About a year or so ago I’d been wanting to go on a health-kick for a number of different reasons… Now fast forward to today, and after a couple of 40 day cleanses and the successful training and completion of the 2015 Hollywood Half Marathon I finally feel that perhaps I'm heading in the right direction. I am you could say (after producing bucketloads of self-improvement MP3s and spending 1000s of hours with hypnosis clients) finally walking the walk and talking the talk. Yet the peculiar thing is, it hasn’t been my lifestyle, age or (comparatively recent) fatherhood that has motivated me to change, but a simple title from a London Real podcast episode: “Your Diet Is Killing You”.
“Your Diet Is Killing You” is a most interesting LR episode where special guest Ben Pratt informs us how badly we (the general public) are eating. It’s a treasure trove of all kinds of useful nutritional insights. After watching it a couple of years ago I could sense the title hovering around me (from somewhere deep within my subconscious). Upon ordering that double cheeseburger: “your diet is killing you”… That lunchtime soda: “your diet is killing you”... Those Sour Cream & Onion Pringles: “your diet is killing you”… Yet whilst this ‘affirmation’ followed me everywhere I didn’t really do much about it until about a year or so ago when I suddenly thought: “wow, my diet is killing me”. Those nagging little words had blossomed into my (higher) consciousness and soon after I began my first 40 day cleanse and signed up for the Hollywood Half Marathon.
This whole experience got me thinking about what I do, the self-improvement meditations I produce, and the clients I see. Is there really some kind of magic-wand at play here where I give it a quick wave and people are changed upon hearing my words? Of course not; people have to want to change and then they have to take action and work towards that change. But rather than the overt change-work I do with my personal clients, I started thinking about subconscious change and how sometimes it’s what we hear when we’re not looking to change that proves to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’ve done Stop-Smoking sessions with people that haven’t worked… well not immediately anyway. Someone stops smoking for only a day and is disappointed. I’m disappointed! The session work has been done, the visualisations have been listened to and… life goes on as before. Then 6 months later out of the blue I get a phone call. “Charles, I want to thank-you, great news. I quit”. Sometimes suggestions, ideas, perspectives need time to fester… to settle. Your diet is killing you. And that got me thinking back again to London Real.
”If you’re in-flow with your own truth, then doors open effortlessly”. This quote from London Real guest Peter Sage has stuck with me for a quite a while now. Often I find myself sometimes using brute force or will power to try to get to where I want to be. It never works. However, when I close my eyes and think of this quote and take a few long lingering deep breaths, then suddenly everything seems so much more effortless. Of course those doors may still not open, but it doesn’t matter anymore if you’re in-flow with your own truth. Those doors were never meant to open…
The Peter Sage quote is just one of number of little nuggets of inspiration I’ve heard from various guests on London Real. The show’s original tag line stated that: “it’s about the journey” and I couldn’t agree more either from my own personal voyage or the insight I pass on to people in my circle. So when I hear Tim Freke say on London Real that “ Socrates is a big hero of mine because he knew he knew nothing” then I just nod (unconsciously). How powerful it is to be humble. Or when Daniel H Pink tells us that “we’re all natural salespeople… because we’re human each of us has a selling instinct, which means that anyone can master the basics of moving others” then I think: “yes I can, yes I will”. Moving forward. Possibility.
And if I’m feeling uninspired with my visualizations or MP3s, I think of the Tim Ferris London Real episode when he tells us that “If you can generate one idea you can generate more”. Indeed, I’ve even quoted this to clients on a number of occasions in my private clinical sessions. I find it amazing that even top Hollywood script-writers need to be given a little nudge once in a while. Or is it? It’s not rocket science of course but it’s always good to remind people of their capabilities and what comes naturally.
