Limiting Beliefs about Money and Utilizing Positive Motivation
“Your task is that of altering, not abolishing.”
“Every sentence has implications, and it is in the implications that the important message is given.”
Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
[Simon is English, a semi-professional runner, probably in his early 40s. In his email contact, he said that he wanted to work on his beliefs about money. I begin the session with a neutral, yet light attitude of curiosity, and then utilize every opportunity for humor and laughter.]
Steve: You said you had a little, uh—some NLP with Ian McDermott. (Simon: Yeah.) Some time ago?
Simon: Well, I did a practitioner course with him about—most everything on my timeline is (gesturing with his left hand to his left) if it’s not last week, it was ten years ago, so it must be ten years ago.
Steve: How do you do that with your timeline?
Simon: I have no idea. It has big blanks. (gesturing with both hands in front) So I just say—
Steve: You just have it all compressed? (Steve brings his hands together.)
Simon: —ten years. I guess. (laughing)
Steve: That would be interesting to explore. But that’s not what you came here for. (Steve laughs) So let’s do what you want to do.) [The foregoing is a clear message to Simon that I will be focused on his outcomes, not mine.] And I just have a couple of frames. One is that—you have some familiarit with NLP, but different people do it in different ways. And the way I do it is, I like to offer people things, (Steve gestures with both hands palms up, as if offering a tray.) things to try. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t work. And I’m not interested in pushing anything on you that you don’t want to do. (Simon nods.) And so if anything we do along—you know, during this hour or so—um, doesn’t feel right to you, or you have some concerns about, let me know—we’ll do something else. (Simon nods, “OK.”) Or we’ll talk about it, or whatever. But I really need that feedback. Of course I’ll be watching your nonverbals (Simon nods.) as well as I can, but I miss something sometimes; I don’t catch everything. [This sets a very explicit frame that I welcome any and all feedback, including any objections or concerns that Simon might have.] So, um, you said you want to talk about your beliefs about money. (Simon: Yeah.) Well, tell me about that.
Simon: Ummm, (long outbreath), OK, it’s kind of an anxiety about money. And I originally thought, OK, it’s a weird belief. (Steve: Hmm.) I was talking to my wife about it, and, what seems to be the case—it’s actually two fears, (Simon gestures with his left hand, palm up, forefinger extended.) and they’re sort of competing. So the fear of money is not having enough, not being able to pay my taxes, going to jail, dying, whatever, you know.
Steve: They don’t throw people in jail for that any more.
Simon: Really? (Simon laughs.) Ahh! I feel better already. (joking)
Steve: (joking) Maybe we’re done.
Simon: OK. (both laugh)
Steve: Well, things can get nasty and difficult, but they don’t put people in jail for that any more, unless you defraud somebody. (Simon: OK.) If you actively defraud somebody—I’m not a lawyer, so I shouldn’t be talking. (Simon laughs) As far as I know.
Simon: It’s all on tape, so I’m going to quote you if I get in trouble.
Steve: There you go. (both laugh) It won’t mean a thing!
Simon: Ummm, so there’s that kind of—there’s all that fear stuff, which then makes me want to get really organized about money, get on top of it, which I’m not. Um, but then the other fear I have is that if I do all that, then I won’t have a life. I won’t be able to do what I want to do. (Steve: Right.) And I think the reason I got to that was because of my experience with my father, (Steve: Hmm.) who had to sort out all sorts of financial stuff for his father. (Steve: Hmm.) And he got so good at it, that the local branch of the Inland Revenue, which is the equivalent of the IRS in England (Steve: Right.) eventually asked him to come and work for them (Steve: Uhuh.) because he got so good (Steve: Uhuh) at working everything out. (Steve: Uhuh.) But I saw what that took out of him, (Steve: Uhuh.) the time and energy that—
Steve: So it became a “grind” for him, and—
Simon: Yeah, and I saw that he didn’t—he kind of lost his joy about life, (Steve Umhm.) and ended up not doing anything that he wanted to do, at all. (Steve: Umhm.) So when I think about money, I get those two pictures (holding both hands in front of him) I get going to jail, you know, (gesturing with his right hand) whatever, something horrible, unspecified, which comes as a literal physical feeling here. (Simon gestures with his right hand toward his stomach area.) And then I move towards doing something about it, and then I go—
Steve: “I’m gonna lose my life.”
Simon: If I get into this, I’m gonna end up like my Dad, and not have my life. (gesturing with his left hand.) (Steve: Right.) And also, there’s a kind of (long outbreath) “What happens if I do look at it? Would it be so bad—”
Steve: If you do look at what?
Simon: If I do look at my money situation in real detail, and start getting to grips with it (Steve Uhuh.) will it be so bad that I’ll just—it’ll just put me into complete despair and I’ll end up jumping off a building.
Steve: So you’ve got three fears.
Simon: OK, we’re up to three.
Steve: So you’re kind of in a corner. Shall we go for four?
Simon: (joking) Yeah, so the other one is— (laughter). Yeah, so that’s kind of, intellectually, where I’ve got with it, and none of that insight does a damn thing about changing it.
[Simon is caught up in what is called an avoidance-avoidance conflict. Although he is consciously aware of his three fears or anxieties, they are generated unconsciously by his representations of what he wants to avoid. He has an intellectual understanding which doesn’t help him have a different response. My job is to change his unconscious responses.]
Those of you who are therapists, I strongly recommend that you pause here and decide what you might do to help Simon. At this point, he has provided all the information you need in order to help him. Whether you are right or not, if you strategize based on the information Simon has provided, you will learn more from reading the rest of the transcript, and that will help you learn to be a better therapist. Pause here and decide what you would do.
Steve: Right. OK. Well, good. That gives us plenty to play with, and it’s only a question of where to start. Um, I think I’ll start with the third one. The less you know about something, the more scary it is. (Simon nods.) So I think when you talk about not wanting to look at your financial situation, and really map it all out (gesturing with both hands palm down, spreading out.) I think that fear could probably—even if it’s bad news—the fear about it will be much decreased if you actually do it [Look at what is there]. (Simon nods.) Does that make sense to you?
Simon: It makes sense, yeah. (Simon’s voice tone is hesitant and questioning, an his head tilts forward, while his chin moves back.)
Steve: OK. But you’re not willing to actually do it.
