A Slice of Time and a Tortoise Kebab, Please

Sometimes it’s all you can do just to hang on. Choices vanish and you deal with whatever crops up next, whatever the consequence. The future is too far away to contemplate and the past sits there glaring at you. If you can just make it through the next ten minutes, maybe it’ll be better. You’re slicing time into thinner and thinner pieces because anything larger is too difficult to contemplate. Sometimes even ten minutes is too long.

Side-step into Zeno’s paradox, beloved of Terry Pratchett who masterfully combined two of the most famous ones, ‘the arrow in flight’ and ‘Achilles and the tortoise‘ leading to a puzzled philosopher whose particular bias was destruct testing axioms, to insist that it was impossible to hit a tortoise with an arrow despite his test-site being littered with broken arrows and testudo kebabs.

Here’s the theory. If you shoot an arrow at a Tortoise it will run away. By the time the arrow reaches where the tortoise was, the tortoise will have run even further away albeit not very far. But then the arrow has to cover that new distance in order to skewer the slowly fleeing reptilian and by the time it does, the tortoise will again have run a further distance which the arrow must then cover and so on. Reducto ad absurdum, as they like to say.

Common sense tells us that this is utter nonsense but then when did common sense have anything to do with philosophy?

Or indeed how we perceive our lives.

At the same time that you’re hanging on for dear life through a day that seems to have no end, friends, loved ones and total strangers are flying through time complaining about there not being enough of it because there’s so much they want or need to do.

Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, our brains appear to have invented the ability to control time eons ago, although it seems like just last week to me.

Welcome to Time Distortion. We all do it all of the, if you’ll pardon the over-use of the word, time. It’s a well-known fact that Time flies when you’re having fun, being sixteen seems like yesterday on your eightieth birthday and double geography takes forever. It would be superb if it were possible to share out time between those of us who don’t have enough and those of us who wish like hell that there were less of it to drag our sorry asses through.

Time Distortion is a key trance phenomena. We use it to get through our day along with the other standard eight. It’s a also key component of some of our difficulties such as stress, where whatever problems we face have way too little available time to be able come up with any sort of solution that gives us the feeling that we could possibly regain any control of our lives. An inability to perceive personal control of a situation is a key aspect of negative stress. And perceived lack of time to find a solution can be a key component of the lack of control. The ability to notice how much time there really is can rebuild the possibility of finding a solution. Regaining control. Overcoming the stress.

Time distortion is quite a flexible building block and finds its way into other key difficulties we face, particularly in that other focus area I work in, pain management. The more our environment shouts at us, the more it grabs our attention. The more attention we pay it, the more we focus on it and that vicious circle spins and dances around us demanding that ever greater attention be paid to those ever smaller slices of time. In terms of a something that grabs your attention by the throat, pain is up there with the best of them.

Pain is a core self-protection mechanism and as such has an extremely high priority in your unconscious mind’s list of things it wants to give it energies to. If you’re in pain, it reasons, (well not reasons so much as red alert all hands on deck), your life may well be in danger so bloody well sort it out now. All your senses and energies focus on fight or flight and survival. You’re dumped into protection mode and that erstwhile common sense approach to life with its inherent feeling of being in control goes on holiday for a bit or in the case of chronic pain, for quite some time and given that time is the issue here, that can feel like forever.

In terms of how our unconscious minds deal with negative stress and pain, an ability to change to perception of time can be a key ally in the fight to regain some balance. Our safety mechanisms are designed to give us the ability to survive and it’s an odd fact that when we are in fight or flight survival mode, we reduce blood flow to cognitive areas of the brain. High emotion makes us stupid, to quote a certain Trevor of Cognitive Hypnotherapy fame. From an evolutionary perspective it makes no sense to think your way out of a life threatening situation, it’s much better to have a heightened ability to react without thinking to your surroundings so you can deal with or run away from whatever is attempting to make you lunch in a non-delicatessen kind of way. And guess what goes along with heightened awareness? Time slows right down and whilst that is great in evading the sharp toothed beastie of old, you have to wade through it like sticky treacle in the concrete jungles of today.