Living in LA I come across a lot of artistes who for one reason or another have given up on the dream. I often think about the David Allen episode when he said: ”The people who procrastinate the most, are the most sensitive, creative and intelligent people”. This is a great re-frame - something of an insult with a positive slant! I can feel the shift when I quote this to clients. And so it is that these (and other) ‘off-the-cuff’ comments from London Real episodes unexpectedly worm themselves into both my professional and personal life. Conversations, theories, arguments and words festering deep within my subconscious, waiting to be triggered by something random. Waiting… So until then and until the next blog always remember: “it’s about the journey”...
And don't forget: “your diet is killing you”.
Though it seems strange to say it, I actually have smoking to thank for introducing me to guided visualizations, hypnosis and ultimately mindfulness. I smoked perhaps 10-30 cigarettes a day for a number of years and had been thinking about quitting for most of that time. I used to say to myself: "when I sort my life out, that's when I'll quit smoking…" But it actually worked out quite the opposite. When I quit smoking was when I began the process of sorting my life out.
Having tried and failed with 'will power' I thought I'd give hypnosis a go. I wasn't expecting much, so you can imagine my surprise when it actually worked! I didn't really know anything about hypnosis other then an old book from the 1980s that someone had given me about the basics of self-hypnosis. The route to success seemed pretty clear: create some empowering visions of me as a healthy non-smoker, find a comfortable space to relax with some soft music playing in the background, and then just drift off for a little while with only these 'stop smoking visions' as company. To me, this seemed too easy, too basic, but I persevered twice a day, every day, for a week and things soon began to change! I didn't seem to reach for a cigarette as much as I used to, and when I did, for some reason I was questioning why I wanted it. And then when I lit it, it didn't seem to taste the same anymore. These changes didn't happen all in one go, but subtly over the first week, and then strongly into the second week, when I had actually already stopped my self-hypnosis sessions.
I had this fear about quitting smoking that my life would never ever be the same again. How could I cope without cigarettes - all my friends smoked. How could I create, socialize, laugh and deal with sadness without the assistance of cigarettes? Cigarettes had become such an integral part of my life and I was worried about a life without them. I imagined weeks of painful solitude as I entered this new chapter, already preparing myself to fail and thinking of excuses to start again… But it wasn't like that all, in fact, thanks to hypnosis, quitting smoking was incredibly easy! After my week's worth of self-imposed-hypnosis sessions which preceded another week of highly conscious thinking about this bad habit, I just… stopped! It was as simple as that in the end. There was no 'last cigarette' or 'closing ceremony' or a throwing away of a half full packet or even avoidance of smokers. One day I just didn't feel like smoking anymore. I was done. Smoking had left my life, not with a bang, but in fact with a whimper. The war I was expecting to fight in my quest to quit was actually won with diplomacy. It really was that easy.
This almost effortless experience of quitting smoking sparked an interest for me in hypnosis and the power of the human brain. I had this tremendous urge to learn more about the workings of the subconscious mind. I was already making meditation and ambient music and so combining this creativity with neuroscience seemed the way forward. I didn't know it at the time, but the week I quit smoking was also the same week My Sunny Mind was conceived. Originally my plan was just to make an MP3 for my own personal use to perhaps help me if I ever felt like reaching for a cigarette, but as it turned out, those weaker days never came, and in fact I ended up giving a recording of my "Stop Smoking" MP3 to a few friends who all came back with glowing reports about how much they liked it. "Wow" I thought to myself, "other people might like this to."
After recording that first Stop Smoking MP3 I decided to up the ante and begin studying hypnosis full-time. Soon after that, I opened a clinic in England and began dealing with real clients - many of whom I helped quit smoking. These early years, as I absorbed a wealth of client information including their fears around smoking, became fundamental in improving and developing the My Sunny Mind "Stop Smoking Now" MP3. I was able to sort through the wheat from the chaff - the smokescreens if you will - when it came to the working of the unconscious mind and the process of smoking cessation. Those 'workings' soon became my "Stop Smoking Now" MP3 as it is today, the process though I will save for another blog…
A fear of flying can be alleviated in a number of different of ways. Homeopathy, prescription drugs, education (e.g. how a plane flies / for what reason flying is the safest form of travel), meditation / relaxation, and simply being more organized (and so more stress free on the day of travel) are all popular approaches.
