The Awesome Power of Two Words

“Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”Senator Robert F. Kennedy

The working of the human mind naturally lends itself to metaphor as in: the playground of the mind, the battlefield of the mind, the mind as a prison. What all these allusions depend upon is framing – the mind’s natural process of capturing an idea and using it to define and focus your attention on whatever is within its scope.

Framing is the process that truly confirms the Biblical statement: “As a man thinketh in his heart [Hebrew for mind] so is he.” If you think of your mind as a playground for ideas – it will be. If you think of it as a prison – it will be.

For some people their thinking does seem to imprison them through the spiraling of their negative thoughts; it brings ceaseless unrest.

What they need is a way to break out of that cycle to create mental freedom.

So what can help? Enter the two words: “What…if…”

Do not scoff at these little incantations – they are not magic in the Harry Potter sense – but given what they can do the results can seem magical. They can help you step back, step up and step out of a limiting way of thinking.

You have probably heard about the power of acting “as-if”. It seems so trite on paper and I think many people give up on the process because when they try ‘faking it’ the original behavior is so strongly engrained that they strain against it – and fall back.

But these two words can act to open up a new world of thinking and I’m going to tell you how.

So let’s say you want to start thinking more positively and you feel you can’t.

In Neuro-Linguistic Programming the challenge to ‘I can’t’ is usually: ‘What if you could?” Pick something that is possible in the world but doesn’t seem possible for you and ask yourself: “What if I could?” You need to be prepared to push yourself but what the question does is challenge your brain to find a way to make the transition work.

  • What if you could learn passionately and quickly?
  • What if you could do mathematics? What would open up for you then?
  • What if you were totally wrong about the sheer amount of potential you have?
  • What if you did resist smoking for a week and saved yourself £10? What then?

If no answer comes, ask again, and again. Yes, forcing it can work in this situation.

Several things can and will happen after this point. At the least you’ll start to create the possibility in your mind. Yes, you might fall back and say “well, that would be great but I’m just pretending.”

Understand that actually you are not pretending (in a physiological sense.

Neurologists have said that the same neural pathways are used to pretend as to do. That is why Korean War veterans came out of five years internment better golfers than they went in – by using mental rehearsal.

The resistance you experience is likely to be a higher frame like ‘it’s just pretending’ and you’ll need to deal with that. In fact, ask “What if pretending actually caused me to make a seismic shift in my thinking and suddenly I found myself starting to demonstrate those behaviors in everyday life?”

You may find a little loosening feeling but still feel you have further to advance. This is fine, merely question yourself as to what is stopping you, and ask “What if…[you had overcome it]. If you are not good at getting information from yourself yet see my article

You can then start getting a little adventurous by presupposing what you want to happen has happened. This technique regularly opens up new mental horizon for me.

  • What if I suddenly stopped feeling fear about taking aggressive action on my dreams?
  • What if I was able to love others regardless of their behavior?
  • What if I woke up tomorrow morning willing and able to change any belief?

Another great way of doing this is to use the Miracle Question format (by Steve De Shazzer).

What if, when I went to bed tonight a miracle occurred and when I woke up I had suddenly developed a learning state of mind that enabled me to take in and use information quickly and easily? What would be the first thing that would let me know this was the case?

This is the next level of pretending. Trainers often use two chairs for this – one for the ‘night before’ and one for ‘after the miracle’.

It seems so simple but often, just doing this causes a shift in thinking when you mind recognizes a more desirable state of affairs.

Asking ‘what if’ can open up new therapeutic and generative personal worlds. It has the power to heal and create.

  • What if I truly was significant?
  • What if I counted in this world?
  • What if my learning state enabled me to take that masters in 2 years instead of 3?
  • What if I woke up tomorrow morning and was able to recognize the positive intention behind the behavior and work with that instead of getting annoyed at what’s in front of me.

I created an extremely powerful use for the ‘what if’ questions in the NLP User’s Toolkit which you can find here: I use it almost every day and in coaching sessions.

Perhaps one of the ultimate applications of ‘what if’  is Borrowed Genius which involves putting on the ‘head’ of a respected figure from history and using a process called Image-Streaming to ‘think’ their thoughts.

You may wonder if this will work for you. I ask you to consider: What if it did? What if it could? What if it does?

Try it, and find out.

Products by Douglas Cartwright

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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