Imagine this. Thinly sliced segments of time are heightening your pain. Dragging it out. There really is no other way to deal with it than to grit your teeth and work your way through this slice and into the next, waiting for the moment when this particular flare dissipates enough for some semblance of normality to return. Now, it’s a strange thing about our individual perception of time that each slice, no matter how thick or thin we happen to have sliced it in the moment, seems to have the same duration as any other slice. So what would happen if I could show you a way to re-slice time? To make it appear to take less, for the want of a better word, time?

Although the pain would exist in scientific time for just as long, your unconscious would perceive it as passing more quickly. And if it appears to pass more quickly, then maybe, just maybe, your unconscious might downgrade its importance in its hierarchy of vital stuff to pay attention to. And that can de-trigger a whole host of other pain perception mechanisms.

Not only can it help with pain perception, stressful situations which suddenly have the time they need to enable you to create solutions that bring back a sense of control may just seem more manageable and a manageable situation, let’s face it, isn’t stressful.

Now obviously life may be a little more complex than this but given that we only use nine trance phenomena to get through our lives, (check them all out here), and that I’m well versed in all of them, it just might be that a relatively simple combination of two or three of them, tweaked in the right manner, could thrust control firmly back in your direction.

To the point where not only could you start to see the wood from the trees, you just might find that you needn’t be in the forest at all.

Why not get in touch? I promise it won’t take long.

The wood from the trees© Tony Burkinshaw 2013

The wood from the trees
© Tony Burkinshaw 2013


Brick Walls, Brighton and Poang Chairs

As Friday’s go that was an interesting one. Pointless but interesting.

Well, maybe pointless. It all depends on how you feel about limiting beliefs. Which is of course, where Helen comes in. If you live on the South coast of England, within reach of Brighton, you’re future’s looking bright. You’re within easy access of Helen and her new therapy room. More on that to come. Helen was one of the first people I talked to when I began my Cognitive Hypnotherapy journey all  those months ago. She’s even the reason that this blog exists, or at the very least the reason that it began when it did. If you’re interested, click here and read these two posts, it’ll explain it.

Anyway, we learn quite a bit about limiting beliefs as Cognitive Hypnotherapists and more to the point, we learn how to find them and what to do with them when you’ve brought them out into the daylight to see how powerful they are.

I already knew a fair bit about them anyway from my days as a sales manager having spent many hours on courses and many more using them to encourage members of my various teams to reach their ‘full potential’, which I’m pretty sure is going to become a topic for a whole post if its own fairly soon. What exactly is Full Potential? I mean how do you know when you’ve reached it. What if you’re already there. And what if you don’t want to reach that particular pinnacle? Does that make you a failure or just someone with a different sense of what’s important to you than whoever it is encouraging to reach higher than before for whatever it is they’ve managed to convince you is important enough to need to be reached. Usually via a book they wrote specifically for the purpose, signed copies available at the back of the room.

Get off the soap box and stop the mini-rant… Sorry.

However, during our time at The Quest Institute we spent time uncovering each other’s beliefs of the limiting variety, working out what they meant and trying to swap their underlying pressures for a more positive and beneficial drive into our respective futures. Mine, not unusually, revolved around my not being my father, as you may recall from earlier ramblings. Thanks to the helpful and really rather skilled guidance of my stand in course tutor Sarah, (Muriel wasn’t around at that particular point), and later on for more of the same with Katy, I am happily convinced these days that I am indeed not my father.

Thanks to the miracle of Facebook, (don’t forget I am a relative latecomer to social media and to this day remain surprised that Facebook, Twitter et al do actually contribute something helpful rather than simply being a repository for angst of the teenage variety), I picked up a multi-friend message from Helen that she needed a colleague to practice on prior to a client meeting. The particular practice she had in mind was values elicitation. Now this is a relatively simple concept but quite difficult to execute well so practice seemed like a good idea and always being one to step up to the mark when it suits me, I did indeed do that very thing in the style of Mr Omally from previous posts, seeing as it did. Suit me, that is. Keep up.

