Part 5: The Purpose Of Problems

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If you’re experiencing an emotional problem right now, then what I’m about to tell you might not make sense…

In this section, I’ll be asserting that having a Problem (in a perculiar way) is actually good thing. Yes, that’s right – I’m suggesting that your Problem has a positive purpose and intention! As we’ll see, the expression of that positive intention doesn’t always match.

In this section, we’ll be exploring why you have your problem. As we’ll see, uncovering the real intention behind Problems gives us a better way of moving forward and resolving it. Again, we’ll be using Phobias as an example although you can apply the same principles to pretty much any negative emotion.

Oh and welcome to Analogy Central… I have quite a few that will (hopefully) enable you to shed light and become clearer on what’s happening within Problems!

Analogy: Good Intentions, Bad Behaviours

Have you ever seen a parent yank an infant away from a road and then shout at the child for putting itself in danger? The infant is too young to understand exactly what’s going on, although the general thought process of the parent is a little something like:

“I’m shouting at you and smacking you to make sure next time you don’t get hurt – I’m really only doing this because I love you!

Obviously, not every parent does this. I’m a parent. And yes, I’ve been there…

What’s important to note is that the intention behind reprimanding the child is one of Protection and ultimately Love. However, the behaviour exhibited (the shouting and smacking) doesn’t seem to match.

So… why does this happen?

Analogy: Behaviours Are Like Bookmarks

In the context of the example given above, the reaction of the parent is pretty much instantaneous. Seeing their child in danger is a trigger that makes them react in a certain way. In this scenario, there’s no time to pause and consider what needs to be done – there’s only time to react and do something without thinking.

To understand why we repeat bad behaviours, let me use another analogy.

On your web browser, you probably have a Home button and some people may even have “Bookmarks or Favourites” for sites in the top bar so they’re easily accessible.

If you were to click on the Home button (or one of the Bookmarks/Favourites), you’d get to another site quickly – no need to try and remember and re-type in a URL in the address bar. One click and you’re there! It’s really just a very useful, quick and easy shortcut.

Our minds are excellent at what they do and a similar process is at work in terms of our behaviours. Think of Behaviours as being like these quick shortcuts (or macros). We have in-built systems for making light work of doing things without needing to think!

From an evolutionary perspective, the ability to learn something quickly then be able to have a Zen-like quality of “doing without thinking” is a major advantage. Like a basketball player or golfer who’s practiced a shot so many times, they just know the ball’s going in without needing to think (or the hunter who know’s just when to throw the spear). As you can see, this natural ability of the mind to create these powerful shortcuts can be extremely helpful.

In a sense, we have the natural ability to create these powerful shortcuts in the mind… and the unnatural ability to train and condition our behaviours and responses!

Analogy: Problem 404 - Appropriate Behaviour Not Found

You’re probably ahead of me here (if you get the meaning of this sub-heading)…

So what happens when things start to go wrong? Yup, you guessed it. It’s like clicking on your Bookmark or Favourite link only to find the site you wanted has moved and the page is no longer there!

The question becomes: “do you find where the page has moved to; delete the bookmark or just leave it there?”.

If you’re lucky and the site uses a 301 redirect, your page will get redirected auto-magically without you noticing. In a sense, we do this when we update our Behaviours and don’t even notice that we’ve done so!

If you’re not so fortunate, then you may need to spend a bit of time to consider: “do I really need this?” and do a spot of looking for the new location or even deleting the link.

Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, people don’t know that their shortcuts no longer work. Even though they know the link no longer works, they just leave it there (still broken and borked) until they need to use them again! This happens to be the point where we re-experience the Problem, again and again and again…

What’s interesting is that, instead of attempting to update the shortcut (i.e. change the behaviour) a lot of people will still continue to keep clicking on the link expecting it to magically work! Go figure… :)

The Positive Intentions Behind Phobias & Problems

Again, this may sound odd…

If you have a phobia or other emotional problem that makes you repeat a standard pattern behaviour, then I’d like you to take a moment to be grateful for the excellent way in which your mind is actually protecting you from harm.

