In Cognitive Hypnotherapy it’s taken as read that the way we imagine our future will influence the future we get.
When we visualise, the same parts of the visual cortex become active as when we’re processing something we’re seeing in front of us. Our eyes and our mind’s eye share the same equipment. One of the consequences of this is that the brain often can’t tell the difference between what we’re experiencing and what we’re imagining. This is why we can awake sweating and breathing heavily from a nightmare – the brain has kicked the body into its fight-or-flight response because you were being chased by the Easter Bunny (sorry, is that just me?).
The same applies when we imagine our future. We’re coming to appreciate more and more how important the brain’s ability to construct anticipated futures is. Every situation that arises for us causes the brain to work out probable outcomes based on our past experiences.
So when you think of that impending exam, whether you see yourself breezing it, or crashing and burning, pretty much depends on the past events in your life your brain uses as the basis for its calculation of your outcome. If it calculates a likely positive outcome then the brain releases endorphins in response to the thought and you’ll feel confident and relaxed as the exam approaches, exactly the state of mind that gives you the greatest chance of success. However, if it calculates failure as the outcome the brain will release adrenalin and cortisol to set in motion the fight-or-flight mechanism. You’ll start feeling nervous whenever you think of the exam and feel more and more desire to avoid it. The feelings of panic increase as the big day looms until, on the day itself, you’re a quivering jelly. You can think and feel, but not both at the same time, so this emotional hijacking makes the likelihood of failure high. In both cases we got the future we imagined.
Changing this pattern is relatively straight-forward. A Cognitive Hypnotherapist is likely to take you through an intervention that changes the memories the brain has been using as its basis for predicting failure. They will also use this change as the basis for creating the imagined future you desire – what we call the solution state.
The main point of this blog is to let you know that how you see yourself in the future is key to how compelling that future becomes. A recent study in Psychological Science published by Libby, Shaeffer, Eibach and Slemmer (not quite Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young is it?) showed that visualising yourself from a third person perspective (i.e. seeing yourself in the picture) is more motivating than visualising yourself from a first-person perspective (through your own eyes).
They demonstrated this using 146 students who were registered to vote. Half were asked to visualise going to vote the next day from a first-person perspective, and half from a third person viewpoint. Afterwards the latter felt more motivated to vote, and the next day 90% of them did so, compared to 72% of the first-person group.
From this my advice to therapists is, when doing any kind of future-pace, get the client to see themselves as they want to be; keep them dissociated rather than experiencing their future through their own eyes. Watch your future-self and you might be surprised how soon you are your future-self.