When the Future-Trap Snaps

So I’ve spent all week waiting for that mythical particle of inspiration to strike a spark in my imagination. It didn’t.

Thanks to Victoria, I have a back-up plan.

Module 7 of my training with Quest dealt with, amongst other issues, performance enhancement which you’ll know, of course, because you’ve read ‘You’ve Got The Power‘. On that particular weekend’s training course I worked with Victoria and the particular performance we worked on was my evolving writing skill. I’m still very new to this, having only really started any form of meaningful writing, (sales reports and technical bulletins don’t count), three months ago with this blog.

However in that short time, I’ve found that there are, on occasion, times when I just start writing with no real idea exactly what I’m going to write other than following that spark of inspiration that fired the post in the first place. I found a place of flow. On occasion.

To be fair, I also spent a lot of time not writing anything and wracking my brains to tease out the best next word for the sentence. There have also been more than enough sentences and, indeed, entire paragraphs that really should never have turned up on the screen in front of me at all.

So the performance enhancement became my Plan B, (yet another great musician – you should check him out but beware Strickland Banks is not representative of young Mr. Drew’s usual work, parental guidance most definitely applies). With Victoria’s help, I worked on being able to re-create that feeling of finding flow in my writing. Of not really knowing what will come next, just starting out and trusting to the knowledge that it’s worked before and will work again. This post will be the test of that. I haven’t a clue where I’m headed and to fair until 20 minutes ago, I didn’t even know that I’d get this far writing about the fact that I didn’t even know that I’d get this far. I’ve even managed to pull another musical reference in.

Moving on.

What is really taking up my attention this week is that HPD. Remember? That source of my mini rant about TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) back at the beginning of September. A major part of my being able to qualify and practice as a Cognitive Hypnotherapist is the Hypnotherapy Practitioner Diploma. I need to gain the qualification and if I want that qualification to be in place by the time I finish my course in January, the HPD must be completed by the 1st December.

I have twelve and a half days to write 12,000 words. I’ve already done about 9,000 but that’s taken me since the beginning of September. Extrapolate that one out and you’ll find that my target completion date is 2nd of March.

I’m on track to miss my deadline by three months.

Fortunately my engineering education, (yes, I qualified as a Chemical Engineer, spent three years as a Brewer of beer, twenty-seven years in Financial Services and am now becoming a Cognitive Hypnotherapist, don’t you just love consistency), allows me to be appropriately disdainful of statistical projection. I’ve also learnt to embrace my innate tendency to procrastinate. After years of trying to manage it, of being told from early school   days through my adolescent and adult life that procrastination is just another version of laziness, I’ve discovered it is actually a talent that allows me to embrace the here and now.

It doesn’t work for everyone and annoys the hell out those who can’t do it. I simply work at my best when something is both important and urgent. If it’s just important, like the HPD, it’s not enough. It needs to be urgent as well in order to get me working at maximum efficiency. The HPD is a classic case in point. I know that I have the skill, knowledge and capacity to pass. I’m not at all worried that I can’t do it. I qualified as a Chartered Financial Planner this year and that took me many years and many exams to complete so the HPD definitely lies within the realms of a do-able thing. It’s taken me 11 weeks to write 9,000 words. I’ve got 12 days left (and a half, don’t forget the half, it’s important). Plenty of time.

Which brings me to the title of this post.

For years, I’ve managed both my propensity to procrastinate and my talent for forgetting anything important, (my most active auto-trance-phenomena is Amnesia), by setting myself traps for the future, to ensure that I really did deal with those important things that are not yet urgent or that I would quite like to avoid but absolutely had to prepare for. I would set up tasks or meetings or presentations which would walk me towards whatever the goal in mind would be. It was the only way I’d ensure that anything actually happened. I’d break down my target event into to trip-over-the-next-important-section style sub-events. Now you might think this sounds quite familiar, good time management practice and project goal setting. You should never forget that I once turned up five hours late for a time management training course. Honestly.

For me, though, what I was doing was setting a trap in the future, a trip wire that’ I’d fall over and fire a shot of deadline adrenalin into my system. I knew that I wouldn’t work towards those goals, I’d forget them secure in the knowledge that at some point in the not too distant, I’d fall flat on my face, pick myself up and deal with it. Efficiently. And always to standard. I’d set the trip wire so that it would give me just and only just enough time to get the whatever it was that had to be done done by the whenever it was it had to done by to whatever the standard was that it needed to be done to and meet the deadline.

