Ask ‘How’ Not Why

We all want to have sound mental health, to be able to take responsibility for our experience of life, and let others do the same.

We sometimes get this the wrong way round, we end up feeling responsible for other peoples emotional state, and neglect to notice how we are creating our own internal emotional experience.

The field of positive mental health is full of great ideas and techniques to help us change our internal state, or change our behaviour, or both.

A lot of therapies encourage us to ask ‘why’?.such as, ‘why do I feel so anxious’? we then look for answers to this question, we might look back to our past, at events that seem to be the starting point of our anxiety. We might then explore this, and perhaps feel better talking about it.

In the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming, (NLP), we take a different approach, we ask ‘how’ rather than ‘why’.

If a person comes for help with anxiety for instance, we would be asking them how they produce this state within themselves. We would be asking the person to notice their thoughts, images, feelings, behaviours and body sensations. (we would firstly rule out any medications or other substances that could be causing symptoms of anxiety.

A skilled NLP practitioner would also notice other non verbal cues such as breathing and body posture.

We can often feel as though our emotional state is something that happens to us, this is an error in our perception. We create our internal emotional state with our perceptions beliefs, thoughts and behaviours. The origin of unwanted emotional states may be in the past, but what is more important is how the person is reproducing that state in the here and now.

Asking ‘how’ rather than ‘why’ we have an issue, is a lot more empowering, because it brings back the locus of control to where it belongs, inside ourselves.

There are many things in life we do not have control over, our emotional state is not one of those things.

Here is an illustration that can be useful to help us dissolve an unresourceful state. Choose an unresourceful state you often experience, such as anxiety depression, anger etc. Then imagine an alien 👽 space ship lands in your garden..The door of the spaceship opens, out steps a tall green handsome stranger..”Hiya” he says in a very friendly manner, “How are you”! The stranger pulls out a clipboard 📋..and looks down the list tapping his long green bony finger on the side of it.”Mmmm so your the one who can teach me how to do something called anxiety, is that right?

“Er, no, I don’t think so” you stammer. The tall green man looks puzzled, “Are you sure?..it says here that you feel anxiety every day, so you must know how to teach me it?..look, let me be honest, where I come from we don’t have this thing called anxiety, and if I could learn it from you, and take it back to my planet, this would be great! we have learnt a lot of great things from you humans!”

“Believe me, you dont want to learn about anxiety, its a horrible thing to experience everyday.” you reply.

The green man looks even more puzzled…” It can’t be that bad if your choosing to do anxiety everyday”.

Your now feeling irritated.”I don’t choose to be anxious every day you dumb alien!..it just happens all by itself!”

“Look love, your the last one on my list” says the tall green man, if you teach me how to do anxiety, I will teach you something from my planet, is that a deal?”

“Erm, ok, so you want to learn how to experience anxiety…I will have to focus on how it happens.”

“Great!” says the tall green man, “start from when you wake up on a morning”….tell me how you feel, what you think, what you do, body sensations etc, I want to learn this really well!”

First thing, I wake up too early, about 5am, I’m already feeling anxious as I think about the day ahead and begin to feel despondent, I have the thought that noone cares about me, that life is rubbish. I notice that my heart is beating too hard, I have the thought “there is something wrong with my heart”I feel more nervous. I feel alone and cut off from people, I have the thought “I don’t know what to do to change things”..this creates more anxiety, I take the pills the doctor gave me to help me not have anxiety, I have the thought,”the pills don’t work” I feel more anxious and alone, I have the thought, “I don’t want to be alive, I don’t see a future, only a repeating pattern of today’s anxiety, I feel powerless to change my situation, and feel nobody is there to help me I am always alone I think about stuff that’s happened in the past and how unfair it was ..then I think about all the things I have to pay for..by this stage I’ve conjoured up a lot of anxiety!

You look over at the tall green man, he’s looking pretty anxious and depressed .. “Of all the things they could have sent me to learn about,” he exclaims, “I have to get this one, do you really do anxiety every day? I have just tried your thinking patterns out on myself and I feel dreadful! it certainly works! To be honest, I don’t think this emotional state will be useful on our planet, but thanks for showing me how anxiety works…I promised you that I would give you one of ours, actually we learnt it from some of your happier humans.Here is the list, if you follow it, it will help you.

  • Dont pollute your body or mind with contaminants
  • Know who you are
  • Do not identify with unhelpful states
  • Think about others, and how to help them
  • Examine how you create your problems, look at the thoughts you think, the feelings you choose to believe
  • Spend time in nature everyday
  • Be creative, connect to your surroundings
  • See the futility of being judgemental or critical, you create your experience by how you choose to see things
  • Be aware of how you are being
  • You are not your negative programming
  • Notice how you prevent yourself from experiencing life the way you want to, notice self defeating thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
  • Take responsibility for how you feel
  • Notice how you try to hold on to your self created negativity
  • Notice how you refuse to see yourself as the creator of your experience
  • Notice how often you play the role of victim or judge
  • Become aware of how you cut yourself off from life and your own authentic happiness
  • Become aware of the feelings of impossibility that you have created
  • Notice your negative expectations of life, and choose not to believe them

The green man hands you this list, you shake his bony green hand. He steps back into his spaceship. As the days and weeks pass by you notice the anxiety you felt everyday just isn’t the same..something is different…

Lynn Armstrong. Member of the ANLP tel.07944921130