by Charles Curtis
IF YOU’RE IN THE PRESENT, IT FEELS PLEASANT
Motivation, especially around getting the proper amount of exercise, is often an item of interest around this time of year. For we have made a New Years Resolution to go to the gym, or work out every day at home, and just about now, at the beginning of April, we find our motivation beginning to wear thin. For some reason, it’s easier to come up with an excuse than it is to actually do the work. So what’s going on when this happens, and what can we do about it, from an NLP point of view?
THE COMPONENTS OF MOTIVATION
If you are having trouble getting yourself to do something, it’s a sure sign that you’re running a negative movie inside your head, and that your non-action or insufficient-action is a direct result of that negative movie.
Because we rarely act from a pure present-moment perspective. Almost always we’re adding meanings from the past and projections about the future when we think about something, and this multi-layered perspective gets all mixed together with all sorts of inner dialog, positive or negative sensations in the body, and various visual images.
Each of these major modalities (which also can include gustatory and olfactory) have many submodalities or inner distinctions. When you first read about submodalities in NLP texts, they may not sound that important, but in the real world, these subtle distinctions in our sensory perceptions, these little snippets of energy happening in our head, often mean the difference between success and failure.
So when you find yourself not following through on your agreement with yourself to exercise (or do anything else), NLP offers a number of ways to deal with this.
WELL FORMED GOALS
First of all, your goal must meet the criteria for a well-formed goal. This is a whole subject in itself. For example, such goals must be realistic, must have a proper chunk size, must be ecologically sound, and must give you warm fuzzy feelings, happy sounds, and motivating visions when you future pace them.
As part of this, the goal must fit within the context of the rest of your life and be possible. So, if you’ve been a Master Practitioner Couch Potato and your schedule is already filled to the max with “really important stuff” that does not involve physical movement, setting a starting-out goal of “one hour a day in the gym 5 days a week” (which I’ve seen many clients do) has a high probability of falling on its face.
That’s because it’s going to be hard to make the time, and even if you do,, your body will be so massively overloaded by this new task, that it will protest with an overwhelming fatigue, that will derail you after a couple of days. Even if you keep going and push through the fatigue, your growing sense of guilt at what you’re not getting done will eventually nail you.
To make matters worse, many people pick the wrong exercise for them, making some assumption such as that they must pick up jogging or weight training or rebounding or some particular sport they saw on TV or read about, without making an ecology check to find out whether this is right for them. So they fail because they are attempting an unecological goal, whereas they would be spectacularly successful in another program or sport that they love.
Other times people pick the right exercise but the wrong exercise program. For example, many people assume they have to go to the gym, when an at-home program might be much better for them. Other people pick an at-home program, when the motivation of being with others would be perfect for them. So the perfect exercise and exercise program are different for everybody.
IF YOU’RE NOT HAVING FUN…
Which brings up the topic of “fun”. One concept we teach in all of our trainings and to all of our clients who are designing exercise programs is that:
“If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right”.
There is a core belief floating around in Western culture that the right exercise is painful and difficult, and that a successful exercise program must be a struggle. “No pain no gain” is heard often and is used as a mantra by many, leading not only to many unused gym memberships by people who give up, but many sports injuries by people who stay in their sport but push themselves too hard.
You’ll get far more benefit from a physical activity you love than one you hate. So make sure to negotiate with yourself (or your client) a physical activity that will be delightful, glorious, delicious fun. Then figure out a fun way to fit it into your life, and a fun way to schedule it, a way that will be so relaxed, so much fun that you look forward to doing it, you enjoy it while you’re doing it, you feel exhilarated after you’ve done it, you feel a pleasant tiredness mixed with wellbeing for the rest of the day, and you’re left looking forward to your next experience the next day.
It may take a significant session of negotiation with your (or your client’s) subconscious to accomplish this, but it’s worth the time and effort. Because once you’ve got these ecological details worked out, you’re so excited about getting started, and having so much fun when you do start it, and gaining so much benefit from doing it, that the exercise program becomes self-motivating.
IF YOU’RE IN THE PRESENT, IT FEELS PLEASANT
That is, you’re having so much fun doing it, that you can’t stop doing it, because you’re positively addicted to the pleasure and the fun.
And that’s the way it should be. Our bodies were designed to enjoy exercise. And when you’re in the present, you’re not only enjoying the exercise, but you’re listening to your body, and so you’re not going to do too much today and set yourself back with soreness, tiredness, or a weakened immune system leaving you open to a cold or flu.
CRANKING UP THE MOJO
(“Mojo” is a technical term, see Austin Powers for a more detailed explanation)
Once you’ve gotten the perfect exercise and exercise plan, use your NLP skills to crank up the mojo to the max. To do this, spend some time remembering those times when you were spectacularly successful, and see if you can locate the key submodalities of those memories.
Key submodalities may differ from person to person. Often they’re a composed of some combination of high color, brightness, clarity, rousing music, stirring self-talk, and an energetic feeling in the body, along with having this mental picture positioned in some strategic way in the subjective awareness.