Yes, I did say that might sound odd… although, let’s have a look at what’s really going on behind the scenes.

Let us begin with a pre-supposition:

The mind and body always strives to protect the system.

Yet again, our minds have a fantastic system in place that other fields as Psychology would label as the “Unconscious Mind” (or sub-conscious). The Unconscious Mind is the part that is responsible for protecting and repairing (as well as other tasks).

Have you ever been crossing a road and automatically jumped back because you saw something out of the corner of your eye? Or perhaps you’ve avoided being hit by a frisbee while strolling casually in a park? (You get the idea).

If you have, then you’ll know that you react automatically and certainly without conscious thought. What happens in these situations is that the Unconscious Mind does it’s best to protect you from harm. It’s the same thing if you began to fall over and immediately put your hands out to stop yourself from hitting the ground.

Now… do you remember earlier, that I mentioned that we have an “unnatural ability to train and condition our behaviours and responses“?

Here’s what happens when a phobia is created and replayed:

  • The Body & Mind experiences a shock to the system.
  • The Unconscious Mind realises the system in under threat and makes a note of the experience (e.g. sound, object, feelings, thoughts etc.).
  • The Unconscious Mind then creates a useful shortcut based on the external experience so it can protect the system from harm if it happens again. (Note: In NLP terms, it’s said that the experience is anchored – i.e. the trigger is associate with the experience)
  • In future, when the Body perceives a similar threat, the Unconscious Mind clicks on the shortcut and the appropriate protection response is activated (triggered).

So now you understand why phobias (or other emotional problems) happen, you may be wondering why the system doesn’t update itself.

That’s a good question…

Problems & Phobias Aren't Malicious

Now that we’ve seen that behind every Problem is a positive intention, it’s easy to understand why the Unconscious Mind would want to hold on to it for as long as possible. Removing a particular negative emotion or phobia could have a significant side-effect if there wasn’t anything else in place to help protect the system!

So, the reason why people often have phobias is essentially because:

  1. the phobia is useful.
  2. there’s no new learning to help protect the system.

Because the behaviour is extremely useful in terms of protection, this can become like a bad habit for sufferers of phobias.

What tends to happen is, as the Conscious Mind experiences new things – updates itself and can see the logic in not having the problem any more – the Unconscious will stick to tried and tested methods. Let’s face it – it’s something we all do… we like to stick to what we know and it’s rare for most of us to change what we do if it’s working!

So, in order to move forward from the behaviour of negative emotions and phobias all that’s really required to do is to simply give the Unconscious Mind a good talking to… Easy, right?

Updating The Unconscious Mind Is Easy? Right?

Getting the Unconscious Mind to play nicely isn’t always the easiest of things to do.

If you’ve ever cut yourself and tried to command yourself to heal, you’ll know that the Unconscious doesn’t quite work that way. It works in the way that it knows best in order to protect and repair…

Thankfully, there are these guys called Conversational Therapists and NLP Life Coaches who have a unique insight into the “how’s, when’s and why’s” of problems and can help deal with these issues. There are a variety of techniques can be used to help coax the Unconscious Mind to start playing nicely with the Conscious Mind again – from breaking the patterns, changing the behaviours through to playing with the internal meaning of the experience (more on this later!).

The Purpose Of Problems Summary

So, let’s recap on what we’ve now learned about Problems in this section.

  • Behind every Problem is a positive intention.
  • Our behaviour doesn’t always match our positive intentions.
  • The Unconscious Mind can create powerful behaviours to react without the need for thinking.
  • The Unconscious Mind is responsible for protecting the system.
  • These protective “shortcuts” can sometimes get stuck and need updating!
  • What happens when a Phobia is created and a person gets stuck.

In the next part of this series, we’ll be looking at how we make problems seem so real in our minds.

The Anatomy Of A Problem Index:


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