For those who read my last post, (a prescient phrase, if ever I heard one), you’ll be aware that whilst not becoming a Buddhist monk and divesting myself of all things material, I am attempting to find a less accumulative path into my future by downsizing my expectations whilst upgrading my personal satisfaction of life experience. Basically, do less but do it well. Expect less but enjoy it more.

The fly in this potentially relaxing ointment is that I seem to be doing a certain amount of self sabotage. I have a natural procrastination, as you know, which I find works well and means that I do what needs to be done by the time it needs to be done, to the standard it needs to be done but I do it as late as is possible because my best work is when done in when I’m really focussed which I find difficult to achieve if there is plenty of time between now and the end goal. My plan is to fill up that spare time with fulfilling things, even if sometimes those fulfilling things turnout to be rather trivial. So far so good. This part is working well.

My particular difficulty is that I seem to be becoming more and more inefficient. Work is spreading out to fill up those times when I had thought I would be fulfilling trivialities from going to the gym in the middle of the day, through re-decorating the hallway, all the way up to staring blankly at scenery simply because it makes me feel good. Try as I might, I seem to be doing everything I can to ensure that I don’t get to enjoy the slowing down, even though that slowing down is actually happening pretty much according to plan and duly slowing down nicely thank you.

Enter stage left Helen’s request for a guinea pig to practice on.

In yet another nod towards modern communications which I’ve been assiduously ignoring, this practice took place via Skype, being my second ever Skype call, (the first being my interview with Bex to get accepted for Quest in the first place). After the obligatory pleasantries and catching up as is necessary on these occasions, including a Skype-eye view of Helen’s new therapy room complete with obligatory Poang chair, (I use one as well which is now some 25 years old, on its 4th cover and as comfortable as ever. I heartily recommend them in a blatant attempt to see if anyone with the remotest connection to Ikea’s product placement budget is reading this), Helen slickly kept me on track and proceeded to, I have to say really rather skilfully, elicit some values out of me. It was relatively painless.

As a well trained AD, (Audio Digital, which now I come to think about it I’m not entirely sure I’ve explained properly anywhere on this blog even though it crops up quite frequently, so if you think that I should dedicate a post to a more detailed explanation of preferred representational systems, leave a comment below and I’ll see what I can do), I don’t do emotions very well. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel them. I do. It’s more of a superhero version of boys don’t cry although to be fair as it’s not gender sensitive, many find themselves living in a girls don’t cry world as well. Appropriately for this blog, hands up if you noticed the cure…

One of the ways I know when something is accurately near the mark is when my AD tendencies go on high alert and I find myself ‘not emoting’. I don’t mean just not showing emotion, more of an absolutely not showing this particular emotion that’s threatening to break through and destroy my world. As any AD knows, if an emotion does escape and leak through the protective barrier, all manner of world ending scenarios ensue.

Meanwhile back in the land of desperately trying not to get to the point, we got to the point. No matter how I clothed it, disguised it, wrapped it up in camouflaged weasel words, Helen kept teasing the same underlying beliefs from pretty much all of my work related values which she had so adeptly got me to tell her.

Now, beliefs come in two flavours. Towards flavours and away-from flavours. Towards beliefs are great. Really healthy. If your life is based on towards beliefs, everything you do is moving you into growth. The garden is rosy. It’s wholesome, rewarding, life affirming and all those other platitudes you hear but which in this instance aren’t platitudes at all. They’re the real thing. Not like Coke.

Away-from beliefs are something that most of us suffer with. Away-from beliefs are beliefs of the limiting kind where you spend your life trying not to be something. Or someone. In time honoured fashion, if you try to avoid something it can never leave your field of view, (after all, how else would you know you were avoiding it), and more often than not, in a don’t hit that tree style, you trundle off into the future, dutifully hit the tree  thereby becoming the very thing you wanted to avoid. Limiting beliefs drive you into protection mode. Not good. Not good at all.