Simon: (shaking his head, mouth tightly closed) Uh-uh.
Steve: Because—? The fear would be less?
Simon: I guess I’m— I guess I’m just not convinced.
Steve: Oh, Really? Oh, I think it’s pretty universal. Um—if you don’t know what’s in a dark closet, you can make up all sorts of ideas about how bad it is, and so on. (Simon nods.) And, uh, usually that’s far worse than what’s actually in there. So, but maybe you don’t want—I can’t convince you of this, I just think it’s true. (Simon: Umhm.) I’m offering you stuff. (Steve gestures with both hands from himself to Simon.) Simon (nodding) Sure.
[I completely accept his disagreement. Rather than try to convince him, I mo e onto one of his other fears.]
Steve: OK. Let’s go to the first one then. We can always cycle back and do other stuff. (Simon: Umhm.) When you think about your, um—how did you describe the first? You said you had a feeling. You described a feeling in there. (Steve gestures toward his own stomach area.)
Simon: Yeah, I get a real kind of a knot of anxiety (Steve: Yeah.) right here. (gesturing toward his navel, fingers together)
Steve: Can you feel it now? (Simon: No.) Can you remember a time when you felt it?
[At this point Simon can remember the feeling, but he is not actually feeling it. I need to access the feeling itself in order to elicit the process that results in the feeling andeventually change it.]
Simon: Yes, probably. (Simon laughs, breathes out.)
Steve: Revive it? (Simon: Yup.) Got it?
Simon: Yeah, it’s kind of, whenever those letters arrive, you know, from the IRS or whoever.
Steve: OK. So imagine that you get a letter from the IRS. (Simon’s eyes defocus as his attention turns inward.) Can you imagine it vividly, and feel that feeling? (Simon: Yup.) OK.
[Now that he can actually feel the feeling, I can elicit the unconscious process that creates it.]
I want you to notice where the feeling starts, and where it goes to. It’s kind of a strange question—I mean, you gestured to here in your lower abdomen, but ah, that’s fairly vague and general. Often people notice a feeling, but they don’t notice the details of the feeling—of where it starts and where it goes to.
Simon: OK, yeah, I think that’s where it ends up. I think it starts—it starts actually out here (gesturing with his right hand in front of his forehead) and then it moves down through my throat (gesturing toward his throat) which tightens a bit.
Steve: (gesturing with his right hand toward his own forehead and throat.) Does it go through your head, or just kind of straight down?
Simon: I’m not sure about that. It’s out (gesturing in front of his forehead) and then suddenly it’s in, (gesturing toward his throat) and it’s down there (gesturing toward his stomach) and that’s where—
Steve: OK. It comes in— Is it right down your midline (gesturing with both hands down his own midline) or is it a little off to one side?
Simon: It seems to go straight down the midline.
Steve: Great. Now here’s a weirder question. (Simon laughs.) As it goes from here (Steve gestures to his head) to here (gesturing toward his neck) down to here (gesturing toward his stomach) which way does it spiral?
[My gestures indicate nonverbally that I am taking on his process as if it were occurring in my body, identifying with what he does. There are a number of implications here: I am accepting his experience completely, willing to experience it myself, etc. Getting the smallest details of a client’s experience expresses complete respect for their experience, at the same time that it provides useful information about how it can be changed.]
Does it spiral this way? (gesturing in a clockwise spiral from head to stomach) Or—.
Simon: It goes that way (gesturing in the same way).
Steve: Goes that way. OK. Great. And, um, give me a little bit more information, like how big is the path? Is it small? (gesturing with both hands close together) Is it larger? (opening up the gesture somewhat) (Simon does a long outbreath.) Does it have a color?
Simon: It kind of feels quite big up here (gesturing with both hands in front of his forehead) and then it’s very very narrow coming through here (gesturing from neck to upper chest) and then it gets down to here (gesturing with both hands toward his stomach) and then it spreads out again. (Steve: OK.) Um, color? (Simon shakes his head.) Mmm.
Steve: Maybe no color.
Simon: I don’t really get a sense of color (Steve: OK.) about it. It’s kind of— maybe—just a gray—
Steve: Nothing, nothing—
Simon: —silvery gray—foggy type thing.
Steve: OK, great. OK. Now I want you to try something now. As the feeling—I want you to have the feeling again. As the feeling goes down like that (Steve gestures with his right hand.) and gets narrow in your throat, I want you to spiral it in the reverse direction.
[This reversal can be amplified by also asking the client to give the feeling a different color that the client likes better, and to add sparkles to it. However, at the time of this session, I was experimenting with doing only one thing at a time, in order to find out more about each variable, and find out what was essential and what could be omitted.]
(Simon’s attention turns inward, and he is very still as he focuses intently on doing what I asked him to do.) . . .
Steve: Can you do that?
Simon: (pause) Umm. . . .
Steve: What happens when you do that?
Simon: Yeah. Um, I kind of get stuck. It kind of unwinds it, so it doesn’t get—end up down there. So I have to keep going back, literally back to visualizing the situation. (gesturing with his right hand in front of him)
Steve: Right. So you visualize the IRS letter or whatever. (gesturing with the right hand, palm up, in front of him.)
Simon: Yeah. (gesturing palm up with his left hand)
Steve: And then imagine that, and spiral it in the reverse direction. Do you still feel anxious?
Simon: I can get it down to about here (throat area) and then that act of reversing it doesn’t—it stops it going down to— (gesturing with right hand to stomach, while left hand is still palm up.) So I don’t get that anxiety.
[Changing the direction of the spiral, which had previously been unconscious,changes his unconscious response.]
Steve: You don’t get the feeling?
Simon: I don’t get the feeling.
Steve: Great. Would that be nice?
Simon: I don’t know. Yes. Umm, (pause) I’m gonna say this, and it’ll just sound a bit ridiculous, but—because I’m not doing anything about it—but it’s kind of like that feeling of nervousness (gesturing with his left hand toward his stomach) was, I thought, my motivation (Steve: OK.) for doing something about it. (Steve; Well, OK.) Not that I was doing anything about it. But I kind of wanted that feeling there to— (gesturing with both hands in front of him, as if holding something.) I mean, I—
Steve: To get you going.
Simon: I don’t want to just—
Steve: —just throw the IRS letter in the trash.
