This post was originally meant to be an elucidation of a face-to-face interview with a friend and solution focused hypnotherapist. Together, we were to chat about this form of therapy and how it can be used to relieve anxiety and help you achieve the larger goal of becoming more productive.
Instead, things went a little awry.
What follows is the story of what happened, along with some helpful tips I picked up.
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The set up
It was the first chance we had for an in-person interview since Covid came. Clare is a dear friend who has been struggling with her physical health for some time. Despite that, she decided to come out of her box to help me out by giving me some real-life original content, since she’s registered with the AfSFH. After some phone chats, a date was chosen.
She arrived just shy of 10am and — after a quick cup of tea — we repaired to the living room and got down to work.
The first order of business was to reduce our notes down to a place to start. That done, I set up a room using the app Greenroom. We jumped right in. My first task as the interviewer was to help Clare relax. The first run-through was a roaring success. My prep and notetaking the day before paid off, as did hers. I interrupted when she lost the thread and made her laugh, so that she wasn’t so incline to read through her extensive notes, but instead only referenced them occasionally. But I hadn’t asked for a room recording to be sent when I ended the room.
No matter. We were both up for a second try, which we hoped would be a more concise and streamlined affair.
We set to it, feeling good.
She began with a definition of anxiety, going on to explain how and why it is created in a specific part of the brain.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is, in part, an instinctive, primal response to environmental stimuli and potential danger. It’s called the fight, flight or freeze response. All animals share this instinct, as its designed to keep you alive to live another day. This primal activity takes place in the older, unsophisticated part of the brain that we share with other animals. Clare then moved swiftly on to what about the human brain separates us from other animals.
Which part of the brain sets us apart from other animals?
The part of the brain that makes us human is called the prefrontal cortex. It is located at the forefront of the frontal lobe. This area of the brain is more sophisticated and higher up on the evolutionary tree. It has more advanced language, it’s problem-solving and enables us to do focused work and plan. In short, it’s the part of the brain that can help us become more productive. In a little while, we’ll chat about how experiencing a level of anxiety can be very useful.
First though, let’s look into how anxiety works in the brain and how it’s linked to the prefrontal cortex.
How is anxiety linked to the prefrontal cortex?
The answer is — because our brains are like plastic. Hear me out. The technical term for this is neuroplasticity. This refers to the process by which our thoughts can physically change and mould our brains. But how? It all starts with neurons. If we can think positively about life, we can strengthen the neural pathways that help us access the more proactive, sophisticated part of our brain. Simultaneously, we will be weakening the neural pathways to the older, unsophisticated, emotional and reactive region of the brain. In this way, positive thinking can really help boost your productivity.
On the other hand, if you think in a negative pattern, you will reinforce the neuropathways to the more primitive, reactive, danger-sensing part of the brain which is designed to produce anxiety to keep us alive. At the same time, you’ll weaken the neural connectivity to the sophisticated, proactive, calm, focused prefrontal cortex.
It’s important to remember that whenever you’re ‘in flow’ you’re exercising the power that resides within your prefrontal cortex.
Now came the time to talk about times anxiety may be valuable and useful.
Isn’t it sometimes useful to be anxious?
Yes. However, there are different kinds of anxiety. The main ones are:
- Irrational anxiety
- This is disproportionate to the situation or perceived threat.
- For example, fleeing from a spider in the middle of the night — real or imagined —by moving from the bedroom into the lounge. And doing this despite knowing on an intellectual level that this spider can’t hurt you.
- Your therapist may say that this is anxiety which has become dysfunctional in your modern life.
- For example, immediately thinking that an unexpected loud noise in the workplace is a polar bear rather than, say, someone dropping a big box of paperclips onto a hard floor.
- Functioning anxiety
- This is anxiety that is proportionate to situation. It still serves its original purpose of keeping us out of danger and helping us survive.
- For instance, running away from a bear in the woods without thinking at all.
- Alternatively — and perhaps more applicably to busy modern life — this can be when we’re faced with a danger, are still able to think through what the best course of action would be to avoid the present danger.