Somehow, it turns out, I was aware enough of my trance phenomena preferences to move effectively into the future at my most efficient, even if I did have to do it by repeatedly tripping myself up. In effect, I’d become my own game keeper, trapping my effectiveness at appropriate points to prevent my amnesiac consciousness from wandering off and populating my future with a total lack of achievement.

In a clear demonstration of serendipity, which the more astute among you will recognise as nothing more than negative hallucination allowing me to ignore anything that didn’t fit in with the serendipitous trend, I’ve come across three totally independent rationalisations of why it’s important to embrace procrastination. Two of these were people my alter-ego works with and another was a blog on Psychology Today way back from April 2011. Somehow it turned up on my Twitter feed a couple of weeks ago which is very much a phrase I never thought I’d be using in the middle of a blog that I’d no idea I was going to write.

It talks about active procrastination. I’m an active procrastinator. I have always worked best under pressure, with just enough time to get something done. And I’ve always felt I had to treat this as a negative trait and strive to build in more ongoing work to try to counter act it, to be more ‘in control’. As it happens it didn’t make me feel in control at all. I’m convinced that all I was actually doing was giving a sense of control to my erstwhile elders and betters. Now those are two words should never be used together automatically, only sparingly and when really deserved. I’ve met a few elders who are indeed better and have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share.

However, I’ve met many more who don’t. They wallow in their thirty years of experiencing the same thing and mistake it for being truly thirty year’s worth of experiences. They’re wrong. And usually so fixed in their ways and so ingrained in their own world that they cannot see, let alone comprehend, anyone else’s point of view. You’ve probably met them. They are only older. If you suspect you might be one of them, it’s never too late for new experience. Try it. I’m loving it.

As an active procrastinator, I get to spend more time dealing with and enjoying the here and now than if I try to meet a non-procrastinator’s ideal of ongoing, manageable bite sized chunks.

You know that well-worn phrase, (sorry Trevor), about how to eat an elephant? Apparently perceived wisdom is one bite at a time. I prefer a feast. Stuff your face until you’re fit to burst. Accept the burst and feast again. In my mind, if you try to eat an elephant one bite at a time, your future is full of, guess what, elephant flavoured food. Breakfast lunch and dinner. Hey guys, what’s for dinner? Elephant – again. For four months in total, I’ve been avoiding the elephant. I’ve had a taste every now and then but it wasn’t cooked right. Didn’t quite have the right texture.

In the meantime, I got to eat all manner of mental flavours and concoctions. All my meals were and are different. And every now and then… guess what.

Bring on the Elephant feast!

Are they all the same?
© Tony Burkinshaw 2012

Everyone Remembers Amnesia (reblog)

I’m not sure why but when I published this post earlier today it appeared in the WordPress Reader as being published over 3 days ago! I’d hate for you to miss it, so here’s the link!

Everyone Remembers Amnesia

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. Let me know what you think.

You might have seen me before!
© Tony Burkinshaw 2012

You’ll soon be here coming back

As I write this, it’s just turned midnight and I’ve had a revelation.

Before we go into the meat of this post, or quorn for those of the veggie persuasion, can anyone let me know why oh why do revelations always happen in the middle of the night – and usually on a Sunday before work and yes, for those who know my current work status, I do have work on Monday, albeit unpaid. My alter ego has a complex preparation for an eight-hour training delivery on Thursday in Southampton about the Financial Planning Regulated Diploma case-study exam. I need my sleep and I’m not going to get it until I’ve laid this demon to rest.

So what’s the revelation, I hear you cry?

Just as I was drifting off to sleep, trying to ignore the nagging realisation that I’d Facebooked an effective promise to get my next blog post written, it occurred to me that I needn’t worry because, in the words of a previous post, a future me has already posted it on my behalf. All I have to do is get there.

That’s when my past rose up and slapped me across the face with a wet kipper.

Unbeknownst to me until now, I come from a long line of skilled conversational hypnotists who don’t have the foggiest idea that that’s what they do. Either that or my mother and my mother’s mother before her back into the mists of time, to continue the atmospherically obscured metaphor, are Antipodean shamen.