Simon: I don’t want to just feel better about it.
[Simon is expressing a valid concern about losing the positive intent of the feeling of anxiety—even though it wasn’t actually accomplishing that purpose. If he just loses the feeling, he might also lose the positive intent .]
Steve: OK, well, I think it’s a first step, OK? (Simon laughs and turns his head to his left.) Now, I’m assuming that the anxiety does have a positive feeling—a positive purpose— namely, to get you to do something. But you say it hasn’t really gotten you to do something. (Simon: No.) So it hasn’t been working. (Simon gestures with his left hand: “No.”) So it’s just pain for no gain, right? [I deliberately use a modification of a sports term, “No pain, no gain.”] (Simon: Yeah.) But at least it’s kind of a reminder. OK. Now, I agree. We need to replace it with something. But I think your life will be a lot better without that unpleasant feeling. (Simon: Uhuh.) Now, we need to replace it with something. OK? (Simon nods.) So, here comes the IRS letter. (gesturing with his right hand, palm up.) What are you going to do—instead of just feeling bad? (gesturing toward Simon’s stomach.)
Simon: Well, it’d be great to actually do something about it.
Steve: I think it would probably be a good idea. So what’s— I mean you know what’s in the letter; I don’t need to know what you’re talking about. I don’t need the content. (Simon: Umhm.)But what would be an appropriate thing to do?
Simon: Uhhh, open it. (He laughs, and turns his head to his left.) [This is the second time he has done this, and the context suggest that it is a nonverbal signal for embarrassment.]
Steve: (laughing) What do you do usually? Put it in the trash?
Simon: I don’t open them.
Steve: Really? (laughing)
Simon: Really. Oh yeah.
Steve: So, we’re back to the third one [fear ] again, aren’t we? The dark closet. (Simon nods.)
Simon: But, I mean, in the past, umm—interesting presuppositions—In the past I haven’t opened it because I got this feeling of anxiety. (gesturing with his left hand toward his stomach) So I think, “I don’t want that feeling of anxiety, so I just won’t open it.” (gesturing with his right hand pushing away.) Then I won’t know what’s in it. Then I can— (gesturing with both hands pushing away.) But now if I’m going to see the letter and I’m not going to have that feeling of anxiety (gesturing with his left hand) maybe I will be able to open it. (Steve: OK.) I don’t know.
[Rather than discuss this intellectually, I ask him to try it out in his imagination and find out what happens.]
Steve: Well, try it in your imagination, right now.
Simon: I mean, in imagination, I can do it.
Steve: OK, so you open it up.
Steve: And what does it say? I mean, I don’t need to know—
Simon: Whatever they say.
Steve: “You owe us some money,” or something like that.
Steve: OK. And then what?
Simon: Then I put it in a pile, and forget about it again.
Steve: I don’t think that’s going to work very well, do you?
Simon: It hasn’t been working very well.
Steve: Not in my world. (laughing) I mean, usually the IRS, you know, they just keep adding on more penalties and stuff, so it just gets worse. (Simon: Umhm.) They’re smart about that; they know—
Simon: (annoyed) I know all that. That’s what I’m saying. (Steve: OK.) Intellectually I know all this stuff, but (Steve: All right.) I still— It’s not quite enough (Steve: OK, great.) fear, I guess, or whatever—
Steve: Not quite what—?
Simon: —enough fear or motivation to push me to do something.
Steve: Well, before, the anxiety didn’t get you to do something, right? (Simon: Right.) So that wasn’t working very well. (Simon: No.)
[The three fears Simon has mentioned are all examples of negative motivation—going awa from something unpleasant. I know that positive motivation—going toward something pleasant—is usually more effective, and I know that Simon is a semi-profess ional runner, which requires a lot of positive motivation. I next ask him about his motivation for running, expecting that I will be able to utilize this ability to become motivated to deal with money issues.]
Now, you’re a runner, right? (Simon: Umhm.) I don’t know what kind of program you’re on, but I’m sure it takes a LOT of motivation. (Simon: Umhm.) How do you get yourself motivated to do that?
Simon: Yeah, I mean, this is the— That is a very good question, and it’s a weird thing that I’m completely motivated for something like that.
Steve: Yeah, I (gesturing toward his left chest.) think it’s weird, personally. For me, running is the quickest way to ruin a day. (Both laugh; Simon turns his head to his left again.)
[I pick up on the word “weird” and offer my own completely opposite view of running, which has a number of useful implications. I am being honest with him, I am clear about how my experience is different than his, and that I am keeping the two separate, andthat his love of running is not universal, but somehow a result of what he does internally.]
Simon: (shaking his head) We’re on different planets, but, OK—
Steve: That’s all right. We’re communicating, I think. (Both laugh, and Steve reaches out with his left hand and touches Simon on the left knee momentarily, in a brief gesture of connection.) So how do you get yourself motivated? I mean, I do crazy things that you would probably never want to do either (Simon nods.) you know, so it goes both ways. (Simon: Yeah.) So, how do you get yourself motivated to do that?
Simon: Well, it just doesn’t come up. I mean, it just—the need to motivate myself to do it doesn’t—is not a problem. [At this point, he has no idea how he motivates himself positively; it is completely unconscious .]
Steve: I understand; it’s automatic.
Simon: I just want the result.
Steve: You want the result.
Simon: I have a target, (Steve; Great.) I have a goal, and it’s all very nicely—nice outcome—
Steve: I’m sure it’s automated, and works so smoothly, you probably don’t even know how it works.
Simon: Yeah, and it’s just—if anything, I would need a motivation to not run. It’s just not a problem. And I thought, “Well, OK, I can do it for that—“ (gesturing with his left hand, palm up.)
Steve: The reason I’m asking about this is not because I think it’s a problem. I think it’s because it’s a skill (Simon: Yeah.) that you could apply to—
Simon: —but I tried myself, (Steve: Yeah.) to try to break it down and transfer it.
Steve: But that’s my job.
Steve: OK? I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but it’s my job . OK. Now, when you have a goal of getting out and running, how do you represent the goal? (gesturing with right hand in front.) Where is it? What is it? I don’t need the content really, but, you know, do you have an image out here? Do you have it over here? (Steve gestures in front of Simon, and then off to Simon’s left.)
