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Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Sunny Side Up!

There’s a lot of talk these days about NLP re-framing, anchoring, rapport, and so forth. If you’re an individual who is involved in a drug treatment program, or the relative of somebody who is, then be prepared to hear much about this newly popular psychological technique for controlling foolish thoughts.

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) evolved from researchers who asked why certain therapists were more successful than others at getting their patients to make significant and lasting changes. Many substance abuse professionals refer to it as cognitive re-framing. It refers to the ability to get a person to re-frame his perspective on why things happen in the world and how they affect us.

NLP counters the significant misinterpretations that each of make throughout the week—and sometimes every day. Suppose you go into work and your boss is angry. You worry about what you’ve done to upset him. However, your boss’s mood may have nothing whatsoever to do with you. Maybe he was upset about a fight with his wife, or perhaps he overdrew his checkbook.

But sometimes we become so engrossed in our own daily activities that we fail to separate the boss’s anger from our own behaviors. Instead of slinking around trying to avoid him, binge eating at the snack machines during your afternoon break, and worrying all evening until you get to work the next day, take a positive view that you don’t know what’s bugging him and it isn’t necessarily you.

All humans naturally try to take the things in the world around us and make meaning of them. We assign stories to the situations that go on around us. People with addictive personalities deal with those activities a little differently, in a way called sequential incongruity. That means we act on our impulses first, staying out too late drinking, and then, later, we nurse our regrets for the things we’ve done. The addict is not like the person who has an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other: He has the devil on his shoulder, and only after he’s given in to the devil’s suggestions does the angel come around to make his point. Because substance abuse interferes with the neurological pathways in the brain, we are more susceptible to sequential incongruity than other people.

Your counselor can teach you about NLP, but then it’s up to you to practice it and get some good from it. Try these exercises:

  • Write down a problem that really bothers you and try to look at it another way. Perhaps it annoys you that your mother-in-law visits without calling ahead of time. You think she is checking up on your progress in recovery. While you may need to set some guidelines for her—“Because of my schedule, I really need you to call before you come over”—consider that whenever she comes she brings a covered dish or gets a chore out of your way. Her visits undoubtedly have more to do with your spouse than with you.
  • Hone your goals. If you haven’t decided on an ultimate positive outcome, you really won’t reach one. If you tell the doctor that “you don’t feel well,” he can’t help you unless you say “my stomach hurts” or “it’s my back.”
  • Find a person that you want to emulate. Consider how he dresses, talks, and presents his work at meetings. Copy him shamelessly! As you become more effective in your own daily activities, you’ll feel more confident.

By figuring out just what you want in life, you can re-frame your perceptions of the outside world and improve your chances of reaching your goals. Every time you hear the devil on your shoulder, stop and ask yourself about the advantages and disadvantages of listening to him. Ask the counselor at your local drug treatment program how to put NLP to work in your life.  

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