Unlikely! comes the retort from my apparently quite vocal imaginary readers.
Well let me explain. As a small child, there are always situations that you find yourself in which you wish fervently were not happening. Dentistry in the 1960’s, for one. A Christmas appendectomy, for another. Not to mention room-tidying and all manner of household chore. Well, my mother had a spell, learned for her mother, which made them all go away.

My fishy awakening came about as the ‘posts of hypnotic suggestion’ theme of my blog dragged itself away from my present and wrapped itself around my childhood. My mother, assuming for the moment that down-under sorcery is actually pretty rare, appears to have had a profound working knowledge of post hypnotic suggestion, time distortion and the induction of amnesia in small children.

How so? I hear… Look could you stop with the interruptions and let me get on with the post? I’m obviously over-tired and positively hallucinating an actual audience, which as a regular bloggee you’ll know about from previous posts, (not the audience, the hallucination), if you’ll excuse the blatant nudge to get another view logged on my blog stats.

The particular mantra, spell or induction was quite simple. ‘Don’t worry. You’ll soon be here coming back‘. As with all pattern interrupts, the incongruity of this phrase for a five year-old boy enabled it to slide straight into my subconscious and weave its hypnotic magic unnoticed.

In another link to earlier posts, this effectively stopped me taking the usual number of snapshots of now that would befit a traumatic experience destined for painful recall later. So, even though the dentist’s drill hurt like hell, by the time I was back in the waiting room I had fewer units of bad experience stored up and the intervening time pretty much collapsed into not very much, thank you. My appendix was removed and I was back home in time for Christmas dinner, to the annoyance of my younger sister who was admitted to the same hospital with the same condition half a day before me but who still missed out on the turkey. The post-hypnotic suggestion was triggered. Time was duly distorted and amnesia induced. Job done. Hoorah for my Mum. Or so you’d think.

Unfortunately, this didn’t really account for my over active imagination and a misguided determination to develop a skill which appeared to enable effective time travel into the future, avoiding all unpleasantness on the way. I may even have known that I was destined to become a hypnotist and called on that future talent to nurture my progress as a spotty and precocious youth. I started to use this spell to carve out longer and longer slices of unwanted or useless time. School Assembly? Gone in a flash. Latin? Couldn’t remember a thing. History became, well, history. So far, so good.

Then I found I could do entire weeks, even entire school terms. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t daydreaming my way through my education. I was just getting to the end of it quicker. Before I knew it, my A-levels were done. I suddenly found that I’d left with good exam results but very few memories. You see, the problem with this particular spell is that it is designed for short-term use. Not an entire childhood. I had unwittingly time travelled right through my youth with the intention of editing out all the nasty bits, of which there were many as with any normal, hormone ridden adolescence. However, I now found myself at the other end of the time tunnel having forgotten to remember the good times as well as the bad.

I still have very few memories of my childhood. Come to that, I have very few school friends that I keep in touch with. It wasn’t until I graduated from University and sobered up that I finally cottoned on to the fact that life is about what happens to you as you grab the next piece of the puzzle and struggle to find out how to make it fit. Now is important. Now is what the past is made up of and what the future will become. Now is the only thing that’s real. And it’s gone in an instant. All that’s left is what you’ve logged and stored to ponder over in your older ages. Store more. Life is fuller that way. Whether it’s good or bad, lead a full life.

I’ve spent years de-hypnotising myself from this particular trance. I now spend most days firmly in the present and I hope I’ve successfully modified the family spell for my children. Despite its drawbacks, it really is useful to be able to reduce the impact of negative experience. It’s just that it shouldn’t be used out of context. It shouldn’t delete them entirely. Apply this skill with care.

So, is my mother a master of Hypnosis? Personally, I prefer to believe the mystic shaman theory of my ancestry. She certainly had eyes in the back of her head and knew exactly what we were thinking or planning as children. She could tell at a glance who had struck the first blow and doled out punishment accordingly. She was always right. Well, mothers always are.

There is of course another possible explanation for my lack of schoolboy mental scrapbook.

