite way, from elbow crease to wrist. Does the intensity of sensation rise as they move their finger up your arm, toward you? Then you're an innie. Out and away? You're an outie.

Next, you're going to access (recall and get into), amplify, and anchor a state.

Recall (access) a time when you simply accepted something. Maybe it was that it was a rainy day and you had to take the bus. Maybe you chose to eat breakfast because you knew it was best even if you weren't terribly hungry at the time. Maybe it was scraping ice off the car before you got in and drove away. Mere acceptance.

Now that you've accessed that state of acceptance, amplify it. Build it up so it flows through you; step into it, breathe it in, pull it in and around you so you're actually experiencing it fully.

Anchor it. When it's at its peak, have your friend touch the lower end of the intensity spectrum on your arm. Apply some pressure so you can trigger the state at will later on by applying the same pressure in the same place.

That's it: Access, Amplify, Anchor.

Following the same process for appreciation, now work with the state of appreciation, and access a time you appreciated something or someone. Amplify it. Create this anchor at the midpoint of the intensity spectrum on your arm, halfway between the wrist and the elbow crease.

Same process, this time for awe. Access, amplify, then create this anchor at the high intensity point (your elbow crease, if you're an innie, or your wrist, if you're an outie).

Now have your friend slide their finger along the spectrum to move from acceptance to awe. You've built a sliding anchor and you can use it to help you change your state. Is there something you'd like to really appreciate rather than just accept? Is there something you've felt awed by, but milder appreciation would let you behave more effectively?

There is plenty to inspire awe. Einstein said, "There are two ways to live: You can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle."

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

New Blogger Friend

I met a wonderful woman over the weekend and I've updated my blogroll to include her. She's a Pacific Northwesterner (Seattle), a science fiction fan, and a freelance writer. She took a look at herself awhile ago and decided she could do better, so she started remakng herself: eating right, working out, and putting self-care a little higher on her priority list.

My friend Tom -- someone I've known 25 years, whom I trust and love and laugh a lot with -- introduced us, and he's thrived by knowing her.

I mentioned a couple of resources to her and she asked me to remind her via e-mail, but I thought I'd mention those resources here, too.

I've never struggled with my weight, but I've always struggled with my body. I had childhood asthma, and I spent weeks in bed barely able to breathe. Any kind of exertion could trigger it, so I wheezed and panted my way through P.E. at school, hating anything that had to do with getting my heart rate up or breathing hard.

I discovered dancing in high school and fell passionately in love with it. I had a friend who choreographed moves for us and she was a great teacher. Later in life, I discovered Regency dancing and contra dancing, and that was my exercise of choice until I moved to Portland.

Then, I ballooned to 220 lbs. I wasn't a kid anymore, and I hadn't integrated into any of the dance communities. My habits needed to change.

There are tons of diet and exercise books. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Peggy Brill. Peggy has two fantastic books. The Core Program teaches you to build strength and flexibility in the large core muscles that support all the other muscles of your body. Brill is a physical therapist who works with people who have pain and limited range of motion, so these exercises are terrific for anyone who wants to start slow. The basic core exercises can be done in 15 minutes a day, which also makes it perfect for busy people who "don't have time to exercise." Get a mat, or a thick blanket, and you're ready to go.

Her other book is Instant Relief: Tell Me Where It Hurts and I'll Show You What to Do. Chapters are broken down by body area, and she lists simple calisthenics and stretches to build strength and flexibility, improve range of motion, and relieve pain.

The other books I love are written by Bill Phillips, Body for LIFE, Eat for LIFE, and the soon-to-be-released Transformation. Phillips is a bodybuilder and publisher, and his film Body of Work is profoundly inspirational, as is his new half-hour program at Transformation.com. The people he's inspired are the real sources of inspiration, though -- ordinary moms, dads, bartenders, accountants.

The exercises Phillips describes are simple and can be done at home with dumbbells. If your jaw doesn't drop when you see what can be accomplished in just 12 weeks, check your pulse.

Tom and my new friend also recommended a book by Alan Deutschman called Change or Die about how to overcome old habits. Review forthcoming. The title comes from a study of heart patients who were told their unhealthy lifestyles needed to change or it would kill them. 90% couldn't break their old habits. It can be done, though. With a big enough why, you can always find a how.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Book Review: Your Brain: The Missing Manual

I just finished a great book in a great series: Your Brain: The Missing Manual, by Matthew MacDonald. The O'Reilly Missing Manual series -- like their In a Nutshell series -- is a wonderful set of books that covers topics from Office to iPhoto to Vista in a fun, often funny, succinct, and useful way. It's all the stuff you ought to know (but often don't) that makes work easier and faster.

And as a hypnotist, I love fast and easy.

In Your Brain: The Missing Manual, you'll learn about the shortcuts your brain takes to make life easier for you, and how that can end up making life harder. You'll learn tips to work around the shortcuts. Modern life, with 24-hour stimulation and a bazillion cultural differences, has created an environment far more complicated than the environment the brain originated in. Sure, we're adapting. But if you know how your brain is wired, you'll adapt a bit better.

One of my favorite chapters is about how the brain processes pleasure, because the pleasure is one of the power sources that drives behavior change.

First, pleasure is, by design, short-lived. Your brain is wired to turn it off, as well as on. Why? Well, if pleasure lasted a long time, you'd get stuck in one place, soaking up wonderfulness, a sitting duck for some predator. Also, pleasure is a motivator, and motivators are more motivating if they're in short supply. The brain gets accustomed to prolonged pleasure and starts filtering it out, so the same stimulus doesn't give you the same kick.

Research shows that the first two bites of food are the most intense. After that, pleasure decreases. Your brain starts to habituate to the flavor (i.e., ignore the sensations).

As humans, we don't seek things or experiences, not really. We seek the pleasure they provide. And pleasure is hard-wired to diminish with exposure. There's always a saturation point.

But modern culture and the messages of more, better, faster try to convince us that more, better, faster, are ends in themselves. If one cookie is good, five must be better. That's working against how our brains naturally function. In fact, more, better, faster, are just levels of pleasure that in time we'll become habituated to.

Scientific American Mind (or maybe it was Psychology Today -- I'll have to go look it up) had a nice article last year about techniques for battling boredom. They involved taking control of your expectation and your focus of attention.

