(This Appendix to the book Transforming Your Self: becoming who you want to be, was originally published as an article in Anchor Point, Vol. 15, No. 4 May, pp. 5-18)
One way to describe most unhappiness is that we develop “tunnel vision,” narrowly focusing in on a problem while ignoring everything else that surrounds it. We also tend to take problem experiences out of the flow of time, isolating them from what preceded and followed them. While this concentration can be useful in order to study a situation to see what can be done, a narrow view often leaves out the very information that we need in order to start moving toward a solution. To see a problem “in perspective” means to see it in relation to something else, and the same thing is true of our thinking about ourselves.
There are many, many ways to gain perspective. Simply expanding your field of vision to include much more of what is happening simultaneously in the moment gives a perspective that is literally wider and broader in scope, the “big picture” that includes much more information. Typically when a problem is seen within a larger context, it appears smaller and easier to solve, and the additional information included may provide a basis for a solution. Expanding the frame in this way is the most common pattern in most cartoons. Usually a series of small frames sets up a puzzling or confusing situation, and then a larger frame at the end includes something new that resolves the puzzle and makes sense out of it, changing the meaning. Sometimes the last frame simply draws attention to something that was already in the earlier frames, but was easy to overlook and ignore.
Since the frames in a cartoon typically indicate a time sequence, this example introduces the other way that we can increase scope, by turning a still picture into a sequential movie that shows a situation changing over a period of time. Expanding scope in either space, time, or both, is a simple, yet very powerful intervention that is an important part of many effective change patterns.
Simple dissociation, stepping out of a problem context, allows you to see yourself in relation to your surroundings. This gives you a different outside perspective, the perceptual position of a curious, and perhaps compassionate, but otherwise emotionally uninvolved observer. Taking on the perceptual position of another person in the same context provides yet another perspective, with different information.
Seeing two events that are separated in time in relation to each other creates another kind of perspective. Whenever we endure something unresourceful in order to move toward a desirable future, we are seeing how the present activity relates to our future outcome, providing a sequential perspective. This kind of perspective utilizes two representations that are connected simultaneously in our experience, yet which remain separate from each other in different time frames. People who overuse food, drugs and other forms of instant pleasure typically do not view their present behavior in relation to its long-term consequences. They can be taught to take a “longer view” to help them avoid experiences that may be pleasant, but which have later unpleasant consequences. The same kind of perspective can help them stick with tasks that are not inherently pleasant, but are useful in reaching pleasant goals.
Of course, in many contexts it can be very useful to have a narrow perspective, concentrating your attention and deliberately deleting other concerns, events, and information. Whenever you want to focus attention on a single task, or the simple enjoyment of life’s pleasures, a broader perspective would only detract from your experience. All skills are useful in certain times and places, and every skill becomes a limitation if we lose the choice to use it or not in a particular situation.
John McWhirter has characterized the general form of a simultaneous perspective that is the basis for a healthy self-concept, a pattern that has many other useful applications.
Visual Perspective Pattern
I would like to demonstrate this pattern in the visual system with someone who has an image that still troubles you in some way. I don’t need to know anything about the content; you can keep that to yourself. (Mike comes up.) So, Mike, you have an image that when you think about it, it still bothers you, right? Try it right now, just to check to be sure it still bothers you. . . . (Mike’s breathing becomes shallower, and his body becomes still.)
Mike: Yeah. Not a lot, but it still does.
OK, take that picture and just set it aside somewhere. Now I want you to think of four resource experiences, one at a time, perhaps ones that you think might be particularly useful in relation to that image that still bothers you. And I’d like your unconscious mind to participate fully in this selection process. I want you to develop an image for each of these four resources, one that fully represents each of them. Let me know when you have those four images. . . . (Mike nods.)
Now I want you to take these four images, and make each of them about 18″ high, and 18″ wide, and then place them together so that you can see all four pictures at once in a large collage about three feet in front of you. Some people like to imagine that they put Velcro on the back of the images so when they place them they can hear that little sound that Velcro makes when it sticks, and know that they will stay put. When you have all four up there together, it will be a little harder to see the details of what’s in each one, but you’ll still know what’s there. Take whatever time you need to set that up, and let me know when it’s ready. . . (Mike nods.)
