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How can beliefs influence addictive behavior?

Did you know that your beliefs can keep you in an addictive loop?

When approached carefully, beliefs can subtly and logically tricked into submission. In fact, beliefs have limitations which can be changed or released when the timing is right. More here on how Neurolinguistic Programming can help an addict in need. With a section at the end for your questions or comments.

The power of belief

The power of belief was described in the book, Pygmalion in the Classroom (2003), by Robert Rosenthal. In a well-known study, a group of school children of average intelligence were randomly divided into two equal groups. One group was assigned to a teacher who was told her students were “gifted.” The other group was assigned to a teacher who was told her students were “slow learners.”

A year later the two groups were retested. Most of the “gifted” students scored higher than they had previously, while most of the “slow” learners scored lower. The teachers’ beliefs affected student performance.

What Is Neurolinguistic Programming?

Neurolinguistic Programming examines the fundamental dynamics between the thinking processes (neuro) and the words (linguistic); as well as, how their interaction affects behavior (programming).

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NLP targets how people

  • communicate externally and internally
  • process, store, and recall information
  • can alter their communication to achieve the results and goals they want

Practitioners believe that human beings have an extraordinary capacity for flexibility and there is nothing which happens mentally or spiritually they cannot learn to handle. So, the focus is on how a person formulates thoughts and beliefs – those which maintain the use and those which help affect and maintain change.

What NLP Principles Address Beliefs?

1.   The map is not the territory. Much of human suffering is caused by the fact that individuals confuse reality with internally produced nonverbal impressions and verbal indicators which is the foundation for their beliefs.

2.   A person lives his or her life based on their belief system which governs thoughts, words, and actions.

3.    Beliefs are a very powerful force in behavior. If a person really believes he can do something he will; if she believes something is impossible to accomplish no amount of effort will convince her otherwise. As Henry Ford said “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

4.   Beliefs can be self-fulfilling. If a person believes he or she is not creative and someone asks them to be creative, the belief will have a negative influence on their potential and willingness to take action.

The same can be said for a person who believes he or she is an addict. Beliefs become a lens through which the world and life are viewed – a lens which influences decisions and actions. Conversely, moving beyond an addiction is impossible when false beliefs are held about the problem and the solution. Therefore, defining a problem accurately is the first step in resolving it.

5.   NLP Practioners know that:

a) beliefs can be tricked into submission when approached carefully, subtly, and logically, and
b) nothing can be proven to be absolutely true.

So, beliefs have limitations which can be changed or released when the timing is right.

Whether addiction is viewed as a learned response or a problem involving genetic predisposition and physical dependency, it is probable that the user will have personal issues prior to the addiction and will develop others created by the addiction. In any case, beliefs are involved and NLP can play a role in their resolution.

What NLP Strategies Can Be Used To Change Beliefs?

NLP can be used by a counselor working with a client experiencing addiction issues, by families with a loved one overly involved with substances, or by an individual who is abusing drugs. For this article, we will explore how a counselor might use four strategies to help a client change long held beliefs. The strategies are:

  • Logical Levels
  • Association/Dissociation
  • Process Instruction Exercise
  • Core Transformation

1.  Logical Levels

Anthropologist Gregory Bateson developed the original model on neurological levels. There are five levels organized one on top of another. Environment is the lowest level and each level builds on the level below it.

This is a valuable tool for organizing thinking, information gathering, and communicating. It establishes, in a clear and structured way, an understanding of what makes a person “tick”. So, when looking for reasons why change is not occurring, it can be helpful to look at a person’s neurological levels to determine exactly where the block is located and where it would be most effective to intervene.

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Environment refers to where the behavior takes place.

Behavior refers to what actions and reactions an individual takes within the environment. A person operating at this level will describe what he thought and did, what effect the thoughts and actions had, and what could be done.

Capabilities refer to how a person’s current skills and abilities help achieve the desired behavior, as well as, what skills are yet to be learned.

Beliefs refer to why an individual makes the choices he or she does. Beliefs, and values, can either reinforce or undermine capabilities.

Identity refers to who the person is; in other words, his or her sense of self.

Spirituality refers to what else and relates to being part of a bigger system such as family, community or the world. This level is not always included and might be thought of as a step beyond the others.

2. Association and Dissociation

When a person is associated, he or she relives an experience as if a part of it in the moment. Conversely, when a person is dissociated, he or she feels as if they are watching, listening to, or observing an event – like a movie, which allows for emotional distance and a broader view.

3.  Process Instructions Exercise

Using vague language patterns, someone can be guided to choose a problem and solve it without knowing what they are working on. Steps of the Process Instructions Exercise are as follows:

a.   Relax and explore the internal state; what is seen with the mind’s eye, what is heard, and what is felt within the body.
b.   Access a past experience which holds emotional attachment.
c.   Use dissociation to observe the memory noting what is seen, heard, and felt.
d.   Learn something from the experience.
e.   Mentally apply what is learned to a future context.
f.   Return to the present state.

4.  Core Transformation

A deeper and more sophisticated process in NLP is the Core Transformation. The goal is to help a person reach a state of wholeness, oneness, peace, or connection to the universe. The strategy assumes that a person’s emotional experiences during life result in the creation of Parts in the unconscious mind and that they may have conflicting beliefs and values.