So the next time I find myself reaching for that third or fourth cookie, I pause and ask: "Am I really hungry? On a scale of 1 to 10, how much pleasure am I really experiencing right now?" When I remind myself of what's really going on, and how my brain is designed to make things feel less rewarding as I get used to them, it makes it easier to put the food away and wait until another time, when my pleasure will be heightened again. I can find another source of pleasure, like a Sudoku, a warm shower, a phone call to a friend, cleaning out old e-mails, petting the kitties.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, PST!

Portland Story Theater continues to overdeliver with a terrific troupe of guest storytellers (this time it's Penny Walter returning) and core tellers Lynne Duddy and Lawrence Howard with My Favorite Pair, the opening show of their 2008-09 season. If the gloom of current affairs has you longing for an uplifting night out, look no further than PST's current show.

Opening again for PST is The Tuesday Group, which continues to defy description. Are they singers? dancers? poets? comedians? They describe themselves as "improv," so I'll go with it. They pose and sway in a quirky Cupid's tale of unlikely love and its rocky course as a couple of meddlers chart their course by tangling up a couple of chairs. (Yes, I know. It's weird. It works.)

Lynne Duddy tells about crossing the public/Catholic school divide with the help of a friend, and when that friend disappears, Lynne persists in unraveling the mystery. For me, this was one of those shining moments of story, where a tiny detail -- almost an afterthought -- provides an axis of emotional resonance that rings long after the story's over. It's one of those tales that's personal, universal, and asserts that yes, all the vast forces of the world are indeed conspiring to comfort and sustain us. Lynne's second story, about the peripatetic and sometimes scary life of a young single mom, had a similar mixture of uncertainty and stability. (It also contained one of those odd hallucinations that occasionally pop up in storytelling trances, where I saw something that definitely wasn't there.)

I never suspected Lawrence Howard of being a nerd. I'd never picked up on that facet of him, especially not in his previous stories of camping, fishing, and open-road adventures. (For me, those things are the antithesis of being a nerd.) But no, school cliques identified him as I could not. I laughed as he confessed the parental conspiracy that contributed to his nerdiness (nerdentity?), and I even laughed as he reached that zenith of bully-targeted terror that had me horrified beneath my giggles. (It's really hard for me to listen to stories of school taunting and not have flashbacks.) His second story focused on his romance with the martial arts. I would have doubted the choice in the hands of a lesser talent, but Lawrence has a singular voice and obstinant refusal to set foot into cliched territory.

When I first heard Penny Walter at her last appearance with PST, she did what I thought was impossible: She made me care about athletes. This time around, her stories were just as far removed from my own experiences (how could anyone not like standardized tests?) and just as astonishing. Her tale of a scheming younger self with a roller-skate fetish made me think that even Winston Churchhill -- "Never, never give in!" -- might have quailed before her. She also closes the evening with a story that reminded me of G.B. Shaw's warning that there are two great tragedies in life: Not to get your heart's desire, and to get it. Penny describes a dream come true, the unforeseen consequences, and how a dream moment in a sweat lodge carried the guidance she needed to turn things around.

The show runs another two weekends (Fri and Sat through Nov 8), with special Halloween pricing (come as a pair for $20 for two tickets on 10/31 and 11/1) and a prize giveaway. (Go to their Web site and sign up for their newsletter to learn about cool stuff like this!) Plenty of opportunities to see them again. And if you've never seen them, it's about time you do.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

What a gift an insult can be

Cleaning out e-mail, I found this story about one of Greg Tamblyn's excruciatingly embarrassing moments. I love it, because it really highlights the power we all have to choose what something will mean for us. As Shakespeare said, "There's nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Or, from Richard Bach: "Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they're yours."

The original was forwarded to me by John Brown, one of the Portland NVC team members. I encourage you to check out Tamblyn's site. He describes himself as a Transformational Humorist, and he's a terrific writer.


Ever had a brilliant gift idea that turned out to be the most embarrassing and humiliating thing you could have brought to the party?

At a conference on consciousness we were told to bring a small,wrapped present to exchange as a means of getting to know each other. The gift was supposed to be related to something significant in our lives. After wracking my brains for awhile, and looking around the house, I found the perfect thing: a lighter I had brought back from China. It was a souvenir from the first time I ever hosted a group tour, which has become a yearly event since then.

Ah, but this was no ordinary lighter. It was a solid lighter with some heft to it, covered in bright red enamel. On one side, the imposing face of Chairman Mao stares out at you, totally out of context on this goofy trinket. Sort of like Abraham Lincoln on a box of Wheaties. But the kicker is that when you open the top, it plays a silly (and quite frankly annoying) Chinese marching song, which squeals on and on -- lit or not -- until you close it. Or until the battery runs out, should you leave it open for a few days as a sort of Chinese torture for the unlucky people you live with. In short, it's pretty funny. And it kind of reduces Mao to the status of a cartoon, which I like.

I've given a few of these away to friends, and everybody gets a kick out of them. My brother likes to walk down the grocery store aisle with his lighter held aloft, music blaring and people staring. I think he does it to embarrass his daughter. But I digress...

So I felt quite proud of myself for bringing this funny, clever gift that I knew everyone at the conference would find amusing. That first night, all 120 of us were sorted into small circles of eight, and instructed to put our presents in the middle. One by one we took turns choosing a gift that someone else had brought, and then we took turns unwrapping them. When someone opened the gift you brought, you explained what it meant to you, and so we'd get to know a bit about each other.

But what happened in our little circle was a kind of cosmic joke.

Imagine: out of all the 120 people at this event, the one person who ended up with my little wrapped package containing this incredibly funny, brilliantly clever, totally unique Chairman Mao lighter, just happened to be the childhood/lifelong friend, as well as the official biographer of.........the Dalai Lama.

I'm not kidding.

He was seated just to my left. As soon as I saw him pick up the little package, I felt myself shrink about five sizes. What I really wanted was to disappear altogether. If humiliation was a color, I would have been a bright orange 4th of July smoke bomb, just fizzing away into nothing. I didn't know there would be a Tibetan at this conference. I didn't know there would be a man who, as I later found out, actually fought Chinese soldiers and was forced to flee into exile as they took over and brutalized his country.

