Dr. Milton Erickson, PhD
As a practicing hypnotist myself, I have found there are few hypnotists endowed with a phenomenal mastery of the art and science of weaving metaphorical stories as Dr. Milton Erickson. Erickson was one of those rare human beings whose innovative methods helped to break down psychological barriers while uncovering the emotional wounds of his clients.
In tribute to his unsurpassed skill, he was considered the most pre-eminent hypnotist in the world at the time of his death. All this despite his ability to be humble and unassuming with his patients.
A remarkable will to live
At the age of 17, Erickson contracted polio, which affected him for the rest of his life. Yet he had a remarkable will to live. One night, the doctor told his mother he didn’t think Erickson would make it through the night. Having overheard the doctor’s pronouncement, Erickson stayed awake the entire night, holding to his promise he would see the sunrise the next morning.
Covert messages bind the stories together
Erickson loved to host “Teaching Seminars” attended by highly skilled psychiatrists and psychotherapists from the US and around the world. He would tell one story after another until finally, you discovered the covert message binding all the stories together.
One day Dr. Erickson wanted to demonstrate hypnosis before an audience. He chose a nurse named Betty to be his subject. As it turned out, Betty was suicidal. Everyone in her ward at the hospital knew this about her. Erickson hypnotized her and while she was in a deep trance, they “visited” the arboretum, the zoo and finally, the aviary. He described the various plants to her while in the arboretum, he explained how baby kangaroos grew inside their mother’s pouch for three months while at the zoo and spoke about how the Arctic Tern could fly 10,000 miles from the Arctic down to the tip of Argentina, using an inner guidance system which no scientist has yet understood.
To everyone’s shock and dismay, Betty did not show up at work the next day, nor the day after. Eventually, people blamed Erickson and another doctor, Dr. Alex, for her disappearance, claiming she had committed suicide.
Nope! A new life.
Sixteen years passed and one day, Erickson got a call. It was from Betty. After she met Erickson that afternoon, she left the hospital and immediately signed on as a nurse in the Nursing Corps of the Navy. Later, she moved to Florida and married an Air Force Officer. Together they had five children. As Erickson later described it: “I named all the things worthwhile living for. And nobody knew I was doing psychotherapy except me. They thought I was demonstrating hypnotic phenomena. They never realized I was intentionally doing psychotherapy.” He was, indeed, a very remarkable man.
Just the other day, I began working on a new blog concerning how we become addicted to food, alcohol and other things in our lives. I wanted to delve into the history of how addiction drives us into habits that take us absolutely nowhere. But for some reason, after three hours of research, I’d barely written a word. Nothing was coming together.
I’m not accustomed to being a quitter or leaving a project unfinished. Yet I figured something more intriguing would come my way. I’d been reading an amazing book, “Designing Your Life” written by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans from Stanford. You might describe it both as a philosophical and practical approach to one’s Work and Life as seen from a 1,000-foot view above.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
And then, serendipitously, I began reading the book, and suddenly stumbled across the philosophy of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the pioneers in The Study of Happiness and Spontaneity. Mihaly once said:
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Coincidentally, his philosophy leads to comparisons with Taoism, founded by the famous Chinese scholar, Chuang Tze, who was born in 286 BC. Taoism teaches the art and science of being “in the Flow” of the moment, without ego and attachment to the outcome of one’s actions. For example, if a person riding a horse were becoming in harmony with its movements, they would suddenly experience feeling “at one with the horse,” with the rider being completely in sync with the horse’s rhythm and in tune with the horse’s mind.
Over time, he created the concept of “The Psychology of Flow,” testing students and teaching them how to experience success by finding experiences which bring them into Moments of Flow. This might lead to finding a career, or activity that brings you this experience, though perhaps not every day, at least a few times every week.
It’s in our genetic makeup to inherently have the desire to be successful, both professionally and personally. Each time we get in The Flow our confidence is reawakened. You might find it in public speaking, using watercolor, playing soccer, designing a new solution to replace plastic, or snowboarding.
if you find yourself stuck on a project or task, consider taking a break and doing something that brings you back into the rhythm of inspiration and being simply in the moment… helping you get unstuck. Let that creativity FLOW!
Entering the Memory Palace
Much has been said and written about how our memories work, and how they work less efficiently as we age. About 40% of people age 65 and older have age-related memory impairment. Instead of passively accepting this diagnosis, what if we used our creative minds to enhance our cognition while retaining recall of conversations, events, and people more clearly?
The Method of Loci
Apparently, ancient Romans and Greeks used a process called The Method of Loci, facilitating memorization of facts by linking them to a visual diagram (I find the term “Memory Palace” more elegant and visually appealing). As I’ve been experimenting with this new approach, I wanted to share it with you. In college, I remember spending hundreds of hours remembering hard, cold facts about history, anthropology, and literature. I literally created piles of facts!