So. Helen derived all my values into one underlying belief. Almost inevitably it was away-from. Limiting.

I have to say, this surprised me. Especially as I thought that I had put that earlier revelation that I really am not my Dad to bed in reversal of roles I’d not expected. I don’t even think about that one any more. I’m happily treading my own path. Or so I thought. It turns out that there is one more demon to put to bed. And it makes me sad.

My father died in the late Eighties, a long time ago now. I have very fond memories of him and there have been many times when it would have been great to still have him around. I was 27 when he died. He was 57.

I’m 53 this year. Guess what my limiting belief has turned out to be.

Pretty much everything I value about the work life balance I’m trying hard to carve out of my past and into my future is based on dying at 57. As limiting beliefs go, that’s quite a limit. If I look out into my future, there’s a great big brick wall not very far away. And it’s getting closer. Oh dear.

All my life people have told me that I am like my father. In many ways and hopefully the good ones, although that might be a little conceited, I suppose I am. Having been through this in some depth with Sarah, (no not my sister, the other one), and Katy I am really quite at ease with that now. But it turns out that the prospect of dying at 57 is chuntering away underneath everything I’m doing.

I’ve rationalised my drive to work less now but to do it for longer in a retirement planning argument that goes something like this. Being a retirement specialist, my alter ego knows that my pension is unlikely to be enough for me to fully retire at 66. That means I’ll have to work part time for a while after I do retire. So if I have to do that, why not start doing it now? In many ways, my reduced expectations and consequently reduced work load are a form of early semi-retirement. I quite like that.

However, if my core driver is that I am living with this like-father-like-son narrative causality, then what’s the point? Why bother? What’s the point in trying to semi-retire now in exchange for a fulfilling part time career running into my late 60’s and 70’s if it all grinds to a halt in four years time anyway?

And that’s the key to all this. Now it’s been uncovered I’ve got the opportunity to re-evaluate it and flip it on its head. Reverse the polarity so to speak. Here’s what I really believe. In essence, I’ll die when I die and there’s nothing I can do about it. It absolutely will happen. Life’s only certainty is that it will end. In many ways that’s kind of liberating.

Instead of living with the cloud of something that has nothing to do with my reality, I can just be. Do what I want to do because it’s the right thing for me to do and not because I’m worried that what happened in someone else’s past must therefore happen to me. No matter how close they were.

So here I am. For now. And hopefully for a very long time to come. Time will tell. Nothing else.

Knowledge is a powerful thing. Naming the beast can indeed slay the beast and given time, not only slay the beast but make it so that the beast never even appeared. Change the story. Rewrite it. It’s never too late.

On the off chance that your future exists as a client of mine, or indeed of Helen’s, what does this have to do with fertility issues and pain management? As it happens, potentially quite a lot. If your core beliefs are limiting, then you’re driving yourself into protection not growth. Your mind and body are hunkering down and concentrating on keeping you safe just in case the bad thing happens. There’s no point in growing. Growth takes energy and if you’re in protection mode, you just might need every ounce of energy you have to survive. At least, that’s what your limiting beliefs are telling you. Down at your core, where it really counts.

If this is where you are, then discovering and dealing with core limiting beliefs can flip you from protection into growth and release the energy you do have. Whilst that may not solve the particular difficulties you face, (although in many cases it can), it absolutely has to help. If your core belief is positive when it used to be negative, you are back in control of you.

And that means that you have become the driver of you. So even if your issues remain, you are now the focus, the key, the centre of your own life. You’ve just given yourself the opportunity to grow.

In the meantime, I’ve got a wall to dismantle. Does anyone need some second hand bricks?

that's been there a while© Tony Burkinshaw 2013

that’s been there a while
© Tony Burkinshaw 2013