All the time we were going around the circle opening presents, I was sitting there, completely freaked out at the fact that I'd brought the most insulting gift I possibly could have, and it was going to be unbearably awkward when this gentle, elderly, dignified, much-loved man opened it. Unbelievably embarrassing. Life-shattering buckets of shame. For once in my life, I'd been just a little too clever, and my sick sense of humor had come back to haunt me. How could I possibly explain this to him? What could I say? Especially when all the other gifts were so thoughtful and beautiful. What would he say? What would he do?

When it got to be my turn, I suggested we switch presents.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because I don't think you'll like it. I want you to have something you'll like."

"No," he said. "I chose this one."

Slowly and calmly, he unwrapped the lighter. He turned it over, and for a minute just looked at the picture of Mao. I can't remember if he opened the top and played the little song.

After what seemed like forever, during which time I would have gladly traded my whole life to be somewhere else, he spoke.

"Oh," he said firmly. "This is karma."

He looked at me with steady, sincere eyes and said, "This will help me remember to practice compassion."


The next morning, I was relating this episode to one of the conference organizers, and she insisted I tell the entire gathering about it. So I got up in front of the group and told this story. When I mentioned who got the lighter, everybody gasped. And then when I told them what Kuno (his nickname) had said, Kuno stood up, smiled and bowed low, and everybody laughed. And right then we all got it that he was really okay about it.

During the week of this conference, every time I saw Kuno he would shake my hand and thank me for the lighter. So by the end of the week, we had kind of become buddies. On the last morning, he sat next to me at lunch. We talked about Dharmsala, where the Tibetan refugees live with the Dalai Lama, and about life in India. I told him I'd always wanted to go there, and about hosting my group tours. Kuno picked up on this immediately. He invited me to Dharmsala, and said he had friends who would handle all the travel arrangements for us. We could even do some kind of a concert with myself and some Tibetan musicians. He was really into the whole idea, and I got all excited at the prospect too.

It's amazing how things work out sometimes.


(A letter from a friend at the conference, reporting how Kuno described this experience.)

"Dear Greg,

I love that you tell the story about your lighter, but you must tell more of the story. The way you ended it made it sound like he was being polite--but it was MUCH more than that. It was huge, and wonderful.

You should have heard Kuno's talk at the International House after the Conference. He began to talk about his history and connection with the Dalai Lama, and he briefly mentioned his important role as a general in the war. He spoke about how the Chinese killed his parents, family members, and so many of his friends. He talked about his anger at the Chinese--so much anger. He talked about how the Dalai Lama told him many times, he needed to make peace with the Chinese, to not hate them, to have love in his heart, compassion, forgiveness. He saw no way to do this, it was impossible, he hated them all to such an extent that he wouldn't even eat Chinese food. The Dalai Lama would laugh at this and tell him that Chinese food is very good and his anger is making him miss out on some very good things.

Well, before the conference Kuno was visiting a site of one of the bloody battles between China and Tibet where he lost many friends. He was at the memorial, trying to make peace, but only feeling anger, pain and sadness. He began to cry. A couple was there, crying also. They and Kuno started talking about their losses, and began bonding. After a while they decided to go to a place for some food and to talk more. During the meal each asked where the other was from, and it turned out that the couple were Chinese! He had thought they were on his side, not theirs. Karma again. They continued their meal together with new understanding. This experience totally changed his perspective.

He wanted to continue healing so he then started trying to get to know Chinese people. He tried Chinese food and liked it. When the conference organizer invited Kuno to be with us, he also wanted to set up some lectures for Kuno in the area and offered to let him stay at his house. Kuno told him that he would like to do the lectures, but he wanted to stay with a Chinese family, if possible. The organizer said that would be very easy to organize since his foreign-exchange student host family lived nearby, and they just happen to be Chinese! (Coincidence? I think not.) Kuno stayed with the Chinese family before and after the conference and had a wonderful time in their home.

After a couple of days with them, he came to our conference and received your lighter. At this point in his lecture, he held up your lighter, lit it, and played the little song. He told the story of getting the lighter at the conference, of all the groups he could have been with, of all the wrapped gifts he could have picked, he picked you and yours.

It was a gift, supporting his new path to healing. At the time you picked the gift, you didn't know about his new found attempts at healing this pain in his heart, but you helped the process and supported his new path.

I bet the Dalai Lama had a big belly laugh when Kuno told the full story to him.

It's a full circle thing.

If I were you, I'd be honored to be part of that healing circle.

And the lesson for you? Trust your instincts. There is a reason for everything. There's probably even a reason you were put in that situation so you could fidget and feel such nervousness--but only you know the answer to that.

Love and Peace to you, Greg,
Alison Sheafor-Joy"

Forgiveness has always been my biggest personal challenge, so yes, there's a LOT in this for me. Please feel free to send this to anyone you think it may uplift.

~ Greg Tamblyn
Transformational Humorist ~ Musical Laf-ologist

Friday, August 29, 2008

Affirmations, Part 2

An affirmation is 100% believable.

This is my own first rule and the one least often addressed (to my satisfaction, anyway) in articles about affirmations.

Now, there is a big difference between something being believable and something being true. Something can be believable but untrue (urban legends are a great example; go to Snopes for a myriad of things people believe that simply aren't true.

Other things can be true but unbelievable, like the proper spelling of Cincinnati (two Ns, one T -- you have no idea how many arguments I've had with people over this) or the fact that Los Angeles is south of Las Vegas.

Whether something is believable or not depends on the individual. Some people easily use an affirmation such as, "I drive a brand new Lexus." I don't find it believable, because I drive a Camry. For me, believable affirmations would be:

  • I am (or I see myself) walking onto the car lot, pointing to the car I want, and paying in nice, crisp, $1,000 bills.

  • I am (or I see myself) driving off the lot knowing that the only pavement these tires have touched is the pavement in the car lot. I'm the first person to ever drive this car on the street.

  • I get more and more excited about how easily I'm able to get around to help people.

  • Every day, my new car is getting 100 miles closer to me.

Now, a couple of these are obviously false statement, but they are believable to me, in my imagination. They make great movie clips in my mind. They crank me up and get me excited. That's what counts. Is it true? Don't care. Is it believable? Use it.

For those who worry about Truth with a capital T, or how it's important to be honest with yourself, well... sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. Look how many times we tell lies when we talk to ourselves: I can't learn anything new. I'm never going to lose weight. All men/women are liars. One little bite/puff/drink won't hurt.

