Always Something More

As we learn a skill, then practice it for an extended period of time, it’s easy to become accustomed to our own capability. I’ve written elsewhere why taking something for granted is rarely constructive, and this is no exception. Sure, it’s great to know that we are competent, and once we have demonstrated competence for a while, it’s tempting to say that we have mastered our craft. Few fields, however, are completely developed, to the extent that no further innovation is possible. Years ago, I heard that this was true of the field of optics, but since then, further innovations have silenced such comments.

I look to  language as a model, and find that comparatives and superlatives are generally safe to use within a set, though globally, they often are not. When we have a closed system, such as a classroom of children, we can safely use comparative adjectives to describe them. For instance, “Thomas is short, but Rita is shorter. Kendra is shortest in the class, however.” Or “Dave has long hair, though Cindy’s is longer, but Cameron has the longest hair in the class.” Any time we step outside the hypothetical classroom, however, we will always be guessing. Cameron, for instance, may have had the longest hair in that class, but to say that she has the longest hair anywhere, compared to anyone, would be risky. it’s often not hard to find a counterexample, in this case, someone with longer hair.

It perhaps might seem frustrating to have to qualify every comparative or superlative statement we make, though we’re far more interested in mere linguistics and semantics, here. We care about behavior and influence, and linguistics have proven to have profound influence over both.

Let’s go back to the first paragraph above and specify that we’re talking about a technology. Once we have developed a strong proficiency with that technology, and we have demonstrated that skill for awhile, both those who observe us, along with ourselves, are tempted to say that we believe we have mastered the technology. But as with most other fields, there will likely be much further to learn. Competence might mean that we reliably can get good results as we use that technology, but it seems wise that we would qualify any statement of mastery. For instance, “I’m the BEST at x” is overused, and often meaningless. By definition, few among us can truly came to universally be the best at anything.  We might be the best in our city, our state, region, the country…or just the best in our particular clinic or office building. But once we say that we are the “best”, we invite challenge. Which itself is healthy. But consider what that statement does to us. As we think about our own proficiency with that technology, if we consider ourselves “the best”, where do we expect to grow? If we’re already the best, is it even possible to get better? Not by definition. That would be confusing the comparative with the superlative. If we were “the best as of 2014” or “the best in Texas”, we have somewhere to grow. 2015 brings new challenges and new opportunities to excel. We step out of Texas, and now we have new areas with new comparisons. We might still manage to be better than all other comers, but we can’t actually know that. Ever. “The best” or any other superlative, must be qualified in some fashion, or it invites the other person to mentally place an asterisk over it, with the simple disclaimer: ” * …so far… ”

Now let’s solely concern ourselves with the message we send our own brain with a superlative. We tell ourselves that we in essence know it all. We don’t direct ourselves to improve or refine our skill, as the implicit understanding is that we already are at the very pinnacle.

I like to preserve a degree of humility in my own attitude towards my skillsets. I’ve learned that if we don’t, life will occasionally, and often, per Murphy’s Law, at the worst possible time, remind us to be humble.  I might use a declarative statement in my own mind regarding my skills, such as “I am excellent in this area.” I’ve compared myself to no one, and I am open to becoming better. We guide our unconscious minds in many ways, not the least of which is the language we use. So in that example, I’ve owned up to what I know, I’m prepared to demonstrate it, and yet I’m also looking for enhancements, any improvements to my process. And there is always room for improvement. Unless of course you operate in a closed field as optics allegedly was. I say “humility” because nothing seems to make the aforementioned Murphy happier than waiting until the moment after a person calls himself “the best” at something before causing him to make a really dumb, amateur mistake. If we accept that, though we’re really good, we can always, as humans, make such mistakes, it ironically seems to prevent our making them.

Continual improvement is wise, and if you are willing to consider that there’s always something more to learn, you are priming your unconscious mind to seek that additional information out.

That’s “the best” advice you’ll find on the subject…in Texas!

Losing a loved one…still easier than loving a lost one

I was recently asked why the lack of activity in this blog during the month of November. First, I was very grateful that someone commented on this – thank you! I will share with you the reason, because within it I think we can find something useful.

My mother passed away after several years’ bout with dementia. This is a bizarre family of disorders that hurts more than many people are aware. A bad joke I heard many years ago took on a painfully poignant relevance: “Dementia is when you live longer than you think.”

It was very difficult for my family to watch my mother slowly deteriorate before our eyes. The adage, “Healer, heal thyself” came to mind, and I used my training and skill to adjust to this change in the matriarch of our family. I called upon nearly every bit of skill I had developed in order to manage things effectively and still help hold the family together.

I was advised by a friend that it would be easier to cope with by viewing it thusly: “That’s not the same person you’ve known all those years. That person is gone. In her place is someone wonderful and new to get to know.” The notion is that it makes it even tougher to deal with as you take all you know about your loved one, all you’ve learned about them, with all the shared experiences you have had, and attempt to reconcile them with this person in front of you, in the throes of dementia, unable to even recognize family members. That strategy was helpful, and my brother, sister, and I got to know this wonderful woman, if a bit agitated at the world. She did not, in the end, know us at all, as is commonly the case. Taking the advise above, that fact was easier to handle.

