Many engineers share a mindset — a way of looking at the world as a place full of things they can fix or otherwise control. But did you know you can control your internal emotional state?
I’ve learned from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) about a little-known “dashboard” that lets me decide how to feel, how I will respond to perceived or recalled images, sounds, smells, and sensations. A good book for learning more is NLP: The New Technology of Achievement. But here’s a quick introduction.
Your sensory modalities — sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch — come with “controls” called “submodalities.” These are the qualities of your sensory experiences such as an images’ size or brightness, a sound’s loudness or pitch, or how sweet or sour something tastes. You can adjust these to affect your subjective experience.
Let’s say a visual memory distresses you whenever it comes to mind. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and recall the remembered image. Notice what it looks like. Does it occupy your full visual frame, or just a portion of it? Is it bright or dim? Still or moving? Are colors saturated or dull? Do you lift your eyes to see it, or look down?
Allow yourself to explore the image with curiosity. Make it bigger. Does that intensify the feeling it evokes? Now make it smaller. Does the evoked feeling diminish?
Play with the image, checking your feelings after each change. Let it fade to white. Now bring it back, and let it fade to black. See it as if it were projected on a screen; let the screen tilt backwards until all you see is a horizontal line. Now let the line shrink to a dot, like on an old TV, then let it pop out of existence. How do you feel now?
One odd modification of a visual submodality is to put a frame around an image. I’m not sure why, but visualizing a frame — I usually see one out of dark wood — seems to drain an image, or even a movie, of emotional impact. It’s as if I have asserted control over it.
Similarly, play with an auditory memory. Do you recall something you heard that made you feel good? Try playing it back a bit louder. How does that make you feel?
You can also “play a soundtrack” for a memory. I had a memory of someone angrily speaking to me. I played it back in my mind, and ran a “soundtrack” with circus music in the background. I played with the volume of the soundtrack until the angry ranting no longer bothered me. I did this a couple of times in succession, and felt good. The original memory never bothered me again — when I thought of it, I always heard the happy circus music.
In addition, to help quell your “inner critic,” when you imagine that nasty voice speaking to you, where is it coming from? If it’s coming from a location high up and to your right, tell it that it must move down and to your left. If it’s in front of you, move it back. Now change its tone of voice to one that is pleasant and loving. How do you feel now? Keep making changes until you experience the criticism as powerfully supportive and energizing.
With practice, you can control the emotional effects of almost any recalled experience.
— Joel Orr
Joel Orr is an NLP Master Practitioner and CTO of EZOSA, a software start-up.
Edited by Leslie Gordon