Why is it okay to lie to yourself if it makes you feel bad, but not if it keeps you inspired and focused? Makes no sense to me.

You can use the same technique to develop a more positive attitude about things you currently dislike, to make a situation (or person) more tolerable. What's good about that? Efficient use of energy. "I can't stand this anymore!" becomes:

  • I can stand anything as long as I'm working to change it.

  • I'm taking steps toward a powerful, permanent solution.

  • When I acknowledge and appreciate the things that are good and useful, it gives me courage and energy to keep working on the things that aren't perfect yet.

  • I learn something from every challenge and it gets me closer to my goal.

What does this have to do with comedy hypnosis? People often ask me, "Why would anyone enjoy acting silly in public?" The answer is, because they are tapping into the power of affirmations. "This feels great! That would be fun! I can't wait to do that! Can I do that again?" They are experiencing the positive -- in the moment -- in a personal, powerful way.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Affirmations, Part 1

There's a big difference between goals and affirmations. In my experience, they work best in harness, but many people don't know the difference between the two or are using only one.

Goals represent your destination and your milestones.
  • By January 1, 2009, I will weigh 151 lbs.

  • By September I'll be sitting in the corner office as the new VP of Portland Operations.

  • I'll own a new Lexus by my next birthday.
Supercharged goals have SMART qualities: Specific, Measurable, Actions I can take, Realistic, and Time-based.

"I walk every day" has action, but little else. Unless you are in a wheelchair, you probably walk every day, on errands, around the house, office, or school. What kind of walking (duration, speed, frequency) will help me achieve my goals? Which is easier to measure: "I walk every day" or "At 9:00 AM every morning, I leave the house and walk for 20 minutes."

Specific, measurable action.

Goals help you celebrate every movement forward, no matter how big or small your goal may be. They also reveal opportunities to become even more successful.

Affirmations are completely different. Affirmations keep you enthused, encouraged, and inspired about your journey. They give you a sense of hope, power, optimism, and satisfaction. They keep you motivated. Affirmations are the gas in your car; goals are the mileposts.

There are a lot of articles about how to write powerful affirmations. I disagree with some of them. I think affirmations have several characteristics:
  • An affirmation is 100% believable.

  • An affirmation is true at any moment.

  • An affirmation contains a vision of the goal. It reminds you where you're going, or why.

  • An affirmation reinforces the beliefs you want to have.
  • An affirmation leads you into a new space. It inspires (or creates) growth and movement.

  • An affirmation counteracts or neutralizes negative self-talk.

  • An affirmation empowers me as the person in control of my life and my results.
I'll take these one at a time in future postings.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Trances People Live

My friend Joe Mitchell, who runs NVC practice groups, emailed me this week. He's reading Trances People Live by Stephen Wolinsky, and writes,

The question for me came up: why trances? What need do they serve in our life?

Trance, as I understand it, is a state where we're operating out of habit, or on autopilot. In trance, the conscious mind is narrowly focused and the other-than-conscious mind is running most of the show. Trance is an involuntary, spontaneous, and hardwired into our brains. It is not learned or chosen. It's like a heartbeat or breathing or blinking. It's just a given part of life. So what function does it serve?

The conscious mind can only hold seven (plus or minus two) bits of information per second. That's why phone numbers are seven digits. Our minds are limited in the amount of data it can consciously track at any given time. The other-than-conscious mind, however, can handle 2-4 billion BPS.

Some specific numbers are here.

If you imagine the Keller Auditorium, that's the capacity of the unconscious mind. Take a quarter out of your pocket and place it on the floor... that's the capacity of the conscious mind.

My understanding is that some specific trances, or trance states, are learned, deliberate, voluntary, or chosen: working, relaxing, paying bills, worship, writing, dancing, purchasing, lovemaking, etc.

I think other trance states are learned but typically involuntary or automatic: worrying and daydreaming, for example. Typically, we don't think to ourselves, "Oops! I'm late for my worry time," or, "I think I'll schedule my worry for 5:30 next Tuesday." We just slip into it involuntarily. Eating, lust, fear, and humor might be voluntary at times, involuntary at others.

If we can learn trances, I think we can unlearn them. NVC is one process for doing this; hypnosis is another. But in my view, we aren't eliminating trances -- we're just choosing a different trance, or replacing one kind of trance with another. As soon as a choice becomes habitual, or automatic, it becomes a trance.

What is the connection between a trance state we choose and our
actual needs (thought of in NVC terms: needs for respect, security,
connection, etc.)

I think trance states can meet needs for

* Efficiency. Trance saves time. Imagine how much time we'd lose on common tasks if we had to re-learn them from scratch every day. Paying bills. Driving. Opening a friggin' DOOR!

* Safety. Ever had the feeling of uneasiness with a person or place? Billions of data are available to the nonconscious mind that aren't picked up by the conscious mind. Just because we aren't aware of *why* we feel uneasy doesn't mean there's not a damned good reason for it. Some call it intuition. If you're a gazelle, sitting around and consciously trying to analyze whether there's *evidence* of a lion could get you dead. Humans aren't gazelles, but the principle is sound, I think.

* Affinity. Trance serves to meet needs for friendship, love, peace, bonding, companionship, etc. If people had to consciously decide each morning whether they were committed to their spouses/children/tribes, the emphasis on impermanence could result in increased social conflict. Long-term memory is the domain of the other-than-conscious mind, so all memory involves trance. Could we have families and friends without memory? Could we have love?

* Creativity. The conscious mind is the rational, logical, linear mind that is aware of present sensory input: Observation and Evaluation territory. Emotion, imagination, and symbolism are the languages of the other-than-conscious mind. All creativity involves trance states. I'm pretty sure that all problem-solving and learning involve trance states, too.

Since you're into hypnosis, I'm thinking that you induce trances -- is that right?

Yes. As a hypnotist, I lead people in and out of trance.

And am wondering if you see a connection between a persons needs, in NVC
terms, and trances that they choose or hypnosis chooses for them.

One of the reasons I love NVC is because it does induce trance. When a person "goes inside" to identify their feelings and needs, that involves a trance state.

Regarding hypnosis and choosing trances: Hypnosis is a way of *inducing* trance, but it doesn't "choose a trance for" someone. Typically, a client comes in because the trances they're choosing aren't working for them (the smoking trance, the food-as-comfort trance), and they want help installing a replacement trance (the smoke-free trance, the food-as-fuel trance).