Many feel that both meditation (guided visualizations / hypnosis) and relaxation exercises are perhaps the most effective ways of calming nervous passengers. Since hypnosis and positive imagery works at the subconscious level - where fear originates - then it is little wonder that these approaches have a proven track record when it comes to reducing flight anxiety. However, many hypnotic or meditative CDs or MP3 downloads 'only' use simple breathing exercises and scenic imagery - e.g. "Imagine you're sitting in a beautiful garden…" While these approaches can indeed reduce stress levels, the problem many passengers have is that they are very much aware that they're not in a garden, but 39,000 feet in the air! My Sunny Mind's Relaxed Flying Series takes these approaches a step further with the use of indirect suggestion, utilization and realistic visualizations. The downloads makes use of what is happening on the plane to leave the listener feeling relaxed and calm. Furthermore, such is the power of the words used, that the Relaxed Flying Series can actually be listened to with great effect in the weeks leading up to flying. Here's how it works…
Unlike direct suggestions (e.g. "You will be very relaxed when you fly"), indirect suggestions are more subtle and address the problem in a less obvious way. They work much more on an unconscious level and the listener has to interpret them in a particular way to make conscious meaning of them. The generic structure of an indirect suggestion could be, “I knew someone who experienced flying in a beautifully relaxed way”. The key here is that I am not telling the listener directly what to do; yet I'm inviting him or her in the creation of the solution. Other examples could be: "Some people put the tip of their tongue behind their upper teeth when they fly because this has a wonderful calming effect… and my Aunt Wendy always used to find airplanes very sleepy places… and some people have to force themselves to yawn if they want their ears to pop and others do not even have to try at all…and so I wonder if you will sleep for 2 or 3 hours on this flight today…" The idea is to re-gain the confidence of the listener in a subtle rather then authoritative way. This is done via the subconscious mind.
The Power Of Distraction
This process is then taken even further by utilizing any elements within the environment to deepen the relaxation. We want to 'normalize' the listener's experience of flying to dissolve away any fears. This is done with both the use of distraction and conversational re-framing. For example, on my Inflight Relaxation download I ask the passenger to notice the air-hostesses: "it's just another boring day at work for them." And I suggest the passenger "relax into the soothing hum of the engines… their vibrating tone is in fact particularly calming you know…" At one point I suggest the listener pays attention to how relaxing the touch of their socks are on the airplane floor (which on a personal note I feel is one of the nicest feelings in the world - like bare feet on warm wet sand!). Whilst obviously the fearful flyer would rather be on the ground, the idea is to re-create the flying experience as an altered reality rather then a particularly scary one. "While some people hate turbulence, many others relax into it as nothing more then a gentle fairground ride. Have you ever thought about doing this?". And so on and on.
Finally, guided visualizations are also a great way of distracting the mind. Rather though then tell a passenger something they now they are not doing - "You are sitting in a lovely garden" - instead, with a little indirect suggestion and future-pacing they can be directed to imagine the beautiful destination they may be traveling to (or wish they were traveling to!) and how next week "...this journey will have been nothing more then a blinking of the eye as the dreamy white clouds drift on by…"
All these techniques can be very powerful in helping a passenger to have a more enjoyable and relaxing flight. I hope you've found these little insights useful. Until the next time… happy flying!
Yesterday Captain Tom Bunn left a comment on my ‘Easy Turbulence’ video on YouTube referring to My Sunny Mind’s methods as “junk psychology”. Quite naturally I’ve taken issue with this claim because not only have I had a great deal of success both personally and with the many clients I’ve seen over the last 10 years, but of course there’s the millions of people around the world who’ve been positively affected by modern alternative-therapies. And let’s not forget either the virtues of such classic practices as mindfulness meditation which were first introduced into the West during the 18th century yet date back to early Buddhist texts and traditions.