Simon: Umm. OK. It kind of all works back from a long-term goal, (gesturing with left hand, palm up. which I have set for no good reason, whenever. And that’s kind of out here (gesturing at about two feet in front of his face, a little above eye level). (Steve: OK.) And, I think an important part of it (gesturing with left hand, palm up) is that, again for no explicable reason, I have a complete belief that I can achieve it. (Steve: Umhm.) Even if it—if everyone else around is saying, “That’s a bit aggressive,” (Steve: Umhm.) I just have a complete self-belief that I can do it, a self-confidence (Steve: OK.) that I can do it. (Steve Umhm.) So the two, the two go together. And then, so, having got the big goal out there, (gesturing with his right hand ahead and slightly to the right) it’s kind of like, “He, where do I need to be a month out from that (gesturing with his right hand closer to his face), ten weeks out from that? (gesturing even closer to his face). (Steve gestures with his right hand in a series of steps, moving toward Simon: “Backing up.”) “Where am I today?” “What do I need to be doing today?” (gesturing closer to his chest) (Steve: Right. Good.) But the need is not like a “should,” it’s kind of just, “Oh yeah, so that’s what I’m going to do today.” (gesturing with his left hand) (Steve: Right. You take it for granted.) Because in three month’s time I want to be there. (Steve: Umhm.) And it feels good, as well. (Steve: Yeah.) There is a kinesthetic (Steve: Great, great.) feedback for me as well.
Steve: OK. Now, let’s see if we can map this across to taking care of your finances. (Simon: Yeah.) I assume you have a long-term goal of having that cleaned up. (Steve holds up his right hand in front of Simon.) Wouldn’t it be nice?
Simon: Well, yeah, but, again, you see, if you say, “What’s your running goal” I can give you a date, a time, a distance. (Steve: Yeah.) And when I think about a financial goal— (outbreath)
Steve: Well, you could do that.
Simon: —it’s so vague.
Steve:— I understand, it’s vague for you now. But you could make it vague. (Both laugh at Steve’s mistake.)
Simon: I can do that.
Steve: Yeah, you’ve done that already. So, you could set a goal, for instance, of— Let’s—I’m just going to offer you a possibility. (Steve holds out both hands, palms up.) You correct me, or readjust it any way you want. (Simon: OK.) But let’s say that you set a goal. Typically, how far out in time is your goal, when you’re running?
Simon: Um, well, I’ve got like, two-year goals, one-year goals, then ten- to twelve-week goals.
Steve: OK. Great. So, and show me, in space (Steve holds his right hand up at different distances from Simon’s face.) probably the farther goal is out farther, right? Simon: Oh, that’s interesting. OK, so it’s kind of in a curve like that (gesturing with his right hand in a horizontal arc starting at the goal in front of him, and ending at his face) and increasing—or decreasing—distance. So, the nearer one is here, and then it kind of curves out, and there’s one there, and there’s one out there (gesturing at different places on the semicircle. (Steve: OK. Great.) Kind of on a curve like that.
Steve: OK, great. So it actually curls back in then. (Simon: Yeah.) Interesting. OK. Great. Now, let’s say you set a two-year goal (Steve holds up his right hand where Simon’s two-year running goal is.) of being financially independent (Simon: Umhm.) or whatever for you would be an appropriate goal. (Simon: Right.) And then in order to do that, you would have to have an intermediate goal, and just do the same kind of thing. (Steve gestures at different points on the horizontal curve.) (Simon: Umhm.) And back in here close, one of the first things to do would be to open the envelope (Both laugh.) and find out what’s in that little black closet.
Simon: Well, is that a step on the way? I mean, I guess I need convincing that it’s actually going to help. (Steve: Oh, really! Well—) Yeah. I mean, again, you know, financial independence— (Simon looks down thoughtfully, and touches his chin with the first two fingers of his left hand.) I’d need to put numbers on that, I guess, as well. Like what does that mean (Steve: Umhm.) exactly—like I do with a race.
Steve: I think that’s exactly the same as a race. Put numbers on it, how much you’d be etting in income (Simon continues to look down thoughtfully with his fingers on his chin.) or how much you’d be cleaning up old debts, or whatever it is. (Simon: Umhm.) The steps that you’d need to take to get there are, I think, just exactly— I think it’s a perfect map across.
Simon: OK, then, (gesturing with his left hand) I’ll accept that. It feels right. (Simon is hesitant.)
Steve: OK, “but—”
Simon: But— (Both laugh.) I mean, running is really, for me—and I think for a lot of runners—is really about emotion. (Steve: Umhm.) I mean, there’s something about the goals that you set, or where you want to be—that just accepting that goal makes you feel really good (Steve: Umhm.) makes me feel really good. So I get an emotional charge out of it, an excitement. (Steve: Right.) There’s nothing exciting for me about—
Steve: About being well off?
Simon: Yeah, I know, I know it sounds weird. (Steve laughs.) I know. And it’s completely, it’s kind of contradictory. Because, obviously, one of the fears is, if I pay attention to that, I won’t get to do what I want. (Steve: Oh, right!) Because, if you’re financially independent—
Steve: All right. Got it.
Simon: —you will get what you want. You’ve got time and everything.
Steve: OK. Good. OK. Let me offer a little background, and then a direction to go. Thanks for bringing this up. (gesturing in a small circle with his right hand from Simon to himself.) This is exactly what I need to keep me on track.
[This is an example of where I needed to respond to Simon’s objection, which he hadalready told me about earlier: his belief that if he takes care of finances, he’ll become like hisfather. In retrospect, it would have been much better if I had addressed this concern beforeeliciting his positive motivation process.]
Um, throughout most of human history, people have had to do worse than your father did. Most people around the world right now, have no choice. They work in the coal mines, they work in the rice fields, whatever they do, or they fish, and that’s because that’s the only job available. Most people in our society have more freedom than that. And, sometimes, there is a give and take. But I don’t think it’s an “either/or.” I think you’re thinking of it as an either/or. And there can be a balance, so that, you know, some of your life is devoted toward getting finances so that you can do the things you love. Do you understand that (Simon: Umhm.) basic idea? (Simon: Yup.)