Here endeth the opinion.

Thanks so much for the fascinating questions, Joe. I'd love to hear what other folks think!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Portland Story Theater Closes

Lynne Duddy closes the 2007-08 series of Portland Story Theater's season with dark matter, running Friday and Saturday, this weekend and next, at Hipbone Studios.

I think Lynne assembles a terrific collection of stories here. They range from personal to mythic to factual, and they're accentuated by Emily Post, an a capella group that adds background music and sound effects.

There's the mythical story of the Amazonian Anaconda birthing the world through singing and scales (both kinds). There's stories of parents and partly parents; dead, alive, and in-between. In between light and dark is twilight.

There are neighbors and blood brothers. Did you ever have friends who had the parents you wanted? Or did you ever finally meet the parents of a friend and wonder how such an amazing kid could come from such a nasty family? The things that are there in the light are also there in the dark, but our perceptions change.

There's the story of Dr. Vera Rubin, who developed pioneering theories of astronomy when she was young and found it impossible to be taken seriously. Fortunately, she kept going.

There's not a lot of time -- it's a two-weekend show, as usual -- so hustle out and listen.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Book Review: Self Hypnotism, Leslie Lecron

Leslie M. Lecron's Self Hypnotism: The Technique and its Use in Daily Living is one of the classics on self hypnotism. I've read some complaints about Lecron's attitudes (categorizing homosexuality as a mental illness, for example, or saying that only medical professionals should be trusted with hypnosis - a view Milton Erickson shared), but every book (movie, play, essay, hypothesis, etc.) is a product of context: geography, gender, culture, class, year. Lecron's book is a product of a 1964 psychologist. What is it they say in the Twelve Step movement? Take what works and leave the rest. (The key is to experiment first, to learn whether it works for you or not.)

One of the things I like about Lecron's book is the resources he cites for learning about hypnosis and methods to develop awareness, sharpen focus, increase attention, deepen relaxation, and other skills that can be used to overcome obstacles of perception, belief, and habit. Throughout the text, he recommends books and authors and sometimes adapts their methods to hypnotic processes. (Unfortunately, the books he mentions aren't all listed in the bibliography, so you have to flip through the book looking for the italicized titles.)

Lecron's book does seem very dated to me; nevertheless, I like the way he describes working with ideomotor signals (finger signals or pendulum movements) to narrow down the range of past experiences that might be at the root of current troubling attitudes or habits. His background as a psychologist also made the book richer, for me. When I was growing up, migraines and allergies were the debilitating conditions in my family, and the root causes he identifies (repressed hostility and overprotectiveness) rang true to me as an adult.

I recently read a blog somewhere describing someone's Catholic-school experiences and how they remembered their family and classmates dealing with a "cool" priest and a "perv" priest with gossip and vigilance. Later, as adults, the real story came out, and they learned the cool priest was the actual pedophile and the perv wasn't a perv at all, but the overseer hired to make sure the kids were never alone with the pedophile. The grown children reviewed their memories and compared their youthful interpretation of characters and events with their informed adult memories. It struck me how very like hypnosis this was. Like Dave Elman's terrific book, Hypnotherapy, Lecron's book describes case studies of people whose experiences in childhood were the source of adult problems that were cleared up once that insight was identified and resolved with hypnosis.

Lecron's book is definitely a product of its time, but the methods are sound and described with adequate detail so that any reader can adapt them to their own uses.

Friday, March 21, 2008


I like slingback-style shoes, but they aren't terribly sturdy. I had a pair that broke midweek, and I was stuck for something else to wear. I tend to dislike shopping for clothes, so I don't have many back-ups.

I had a pair of shoes I'd purchased at the same time as the slingbacks and never worn. They had three-and-a-half-inch heels (I love high heels), and although they felt fine at the shop when I tried them on, just two hours in them once I'd got them home made me realize I'd made a horrible mistake. So they sat in a bag destined for Goodwill for the better part of two years.

I dug them out of the bag, not having an alternative until I could shop for a new pair.

Within two hours, the ball of my right foot was numb and the toes of my left foot felt rubbed raw. I thought about methods of interrogation and torture and decided if high heels weren't one of the tactics the military used, they were dolts.

Day Two was more of the same. By the end of the day, I was in agony. The admiring comments on my "cute new shoes" seemed to make it worse. Didn't it just figure that something I hated provoked compliments from others?

On Day Three, I knew something had to give. I shoved a pair of Dr. Scholl's gel inserts into the toes and decided to focus on anything but my feet. My posture. My breathing. The muscles in my abdomen and lower back. My shoulders. Any time pain drew my attention to my feet, I took a deep breath, looked up at the ceiling, sucked in my gut, threw back my shoulders, and told myself I was strong, tall, graceful, and powerful.

I imagined I was standing in front of a lecture hall giving a presentation with a huge screen behind me; so huge that I had to stand tall or else I'd be invisible in comparison.

I told myself I'd only have to endure this for a few more days; then I'd go shopping and get a comfortable pair of shoes.

By Day Five, the shoes seemed looser, my toes felt pressured but not pained, and I began to regain a nice rhythm and confidence in my walk.

By Day Seven, I was pretty sure I could love these shoes. They were becoming comfortable. By the end of the second week, they were completely broken in, as easy to wear as my old pair, and I really did love them.

Isn't breaking old habits often like that? We struggle to incorporate new actions that seem difficult, sometimes even painful, to perform. Using repetition, positive self-talk, change of focus, setting a limit of "just a few more days," engaging the imagination to dissociate from the challenge and associate into an outcome, strong emotion -- in other words, hypnosis -- awkward new behaviors become second nature.

How easy it would have been to give up the first day!

Pain is a message. Sometimes, it means something is deficient (health, wholeness, safety). Other times, it means something is different. When I use different muscles, learn new information, experiment with different foods, get a new pair of glasses, fall in (or out) of love, or expand ourselves in any way, pain is sometimes a passenger in the experience.

No matter what the message contains -- "Something is deficient" or "Something is different" -- I get to decide how to respond to pain. I can stop what I'm doing and consider my options. I can completely abandon the course I was taking. I can ignore the discomfort and persist.