Now unfortunately, Tom’s YouTube/Google+ account is set up so that no one is able to respond to his comments, so sadly I’ve had to remove his comment from that particular YouTube thread. I love different points of view, open debate and healthy argument - but of course this means people have to be able to respond to each other. And so for those who missed it, here’s Tom’s comment in full. And my reply.
“Tom Bunn wrote on 06/25/15: The breathing and relaxation exercises promoted in this video are - according to all the current research - completely useless. Some research finds they are counterproductive. In any case they do not control anxiety, panic, or claustrophobia either on the ground or when flying. Links to the research are at bit.ly/1q2ocSq on Psychology Today. To avoid being set up for failure by junk psychology read this blog bit.ly/1BgMuJG on Psychology Today.”
In response I would firstly like to say that current research has actually shown us that both breathing and relaxation exercises can in fact be most useful for a great number of people in lowering stress levels. The UK Government, Harvard Health Publications and the US Dept. of Health & Human Services all promote the benefits of breathing & relaxation exercises in lowering anxiety.
In both his excellent articles for Psychology Today, Tom Bunn provides well founded scientific research to prove his point - which in turn supports the point made by eminent academic and NY Times best-selling author Daniel H Pink in his book: “To Sell Is Human”… Pink tells us how it’s now possible for someone to find evidence to prove conclusively whatever they want. In Tom’s case this is evidence to support his SOAR program which has successfully helped over 5,000 nervous flyers since 1982.
My Sunny Mind’s ‘Easy Turbulence’ (and indeed our whole ‘Relaxed Flying Series’) uses an array of breathing & relaxation exercises AND other powerful tools such as SFBT, Mindfulness, NLP & simple rational thinking. Unlike traditional hypnosis (which for example has one imagine a beach or a lake scene) the ‘Relaxed Flying Series’ visualizations are context-related and actually use what is happening on the aircraft at any given moment to leave the listener in a more confident state of mind. (We’re great fans here at My Sunny Mind of the peaceful moments that mindfulness brings, AND the legendary Milton Erickson’s utilization techniques). What we do know is that everybody’s flying experience is NOT the same - if it were then EVERY passenger would go into fits of panic every time an aircraft travels through turbulence. However, this is quite clearly not the case. It is not turbulence that causes us fear, but our personal thought patterns around turbulence which are converted into anxiety.
My Sunny Mind’s goal is to put nervous passengers into the same resourceful space as more confident flyers. Breathing & relaxation exercises help in achieving this, and as mentioned above such techniques are only part of a bigger process we use in helping passengers deal with negative thoughts and emotions. We also acknowledge that perhaps our MP3 downloads won’t work for everyone, but 2 years of inflight testing and 10 years of clinical testing has shown us the profound effects that our work has had upon both passengers in the sky and many regular people on the ground. We at My Sunny Mind are very excited by the positive results and feedback we have gained so far and we whole-heartedly stand by the efficacy of all our products.
The next stage in the creation of an effective meditation or guided visualization is to record the music that sits behind the voice. This for me is a very separate process. I'm continually producing and recording pieces of music completely independent of a script or subject (before putting them away for later use). When I then need some music I will look through my library and select what I feel is most apt. Some tunes will work better with certain scripts and my final choice here is very much an intuitive one. For example, the refreshing uplifting feel of the music for the "Mind Clean" title meant that it suited that theme perfectly.
When I initially write the music for my MP3 downloads I do so on a guitar or keyboard. I find that slow tempos and lingering progressions are the most conducive to relaxation. When written, I will record the progression (i.e. chord sequence) before overdubbing it with a number of different melodies (on various instruments). I record on a Mac with Logic Pro software which I find very user friendly. Musically, I like to use lots of reverb to create a soothing ambience. I most enjoy this stage since I experience a real sense of artistic freedom as varying notes, melodies and tones assimilate and resonate. The eventual end result will be a 6-8 minute piece of recorded music that I will then file away until needed. With some of the Relaxed Flying Series titles I didn't even use any music at all - but instead real life airport and airplane sounds. And of course some very effective visualizations have simply been a lone voice. Some producers use 'binaural beats' which many believe have a greater impact on our mood or mental state. The key word here (as it is with most creative things) is 'believe'.
