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Now think of an unpleasant memory, something you think about that makes you feel bad. Now make the picture dimmer and dimmer. ... If you turn the brightness down far enough it won't bother you any more. You can save yourself thousands of dollars in psychotherapy bills.

I learned these things from people who did them already One woman told me that she was happy all the time; she didn't let things get to her. I asked her how she did it, and she said "Well, those unpleasant thoughts come into my mind, but I just turn the brightness down."

Brightness is one of the "submodalities" of the visual modality. Submodalities are universal elements that can be used to change any visual image, no matter what the content is. The auditory and kinesthetic modalities also have submodalities, but for now we'll play with the visual submodalities.

Brightness is only one of many things you can vary. Before we go on to others, I want to talk about the exceptions to the impact brightness usually has. If you make a picture so bright that it washes out the details and becomes almost white, that will reduce, rather than increase, the intensity of your feelings. Usually the relationship doesn't hold at the upper extreme. For some people, the relationship is reversed in most contexts, so that increasing brightness decreases the intensity of their feelings.

Some exceptions are related to the content. If your pleasant picture is candlelight, or twilight, or sunset, part of its special charm is due to the dimness; if you brighten the image, your feelings may decrease. On the other hand, if you recalled a time when you were afraid in the dark, the fear may be due to not being able to see what's there. If you brighten that image and see that there's nothing there, your fear will decrease, rather than increase. So there are always exceptions, and when you examine them, the exceptions make sense, too. Whatever the relationship is, you can use that information to change your experience.

Now let's play with another submodality variable. Pick another pleasant memory and vary the size of the picture. First make it bigger and bigger, . . . and then smaller and smaller, noticing how your feelings change in response. . . .

The usual relationship is that a bigger picture intensifies your response, and a smaller picture diminishes it. Again there are exceptions, particularly at the upper end of the scale. When a picture gets very large, it may suddenly seem ridiculous or unreal. Your response may then change in quality instead of intensity - from pleasure to laughter, for instance.

If you change the size of an unpleasant picture, you will probably find that making it smaller also decreases your feelings. If making it really big makes it ridiculous and laughable, then you can also use that to feel better. Try it. Find out what works for

It doesn't matter what the relationship is, as long as you find out how it works for your brain so that you can learn to control your experience. If you think about it, none of this should be at all surprising. People talk about a "dim future" or "bright prospects." "Everything looks black." "My mind went blank." "It's a small thing, but she blows it all out of proportion." When someone says something like that, it's not metaphorical; it's usually a literal and precise description of what that person is experiencing inside.

If someone is "blowing something out of proportion," you can tell her to shrink that picture down. If she sees a "dim future," have her brighten it up. It sounds simple, . . . and it is.

There are all these things inside your mind that you never thought of playing with. You don't want to go messing around with your head, right? Let other people do it instead. All the things that go on in your mind affect you, and they are all potentially within your control. The question is, "Who's going to run your brain?"

Next I want you to go on to experiment with varying other visual elements, to find out how you can consciously change them to affect your response. I want you to have a personal experiential understanding of how you can control your experience. If you actually pause and try changing the variables on the list below, you will have a solid basis for understanding the rest of this book. If you think you don't have the time, put this book down, go to the back of the bus, and read some comic books or the National Enquirer instead.

For those of you who really want to learn to run your own brain, take any experience and try changing each of the visual elements listed below. Do the same thing you did with brightness and size: try going in one direction . . . and then the other to find out how it changes your experience. To really find out how the your brain works, change only one element at a time. If you change two or more things at the same time, you won't know which one is affecting your experience, or how much. I recommend doing this with a pleasant experience.

1) Color. Vary the intensity of color from intense bright colors to black and white.

2) Distance. Change from very close to far away.

3) Depth. Vary the picture from a flat, two-dimensional photo to the full depth of three dimensions.

4) Duration. Vary from a quick, fleeting appearance to a persistent image that stays for some time,

5) Clarity. Change the picture from crystal-clear clarity of detail to fuzzy indistinctness.

6) Contrast. Adjust the difference between light and dark, from stark contrast to more continuous gradations of gray.