I can label or categorize the pain in a number of different ways: Use Robert Dilts's Logical Levels, for example. I've known people who lived with chronic pain for decades. Some made it a part of their identity; others made it a part of their environment. Even at the level of identity there are differences. Some made themselves a victim of their pain. Others regarded it (as Richard Bach has said) as "a problem with a gift in its hands."

The best way out is always through. -- Robert Frost

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Media Review: Paul McKenna

Paul McKenna is more familiar to viewers across the pond, but he's come to the USA in a big way now on TLC's show, I Can Make You Thin with Paul McKenna. He used hypnosis with Ellen Degeneres to help her stop smoking and was on her show using hypnosis to help folks eilminate fear of snakes, spiders, etc.

Now, McKenna is spending five weeks to help folks lose weight.

I watched the debut on Sunday and delighted at the provocative way he couched his Golden Rules for weight loss.

1. When you're hungry, go and eat.
2. Eat what you want, not what you think you should.
2. Eat consciously.
4. When you're full, stop.

Why are these provocative? A couple are so simple that they're easy to dismiss. I can imagine people rolling their eyes in disgust, saying, "Well, of course, everybody knows that."

If those Golden Rules were really as simple as they appear, McKenna wouldn't have spent a full hour explaining them! Hypnosis depends on precise language, and McKenna took care to unpack "hungry," "consciously," and "full."

I loved the experiment where they invited people to a restaurant for identical breakfasts on two consecutive mornings. The second day, they blindfolded the customers. And guess what? People felt full sooner. They left food on their plates. I'm guessing they also ate more slowly, because it's probably a little more difficult to eat when you're blindfolded. I wonder if the food tasted differently, too?

McKenna hasn't talked about hypnosis, but clips from next week's show had people using EFT, Gary Craig's Emotional Freedom Technique, derived from Roger Callahan's Thought Field Therapy. A recent article in the March 2008 Journal of Hypnotism cited a study that said people who eat for emotional reasons (bored, stressed, lonely) have a harder time losing weight than others. I'm looking forward to watching McKenna at work.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Portland Story Theater, Part Three of Four

Last Friday, Portland Story Theater opened its third show of 2008 with Rick Huddle's On Sale Now! Rick is one of my favorite tellers; nevertheless, I was nervous, because the theme of consumerism can be so polarizing. I steeled myself for an evening that, for all I knew, could have been subtitled Money Is Evil. I needn't have worried.

Rick doesn't tell safe stories (one of the things I like about him), but I always feel safe with him (another thing I like). He takes care of his audience.

What else do I like about Rick? He's physical. He skips, hops, preens, and teaches audience members to flip through catalog pages as he shares a game from his childhood. He projects a captivating childlike energy, an irresistable invitation to come out and play. He has a Puckish, mischievous air that's both grounding and exciting. Kind of like watching a seven-year-old balance atop a wall.

And his stories touch universal human preoccupations: respect, inner worth, relationships, cultural values, work, dreams, family.

I arrived at Hipbone Studios before the doors opened, but I could hear Rick laughing inside. After confirming my reservation and purchasing my ticket, I was handed some Monopoly money and urged to go buy a snack. I wandered over to the concession table, where a variety of chips and sodas were on display. I bought a copy of Rick's CD and signed the unique On Sale Now! guest book (what a nifty idea!).

Alton Chung had composer and pianist Mike Van Liew accompany him, and Rick had the Tuesday Group open for him with their Stimulus Package. What a kick! But boy, am I glad I'm not their agent. How to describe them! "Hi there, I've got three men and two women in business suites performing a choreographed, a capella, be bop, interactive indictment of consumerism that will have your audience laughing, cringing, and tapping their feet!" I don't know. Might be a hard sell, which is a pity. They were wonderful.

As usual, Huddle's performance was stellar. He takes the most mundane events and arranges and polishes them into treasures. It's truly a coal-into diamond effect, and I always marvel.

Hypnosis sometimes involves storytelling, and storytelling frequently evokes trance. For me, the most memorable story of the night reminded me of some of Milton Erickson's work. Rick described the first time he identified with clothing: a pair of green Converse Chuck Taylor tennis shoes he owned as a kid. From having his foot measured (I thought I was the only child enchanted by those metal things that had that little sliding gizmo that pressed up against the ball of your foot) to the way the shoes almost magically transform his world to the sad end of the relationship, it's a sweet and penetrating portrayal of identity, autonomy, personal symbols, and personal power.

Are sweatshops evil? And what about Wal Mart? What happens when our dream jobs become brain drains? Is it impossible to imagine that something as simple and transitory as a coconut cupcake could be a legitimate source of happiness? Huddle poses more questions than answers, thank goodness, giving the audience the opportunity to explore as they pursue their own journeys.

On Sale Now! closes this weekend. Next up for Portland Story Theater: Lynne Duddy's dark matter, April 11-12 and 18-19.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Book review: Self-Hypnosis and Other Mind Expanding Techniques by Charles Tebbetts

In 1970, Charles Tebbetts enrolled in Gil Boyne's self-hypnosis course in California, and entered into a deep love affair with hypnosis and a passion for the rapid-change techniques Boyne taught. Tebbetts went on to be a creative, compassionate hypnotist and teacher in his own right, opening one of the most respected hypnosis schools in the State of Washington. Self-Hypnosis and Other Mind Expanding Techniques describes the successful methods of self hypnosis he used and taught.

Tebbetts gives wonderfully direct and simple descriptions of the roles of the conscious and subconscious minds that dispel many misconceptions about hypnosis (e.g., I won't wake up, I'll be unconscious, I'll be giving up control of my mind to another). He also firmly advises readers to avoid skeptical, doubtful, or analytical attitudes, which can complicate (or completely derail) a person's ability to enter hypnosis.

Tebbetts describes six inductions and four deepeners (including two personal favorites, the Elevator and Glued Fingers), all simple and easy to perform.

There's also a really wonderful chapter about how to construct and deliver effective suggestions to yourself. Crafting suggestions in a way they'll be accepted by the subconscous mind is very important. Hypnosis cannot make anyone do anything against their will, and the subconscious will reject suggestions if it doesn't like them. How do you create suggestions the subconscious will accept? Tebbetts lists nine qualities that every suggestions should possess, and they are so simple, elegant, and beautifully described, I'd like to have them tattooed on my wrist.