You can easily tell the key submodalites, because it’s always the things about that memory that make it absolutely perfect. If you’re having trouble picking them out, think of a time when you felt absolutely miserable (like your recent exercise program) and notice what’s different from your memories of successful times.
Once you’ve determined your key submodalities, then take your mental experience of your ecological exercise, see/hear/feel yourself doing it in the future, and as you future pace it, tweak all those key submodalities into their most energized form. As you do this, it will feel as if you’ve given yourself an internal pep rally, as you’ll immediately feel the difference.
ARE YOU PRESENT WHEN YOU’RE EXERCISING, OR IS NOBODY HOME?
Remember that maxim “IF YOU’RE IN THE PRESENT, IT FEELS PLEASANT”. As you examine your now-energized goal, you’ll find that your tweaking has pulled you smack into the present moment, dwelling on all the most pleasurable parts of your goal. And that’s why it works. Because the present is meant to be where you live your life, and so it is inherently pleasurable when you’re all there.
If your only problem is that your goal was unecological, doing this negotiation and submodality tweaking will solve your problem. But with many would-be exercise goals, there is another problem. Because one thing that can derail you at this point are any sabotaging programs left over from the past.
The culprit lies in these submodalities from our storehouse of memory, which sabotage us with flickering images of negative results, fragments of soundtracks from past.memories, with sound bites of old voices whispering low-self-esteem messages, and scary, sick, and tired sensations in the body from old memories of old times when we failed.
OK, WHO PULLED THE PLUG?
These can derail even the professional athlete, resulting in the familiar slump. So even if you have an ecological goal, and no matter how much pent-up steam you started your exercise goal with, this piled-up debris from the past, faithfully dug up by your ever helpful subconscious mind, can add up to an overwhelming subjective experience that just drains all the good intentions out of you and leaves you with a feeling that somebody pulled the plug somewhere along the line.
If this is happening to you, you’ll find that when you examine your thinking strategy, that your subconscious mind has an “inner strategy” which is trying to protect you from some imagined negative result. This coping strategy may have been helpful when you were three years old, but is now no longer appropriate. But since that fragment of dissociated self that constitutes this particular part of your inner child doesn’t know that, it puts on this sabotaging tape at precisely the right moment and cuts your exercise program off at the knees.
It will most likely be true that this has happened to you before, probably many times before. It’s a pattern.
What these patterns of sabotaging messages do is take you out of the pleasure of the present moment and into a negative past where you failed and which cause you to project a negative future where you see only failure as a result.
“IF YOU’VE FAILED IN THE PAST, YOU FEEL LOUSY FAST”
These sabotaging messages typically turn up in the form of little fears, doubts, feelings of unrest or discontent, little flickers of desire to do something else during your exercise period. They express themselves as projection and denial and rationalization – “It’s ok to skip today. I have too much to do. Remember last year when you did too much, don’t want to have that pain again. I don’t have to do it every day. I want to take a nap. I’m too old. I don’t want people at the gym to see my baggy old body. I would feel bad if some buffed guy or girl saw me the way I am. I can’t do this. Who gives a crap any way? Ill do it tomorrow. Today, I think I’ll stay home and watch reruns of Baywatch.”
And so you do. And then a few days later, some other distraction beckons. And then you get rationalization round two – “I feel guilty for taking too much time. I’m too tired to do it today. I’ve already done it several times this week, that’s enough. I don’t really have to do it on Fridays.”
The next time it gets even easier. And little by little bit, over a few days or weeks, the goal gets whittled down to nothing until it’s gone. This is often the point where clients who have failed in their exercise programs will come to visit you.
A PARTS CONFLICT DERAILES THE TRAIN EVERY TIME
Here is where your parts work skill comes in. Just like picking an ecological goal that requires you to get the opinion of all parts of yourself, if you’re, later on, having a parts conflict about some obstacles in your program, you have to negotiate with your inner self again.
This negotiation might be a bit tougher, as these parts of yourself have had a lot of practice in talking you out of your goals, and they’re used to saying just the right things to give you that derailed feeling. In fact, if you have been trained in some form of kinesiology, you can use muscle testing to determine the degree of weakness of these various sabotaging thoughts.
Sometimes substantial trauma can be present, like an incapacitating injury or sickness that caused a prolonged period of layoff in the past. In this case, you may have to do post-traumatic stress reduction to take the juice out of this “Initial Sensitizing Event”.
Here is where your skills as an NLP Practitioner really get a workout.
So if you have navigated your boat through all these rocky places of the past successfully, and seen through the fog of the future, to be enabled to open the present of the present moment, you’ll have put your train on a new track.
The result will be just what you wanted, an exercise program for yourself (or your client) that is fun, perfectly suited for you, fits your lifestyle perfectly, and which all parts of yourself are in agreement with.
Do that, and you’ll truly find, as you enjoy day after day of this now-effortless and totally addicting exercise program, that