If we thought of our mother as a new person, she had some quirks. But if we thought of her as Mom, something was clearly and very painfully wrong. I’ve heard dementia patients referred to as “the lost”, people so out of touch with their former lives that they can no longer relate to them. I dislike the term, though I reluctantly see the point. She did indeed appear to be lost. For someone who works with human psychological and strategic challenges all the time, this was a new frontier, a place where only the most basic of approaches would likely work. Very basic pacing and leading worked, so NLP served me very well there. Simple hypnosis worked to alleviate anxiety, though anything requiring complex thinking was out. It was a bit like doing hypnosis with someone who didn’t speak your language. It is still very much possible, though we may have to use a more simple approach than the verbal techniques we might frequently employ.

It was not all that different from several years prior when my father had suffered a stroke. He was deeply impacted, both phsyiologically and psychologically, by the damage the stroke had done. While hospitalized, his physician advised that he was no longer on an IV, but needed to drink a good deal more water than he was. The nurses reiterated this, threatening to put him back on an IV for fluids if he did not empty the water bottles brought to him.

Reasoning with him was somewhat pointless, as he was depressed about his situation, and had no concern over his fluids. He refused the water, though my mother and I begged his cooperation.

I began using trance language to make him feel thirsty, and soon he had emptied the water bottles he had and was gesturing for more. The nurse was astounded, and thought we had just asked really nicely and he chose to cooperate. Most people are thusly amazed at how the unconsious is so easily influenced. Frankly, my mother, who noticed the unusual language patterns I was using, though was not clear as to why, was more than a little disturbed by it. Subliminal communication typically does scare people when they first learn how effective it can be. Trance language is incredibly effective at motivating us to behave in one way versus another. My mother thought of what I did and the seemingly miraculous results as being akin to voodoo or a form of black magic. All the scientific explanations, the discussion of trance phenomena in everyday life, did little to alleviate that fear.

So now, years later, as my mother was struggling to remember who she, and and anyone around her, was, she was oblivious as I used trance language to help alleviate her anxiety. Without knowing the mechanics of it, just being a great parent, and also a great daughter, my sister did an amazing job as well. She worked with the unconscious forces exerting influence in our mother’s mind, helping to calm her, to cheer her up, and to make Mom’s life more pleasant. Kara had in the past few years been the one among Mom’s three kids to have spent the most time with her. That experience enabled her to observe the gradual decline in cognitive function. I believe this enabled her to continually adjust to the changes taking place before her eyes. For Chad and myself, it was often jolting, as, though we knew it was happening, seeing the dementia’s advance was frequently alarming and for us, abrupt.

Mom only lived about eight years in this state of gradual decline. I’ve known people who have had loved ones endure declines lasting longer, and for them, loving someone who is becoming “lost” (if I can accept that metaphor for just a few minutes longer), is incredibly challenging. My hope is that as we learn more about the various levels of communication, we can not only alleviate our families’ anxiety and stress over such an experience, but even reach the “lost” loved one on whatever level they still can be.

For instance, my sister noted that Mom liked having her lower back rubbed, much as a mother might soothe an anxious child. She did that when Mom started becoming stressed and it quickly changed her state. My sister also realized that Mom wouldn’t know it was one of the days of the week when she visited, so she stopped trying to get her to remember. However Mom never lost her love of chocolate, and perhaps some of you can relate! So Kara made a point of bringing Mom’s favorite sweets with her when she visited. Though Mom no longer knew that Kara was her daughter, any more than she could recall that Chad and I were her sons, she developed a slight ability to remember “the nice lady that brings the treats”. Each of these things enables us to reach someone in a different way than mere facial recognition and conscious conversation.

Mom left this world and we are carrying out her wishes to be cremated and have her ashes scattered before the Black Angel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She was always a poetic, romantic thinker, and such a wish was not surprising.

One take away from this story is that of reaching someone who doesn’t “speak our language”, or seemingly any language at all. This includes people with physiological maladies, like dementia, purely psychological challenges, or even people with simply very different strategies from our own, people who may seem so different that we have trouble relating to, communicating with, or working with them.

Remember, even if they are very different, they are still conducting internal mental processes. They are still thinking to some degree, and we can connect with them as long as that’s the case. Our verbal communication is our typical “go-to” means of communicating, relating to, or influencing others. But keep in mind that verbal speech is only a very small percentage of the overall communication taking place. Body language, word choices, verbal tone, and the like all exert tremendous influence over the message received. Since most of us interpret these items unconsciously, it helps if we understand how to use unconscious communication effectively.

Perhaps even to the point of becoming unconscious of what we’re doing, ourselves.