Great. Now keeping this collage intact, I want you to take that image that we started with that still bothered you, and place it right in the middle of that collage, so that it covers up just the inner corners of those four resource pictures where they meet in the center of the collage. You may want to adjust the size of that troubling image a bit so that it lies flat and becomes part of the collage, leaving most of those four resource pictures visible. Then notice how you respond to that troublesome image in the context of those four resources. . .
Mike: It takes the “juice” out of it.
So there’s less feeling response to it, is that right? (Yes.) So that is a decrease in the intensity, the amount of the feeling. Does it also change the quality, the kind of response you have, in any way?
Mike: Well, I guess the quality of my response is more one of understanding, rather than reaction.
When you have understanding, that often leads to some kind of potential solution, so that you can see a path out of it.
Mike: Oh yeah. I was already working on solutions. What was bothering me was the strength of my reaction to it.
So now you feel a more comfortable response to it. Is that going to make finding a solution easier? (Yeah.)
Do you have any questions you’d like to ask Mike? And Mike, of course you have the choice to not answer any questions that you’d prefer not to.
Ann: You said you were already working on a solution to this situation?
Mike: Yes, I was working on a solution; I knew there was a solution to the problem. What I was uncomfortable about was that my reaction to the situation kind of set off a bell. “Why am I having such a strong reaction to this? Clearly I can work out a solution, but what else is going on?”
Fred: Did you access four different experiences, or four different states of mind?
Mike: I had images of four different experiences that I’d had before.
Fred, I think your question is really for me, and it’s an opportunity to make a point that I think is very important in all our work. The way I think of it, the images result in what you might call a state of mind. If I ask you to access a state of mind, for instance “excitement,” how do you go about doing that? Most people will spontaneously think of a specific experience that they respond to with a specific kind of excitement. The word “excitement” is a fairly general term that could apply to a wide variety of different feelings in different situations. A lot of therapies and other personal change methods stay in the realm of these more general terms, and that makes it very hard to elicit the specific responses that will actually result in behavioral change. When you talk in general terms, the result is general understandings that usually don’t result in an actual change in response. So-called “intellectual understanding” is one example of this.
Let’s take a very simple example. I want you all to salivate now, just by focusing your attention on your mouth. . . . That’s pretty hard for most people, because “salivation” is just a word, so you don’t get a very strong response. Salivating becomes much easier if you vividly imagine cutting open a bright yellow lemon with a sharp knife, seeing the glistening surface of the cut lemon with some drops of lemon juice dripping, and then imagine bringing one half of the lemon up to your mouth and squeezing some of the juice into your mouth and tasting it. That’s using very concrete imagery to elicit what is usually a very unconscious response, which you don’t get just by saying “salivate.” Likewise, the process of setting up the visual perspective pattern is a mostly conscious process, but the response you get is unconscious and spontaneous.
Sally: Mike, did the submodalities of the problem image change?
Mike: Yes. It got dimmer, and less colorful—overall less intense.
Good question. What we have done here is one very simple way to teach the use of simultaneous perspective in the visual system, by assembling different experiences and putting them together in a particular way. Thanks, Mike. Here’s an outline of this very simple process.
Visual Perspective Exercise Outline (pairs, 15 minutes total)
- Remember a troubling image, test to be sure it is still troublesome, and notice your response to it.
- Identify four specific relevant positive resource experiences and get an image for each.
- Create a large collage out of these four images, about 3′ high, 3′ wide, and 3′ away from you.
- Place the troubling image in the center of this, so that it overlaps just the inner corners of the four resource images and lies flat, becoming part of the collage.
- Notice how your response changes in both quantity and quality. If your response doesn’t change, back up in the process and get different resources, or make other adjustments. Switch roles and then share and discuss your experiences.
The most common problem that some people encounter in doing this is that the troublesome picture becomes so large that it covers up the resources. The easiest way to avoid this is to gesture with both hands as you give instructions to your partner, first larger to indicate the size of the collage, and then much smaller to indicate the size of the problem image. Even then, sometimes the problem image becomes too large, and in that case you just stop them, back up the process and explain that the problem image needs to be smaller.
Another problem can arise if the problem image does not lie flat against the collage and become part of it. If the problem image remains separate from the resource images, it is likely to be seen in contrast to them, rather than together with them and as a part of them. This contrast usually emphasizes the problem even more, and increases the “tunnel vision” experience rather than decreasing it.