Use your Imagination
Inside your own Memory Palace, for example, you imagine a certain number of items being placed in the front room, the foyer, the kitchen, dining room, the master bedroom and so on. You might store 4 items in the foyer, 5 in the kitchen, and 6 in the dining room. You picture each item or person/animal etc. clearly in your mind, stored in a spot in its designated room in the palace.
Let’s take a very simple example. Imagine you’ve been asked to judge dogs at a local competition, while automatically recalling their breed in order of appearance. Four of them are stored in the foyer. The first breed is “German Shepherd” (depicted with the visual of a sheepherder); the second is a Beagle (Bee + Eagle), the third is a Boxer (a man with boxing gloves), and the fourth is a St. Bernard (image of a small barrel around a dog collar). As you enter the kitchen the fifth breed is a Border Collie (picture sheep in a field) and the sixth is a Pointer (a stick pointing at a blackboard), and so on. In your mind’s eye, as you move from one room to the next you link the image of each dog while grouping them in the same room.
Placing images in unique places stimulates one’s memory
Storing images in a “room” isn’t the only way to enhance memorization. Instead, you can select a path in a forest, or a bicycle route and imagine storing these images (or files) along the way, perhaps behind a large cedar tree, or on the porch of the red house up the street. Placing these images in unique places stimulates one’s memory as well as creating curiosity about the settings where these images are placed.
Chess players may enhance their skills by storing images of the positions of their opponent’s pieces in the Palace. Or, you might consider organizing the facts and trends developing around your next presentation to your work team.
My Memory Challenge:
Memorize the first 30 songs composed by my #1 jazz genius, John Coltrane.
Care to share your own contribution to the Memory Challenge?
To Your Success!
In this very moment, as I write, my mare, Magic, is attempting to adjust my red beret. She suddenly became very ill last night, and since early this morning I’ve been her health coach. After all, when you weigh 1,000 pounds, getting good nutrition becomes a major priority. Somehow, I didn’t “get the memo” about her condition until someone texted me.
As some of you know, I have an online calendar that allows prospects and clients to schedule a consultation or session at their convenience. Some days, I open my calendar and “Voila,” someone has made an appointment. Yet in the online Calendar of Life, have you ever wondered why “I think my wife wants a divorce,” or “I didn’t realize I needed surgery immediately” didn’t appear on the schedule?
We often can’t accurately predict what our future will look like, though we can certainly imagine what we’d want it to be. The Chinese actually have a 100-year plan for their economic development. That says a lot about their vision and confidence in their ability to create a strategic plan.
Your imagination is incredibly creative. But are you really willing to “own that belief?” Because if you are, I’d like to challenge you to stretch a little further this coming year regarding what you, yes YOU, really want to change, explore or implement in 2018. We all have our basic goals:
- Be more organized,
- Have a better budget plan,
- Hang out with the kids more often, etc.
Here are a few ideas which have floated up to the surface:
- Build an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in your backyard
- Learn more about edible plants in the forest while camping and backpacking
- Join a self-defense class for women
- Host a block party for your neighborhood to have fun and exchange resources
- “Invite yourself” to practice mindfulness…even for 5 or 10 minutes a day.
Allow your goals to be very personal. Hopefully, some of them will be fantastically fun…perhaps crazy fun!
Here’s one of mine: Take a water coloring class.
What do you want to change, explore or implement in 2018? I invite you to share one of your goals with me here.
Turning Iron into Gold
Every day, I am amazed at the unique differences in how each person’s mind works. While one person can be obsessively organized, tracking all their daily achievements, someone else, like Einstein, explores the Theory of Relativity for months, even years.
As we create systems of reference regarding our response to the stimuli that is our World, we develop strong beliefs about our behavior. I’ve personally come to realize that sometimes, my most highly prized beliefs dominated my very thoughts and actions to the point of over-control. Looking back, what’s surprised me the most is realizing that some of my behavior was based on beliefs that were completely outdated.
Think about this for a moment: If you wanted to tell something important to a friend, would you begin speaking in English and then suddenly switch to speaking in Chinese? It would be completely incongruent, of course, though the person talking might be unaware of their faux pas.
Truth is relative, after all. Isaac Newton’s discovery of the law of gravity made us believe it was empirically “true” and therefore applicable for all situations. Until we soared into space, where the rules of gravity no longer applied, ie “gravity” as we knew it, was suddenly outdated. Now, can you see how easy it is to operate under an outdated belief?