Recording A Hypnotic Voice
The next stage is to record myself reading the script. Ideally I'd like to record the script in one sitting, but invariably there will be odd lines that I need to do again. (I'm a little bit of a perfectionist here and probably re-do more lines then I need to!) I use a Shure SM7B microphone. SM7B's are great for voice-over work and are very popular in the talk-radio industry. Bizarrely enough Michael Jackson also used one of these microphones when he recorded 'Thriller'! I'm very interested in the tone of my voice and I like to get a very up, close and personal feel. Very rarely do I put any reverb on my voice. I like a clean, deep voice tone that tends to resonate more with the listener. There's a whole movement happening at the moment called 'ASMR' (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response). In layman's terms, ASMR is essentially a whispered way of talking which leads to a pleasant tingling in the brain. The effects of ASMR have not been scientifically tested and so it is only a 'claimed biological phenomenon'. But have you ever noticed how good it feels when someone whispers in your ear? For me this is simply the way I prefer to record my voice and is not necessarily the only way for effective results.
Arranging The Guided Visualization
Before I begin recording my voice I will loop my 6-8 minute piece of music three or four times so that it runs at about 30 minutes in length. This gives me plenty of time then to do the voice-over. After I have recorded the vocal I will then arrange the music that sits beneath my voice. I will take different layers of sound out, or add more as the script progresses. For example, if there is a relaxing countdown from 10 to 1, I might slowly take different instruments out or even decrease the volume so essentially one might hear only my voice by the time I say the number "1". This gives the effect of feeling deeply relaxed and connected with the subconscious part of the mind. Conversely, as an induction reaches its sometimes glorious conclusion the music may build to a crescendo. This of course also has the added affect of bringing the listener back to a normal waking state. I have no set rules for the shape and form of the music, it's more of an intuitive process that years of experience in musical production has given me.
Once the voice has been recorded and the music has been arranged, I may then 'cut and paste' odd poignant parts of the vocal and put them in other parts of the induction behind the main vocal. I'll use reverb on these parts and sometimes have a certain word or sentence coming out of just the left or right speaker / headphone. The idea here is to have suggestions sink even more deeply into the subconscious. You can hear this done to great effect on my "Rejuvenate" MP3. Some people have a fear of hypnosis because they feel they are going to be made to do something they don't want to do. That hypnotherapy can affect us this way is a myth. Listeners are conscious throughout the whole process and they will immediately 'wake-up' if they hear something untoward. i.e. "You will now rob a bank"! Trance-work can only assist you in doing what you already want to do. Now if you really did want to rob a bank…!
Relax, Listen, Change
Finally the MP3 will then be 'mastered'. This is a post-recording process where the levels and EQs of the MP3 are standardized so making the recording 'ok' to listen to on a number of different devices. e.g. iPod, radio, smart phone, home stereo. Ideally my downloads are best listened to through headphones so the listener can get the full stereo effect. But this is not imperative. Sometimes there will have to be a little bit of real life testing out in the field. This was certainly true with my 'Driving Range Coach' and 'Inflight-Relaxation' titles which are meant to be listened to whilst practicing golf or actually flying on an aircraft. A number of times after testing I've had to re-write sections and so re-record my voice before finally settling on the finished MP3s as they are today. As I have already mentioned earlier, with all my titles it's about getting a fine balance in bringing all these elements together. Experience (and my dad) has shown me that what seems to work well for me, generally works for other people too. And that is how I make my downloads.