Finally, it’s possible that the resources that you chose are inappropriate, so you can try choosing different resources.
Al: I was wondering about having more than four pictures.
Four is just a convenient number that usually works well. One woman who did this spontaneously had about eight pictures, like the petals of a large flower. The troublesome image then became the center of the flower. Most people think of pictures being rectangular, but there’s nothing sacred about the shape, either. You could have circles or ovals, or round-cornered rectangles. You could also have them spread out top-to-bottom, or sideways in a long row.
I once saw a TV program in which Brian Weiss worked with a woman who had a phobia, using a process called “past-lives regression.” After she was done, you could tell from her nonverbal response that she still had her phobia, but it didn’t matter as much to her, because now she saw her present life as one small part of a long string of lives—many lives before, and many others to come. She gestured with her hands and arms to show this long string of lives. In the perspective of that long string of lives, her present life seemed very small, and the problems that she had in this life were even smaller. Personally, I have great doubts about the reality of past lives, and I’d rather just cure the phobia. However, it’s an interesting example of using this kind of perspective pattern to change someone’s response in a useful way. There are many ways to create this kind of perspective, but they all use the same principles. The key thing is to connect all the images together in the same location and plane.
Ben: You asked Mike to pick images, but you weren’t specific about whether they were to be still images or movies.
It doesn’t really matter, unless it matters to the person—and then they are likely to just go ahead and use whatever they prefer. The word “image” or “picture” allows them to get a visual representation in whatever way is easiest for them. If you ask for details, you often find that people have what first appears to be a still image, but it is one that can easily be expanded into a filmstrip or a movie. The still picture is a sort of summary or icon for all the information that is in the full movie.
Fred: You asked Mike to choose resources that were related to the problem image. Is that always a good idea?
I think it’s usually a good idea, because the word “resource” is a very general term that can refer to a very wide range of experiences. We all have a great many resource experiences, and some are wonderful resources for one kind of problem and no use at all for another. A great resource for doing mathematics is not likely to be much use for skiing, and vice versa, so it’s helpful to have a way to be selective.
On the other hand, someone may be thinking of a problem in such a narrow way that they will consciously discard resources that could be very useful. When you’re inside a box, it can be very hard to think outside the box. Sometimes a far-out, totally “unlikely” resource is exactly what is needed to counteract the tunnel vision that automatically excludes it. One reason for asking his unconscious mind to participate fully in the selection process is so that his conscious mind can be prepared for the possibility that his unconscious will think of resources that his conscious mind might otherwise reject as inappropriate. Sometimes it can even be useful to ask the person to think of resources that are very unrelated to the problem image. With someone with a very contrary and overactive conscious mind, you could even ask them to select resources that they think couldn’t possibly be useful.
Now I want you to pair up and assist each other in doing this. Take about five minutes each way, and another five to discuss what you experienced—fifteen or twenty minutes total.
Auditory Perspective Pattern
Next I’d like to demonstrate this perspective pattern in the auditory system, using a troubling voice instead of an image. Again, I don’t need to know any content. It can be your own voice, or someone else’s voice, or it could even be a sound that has no words with it. (Tim comes up.) Tim, I want you to listen to that voice, and verify that it still makes you uncomfortable. . . .
Tim: (looking up and then down left and frowning) Yes, it sure does.
It looks like you get a picture first before you get the voice. Is that right?
(Yes.) That’s fine, we can still use the voice. Is this your voice or someone else’s? (It’s my voice.) OK, so you’re talking to yourself. Where do you hear the voice?
Tim: Behind my head, to the right a little.
OK. Now just let that voice go to wherever voices go when you’re not listening to them, and think of four times in your life when your own voice served as a strong resource to you. (If Tim had someone else’s voice troubling him, rather than his own, I would ask for four resource voices that belong to someone else.) Think of them one by one and listen to what each one has to say, and the tonality, until you have four of them. . . . (Tim nods.) Now position those four voices around your head, more or less evenly spaced, wherever seems appropriate to you—perhaps one in front, one in back, and one on either side. Just as with the visual pattern, when you have those four voices talking all at once, it will be harder to hear the details of what they are saying, but you can still hear the tonalities, and know the general nature of what they are saying. Let me know when that is set up, with all four voices talking at once. . . . (Tim nods.) OK. Now bring that troubling voice back in to join the other four, and listen to all five at once. . . . Does that change your response to that voice?
