Neurolinguistic Programming, also known as NLP, is a series of tools and techniques that help the user take better control of their unconscious mind and its impact on their daily lives. It often sits alongside other similar techniques like Time Line Therapy. Once learnt, these techniques can be used for all manner of purposes, one of which is dealing with depression and anxiety. The idea is that by visiting the ‘first event’ – the first instance of a negative feeling like anger, fear, sadness or guilt – and then going past the event to a time when the negative emotion didn’t exist, we can ‘release’ those feelings and begin to lead a more positive life.
When it comes to anxiety, the same process can be used to ‘travel’ forward on our timelines, envisaging the positive possible outcomes of a future event rather than the negatives. This in turn changes your approach to the upcoming event and increases your chances of a successful outcome.
How is my life like a timeline, and how does this impact me on a daily basis?
If someone was to ask you in which direction are your past and future you will likely describe it in relation to your own body – left to right, back to front, up to down. This automatic feeling that the past and the future are in opposite directions, and that we’re in the centre, suggest a continuum from your past, through now, to the future. That’s your timeline, and it’s really as simple as that.
What part does my unconscious mind play in anxiety or depression?
Your unconscious mind is the storehouse of your emotions. If you’re feeling anger, sadness, happiness, excitement – that’s all coming from your unconscious mind. Your conscious mind is simply the observer of your emotions. If we want to work around our emotional freedom, balance and choice, then we need to work with our unconscious mind – and specifically techniques that work with our unconscious mind.
Our unconscious mind and negative emotions
Our unconscious mind represses memories with negative emotions. We all have that memory from so many years ago that when we think about now still brings up negative emotions.
When we encounter an event that creates a negative emotion, our unconscious mind takes that memory, puts it into a drawstring bag and draws the bag shut. The memory and the associated emotion are still there, but it’s not playing our mind all the time.
But every now and then your mind brings these memories up again. Your mind says “Do you want to think about X now” and of course the answer is no, so you draw the strings shut again. It wasn’t until 1993 when I learnt time-based techniques that I learnt another way – opening the bag and tipping those memories out. The fact I had the choice about that was such a massive thing. So how do you do it?
It is so possible and so easy that all of us have done it before without realising it – we instinctively know how to do it, but we don’t know how to do it in a constructive way. We’ve all got negative emotions, and we’ve all had negative experiences, that we’ve not let go and find it impacts the way we respond to things in the future. You’ll have had an experience where something has happened and you’ve said “Why did I get so angry about that?”. It was likely not the event itself that made you so angry, it was instead down to the ‘luggage of life’ – those emotions we pick up along the way that colour our thinking going forward.
Think of an event where something made you angry. Then think ‘Where was the anger for that event 15 minutes before it started?’. It didn’t exist. Think of a specific event where something made you feel scared. Then think ‘Where was the fear for that event 15 minutes before it started?’. It didn’t exist.
You’ve heard the expression ‘If I could turn back time’. Well in our minds we can. Equally, you’ve heard the saying ‘If I’d known then what I know now…’. Again, we can revisit those moments from our past knowing what we do know now, and we can use that to let go of the past.
We have our timeline and we have events in the past that have given us a negative emotion. Because of the way the unconscious mind organises and stores our memories, there’s a memory in there that is the ‘first event’, the first time you ever felt sad, angry, hurt, guilty.
Where was anger in your world 15 minutes before the first time you ever felt it? It didn’t exist. Neither did sadness, guilt or fear. If we work with your unconscious mind to find that first event and then went 15 minutes before that, and before we went there we knew all the things we now know, then we wouldn’t have felt that emotion. These are called the ‘learnings’.
Your unconscious mind will know that first event because it’s its job to know.
Where would the first event be? It can be in several places on our timeline. Firstly, we’d look in the first seven years of our life, what Morris Massey would call the imprint period, where the emotions around us are imprinted on our minds. We experience the full range of negative emotions in those years, so the first event might be there.
We also allow for that negative emotion to be in the womb. We’re also looking for it being in a genealogical timeline that’s been passed down to us. An example – if people say ‘All the men in the XX family are angry men, scared men’ etc, it becomes a family tradition of sorts.
We’re also seeing that events in our ancestors’ past can be imprinted in our DNA, so maybe the first event is from that. We’re also looking at can they come from past lives – religions like Hinduism and Buddhism believe have that we’ve lived many lives and that we bring karma into our current lives to learn (not as a punishment, as some people think).
It doesn’t matter whether you believe in genealogical, cellular coding, past lives or even that we sense emotions in the womb. It doesn’t matter. It just matters what your unconscious mind gives you as the first event.
Why? Because the first event isn’t real, it’s an internal representation. So let’s say your unconscious mind finds an event that happened when you were seven. You’re not going back as a seven-year-old, you’re going back as an adult. So you can reframe that memory, change the way it makes me feel and behave, and therefore the result it has on your life today.
That’s what we teach people to help them regain emotional freedom.
A word on belief
Beliefs are not real, they are an internal representation, so at some point we must have made a decision that a particular belief was true for us. Imagine if you were able to find a time when you decided you weren’t good enough. Maybe it was something at school. Imagine going back and revisiting the five-year-old you as an adult – the things you decided you weren’t good enough at then aren’t valid any more. So we unbind them, along with the negative emotions that come with them that still impact us today. Remember, we keep the feeling of memories we had at five unless we go back and remove that ‘limiting decision’.
That’s about changing the past – how can NLP help with anxiety?
Anxiety is a big one at the moment. There’s a lot to be anxious about in the world that we have no control over. If we allow that to control our lives, we won’t be enjoying the best of our lives. So how can we beat anxiety?
There is only one way to feel anxious, and that’s focusing on the outcome that we least want. Let’s say it’s a presentation you’re giving; even if it goes well, you’ll feel bad right up until it goes well. So what if we could jump forward to 15 minutes AFTER the event and look back to know having imagined it going exactly the way you wanted it to go. The anxiety goes away. Going into any event in a calm, balanced way will increase the chances of it going well – even if it’s an event we can’t control.
Release the anger, sadness, fear, hurt and guilt from your past. Get rid of limiting beliefs like ‘I’m not good enough’. But also, imagine how good your future could be.
Does that guarantee success? No. Does it increase the chances? Yes.