7) Scope. Vary from a bounded picture within a frame to a panoramic picture that continues around behind your head, so that if you turn your head, you can see more of it.

8) Movement, Change the picture from a still photo or slide to a movie.

9) Speed. Adjust the speed of the movie from very slow to very fast.

10) Hue. Change the color balance. Increase the intensity of reds and decrease the blues and greens, for example.

11) Transparency. Make the image transparent, so that you can see what's beneath the surface.

12) Aspect Ratio. Make a framed picture tall and narrow . . • and then short and wide.

13) Orientation. Tilt the top of that picture away from you . . . and then toward you.

14) Foreground/background. Vary the difference or separation between foreground (what interests you most) and background (the context that just happens to be there) Then try reversing it, so the background becomes interesting foreground. (For more variables to try, see Appendix I)

Now most of you should have an experience of a few of the many ways you can change your experience by changing submo-dalities. Whenever you find an element that works really well, take a moment to figure out where and when you'd like to use it. For instance, pick a scary memory—even something from a movie. Take that picture and make it very large very suddenly. . . . That one's a thrill. If you have trouble getting going in the morning, try that instead of coffee!

I asked you to try these one at a time so that you could find out how they work. Once you know how they work, you can combine them to get even more intense changes. For example, pause and find an exquisitely pleasant sensual memory. First, make sure that it's a movie rather than just a still slide. Now take that image and pull it closer to you. As it comes closer, make it brighter and more colorful at the same time that you slow the movie to about half speed. Since you have already learned something about how your brain works, do whatever else works best to intensify that experience for you. Go ahead. . . .

Do you feel different? You can do that anytime ... and you will have already paid for it. When you're just about to be really mean to someone you love, you could stop and do this. And with the look that's on your faces right now, who knows what you could get into . . . .all kinds of fun trouble!

What's amazing to me is that some people do it exactly backwards. Think what your life would be like if you remembered all your good experiences as dim, distant, fuzzy, black and white snapshots, but recalled all your bad experiences in vividly colorful close, panoramic, 3-D movies. That's a great way to get depressed and think that life isn't worth living. All of us have good and bad experiences; how we recall them is often what makes the difference.

I watched a woman at a party once. For three hours she had a great time—talking, dancing, showing off. Just as she was getting ready to leave, someone spilled coffee all down the font of her dress. As she cleaned herself up, she said, "Oh, now the whole evening is ruined!" Think about that: one bad moment was enough to ruin three hours of happiness! I wanted to find out how she did that, so I asked her about her dancing earlier. She said she saw herself dancing with a coffee-stain on her dress! She took that coffee-stain and literally stained all her earlier memories with it.

Many people do that. A man once said to me, "I thought I was really happy for a week. But then I looked back and thought about it, and realized that I wasn't really happy; it was all a mistake." When he looked backwards, he recoded all his experience and believed he had a rotten week. I wondered, "If he can revise his history that easily, why doesn't he do it the other way? Why not make all the unpleasant experiences nice?"

People often revise the past when they get divorced, or if they find out their spouse has had an affair. Suddenly all the good times they enjoyed together over the years look different. "It was all a sham." "I was just deluding myself."

People who go on diets often do the same thing. "Well, I thought that diet was really working. I lost five pounds a week for three months. But then I gained a pound, so I knew it wasn't working." Some people have successfully lost weight many times, but it never dawned on them that they were succeeding. One little indication that they're gaining weight and they decide, "The whole thing was wrong."

One man came to therapy because he was "afraid of marrying the wrong woman." He'd been with this woman and he thought he loved her, and really wanted to marry her, to the point where he'd pay to work on it in therapy. The reason he knew that he couldn't trust his ability to make this kind of decision is that he had married the "wrong woman" once before. When I heard him say that, I thought, "I guess when he got home from the wedding, he must have discovered that this was a strange woman. I guess he went to the wrong church or something." What on earth does it mean that he married the "wrong woman"?

When I asked him what it meant, I found that he had gotten a divorce after five years of marriage. In his case, the first four and a half years were really good. But then it got bad, so the whole five years were a total mistake. "I wasted five years of my life, and I don't want to do that again. So I'm going to waste the next five years trying to figure out if this is the right woman or not." He was really concerned about that. It wasn't a joke to him. It was important. But it never dawned on him that the entire question was inappropriate.