I was out playing with my son at the local park last week and I got chatting with a fellow parent about guided visualizations. Now just as I was about to leave and take my son home for his dinner, the friendly parent asked me how I actually created my visualizations. "What was the inspiration behind them… how do you choose a particular subject… how did the music come into being?" I sat there for a few moments thinking: "Hmmm, how can I answer this question as simply and concisely as possible in the very short time I have available?" I looked at my curious inquisitor, smiled, and said "with love".
Choosing a visualization
The process of producing a self-help audio MP3 (from inspiration to creation) is a very interesting one that has a number of distinctly different stages. The first is choosing a subject, and for me this is simply based upon selecting an area that moves me personally combined with a demand for it from the general public. For example, the inspiration for my "Relaxing The Economic Blues" MP3 first arose during the 2008 financial melt-down. Not only was I meeting and reading about a great of people suffering due to events beyond their control, I myself was feeling a little stressed out by the gloomy economic outlook. I wanted to guard myself against the whims of the banks and the governments and in-turn learn to save or spend money a little more wisely.
I've always believed that if I can create something that interests me, then chances are they'll be quite a few other people who would be interested too. My dad, whose been buying and selling furniture for almost 50 years, told me many years ago: "If I see a chair and like it, then you can pretty much guarantee they'll be another 200 people out there who will like it to". This little insight has stuck with me for probably over 25 years, except as I get older and the world gets bigger (yet smaller through social media!) I realise that that 200 is actually a few thousand, or even hundreds of thousands and probably millions.
Writing a good guided-visualization script
So upon having the inspiration for the MP3, the next stage is to actually write the script. A good guided visualization capable of creating significant change will incorporate a number of similar styles and techniques whatever the actual subject is. All of my titles use language which resonates at the subconscious level. Also, all of my MP3s utilize at least one of the most powerful tried and tested audio relaxation exercises researched. This might for example be a diaphragmatic breathing exercise or a progressive body relaxation. I use elements of NLP (neuro-linguistic-programming), mindfulness, guided visualization, direct & indirect suggestion and solution-focused hypnosis / coaching. The key is to get a fine balance. The more I practice and write, the easier and more seamless it becomes.
All of these approaches are then combined with my studies, personal insights and ongoing research into the actual issue I'm working on. Perhaps the most valuable information in the creation of my MP3s is that which I've obtained directly from actual clients who I have seen in my own private practice. Here I have first hand experience at what actually works. For ongoing research I keep up to date with both developments or findings regarding the brain and the mind-body-sprit connection, and the actual subject I'm addressing. I'm constantly looking at government findings, recommended articles and research from reputable private institutions. A great deal of people have a fear around flying purely because they cannot conceive how this mass of metal gets in the air in the first place. Many 'fear of flying' courses therefore teach people the mechanics of flying. My "Stop Smoking Now" MP3 is a good example of how I combined a lot of different avenues of information. You can't simply say to someone: "You're feeling very relaxed, now stop smoking". To change behaviors, people need to be educated. I include such information in my scripts.
Traditional hypnosis scripts versus modern guided-visualizations
The next step is combining all of this information and then arranging it into the induction. There are no hard and fast rules here since use of the correct language will always sink into the subconscious. More traditional hypnosis scripts will begin with some kind of relaxation exercise, before 'a deepener' then relaxes the listener still further. (An example of 'a deepener' may be a slow count from 10 down to 1, which creates the illusion for the subconscious mind of descending into a deeper state of relaxation). Finally, positive imagery, suggestions, metaphors or affirmations will tackle the issue. A guided visualization or a classic meditation might develop more quickly as far as the actual subject matter is concerned. The key is that the listener is relaxed. I do spend the first section of my scripts relaxing the listener, but I also like to start addressing the issue early on as well. Your subconscious mind is always open to receiving positive information. To that end there are some effective visualizations out there that are only 5-10 minutes in length. Mine generally run at about 25 minutes. There are also some pretty good ones which are a great deal longer.
The next stage is to record the music that sits behind the voice. This for me is a very separate process and I'll show you how I do that in part 2 of this blog...