Tim: It’s farther away now, and not as loud. I feel better; it’s easier to listen to it. I can hear some of what it’s saying as useful information, while before I was just noticing my bad feelings.
OK. Great. Does anyone have any questions for Tim?
Tess: Were you able to understand what the five voices were saying when they were all talking at once?
Tim: No. I knew they were there, and I could pick out bits and pieces, and the meaning was there, but I couldn’t really hear all five voices at once.
That’s typical, and it’s important to warn people about this, or they may worry that they are doing the process wrong. A woman who was born blind and only got her sight when she was about 30 could keep track of eight different conversations at once, as if she had an eight-track tape recorder. But very few people can do that, and it’s not necessary for this pattern to work.
Tim: When I had the four resource voices talking at once, I felt like I was sitting in a big, comfortable overstuffed easy chair, as if the voices were literally supporting me.
That’s a nice spontaneous synesthesia. Here’s an outline of this process.
Auditory Perspective Pattern Exercise Outline (pairs, 15 minutes total)
Think of a troubling voice, and notice your response. Notice the location of the voice, and whether it’s your own voice or someone else’s. Then set that voice aside.
Find four resource voices, one by one, and listen to each one, both the tonality and the words. (If the problem voice is another person’s the resource voices should also be someone another person’s, and if the problem voice is your voice, the resource voices should also be yours.
Arrange these voices around your head so that you can hear all four talking at once. It will be harder to hear the details when they are all talking.
Bring the troubling voice in, and listen to all five talking at once. Notice how your response changes in both intensity and quality.
Sue: Why do you have the voices around the head?
Nearly everyone experiences a troublesome voice somewhere around their head, or inside it. If they have a voice somewhere else, it probably doesn’t bother them very much, and you can all try a little experiment to demonstrate this. Think of a troublesome or critical voice, either your own, or someone else’s. . . . Is there anyone who has a voice that isn’t inside, or near your head? No. Now try listening to that same voice, but coming from your left elbow. . . . Now listen to it coming from your right heel. . . . Location is very important for all our experiences, and particularly so for voices.
Doing this kind of location shift alone can be very useful as a quick demonstration of the importance of location, or as a temporary intervention in a crisis, but usually it won’t last unless it is combined with some other process that fully respects the positive function or outcome of the troublesome voice. When Tim heard his troubling voice in combination with the resource voices, it spontaneously moved farther away and became softer. That made it easier for Tim to listen to it and appreciate what it had to tell him. That kind of shift in response to another change is much more likely to last.
Now I want you all to pair up and assist each other in doing this. It will only take you about five minutes to do it each way, and then you can take another five minutes to share what you experienced with your partner.
Kinesthetic Perspective Pattern
Doing McWhirter’s perspective pattern in the kinesthetic system is a little trickier, for two quite different reasons. The first reason is that most of us are much more familiar with working in the visual and auditory systems, making changes in our images, voices and sounds.
The second reason is that when we speak of kinesthetic feelings, usually we mean feelings of pleasantness or unpleasantness, liking or disliking something, etc. These are the evaluative feelings that are about some other experience. While these feelings are extremely important in deciding what kinds of experiences we want to have more of or less of, they are not appropriate for the perspective pattern.
The feelings that are appropriate for the perspective pattern are the feelings of the experience of doing something. When you are doing any activity you have a great many tactile feelings from the sensory nerves in your skin, which give you a wealth of information about your immediate environment as you contact it. If you are swimming, for instance, you can feel the temperature and movement of the air and water in relation to your body, as well as any objects you may be contacting.
You can also feel many other “proprioceptive” sensations from the nerves in your muscles and joints that tell you how your body is positioned and moving, including muscular tension or relaxation, etc. All these feelings give you specific sensory information about the position and movements of your own body and about the world immediately around you.
You may also have evaluative feelings about your sensory feelings, just as you can have evaluative feelings about something that you see, or hear, or taste, or smell. You may like the temperature of the water, or not like the way your body moves as you swim, etc. These are evaluative feelings about the data feelings. These two different kinds of feelings are easily confused, because they are both felt in our bodies. The evaluative feelings are usually felt mostly along the midline of the front of the chest and abdomen, although very strong evaluative feelings may be felt throughout the body.