This man already knew that he and this woman made each other happy in many ways. He didn't think about asking himself how he was going to make sure he got even happier as he stayed with her, or how he was going to keep her happy. He had already decided that it was necessary to find out if this was the "right woman" or not. He never questioned his ability to make that decision, but he didn't trust his ability to decide whether to marry her or not!

Once I asked a man how he depressed himself and he said, Well, like if I go out to my car and find there's a flat tire."

"Well, that is an annoyance, but it doesn't seem like enough to get depressed. How do you make that really depressing?"

"I say to myself, 'It's always like this,' and then I see a lot

Pictures of all the other times that my car broke down." I know that for every time his car didn't work, there were probably three hundred times that it worked perfectly. But he doesn't think of them at that moment. If I can get him to think of all those other times that his car worked fine, he won't be depressed.

Once a woman came to see me and told me that she was depressed. I asked her, "How do you know that you are depressed?" She looked at me and told me that her psychiatrist had told her. I said, "Well, maybe he's wrong; maybe you're not depressed; maybe this is happiness!" She looked back at me, raised one eyebrow, and said, "I don't think so." But she still hadn't answered my question: "How do you know that you're depressed?" "If you were happy, how would you know that you were happy?" "Have you ever been happy?"

I've discovered that most depressed people have actually had as many happy experiences as most other people, it's just that when they look back they don't think that it was really that happy. Instead of having rose-colored glasses, they have gray lenses. There was a marvelous lady up in Vancouver who actually had a blue hue over experiences that were unpleasant for her, but experiences that were pleasant had a pink hue. They were well sorted out. If she took one memory and changed the hue, it changed the memory totally. I can't tell you why that works, but that is how she does it subjectively.

The first time one of my clients said, "I'm depressed," I replied, "Hi, I'm Richard." He stopped and said, "No."

"Wait a minute. You're confused."

"I'm not confused. It's all perfectly clear to me."

"I've been depressed for sixteen years."

"That's amazing! You haven't slept in that long?"

The structure of what he's saying is this: "I've coded my experience such that I am living in the delusion that I have been in the same state of consciousness for sixteen years." I know he hasn't been depressed for sixteen years. He's got to take time out for lunch, and getting annoyed, and a few other things. Try to stay in the same state of consciousness for twenty minutes. People spend a lot of money and time learning to meditate in order to stay in the same state for an hour or two. If he were depressed for an hour straight, he wouldn't even be able to notice it, because the feeling would habituate and thereby become imperceptible. If you do anything long enough, you won't even be able to detect it. That's what habituation does, even with physical sensation. So

I always ask myself, "How is it possible for this guy to believe that he's been depressed all that time?" You can cure people of what they've got, and discover that they never had it, "Sixteen years of depression" could be only 25 hours of actually being depressed.

But if you take this man's statement, "I've been depressed for sixteen years," at face value, you're accepting the presupposition that he's been in one state of consciousness for that long. And if you accept the goal that you're going to go after making him happy, you'll be attempting to permanantly put him in another state of consciousness. You may in fact be able to get him to believe that he's happy all the time. You can teach him to recode everything in the past as happiness. No matter how miserable he is at the moment, he'll always appreciate that he's happy all the time. He'll be no better off, moment to moment—only when he looks into the past. You've just given him a new delusion to replace the one he walked in with.

A lot of people are depressed because they have good reason to be. A lot of people have dull, meaningless lives, and they're unhappy. Talking to a therapist won't change that, unless it results in the person living differently. If someone will spend $75 to see a psychiatrist, instead of spending it on a party, that's not mental illness, that's stupidity! If you don't do anything, then of course you're going to be bored and depressed. Catatonia is an extreme case of that.

When someone tells me she's depressed, I do the same thing I always do: I want to find out how to do it. I figure if I can go through it methodically step by step, and find out how she does it well enough that I can do it, then I can usually tell her something about how to do it differently, or else find somebody else who is not depressed and find out now that person does that.