Now, given that, you have an image of your father, and he blew it. He became a grind and didn’t do all the things he wanted to do. On the other hand, if you or I had been born with lots and lots of money, we could have done anything we want. We never would have had to even consider earning a living. Most of us are in between, somewhere. We do some things we don’t really want to do, but they bring in a little bucks. Or they keep the housetogether, or so on. And hopefully we have a lot of time to pursue what we want to do. And I think it’s a matter of balance, really. It’s not an either/or. Now this is a kind of lecture; it’s not teaching you how to do it, right? (Simon: Right.)
But it’s kind of—hopefully, it’s kind of laying the groundwork for where I think it would be useful to go, in your mind. And I’m basically, I guess I’m asking, you know, “Does that seem like a reasonable plan?” Given the world what it is—
Simon: Yes, it does, yeah. But I noticed, as you were saying that—which makes complete sense—I was starting to “zone out.” (Steve: Oh, OK.) I was going in and out. (Steve: OK.) Like, just losing attention and then coming back. (Steve: OK.) So—
Steve: That’s not necessarily bad. [I am alluding to “zoning out” potentially being a useful hypnotic trance.] (Both laugh.)
Simon: Nothing personal.
Steve: We don’t know.
Steve: Maybe I was too long-winded.
Simon: No, you see, it’s something to do with the fact, that “Yes, I know all this stuff, intellectually. But it just doesn’t—it doesn’t motivate me at all. It doesn’t excite me. It doesn’t— (Steve: OK.) I guess what I’m saying is, if we’re using the running model, I feel that I need to find some excitement in it in order to do it. (Steve: OK.)
[Simon is being exceptionally clear that knowing “all this stuff intellectually” doesn’t have any effect; he needs unconscious change in his motivation.]
I know it probably sounds very strange to think— (Steve: No, no.) —think financially independent, the idea of it doesn’t excite me. I just can’t be bothered. I’d rather go running.
Steve: Well, I—I sympathize, I kind of agree with you. Now there are other people out there, though, for whom not only becoming independent, but becoming immensely wealthy, just drives them totally. (Simon: Hmm!) You know, the things that we get excited about, are to a large extent I think, accidents of history, personal history, and so on. (Simon nods.) Now, you’ve got an aversion to doing this, with regard to your dad, that he set an example that you really don’t want to do. (Simon Umhm.) And I think that’s what’s really getting in your way. (Simon: OK.) Now, just how to deal with it, I’m not sure. But I have a hunch we could find out a little bit, if you had a little dialog with your dad. (Simon nods.) And, ah, maybe that would provide some clues. It’s a possible direction to go. (Simon nods. “Umhm.”) In your mind—close your eyes. Can you see your dad? (Simon: Umhm.) Is he still alive? (Simon: No.) No, he’s dead. OK. Well, see him as if he were still alive (Simon: Umhm.) and talk to him about your sorrow about his having essentially sacrificed his life for all that. And find out what he says in return.
[Simon does this silently, internally. This allows him to keep the content to himself, and avoids any self-conciousness that might distract him if he spoke out loud. Simon keeps his eyes closed until much later in the session—the top of p. 15] . . .
Simon: Umm, (small outbreath) well, it’s kind of, you know, ah, stuff about, you know, “We all have to do things we don’t want to do.”
Steve: “Stiff upper lip.” (A common English saying) (Simon nods.)
Simon: Umm, he doesn’t actually say, you know, “Where would we all be if we all did what we wanted to do?” but there’s that kind of feeling to it. (Steve: Yeah, yeah.) It’s just not in his frame of reference, I guess. It’s just something that he had to do, so he just did it. (Steve: Right.) And he can’t see what the problem is that I can’t do it. . . .
Steve: Talk to him a little bit about your sense that he gave up too much, or however you would describe it. (long pause) . . .
Simon: Well, it kind of sounds weird, but he’s kind of saying that he really didn’t have anything better to do. (Steve: Umhm,) That his job was—my mother died when I was young—so his job was to bring me up, and get me through school, and all the rest of it. So he did what had to be done. (Steve: Umhm.) And that was kind of his job.
Steve: You know, it is possible. Um, a friend of mine, who’s a very wise man, spoke of “the love of the life,” that each person comes into the world with some kind of goal, or mission, or something, and that many people don’t discover it; they don’t find out what it is. That through their accident of birth, or being grown up, being raised, that they never had a chance to really find it. And it’s possible that he—out of his caring for you, and concern for his values of working hard and so on—that he never really found what was his love of the life. (Simon: Umhm.) Talk to him a little bit about that. Find out if that has any resonance, either with you or for him. . . . I think a quite a few people go through life, not really finding their own way—just kind of “going through the motions.” Everybody around them is having kids, so they have kids. Everybody else goes to work in the coal mines, so they do. They bowl on Friday nights, or whatever it is. And they never really had a chance to discover what they could love and have a passion about. . . .
Simon: Yeah, I mean (small outbreath) I don’t know if this is—I want to say—real or not real. I don’t know. It’s kind of like his generation didn’t have that luxury. There was— there was the war, and they got through that. And then times were hard for a while. And it’s just not, it’s not something he thought of. (Steve: Umhm.) . . . Yeah, so he just—he just did what there was to be done. (Steve: Umhm.) . . . And if I say to him, “OK, but that’s not the way I want to live my life,” then he’s not very sympathetic about it.
Steve: He doesn’t understand that. (Simon: No.) OK. Can you understand that what he says about, uh, well, about not being sympathetic, that comes out of his experience and his background. (Simon nods, “Oh, yeah.”) That it really has very little to do with you. (Simon nods, “Sure.”) And that you have a different path. Could you just tell him about that, as evenly as you can, you know. (Simon smiles and laughs very shortly, twice.) “We’re different, Dad, you and I.” . . . And tell him a little about what excites you, and what interests you, that it’s really important for you to follow your star, or your passion. . . . See if he can understand that, even though it’s very different than his experience. . .
Simon: Well, he doesn’t—he doesn’t understand it at all. (Steve: All right.) So the phrase is, “It’s beyond me,” (Steve: Uhuh.) is what he’s saying.
Steve: Uhuh, uhuh. That’s probably very apt; it probably really is beyond him. . . . He had a certain set of understandings, and—
Simon: Yeah, and he doesn’t really get the complexity, of how things are now. (Steve: Uhuh.) There’s kind of no advice he can give me about it, because he doesn’t comprehend what I’m doing, really. . . .