Scripts that can be recorded verbatim are provided for clearing out unresourceful emotions such as anger, self-pity, exaggerated pity for others, guilt, and anxiety (self-limiting fears). Those of you who are reading this blog for reflections on Nonviolent Communication may wonder where I get off calling any emotion "unresourceful." Good question. I'll take it up another time, because that probably deserves a post of its own.

Tebbetts also includes scripts for pain relief (headache, constipation, arthritis, bursitis, asthma), rapid recovery from disease, memory improvement, and other issues. I can understand why this book was so popular; it's absolutely jammed with information, while emphasizing the essentials in a simple and straightforward manner.

While slightly more than half the book is devoted to self-hypnosis, the remainder looks at meditation, biofeedback, faith healing, and ESP. In the secion on meditation, Tebbetts suggests some things to try if you don't get good results with the mantra you've been using: change your mantra, change your rhythm, and seek advice from someone more experienced. All of these are also excellent suggestions for those who may be having difficulty with self-hypnosis. (Substitute the word "induction" for "mantra.")

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nearly ninety days in...

...to 2008. Are you on track?

Certified Stress Management expert (and hypnotist) Rick Allen led a terrific teleseminar on goal setting around the first of the year. Those who don't make New Year's Resolutions tend to set goals: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-defined (SMART).

Where to you want to be, this year or in five? How do you want to live? What do you want to do differently? With NLP, change begins with a well-formed outcome. An outcome is well formed when it is within your personal power to change, when it is within a specific context, and when it is ecological (congruent with your values and situation).

Rick had listeners vividly imagine their outcomes, or goals. That's the first step, which is partly rooted in, "If you don't know what you want, how will you formulate the steps to get there?"

To get to Seattle, for instance, there are a lot of intermediary steps. If I'm driving, I have to get on I-5 and pass through Vancouver, Centralia, Olympia, Tacoma, etc. I need petrol and a car. I probably need an address in Seattle, or else I could stop at the city limit... but I probably wouldn't reach my desired destination.

The other part of the equation is, "If you don't know what you want, how will you know when you get it?"

For example, if you say you want more money, and I give you a quarter... well, you got what you said you wanted, but it's probably not what you meant.

So, to continue with the Seattle illustration, what's the address? What are the landmarks? What sequence are they in? What position, or orientation, do they have?

Don't know the steps or the landmarks? One good way of finding out is to ask someone who's been there.

Goals help us get where we want to be, but they need to be SMART. Now is a great time to review your New Year's Resolutions and 2008 goals and check them for well-formedness.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Book review: Practical Guide to Self-Hypnosis by Melvin Powers

At the beginning of every comedy hypnosis show, I tell the audience I'll be keeping the volunteers who can go into hypnosis most quickly and easily, and that if I excuse them, it doesn't mean they can't be hypnotized -- it just means that tonight, they may be feeling distracted or may be having a hard time concentrating, for whatever reason.

Nevertheless, an excused volunteer often comes up later and says to me, "I guess I can't be hypnotized."


Powers's book is a godsend for those people who have had trouble entering hypnosis or recognizing that they've entered hypnosis. He spends a lot of time in his book addressing people who may experience challenges when they attempt self-hypnosis. He provides many, many exercises, procedures, tests and deepeners, assuring everyone of success. (I happen to agree with Powers that anyone can be hypnotized.)

I think the biggest value of this book is in the amount of time and spece Powers spends exploring the question of why some people struggle with hypnosis. If you have been experimenting with self-hypnosis and haven't gotten the results you want, the problem is probably covered in this little volume. You may have been

  • afraid

  • skeptical

  • resisting

  • trying too hard

  • under some misconception about hypnosis

  • feeling uneasy with the hypnotist

  • convinced it won't work

  • unwilling to spend the necessary time

I think Powers covers just about every problem people may encounter, and he provides solutions (which will also work if you are having trouble being hypnotized by someone else). This is a great little volume.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Portland Story Theater, Part Two of Four

Portland Story Theater's opened the second show of its 2008 series with Alton Chung's solo storytelling concert. Unfortunately, I was out of town opening weekend (I like opening nights), and tied up Friday of the following week, but I slipped in under the wire and caught the closing night. Okage Sama De (I am what I am because of you) recounts the stories of five men -- four of Japanese descent and one Jewish -- and their experiences during World War II.

The tales are fascinating in their exploration of assumptions, preconceptions, and resentments, not only those of white and Japanese Americans, but of mainland and Hawaiian Americans of Japanese descent, and encounters between Japanese Americans and Germans. But they are also deeply moving tales of heroes that bring to mind the Greek myths of heroes and gods.

I had never heard of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), which was composed entirely of Japanese American. Chung describes it reverently, saying that for its size and duration of service, it is the most highly decorated unit in all of US Military history. I am trying to remember if I have ever gotten through one of Alton's concerts completely dry-eyed. If I have, it wasn't this one. Fortunately, I'd planned ahead and had plenty of tissue. To think that those young men, many barely out of high school, volunteered for military service while their families were in internment camps... wow.

Chung augments the first-person stories with photos of the men represented. Five folding chairs sit on the stage, and as a preamble to each story, Chung unrolls a photo of the man portrayed in the tale. He assumes the character of each narrator with unique tonality, tempo, vocabulary, gestures, and posture, personifying each man as he remembers his experiences of the war.

Chung gave a remarkable performance, and he's performing portions of the show around the USA. Check his Web site at www.altonchung.com and don't forget to check out Rick Huddle's upcoming solo show with Portland Story Theater. If I know Rick, his performance will be as unforgettable as the other solo shows have been.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Walkabout Trance Beach Resort Getaway

I'm back from Hermosa Beach and the Walkabout Trance Beach Resort Getaway, where the seminar topic was Rapid and Speed Inductions, Anywhere, Anytime, Anytrance. It was WONDERFUL! There were folks from Detroit, Texas, New Hampshire, Atlanta, Portland (two, besides me), Seattle, and all over California. There was even a guy from India. Some had been hypnotists since their teens; others had never hypnotized anyone before -- or been hypnotized themselves. Of 50+ people, maybe a dozen women. I met some absolutely dear people, and the time went by far too quickly. My warmest thanks to Richard Clark for all his time and effort, and to Brian David Phillips, and to David Fontenot, who I was told started the ball rolling by launching Hypnoticon in Atlanta, which brought Brian to the USA for a rare visit (from Taipei).