Maybe I just wasn’t the sort of kid that other kids liked very much. Maybe I don’t have many long-term school friends because there weren’t many friends in the first place and the reason I don’t remember much is that actually I don’t want to. I’m sure if I thought about it for long enough, I ought to be able work out whether my mother was a gifted caster of spells or I’m trying to forget that I was a snotty oik. The problem is that I can’t, (or won’t), remember enough to decide. So I leave the decision to you. Here’s how;

If you suspect I deserved my apparent lack of school friends, then ‘like’ this post, (I won’t take offence, honest)…

If you’re a fan of matriarchal magic, leave a comment and a request for the spell of your choice…

If you’re undecided, why not follow this blog. You never know, future posts might shed more light…

…and if you’re already following, thank you. I’m hopeful that clarity will eventually emerge.

A moment of magic
© Tony Burkinshaw 2012

Déjà Vu? Never heard of it…

Gill and I spent a day at Anglesey Abbey last week which, as you’ll know if you’ve found me on Facebook, isn’t in Anglesey and is no longer an Abbey. (That’s not the Déjà Vu bit by the way, it’s coming along later). It was a nice day out.

I now find myself mentally apologising to my deceased English teacher who held the view that use of the word nice constituted such a pinnacle of linguistic laziness that all prose containing the word was automatically red-lined in full, no matter what other redeeming qualities it may have had. I still try to avoid nice to this day out of schoolboy respect to the man. He had bona-fide credentials for a 15-year-old O-level student. Not for his English teaching ability, I hasten to add but because he played Franz, the Witch-finder General, in the Hammer House of Horror film Twins of Evil. It doesn’t get much better than that for an adolescent lad: vampires, sleaze and semi-naked twin sisters.

But I digress.

In this instance however, nice was probably the right adjective. A good day out? Good enough. A glad-we-went-but-probably-not-going-back-in-a-hurry sort of a day. You know, nice.

So we sat in the cafe after we’d wandered around the gardens and debated whether the suspended willow-woven anemones in the woods were better, though less permanent, sculptures than the graffiti adorned lions guarding the entrance to the yew hedge enclosing a copy of one of  Bernini’s many David’s. Is it just me, or does this particular David have a look of grim determination that closely resembles a man about break wind in the defence of his nation? If you visit, let me know.

There was plenty of chatter in the cafe in a variety of languages, confirming Anglesey Abbey’s status as a National Trust multicultural attraction. People of all ages were having a good old natter over their cups of tea and clotted cream scones. Suddenly, as clearly as if the background hubbub had been sliced apart with a razor, someone said ‘Sheffield’.

Not a particularly eventful thing to say you might think and I’m sure you’d be right. I only noticed it because I was born and bred in Sheffield and my mother and brother still live there. It’s one of those words that I’m be tuned into. Like when you hear someone say your name in a pub and you know your immediate future holds yet another conversation with that bloke who insist on believing you love talking about websites and networking coffee meetings. I need to be less polite.

I don’t want you thinking that I’m particularly obsessed with the word Sheffield or even the place itself, as I haven’t lived there for many years. There are indeed several other words which could have set me off down this apparently blind and time-distorted alley. It just happens that this was the time, the place and the word which that fired my blogging imagination.

What got me really thinking though, is that I’m convinced I heard the whole word. From start to finish. In its entirety. Yet how could I possibly have known that that person was going to say Sheffield until after it had been said? She could have been going to say anything at all and there are several words I can think of that begin with Sh… But I was apparently tuned in and listening from the moment the word began.

The point is, I suppose, that the word can’t have existed as a recognisable entity until after it had been uttered. So I must have heard it first, then recognised it and then tuned into it. Nothing else makes sense. Nevertheless, I am absolutely positive that I heard the word as it was in the act of being spoken. Or did I?

Is this the source of that elusive Déjà Vu?

Philosophically speaking, I think this is where one of Benjamin Libet’s famous half-seconds might be kicking in. The more I think about this, the more I reckon Mr Libet has a lot to answer for with his time-delay theory of cognition.

Do you recall those late night radio talk shows in the 70’s and 80’s when they encouraged people to phone up and have a rant about nothing in particular? When the anti-swearing bleep machine came into its own? They even brought in a time delay so that a man (or woman) with a good knowledge of blaspheming and swift digital responses had their finger poised over the bleep machine button to edit out inappropriate language. It became a matter of pride to see who could outsmart the time delay and the bleep machine operator and slide a profanity into the show.