[The foregoing dialog has the effect of making peace with his father, at the same time that it clearly separates Simon from his father. One implication of this is that Simon can deal with finances in a different way than his father, so the implicit belief, “If I deal with finances, I’ll have to be like my father,” is no longer valid.]
Steve: Right. . . . Now, there might be more that you need to do with him to really get to peace with him. But I want to go in another direction for a moment, for a little while. Is that OK with you? (Simon nods, “Umhm.”) But, you know, in your spare time, you might see if you can get more—a little more, um, peace between him and you, an acknowledgment of your differences, uh, or the lack of understanding of each other, whatever’s there, and uh, come to more peace about that.
[Next I return to utilizing his positive motivation for running to put feeling into dealing with finances.]
But what I want to do now is see if I can link your running to the finances. (Simon: Uhuh.) Because you’re already passionate about running.
[The foregoing sets forth the outcome I have in mind, directed toward his consciousmind. The story that follows is directed at his unconscious mind, and the theme is totranscend the either/or to the both/and. Furthermore, the link in the story that creates the both/and is an auditory tonal sound. I know that English people are acutely attentive totonality, because the English class system—still very strong—is distinguished by tonal accentwhich is processed unconsciously, so I expect that Simon will respond strongly to an auditory tonal sound.]
Um, a friend of mine, ah, had trouble balancing her checkbook. And at a certain point she realized that the checkbook was what allowed her to go out in the wilderness and do what she loved, which was hiking and going out in the wilderness and so on. So what she did was, she imagined writing—balancing her checkbook, and as she did, she heard the cr of a hawk. Do you know that sound? (Simon: Umhm.) It’s a lovely, interesting sound. (Simon: Um.) Very unique. And that linked for her that balancing the checkbook was a way of building a foundation, a financial basis, for her to go out and do what she loved. I don’t know just what form that might take for you. But if you could somehow link—
[In retrospect, Simon had already made the link at this point, but I did not recognize it, so I continued to assume that he still needed to make the link.]
Simon: (short laugh.) OK.
Steve: Do you understand what I’m going for?
Simon: Yeah. I got the sound, too, (Steve: OK.) which is—I was thinking, “Oh, that sound of the hawk, I could really use that; that’s a great sound.” (Steve: OK.) And then what I got was, um, the bell that they sound with the last lap.
[Simon took my suggestion of an auditory sound, and changed it to one that is more effective for him.]
Steve: Ahah. OK. So how can you link those together, so that the, um, working out your finances is one of those steps on the path to the bell and the last lap, the passion that you have for running. How can you put those together in your mind? You probably would be much more apt than I would—any suggestions I can make.
Simon: (beginning to have some tears.) Yeah, I don’t know why, it’s really emotional.
[This makes it clear that the link has already been made; the stoic Englishman has tears, and his puzzlement indicates that they are generated unconsciously.]
Steve: OK. I assume that’s good. I’ve got some Kleenex here if you need it.
Simon: Yeah. I can’t see why that’s having such an effect, but—
Steve: Well, you don’t have to understand it all. . . .
Simon: Well, that seems to be linked very strongly.
Steve: OK. So you’ve got that link now, between the—working the finances out and that being a way to build a financial foundation for doing—
Simon: I’ve got it specifically writing—balancing my checkbook or writing checks— which I don’t do— (Steve: OK.) and that sound, (Steve: OK.) and the emotion that goes with it. (Steve; OK.) So, I think I need to just tweak it, so that it is actually, um, associated with balancing the checkbook or, kind of, bookkeeping—
Steve: Right. All those little things.
Simon: —rather than just writing checks, (laughs) because—
Steve: We need to generalize this a little more than that, definitely. So let’s go back to the IRS letter. You’ve got an IRS letter?
[I want to immediately test the link that has been made, to find out how well it works in the original problem context.]
Simon: Uhuh. Unopened. There it is. (Steve: OK.) Oh, that’s cool! Yeah! If I hear the bell ringing, I want to open it.
[This is a very clear confirmation of a significant unconscious change in response, which his conscious mind still finds surprising.]
Steve: You want to open it?
Simon: Yeah. That’s very peculiar.
Steve: OK. That’s a big change.
Simon: I didn’t even know that sound was important to me. (Steve: Uhuh.) Yeah. (nodding)
Steve: And can you take the next steps as well? Not only just opening it, (Simon nods.) but reading the letter, find out what it says, (Simon: Umm!) planning—
Simon: Well, what I need to do is—I just jumped to— Um, I’ve got an accountant’s card sitting on my kitchen table, (Steve: OK.) where it’s been for about four months. (Steve; Uhuh.) So I haven’t rung her to make an appointment to get started on clearing it all up. (Steve: Umhm.) So, I jumped to—
Steve: Can you hear the bell ringing?
Simon: I can hear the bell, and I’m calling her to fix up an appointment. Wh does that work? It’s incredible!
[His conscious mind is still puzzled; further confirmation that the change is unconscious.]
Steve: Well, it’s just putting together something that has been in your life but has been separated. So it can come together in a way that’s useful. (Simon nods.) . . .
[My next little talk may have been unnecessary, but I wanted to further amplify the integration of what previously had been an “either/or” conflict.]
You know, there’s so many things in life that aren’t necessarily pleasant in themselves, but if you can connect those with your goals, (Simon wipes his eyes.) whatever your goals are, whatever your values are—most people don’t enjoy changing diapers, per se. (Simon laughs.) But in the larger context of future goals, of raising children and whatever is there, it becomes just another thing to do. And it doesn’t have to take up your whole life, like your father got totally taken up with this. In fact , it’ll take up less of your life. It’s taken up a huge part of your life so far, because you’ve ignored it (Simon: Hmm.) and kept it unattended, in a closet. You get it done, you get it out, it’s gone; It actually leaves you freer to pursue your goals and your passions. (Simon nods.)
Simon: Yeah, I think—I think I can see myself putting the (outbreath) kind of the financial goals, instead of having a separate loop for them, or whatever I would call it, I can put them in these curves (gesturing with his right hand to the steps in the curve of his positive motivation for running) (Steve: Uhuh.) Because one of the big reasons I want to fix it is because it’s so stressful (gesturing with his left hand) that it’s interfering with my running goals, (gesturing with his left hand) my life goals. (Steve: Sure, yeah.) And I’ve treated it as something separate (gesturing with both hands) but if I use that sound of the bell, it kind of—
Steve: —maps it across.