Some of the most valuable stuff for me:

1. Getting to do rapid and speed inductions over and over again with different people; noticing what "worked" and what didn't; beginning to see for myself the patterns I'd heard described for years; being in a well-lit room and developing my sensory acuity for noticing signs of trance in 1-4 minutes. (You gotta pay attention!)

2. Improvisation. Brian's exercise -- the Speed Trance Train -- really forced me to let go and PLAY. Since then, I've played with the Teakettle Induction, the Doorbell Induction, and the Peanut Butter on Toast Induction. I love, love, love the "anything can be an induction" philosophy.

3. Roll-over into something different. The skillsets that Brian taught emphasized being able to quickly and seamlessly modify what you are doing -- more of what works, less of what doesn't -- with inductions, deepeners or skits. I know this is old hat, but I had a new experience of it, and I'd like to be more flexible, so it was very valuable and I'll be practicing more deliberately (and playfully).

4. Affect/Emotion. Brian talked a lot about chaining positive emotion to physical phenomena ("the higher your hands go, the happier you feel") and leaving people better than we found them. When I was doing one of the exercises and mentioned to my partner that he felt almost like when he was a little kid at Disneyland, his hands leaped about eight inches. WHAM. I flashed on something I think Tony Robbins said: The only reason anyone does ANYTHING is for the feelings they get. I think one common element in my least successful bar gigs was that I didn't spend as much time telling my volunteers how wonderful and fantastic they felt, and how that feeling got stronger the more they responded. Whoa. Light bulb.

5. I have a completely different view suggestibility tests! Now they are like playing with a Brain Chemistry Set for Christmas! How fun!

At lunch on Day One, we went out in competitive teams to hypnotize people on the boardwalk. When we got BACK from lunch, people shared experiences. That was a real eye-opener and made very clear to me (again) that IT'S ALL ABOUT MINDSET. Or context. Be very careful of the words, "I can't." What was "out of bounds" for some people was well within the comfort zone of others. The sharing of information and encouragement really touched me.

I got trance phenomena from six people at lunch. I guess not bad for my first 90 minutes ever! It was hard at first to walk up to strangers, but two of my teammates showed absolutely no hesitation and no fear. Victoria and John, you inspire me!

Day Two was more of the same, only the goal was to deepen the state... I think. My brain pretty much imploded by then. We played with pendulums and ideomotor-response demos as openers (and as marketing leave-behinds). My Third-Eyed, One-Holed, Flying Purple Pendulum is a wonderful memento. Thank you Brian and Lorraine!

On the first day, I surrendered to beginner's mind and just played around and experimented. Day Two, I began to worry more about "improving," I felt like I'd forgotten a lot of stuff, and I started to feel self-conscious around the more experienced hypnotists. But I came home excited, having learned a lot, met some fabulous people and enjoyed Southern California sunshine. Orion is much higher in the L.A. sky than above the 45th Parallel in Portland. It is good to be home, and I'm so grateful for the new friends and skills.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Shackleton's Antarctic Nightmare

An old friend was passing through Portland January 11, so I missed the opening of Lawrence Howard's solo storytelling concert, Shackleton's Antarctic Nightmare: The True Story of the 1914 Voyage of The Endurance. I managed to make it to the closing night of the show, which ran for four sold-out nights.

Shackleton had been to the Antarctic before. Twice, his expeditions fell short of his goal (reaching the South Pole): by 200 miles and by 97 miles. An experienced adventurer, he led a talented and loyal crew on the attempt to cross Antarctica. Not a single man was lost on the harrowing 22-month journey that never even reached the continent; one of the many miracles of the soul-stirring story.

I was born and raised in Southern California, so this week's cold snap --overnight temperatures in the 20s -- seems intense, but it's a spring romp compared to what the Endurance's crew experienced.

I don't think it's possible to express just how much the story moved me. The one-mile-per-day rate at which the men persisted over the ice floes on foot, some pulling a sled in harness. Shackleton and photographer Frank Hurley sorting through hundreds of glass negatives of the journey, together choosing the 150 finest photos, and destroying the rest. The standards of obedience expected of British ships' crews. The unthinking bravery, the methodical planning, the 2000-foot slide off a mountain's precipice... it all inspired me in ways I can hardly describe.

I am a fan of inspiring stories: the tribal youth who walked from a South American jungle to the USA, worked as a janitor to put himself through school, and became a nurse; the single mom, struggling to make ends meet, who authored a children's book that became a global phenomenon; the man who suffered burns over 90 percent of his body, not expected to live, who established himself in a successful career and even ran for mayor.

There are so many people who want to paint those people as exceptions... and they are exceptional. But I think they are exceptional because they dug down and freed the determination and potential that we all possess, but so many of us leave untapped.

That said, I could not imagine how any human being could have risen to the challenge of Shackleton's expedition. Lawrence painted such a grueling picture (and I shudder to think what he left out), it seemed beyond the capacity of anyone to survive. And yet, they did.

It was one of those evenings where the rest of the audience dissolved from my awareness, and I lost track of where and when I was. I let the narrative lift and carry me. When Lynne Duddy first told me the performance clocked in at around 2-1/2 hours, it dampened my enthusiasm. But once Lawrence began speaking, I never once noticed the time.

"Storytelling" means different things to different people. Some think of fables and fairy tales. Some think of sacred tales and myths. Some think of children's stories. My favorite stories are personal and adult. I think of Daniel Pinkwater's stories on NPR, David Sedaris, James Thurber, E.B. White, Joan Didion. Some are more essay than story, but they still represent what I think of when I think of storytelling: Personal stories. Memoir. Humor. Evoking the exceptional out of the ordinary.

The story of Shackleton's expedition fascinated both Lawrence and his father, and I found that thread touching, as well. Children and parents often have difficulty over the years as relationships evolve or deteriorate. The story of a lifelong passion shared by father and son added a poignant shading to the story of Shackleton.

Next up in Portland Story Theater's 2008 Solo Series:

  • Okage Sama De (I Am Who I Am Because of You) by Alton Chung, Feb 8, 9, 15 and 16;

  • On Sale Now! by Rick Huddle, March 7, 8, 14 and 15; and

  • dark matter by Lynne Duddy, April 11, 12, 18 and 19.