What’s more, we often become very invested in maintaining our precious beliefs, denying the possibility that one day they might be proven false. A story from my own life applies here. I was the youngest of 3, in a family who loved to explore and discuss many topics. Being the youngest, I felt the need to constantly compete for attention with my two older brothers. Later, I moved to Paris with my parents, as my dad received an offer to work there for 3 years. Challenging and amazing as it was, it was like competing for attention on steroids. I and my friends would debate French politics and revolution in cafes for hours. (until my brain hurt!) As a result, I was often critical, and always defending my views, as if I’d been in a verbal sword fight.
Here’s how it felt, on the inside:
As you can see, my belief that I should “forcefully express my own views while preparing to disagree with others” was definitely causing inner conflict. WHY AM I CYNICAL AND WHERE’S THE FUN IN ALL OF THIS? Yikes!
Once I returned to the States, people were less cynical. Adapting to American cultural norms was tough. I was still expending A LOT of additional energy on maintaining these outdated beliefs.
ENTER my future husband, many years and adventurous experiences later. His perennial optimism was the sure-fire proof that opposites do indeed attract. My husband, Tony, could walk into the dingiest home, filled with musty old furniture, and see all the promise and beauty of a renovated cozy dwelling. He visualized the creative design in everything, from gardens to music, architecture, traveling and cooking. I, on the other hand, was still carrying the vestiges of being critical.
One day, someone taught me something important: if you didn’t want a horse to rear up and throw you, you just needed to take a crop and hit it firmly between the ears. Then the horse would believe it had “hit the sky” and it would stop.
That actually sounded like me. How (?) you ask. One day my brain took a sharp right turn. Tony and I discovered a cabin hidden deep in a forest. Though structural damage was very evident, the cabin was appealing. Suddenly, out of the blue, I saw vases bursting with flowers near the front door, a roaring fire in the fireplace, surrounded by comfortable old chairs, and stained glass windows in the bedroom. Finally, having burned through the dross and charred remains of self-doubt, my spontaneous imagination was fully awakened.
And, thanks to my husband (and my own efforts) here’s how I feel today:
The inner alchemy of radically transforming beliefs may take an hour, a week, or years (as in my case). Hypnosis allows you to explore the rich, creative depths of your imagination to a level you could never imagine. Colors, memories, emotions, even archetypal symbols are often intensely felt. Your subconscious mind creates a laser focus, thus yielding the precious metal of wisdom through reframing the past. It’s a fantastic vehicle for enhancing your confidence, and creativity, as well as discovering new solutions to life’s dilemmas.
In a future post, I’ll describe my new technique for accessing creativity with even greater clarity.
Have You Entered the World of “Hummingbird Consciousness”?
Though I delighted in the snow’s magic during Portland’s seemingly endless winter, I’ve never appreciated the sight of daffodils and flowering plum trees more than this spring. One day, warm weather arrived. Everywhere I looked, an incredible explosion of colors followed the winter wetness. Something had changed overnight. I, too, wanted to feel a powerful change like that.
Questions arose in my mind such as “Why not take a watercolor painting class, I‘ve always wanted to do it?” Or, “What if I hiked up some seriously steep mountains for a change?” I discovered that, subconsciously, (yes, that’s how we hypnotists phrase it!) I wanted to challenge myself to become smarter, more creative and stronger. In short, to take things up a notch or two.
American culture has no shortage of symbols representing specific values, such as audacious strength (think pro football, Sugar Ray), rugged determination (frontiersmen, Teddy Roosevelt), and innovation (Steve Jobs, Henry Ford), however, I was having difficulty visualizing something inspirational that symbolized “reaching for the stars.”
One day, serendipity entered my life through a book about the way Peruvian shamans view the world. Theirs is one of the most ancient of shamanistic cultures in the world. They consider that hummingbirds possess a great power: the ability to “Achieve the Impossible.” Every fall, various species migrate to Mexico, where they can stock up on nectar from the region’s tropical flowers.
By the time spring comes, the hummingbirds are lean, as they’ve lived off their fat (yes, they definitely have some) during the winter. But they must fatten up again before the daunting journey ahead. One day, they head towards the Gulf of Mexico and fly 18 hours non-stop before reaching the Louisiana coast.
We’ve all watched with intrigue as a hummingbird visits a feeder every few minutes to stock up on its supply of sucrose, right? Can you imagine a Ruby Throat flying 18 hours without stopping? How do they do it? The shamans believe that hummingbirds have the extraordinary capacity to push themselves beyond their normal limits because they inherently know they can do it. And once they successfully complete one journey, why wouldn’t they want to repeat it?
When I consider my own journey, I find the hummingbird’s innate tenacity very inspiring…and it’s helping me spread my wings and fly at a higher altitude.
I wonder: What one thing can you do this week to fly at a higher altitude? Inspirational words to think about…