Simon: It’s kind of that the—yeah, it maps it across, but it’s even more than that. It’s kind of the, uh, (deep breath, in and out) the steps on the financial thing (gesturing with his right hand) become part of my running schedule. (Steve: OK.) . . .
[This is further indication of the integration that has occurred unconsciously.]
(long pause) Yeah, I’m excited about it now.
Steve: That’s a change.
Simon: That’s a big change.
Steve: Now, I just have two more suggestions. One is, you talked about the different steps, and that they would be part of your running schedule. And I want you to sort of step into those at different points in time and just check it out, and make sure it’s working. That you still have that excitement, that motivation to get this thing cleared out of your life. Get all that accounting out of the way so that you can really focus on the running. And I really don’t think it’ll take that much of your time. But test it out; see if there’s anything else getting in the way. That’s the one (suggestion); then I’ll give you another one (Simon: OK.) when you’re done with that. . . .
Simon: I can’t. I’m feeling that I can’t really test it, because I can test some of the steps, (Steve: Umhm.) but I still don’t really have like a clear outcome, a clear end point .
Steve: Well, you don’t have the information really to know that. (Simon: OK.) But make sure that bell is ringing (Simon nods.) that you keep going. (Simon: Yeah, OK.) Because if you keep going, you’ll get it done. Then it’s just a matter of finding out what the information is you need, taking care of it, going to an accountant, or whatever you need to do. . . .
Simon: I think it’s OK. I’m not scared of it.
Steve: Great. You can hear that bell. (Simon: Hmm.) OK, the other thing I want you to imagine, some time in the future, just as you do with the race where you get to the longer- term outcome, and look back. So, your finances are all cleared out; (Simon nods.) it’s a year or two from now, or whenever it is. You don’t know exactly, because you don’t know how long it will take; (Simon nods, “OK.”) or you don’t have the details. But just imagine a year or so in the future, and all that financial stuff is cleared up. Maybe you still have some debts or something, but it’s clear, and you know exactly where you stand. And then look back at the steps you took to get there. And make sure that that feels good to you. . . .
Simon: Well, there’s two things about it. It’s kind of like I’m switching between the two, so looking back, I can’t really get a sense of the specific steps, because I think, like you said—
Steve: There could be some vagueness—
Simon: —I’m not quite sure all of the ones I want to do, but I feel much different in my body, when I look back, having had it all done.
Steve: That’s really what I’m after.
Simon: There’s a big sense of freedom (Steve: Yeah.) and I just feel stronger. (Steve: Uhuh.) And if I flip it, then I’m actually looking—literally—looking forward to doing it.
Steve: Great. Yeah. That’s what I wanted. Good. Great. I wanted to check to make sure that was in place. . . .
Simon: I think, I think part of the thing with the bell is, it’s kind of—there’s a— there’s two things about it. One is there’s an urgency to it, because it’s the last lap. Also, there’s this feeling, “Well, hey, it’s the last lap (Steve: Umhm.) so this is going to be over really quickly.”
Steve: Well, all the associations you have with the bell, too—reaching your goal, and so on. I’m sure there’s much more; we could talk for hours probably (Simon laughs.) and not get the half of it. (Simon OK.) But for you it’s a very powerful, (Simon Yeah.) ah, piece, and hooking that together that way, is all you really needed. (Simon nods, and then opens his eyes.) Do you have any questions?
Simon: No, none I can think of.
Steve: I think I’m done. (Simon: OK.) I think you’re done.
Simon: Yeah, that was great.
Steve: You may have some other issues in your life, but as far as this one that you brought and you wanted to deal with— (Simon breathes out strongly.) It looks good to me. I’ll check in with you and find out if there’s some little glitch or something. (Simon nods.) But it’s certainly very different than when you walked in here, isn’t it?
Simon: Oh, yeah. . . . Yup. . . . (Steve reaches out and they shake hands.) Thank you.
Steve: Thank you. It was a pleasure—even though we’re on different planets. (Both laugh, and Simon turns his head to his left.)
Note: In the evening following this session, I did a free introduction to NLP, which both Simon and his wife attended. During a break, Simon jokingly expressed a concern: “I’ve been wondering if during my next race when I hear the bell, I’ll say, “Oh, stop, I’ve got to do my taxes!” and I told him I didn’t think that was very likely to be a problem. I mention this because in the follow-up interview below, I refer to this brief conversation.
Two-month follow-up interview
Steve: So how are things going with the finances?
Simon: Umm, goodish. (Steve: “Goodish”?) In the sense that there has been a change. (Steve: Umhm.) I got myself an accountant. (Steve: OK.) So that—that was quite a step. Um, I’ve noticed that the thing about the technique that you gave me, which was to associate the financial stuff with the sound of a bell, (Steve: Umhm.) the last lap of running, so it would integrate with my—the stuff I really care about. The trick with it, I noticed, is that you actually have to remember to use it. Steve: Umhm.) It’s not automatic.
Steve: Not automatic yet?
Simon: No. (Both laugh.) So it kind of—there’s kind of—still a—what would you call it? There’s still like a kind of motivation gap (Steve: Umhm.) where, um, I’m looking at stuff to do with finances, and I feel stuck (Steve: Umhm.) and then I have to make the decision to (Steve: OK.) ring the bell, or run that pattern if you like. (Steve: OK.) And sometimes I don’t get to do it; I kind of forget (Steve: OK.) or it’s just not there.
Steve: Well, what would make it easy for you to remember that? Assuming you want to. Now, it might be totally appropriate. It might be that if you had the bell totally automatic, it would be like you joked to me that evening, that you’re afraid that you’d be running a race and hear the bell and then suddenly say, “Stop, I’ve got to do my taxes.” (Simon: Yeah, exactly, yeah.) So there might be some concern about it being too automatic. (Simon: Yeah.) But if you can, ah—but if you want it to be automatic, I’m sure it can be. (Simon: Uhuh.) Now, everything that we do is, ah, contextual. Like, you know, you don’t want to stop in the middle of the race (Simon: Umhm.) and do your taxes. And there might be other things that you—are more important to you at a certain time (Simon: OK.) so you’ re not that motivated to do whatever the financial stuff needs to be done. Um, but if you want it to be automatic, I don’t know any reason why it couldn’t be.