When I demonstrated this perspective pattern in the visual and auditory systems, I asked for an image or voice that the person was troubled by. The troubled feelings are always evaluative feelings of not liking the image or voice. Similarly, when we use the perspective pattern in the kinesthetic system, what we want is a set of kinesthetic tactile and proprioceptive feelings that the person also has a troubling evaluative feeling about. So for instance perhaps someone isn’t satisfied with how they feel as they swim, or play golf, or play a piano, or any other physical activity. The perspective pattern in the kinesthetic system is particularly useful in improving any sport, motor skill, or other kinesthetic performance. Is there someone who would like to experience this?
Bill: I’m not satisfied with the way I play basketball.
Great. First I want you to re-experience what it’s like to play basketball, and it can be very useful to chunk it down to one specific element of the game, such as free throws, or dribbling. After you have done the pattern with one element it will be easy to go on to do the same with other elements of the game. You don’t have to actually dribble or shoot baskets, but I suggest that you stand up, so that your whole body is free to move slightly as you review what you feel as you play basketball. I also want you to check to be sure that you still feel some dissatisfaction with it. . . .
Bill: Overall I enjoy playing basketball, or I wouldn’t do it. But there are also a lot of little places where it’s not smooth, where I feel kind of kinked up and everything momentarily slows down. I don’t like those, and I usually mess up right then, or soon afterward.
OK. Now set aside that experience of playing basketball for a moment, and think of four physical activities that could serve as resources, one at a time. Since you described the problem as a kinkiness or lack of smoothness, I suggest that you pick four activities that you can do particularly smoothly. And since basketball is a whole-body activity, be sure that each resource is also something that your whole body is involved in. As you select each resource activity, take a little time to reexperience how it feels to do it. Let me know when you have four. . . . (Bill nods.)
OK, now I want you to do something that will probably feel a bit strange. Imagine that you divide your body into four quadrants with a horizontal line at about your waist and another vertical line down your middle. Then access the four resources one by one, and feel each resource in one of those four quadrants of your body. Just as with the visual and auditory patterns, it will be a little difficult to feel the details of each when you are feeling all four at once. Let me know when you have all four. . . . (Bill nods.)
Now, keeping the feelings of those four different resources, imagine that you are playing basketball, using your whole body. After a little while, allow those resources to move into other parts of your body and blend together. Take a little time to experience what that is like. . . .
Bill: That’s really interesting, and very nice, but I think it’s going to be a little hard to describe. When you first told me to have all four resources in different parts of my body, I felt really strange and disjointed. But when I imagined playing basketball, the different resource feelings sort of flowed into each other, and into playing basketball. It gave me a real muscle sense of playing much more fluidly, and smoothing out those kinky places.
Sue: I was wondering if you’d be willing to tell us what the four resource activities were?
Bill: Sure. Skiing, giving a massage, driving a car on a winding road, and swimming in the ocean.
Ann: Steve, in the visual pattern you had the problem experience overlap only part of the resources. In this kinesthetic one, all the resources were in different parts of the body, while the problem activity was whole-body, which means that the resources were completely overlapped by the problem activity.
That’s a great question, and the simplest answer is that I can’t think of a better way to do it when the problem activity is a whole-body one. If it were part-body, you could do it in a way that is more similar to how we did it in the visual system. It’s particularly important to have only a partial overlap in the visual system, because if it overlaps completely, you can’t see the resources at all, so it’s impossible to integrate them with the problem. In the auditory system, when you have all the voices going at once, they actually overlap completely, but you can still hear them all; the overlapping doesn’t make the resource voices disappear, unless the problem voice were so loud that it drowned out the resources.
It’s very useful to take some time to practice taking an event or pattern in one modality and then transform it into an analogous experience in another modality. How could we do a visual perspective pattern that was analogous to the situation in the auditory or kinesthetic system? . . .
Bill: Well, I’m thinking about my experience with the kinesthetic pattern. It was sort of as if I could feel one set of feelings through the other. If I take that into the visual system, it would be like seeing one picture through another, as if they were both partly transparent.
Exactly. If we did the visual pattern with transparent pictures we could cover the resources with the problem image completely, and they would still show through. However, many people associate transparency with unreality, and if so, that would weaken the resources. Partial overlapping works fine in the visual system, so I suggest that you simply do it that way.