Well, according to Ben, this is how your conscious mind works. Not the bleep machine, the time delay. Although, now that I’ve written it, I think the bleep machine has a part to play as well. What you perceive as everyday reality actually happened half a second ago. Now, despite appearances to the contrary, is not ‘Now’. It is, in fact, ‘Then’. Every single thing you recognise, see, hear, smell, taste or touch actually happened before you notice it. Your whole world is half a second out of date.

Sounds bonkers? I know. Until you think it through. It just isn’t possible to know what a word is going to be until it is said. I mean words heard at random, out of context, from a conversation you weren’t listening to. Hearing something where anticipation cannot be part of the mix. Obviously some words can be easily predicted. You know. Like “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him….well”.

Actually, it isn’t ‘well’, it’s ‘Horatio’. Look it up, if you don’t believe me. But you get my drift. With Libet’s delay, this all makes sense, (other than misquoting Shakespeare, that is). Effectively, you have the mental equivalent of global CIA surveillance going on, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Your brain is a fully functioning, highly complex pattern recognition machine, running multiple algorithms that computer science can only dream of, at speeds that are unimaginable. All day, every day, your unconscious takes in everything that goes on around you and runs simulations based on patterns of events that have already happened to you and extrapolates them into multiple futures and makes pre-programmed decisions to guide to the most beneficial version those futures that it can identify. Most of your decisions are made without the you that you think of as you even knowing.

Depending on what is going on around you, your conscious mind, the part of you that you recognise as you, is allowed to be aware of some 7 or so pieces of information at a time. Which of these items are the ones which arrive at the forefront of your mind will depend on a combination of your current surroundings and the most likely multiple futures that your unconscious comes up with. The less threatening the environment, the more you can consciously direct your own thoughts.

However, faced with real or perceived threats, your unconscious takes over and runs programmes which are designed to keep you safe, based on previously run simulations and patterns of experience. They are so important that they don’t allow for your conscious mind to intervene. Thinks about it on an evolutionary level. By the time you’ve consciously considered the current threat level of the sabre tooth tiger, you’re already lunch. Your unconscious had you legging it in the nearest available non-leo direction one critical moment earlier. People who were good at this survived. Those who listened to their conscious thoughts to work out the most appropriate solution may have been intellectually superior but still ended up as prehistoric Kit-e-Kat.

But what has this got to do with Déjà Vu, you’ve already asked. (See, I am prescient). If the  Libet Delay is designed to keep you safe whilst your conscious mind deliberates on higher matters then maybe, on occasion, by the time you have become consciously aware of an event, word or sight that you’re especially tuned into, (like my word Sheffield), your unconscious mind auto-recognises it’s importance and has already begun to store the event in your short-term memory. As you concentrate, you become vaguely aware of echoes of that same event from your memory. Voilà. Déjà Vu.

This concentration could create a loop like your own internal Sky+ box. You’re no longer watching life live, as it were. You’re watching a re-run that your unconscious is storing only moments before you experience it. And because you’re concentrating so hard on the Déjà vu experience, your unconscious keeps storing it. However, your unconscious isn’t stupid. It soon spots what’s going on, realises that someone saying Sheffield isn’t life threatening unless you’re in Chesterfield on a Saturday night and it breaks the magic. Déjà Vu over.

So, when you get Déjà Vu it really is something that has happened before. It’s just that it happened only half a second ago. Good old Benjamin.

Or actually bad old Benjamin. If he hadn’t invented the Libet half-second Delay, then we wouldn’t run all those out of date auto-programmes to keep us safe. We’d have the opportunity to update our Spider Phobia, Anxiety Attacks and Fear of Public Speaking before the unconscious took over with an auto-programme that throws you into a reality tunnel and flatly refuses to let any outside information interfere until you’re safe again. Remember the bleep machine? Unfortunately, ‘safe’ for your unconscious equals ‘still alive’. It bleeps out anything that doesn’t fit because changing something that has kept you safe and alive so far would be daft. It doesn’t really care what degree of social suicide you commit on the way.

Then again, good old Benjamin. Reality tunnels can be broken into. You can update your auto-algorithms. All you need is someone to guide you.

I know just the person.

Lindisfarne. In reality, a tunnel.