Simon: Well, now you’ve explained it, I’m pretty sure I don’t want it to be automatic. I do want the choice.
Steve: (laughing) OK, great. (Simon: Yeah.) Well, I’m all for choice, of course. And then—then it’s totally appropriate, to have it be something that when you sit down, “Well I’ve really got to get this done,” then hear the bell (Simon nods.) and go for it.
Simon: Yeah, yeah. And I think there’s also been a shift on a—for want of a better word—at a “deeper level,” in terms of— I haven’t been doing anything about, um, the income side of it. (Steve: Umhm.) So there was the side where I don’t open the envelopes and I don’t like looking at the bills and stuff. The other side of it was that I’m just not motivated to do anything about chasing down money. (Steve: Umhm.) And that’s changed. So I’ve got a couple of things going on now. And I haven’t had to—I didn’t use the bell with that. (Steve: Umhm.) It kind of just—I think when we spoke, what helped me was seeing how that—the financial stuff was, ah—I thought it was a huge separate bit of my life. But, you helped me to see how it’s a smaller part of my whole life. (Steve: Umhm.) And if I get that right, it helps everything else that I’m trying to do. (Steve: Right.) So looking at in that context, in that frame, it’s kind of taken some of the sting out of it. (Steve: Umhm.) So that’s been good.
Steve: Great. Nice. Now you spoke about chasing money, right?
Simon: (laughs) Did I? OK. (Steve laughs.) I didn’t know I said that.
Steve: That kind of presupposes it’s running away from you.
Simon: Umm, yeah, that’s an interesting thought.
Steve: You might think about using some different metaphor (Simon: OK, Yeah.) like putting out bait. (Simon laughs, “OK.”) or trapping it. (Simon: I didn’t know I—) I don’t know. You could play with different metaphors. But yeah, you did say “chasing money” and that really (Simon: Oh, OK.) kind of stood out for me. (Steve laughs) Particularly for a man who runs (Simon: Yeah.) races.
Simon: That’s not good. (laughs)
Steve: That might have meanings that you might not want to have. (Simon: OK. Huhh.) So what would be a good metaphor for—?
Simon: Not “chasing.”
Steve: —accumulating more of it?
Simon: Yeah, yeah. There’s a—I guess there’s that word “attracting,” but it’s kind of a bit new-agey isn’t it, because everybody’s talking about attracting—
Steve: Well, there is this “Law of Attraction” which I’m not—I think you need to do a little more than that. (Simon: Hmn.) I think you need to take some action, you know, as you’re doing already, to make that happen. So I wouldn’t use that word, but if you wanted to use it—
Simon: No, you’re right. That was my hesitation about it, I think. I think I do need an active thing like chasing, like you said, like trapping, or um, a word like that.
Steve: You could also think about growing it. I always like organic metaphors. (Simon: OK.) Life, that you create. (Simon: Umhm.) Create something of value for which someone else is willing to pay. (Simon: Umm. Yeah.) When I was a kid, people talked about earning money. But now people are talking about making money. And that’s called a counterfeiter. (Simon laughs.)
Unfortunately, I think with most of these bozos in Wall Street, they think that way. (Simon: Yeah.) “How can I make money?” (Simon: Yeah.) Rather than “How can I earn money? How can I provide something that’s a real service to somebody (Simon: Umhm.) that they’re happy to pay for it?” and so on. But that’s another thing. (Simon: Um.) Well, is there anything else you’d say? I think that maybe we’re done.
Simon: Yeah, it was great. Thank you. Thank you for your help.
Steve: (Steve reaches out and they shake hands.) Thanks a lot; take care. Remember, any time, pffft, just ring that bell.
There are several ways to describe the problem that Simon had, and the journey that he took to resolve it. One is that he had an implicit belief that he described as, “If I take care of finances, then I’ll be like my father, and I won’t have a life.” Another wa to describe Simon’s problem is that he was caught in an “either/or” dilemma: “Either I take care of finances, or I run.”
Simon begins the session with a good deal of conscious understanding, but little recognition of the unconscious processes that generated his problem. As he says, “None of that insight does a damn thing about changing it.” I begin by communicating primarily with his conscious mind, in order to clarify his outcome. Later I alternated between doing this to be sure he is in agreement with what I propose doing, and offering him specific process instructions and metaphors directed at changing his unconscious processing.
Another aspect of Simon’s situation is that he was trying to use unpleasant “away from” motivation, instead of the positive “toward” motivation that he used so effortlessly and effectively for running.
My first intervention is to nullify his anxiety about opening the letter, using a method called “spinning feelings” developed by Nick Kemp. In response to this, Simon expresses a valid concern that the positive intent of the feeling might get lost, so he wouldn’t take any action. I agreed with this concern, and my goal was to replace this “away from” feeling with more positive motivation. Accordingly, I go on to elicit how he motivates himself to run positively, getting the details of how he sees images of goals in a semicircle in front of him and to his right.
In retrospect, it would have been better to first engage him in dialogue with his father, in order to change his belief that if he took care of finances, he would become like his father, and then go on to elicit his positive motivation. When he raises his objection, I realize my error, and shift to dealing with his limiting belief.
In Simon’s dialogue with his father, it may seem as if I am going into past history. However, the dialogue actually takes place in the present , and the dialogue is not really between Simon and his father, it is between two aspects of Simon, two “parts” of his present functioning. He identifies with one part of this dialogue, but he is alienated from the other part, which is labeled “father.” My goal was for him to acknowledge their differences, heal their conflict, and come to more peace with him. Acknowledging their differences also allows him to separate himself from his father, making it easier for him to realize that he can deal with finances without having to become like his father, and that taking care of them could actually support his love of running, rather than preventing him from following his passion.
Once that inner conflict was healed, it was a relatively simple matter to utilize his process for positive motivation as a template for being motivated to do his finances. Initially my goal was simply to use his positive motivation for finances. However, he improved upon this, by integrating it fully into his planning for running.
One thing I noticed as I transcribed this session, and studied it, is how often I acknowledge Simon’s experience by saying, “Umhm,” “OK,” “Uhuh,” etc. Sometimes my acknowledgement is even stronger, with, “Good,” “Great,” “Right.” “All right,” etc.