- In a workplace, this could be something as simple as being anxious about a yearly review. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to be anxious about. But, if you don’t know what steps you can take to relieve that anxiety, it can quickly mushroom-cloud into irrational, dysfunctional anxiety that prompts the fight, flight or freeze response. Should this happen, it will take you back into a negative spiral in the more primitive area of the brain.
That is where solution focused hypnotherapy comes into its own.
How can solution focused hypnotherapy help increase productivity?
SFH can help you train yourself to think more positively so that you strengthen the neural connectivity to the prefrontal cortex. This will help you problem-solve, keep calm, and will also improve your ability to focus. In other words, SFH can help you regain your mojo and alleviate anxiety. Thereby, it can help you achieve the larger goal of becoming more productive.
Hypnotherapists usually break this concept down into three P’s.
- Positive Interaction: Your therapist will help you look for more of the positive and less of the negative in your interactions with people and the world around you.
- Positive Thinking: Your therapist will help guide you into a more positive thinking pattern.
- Positive Action: Together, you and your therapist will come up with steps you can take in your everyday life to achieve your larger goal. In this case, that goal would be to become more productive. Just by engaging in positive activity each day, you can strengthen neural connectivity to your prefrontal cortex.
What does this mean in real life situations?
In the interview, Clare and I used the examples of a car and a party, to explain how the solution part of solution focused hypnotherapy (SFH) works in practice.
What happens if your car breaks down? Do you immediately think about what might have gone wrong? With SFH, your therapist will begin to teach you how to think more positively about situations like this.
In the case of the car break down, your therapist will begin to help you spot more of the good and less of the bad in that situation. So instead of thinking about things that went wrong, or things that may go wrong, your therapist will help you to think of the situation in a more positive way.
So, you might instead think … so I’ve broken down. Who can I call? I know someone who can help fix my car. Or even, I’ll have to contact Car SOS to give this car a makeover.
In the second scenario, you’re strengthening the neural pathways to your prefrontal cortex. Thus, you can concentrate calmly, problem-solve and make better choices by thinking things through. You can also do deep work more easily. If the over-arching goal you want to achieve is to become more productive at work, you could hardly ask for more, right?
Similarly, we took the example of going to a party and ran with it. Solution focused hypnotherapy might help you focus — not on that fact that Uncle Robert didn’t turn up, or that someone else made an unkind comment about your outfit — but rather on how wonderful that delicious cake tasted, or how nice your friend looked, for instance.
In a workplace, SFH could help you focus — not on the fact that you didn’t fully address all the items on the agenda — but on the fact you came out of it knowing exactly what you need to do to compete your most urgent task.
By promoting this kind of positive thinking pattern, you can actually start to reshape your brain, reinforce neural connectivity to the intellectual, problem-solving, focused part of the brain so that you can work towards increasing your productivity at work. Solution focused hypnotherapy can help encourage you to think positively and create a virtuous cycle, rather than risk becoming trapped in a negative spiral.
At the most basic level, then, SFH aims to help people move forward and take steps towards whatever they want to achieve in life, in our case boosting our productivity.
The wrap up
Thrilled with how everything had gone, I wrapped up, glanced down saw a red light, picked my phone up and ended the room. That done, we enjoyed the rest of our day. That night — after Clare had set off for hearth and home — I looked for the recording in my email. I found it in my junk folder and discovered I’d had the Greenroom on mute the whole time, save for the very end! After feeling disappointed for an evening, I resolved to make what I could of my blunder in the morning. I turned on my Sherlock Holmes audiobook and relaxed. No prizes for guessing where the idea for the title came from.
We’ve covered what anxiety is, what it’s for and how relieving it — through solution focused hypnotherapy — can help us strengthen neural connectivity to the prefrontal cortex more easily to solve problems, stay focused, think things through and ultimately become more productive. Hopefully, you’ve also seen that mistakes, even big ones, can be overcome.
My own lesson to take from this affair is to always triple check the mute button when trying to record something. Obviously, the secret to true productivity is to take things step by step and not rushing through tasks when there is no need to.
Let’s take a leaf out of a solution-focused hypnotherapist’s handbook and end on a positive note.
For the moment then, let’s all hope I never repeat the Curious Incident of the Button in the Greenroom.