Transparency is a very useful submodality that most people don’t use. It’s particularly useful for imagining the insides of things in three dimensions, like a CAT Scan. A geologist can use transparency to look at a hillside, and imagine how all the rock and soil layers probably look, and a good surgeon can visualize the organs inside someone’s body.
Transparency can also be used to integrate visual images by superimposing them and then allowing them to gradually blend into one image. For instance, you can make a transparent image of a problem, and then set it aside temporarily while you make a much larger transparency that represents your entire life. Then superimpose the smaller problem transparency over the transparency that represents your whole life and allow them to blend together into a single image. That uses transparency, together with a much larger scope of your whole life to give a different kind of new perspective. It can be very useful to take a single submodality shift like this—opaque to transparent—and play with it to find out how you could use it with patterns that you already know.
I have presented this pattern in each of the three major modalities. Do you think that you could do the same pattern while mixing modalities? For instance could you use visual resources for a problem voice? Or kinesthetic resources for a problem image? . . .
Tom: When I’m balancing my checkbook, I hear the sounds of the wind in the pines, or the sound of a stream to motivate me to do it, because it reminds me of how I eventually get to enjoy some of the money.
That’s a great way to motivate you, and it does utilize perspective, in one of the ways that I mentioned earlier. But if those sounds are motivating, I predict that they are in a different location, and don’t actually integrate into the task of doing your checkbook. For motivation, you want the two experiences to be related, yet separated in space and time, as if saying, “Do this, and you get to do that.”
For the integration that occurs with McWhirter’s pattern, both representations need to be in the same modality. If you want to add or subtract decimals and fractions, you have to change one of them into the other in order to do it. Sometimes the person will spontaneously be able to make the necessary adjustments, but it’s not wise to count on it, and more often you will get something other than what you intend. However, you can integrate one image with sound with another image with sound, because then the two images can integrate and the two sounds can also integrate.
McWhirter’s perspective pattern joins a group of different events together into a collection of experience that results in a broader understanding or generalization. When I asked for four resource experiences, the word “resource” is already a generalization about a group of specific events that are similar in some way. When they are combined with the problem experience they both enrich each other to form a new generalization.
- One particularly interesting place to use the understandings provided by this perspective pattern is with the generalizations that are usually called “limiting beliefs,” particularly when these beliefs are about yourself. When you have a limiting belief, there are several possibilities:
- The belief may be based on only one unresourceful experience, with no positive experiences joined with it to provide a useful perspective. This is what many people assume when they do “Reimprinting” or “Change Personal History,” or some other remedial change work on a single traumatic past experience.
- There is a group of unresourceful experiences. While it is possible to have a single difficult experience, most difficulties repeat, and usually the most intense one becomes a sort of “magnet” that gathers other similar experiences to form a group that is the basis for a very unuseful perspective, and this is what is often called a “negative” or limiting belief. Doing change work on a single experience will work well only if it is done on the most intense example of a group of experiences, because then the change will usually generalize to the rest of the group automatically.
- The belief may be based on a group of unresourceful experiences, combined with only one or a few resourceful ones. The positive ones are just not powerful enough or numerous enough to provide a balanced perspective. In this case it can be useful to transform unresourceful ones, and also to remember, elicit, or create additional positive examples, so that the overall meaning of the generalization becomes more positive and useful.
- The belief may have a mix of unresourceful and resourceful experiences that provide an ambiguous perspective.This is very similar to the previous situation, so again it is useful to transform unresourceful examples and generate additional positive ones so that the generalization becomes unambiguously positive.
For simplicity, I have presented McWhirter’s perspective pattern in the context of a single problem experience, accessing a number of resources that provide a wider scope, and more information. This establishes a new context for the problem experience, creating a useful new perspective that provides a new meaning. However, usually a problem experience is part of a group of experiences that is the basis for a limiting belief, and then you need to work with the whole group in order to change it.
This kind of perspective pattern underlies all the generalizations you make, both about the world and about yourself, so this pattern presents some of the fundamental properties of how we form all beliefs. Now that you have been sensitized to this process, you will probably find it (or the need for it) almost everywhere you look.
©2001 by Steve Andreas—used with permission
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