For example, one Part may be angry, one Part may not care, one Part may want to drink, and one Part may want to quit.

NLP Practitioners assume the Parts have good intentions even though the behavior is sometimes unacceptable. A Part can begin to determine what it really wants by constructing what is known as an Outcome Frame.

The Outcome Frame is a set of questions which orients a person’s thinking in such a way as to maximize the possibility of accomplishing what he or she wants in a positive way. Applying the Outcome Frame to situations in life which are regarded as unchangeable may lead to the discovery of choices.

Briefly, the process is as follows. Let’s say that a person wants to stop worrying so much. The first question in the Outcome Frame would be: “What does worrying do for you?”

  • 1st Outcome
    – Possible Response: “Worrying lets me know that something is bothering me.”
    – Question: “What does knowing that something is bothersome do for you?”
  • 2nd Outcome
    – Possible Response: “It’s a warning me that something needs to be done.”
    – Question: “What does knowing that something needs to be done do for you?”
  • 3rd Outcome
    – Possible Response: “It tells me I need to be prepared.”
    – Question: “What does knowing you need to be prepared do for you?”
  • 4th Outcome
    – Possible response: “It gives me confidence that I can do what is asked of me”.
    – Question: What does having confidence do for you?
  • 5th Outcome:
    – Possible Response: “It allows me to relax and be at peace.”

The core state, or deepest goal, in this example is inner peace. After experiencing the feeling of inner peace, the person then reverses the outcome frame – going through the frames with a sense of peacefulness.

CASE STUDY OF NLP STRATEGIES AND CHANGING BELIEFS:

Jose was a motivated young man who knew that his excessive drinking was out of control. The final incident was his recent firing for taking too many “sick” days – sickness caused by hangovers. He knew about NLP, understood the concepts, and decided to work with an Addictions Counselor who was knowledgeable in the method.

As Jose’s Counselor, my first step was to build rapport with him and within the conversation to use Meta Model questions as a way of identifying distortions, deletions, and other patterns which may be occurring. My goal was to understand the problem from his perspective and to determine an effective course of action.

In an effort to determine the best place to intervene, my second step was to explore the Logical Levels with him.  His responses were as follows:

  • Environment – Any place a group of people are socializing and drinking
  • Behavior – Drinking at every opportunity
  • Capabilities – Enough money to pay for the drinks, friends who drink, and access to alcohol; the skill that seems to be lacking is an ability to say no
  • Beliefs – Drinking is fun and cool, drinking is a way of connecting with others, drinking is relaxing
  • Identity – I am a fun loving person who wants to be well-liked

While I could have intervened at the Capabilities Level teaching him to say no, I decided to intervene at the Beliefs Level, knowing that beliefs affect capabilities, which affect behavior and environment.

After teaching Jose the concepts of Associating and Dissociating, we began The Process Instructions Exercise. I guided him in relaxing and led him to think about a recent event that had an emotional attachment for him. His mind went to a party he attended the previous week. He viewed the situation as if he were watching a movie and realized that people were laughing at him rather than laughing with him, which was not what he wanted. This insight challenged his beliefs that drinking was a good way to connect with others and that it was cool. He determined to act differently in the future and pictured himself socializing and saying no to a drink the next time he went out with friends.

Another approach I used was the Core Transformation process. His responses were as follows:

  • The Part wanted to drink. The positive intent was to make friends and be accepted.
  • 1st Outcome – Wanting to be part of the crowd.
  • 2nd Outcome – Feeling of being accepted and liked.
  • 3rd Outcome – Proof that he was acceptable.
  • 4th Outcome – Proof that he was good enough.
  • 5th Outcome – Inner peace, which was his core state.

In reversing the process; I guided Jose in integrating the core state of inner peace by asking several questions:

  • Question: “How does already having inner peace transform your feeling of being good enough?”
  • 1st Outcome –He realized he is good enough just as he is.
  • Question:  “How does already having inner peace transform your feeling of being acceptable?”
  • 2nd Outcome – He felt that if he accepts himself, it wouldn’t matter if he were accepted and liked by others.
  • Question “How does already having inner peace transform your need to be accepted and liked?”
  • 3rd Outcome – He didn’t need to be a part of a crowd, he liked the person he was.

Finally, I asked “How does having inner peace make you feel?” He said that he no longer needed the approval of others, and, therefore, didn’t need to be a part of a group, particularly one whose sole purpose was drinking.

These were the initial strategies I used in changing Joe’s beliefs. However, that was just the beginning of our work together and using other NLP techniques we made further progress in many different areas.

Reference Sources: Holistic Wellness From Within: NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming
iNLP Center: Master’s Level training course

Photo credit: fotologic

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About Dr. Janice Walton, PhD

Dr. Walton has a doctorate in Psychology and is a licensed Marriage Family Therapist. After following traditional counseling approaches for years, she became interested in neurolinguistic programming and how those techniques can be used with individuals whose lives are affected by addiction. To this end, she joined the staff of the iNLP Center and has recently developed a course for professionals entitled "NLP for Addictions". All courses offered by the Center can be viewed at: http://inlpcenter.org/; the link to Dr. Walton's website is: http://www.tlcorner.com/.

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