Some people have an internal voice that sounds slow and depressed and makes long lists of their failures. You can talk yourself into very depressed states that way. It would be like having some of my college professors inside your head. No wonder those people are depressed. Sometimes the internal voice is so low that the person isn't consciously aware of it until you ask her. Because the voice is unconscious, she'll respond to it even more powerfully than if it were conscious—it will have a stronger hypnotic impact.

Any of you who have done therapy for a long time during a day may have noticed that there are times when you mentally drift away while you are seeing clients. Those are called trance states. If your client is talking about bad feelings and being depressed, you'll begin to respond to those suggestions, like anybody does in a trance. If you have "up" and cheerful clients, that can work for you. But if you have clients who are depressed, you can go home at the end of the day feeling terrible.

If you have a client who depresses herself with one of these voices, try increasing the volume of that voice until she can hear it clearly, so it won't have the hypnotic impact. Then change the tonality until it's a very cheerful voice. She'll feel a lot better, even if that cheerful voice is still reciting a list of failures.

Many people depress themselves with pictures, and there are a lot of variations. You can make collages of all the times things went wrong in the past, or you can make up thousands of pictures of how things could go wrong in the future. You can look at everything in the real world and superimpose an image of what it will look like in a hundred years. Have you heard the saying, "You begin dying the moment you're born." That's a great one.

Every time something nice happens, you can say to yourself, "This won't last," or "It's not real," or "He doesn't really mean it." There are many ways to do it. The question is always, "How does this person do it?" A detailed answer to that question will tell you everything you need to know in order to teach him how to do something else instead. The only reason that he doesn't do something more sensible is that it's all he knows how to do. Since he's done it for years, it's "normal"—unquestioned and unnoticed.

One of the wildest propensities in our culture is to act as if things are normal under any circumstances. The most elegant demonstration of that is New York City, as far as I'm concerned. If you walk down Broadway, no one's looking around and muttering "Good Lord!"

The next best demonstration is downtown Santa Cruz. People are doing things, right out on the street, that would put any mental hospital to shame. Yet there are men in business suits walking down the street talking to each other as if everything is completely normal.

I came from a "normal" environment, too. In my neighborhood, when I was nine years old and had nothing to do, I'd hang around with the guys. Somebody would say, "Hey, why don't we go out and steal a car?" "Let's go down and rob a liquor store, and murder someone."

I thought the way to succeed in life was to go live with the rich people. I thought if I hung around them, it would rub off. So I went to a place called Los Altos, where people have money. Los Altos Junior College at that time had sterling silver in the cafeteria, and real leather chairs in the student center. The parking lot looked like Detroit's current year showroom. Of course when I went there, I had to act like all that was normal, too. "Ho hum, everything's cool."

I got a job working with a machine that you communicate with, called a computer, and started as an information science student. They didn't have the department yet, because someone had stalled the funding for a couple of years. Since I was in school and there was no major there for me, I was lost in an existential crisis. "What will I do? I'll study psychology." About that time I got involved in editing a book about Gestalt Therapy, so I was sent to a Gestalt Therapy group to see what it was all about. This was my first experience of group psychotherapy. Everybody was crazy where I grew up, and everybody was crazy where I worked, but I expected people who went to therapists to be really crazy.

The first thing I saw there was somebody sitting and talking to an empty chair. I thought, "Oohhh! I was right. They are crazy." And then there was this other nut telling him what to say to the empty chair! Then I got worried, because everybody else in the room was looking at the empty chair, too, as if it were answering! The therapist asked, "And what does he say?" So I looked at the chair, too. Later I was told that it was a room full of psychotherapists, so it was OK.

Then the therapist said, "Are you aware of what your hand is doing?" When the guy said "No," I cracked up. "Are you aware of it now?" "Yes." "What is it doing? Exaggerate that movement." Strange, right? Then the therapist says "Put words to it." "I want to kill, kill." This guy turned out to be a neurosurgeon! The therapist said "Now, look at that chair, and tell me who you see." I looked, and there was still nobody there! But the guy looked over there and snarled, "My brother!"

"Tell him you're angry."

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"Say it louder."

"About what?"

And then he starts telling this empty chair all these things that he's angry about, and then he attacks it. He smashes the chair to bits, and then apologizes, and works it out with the chair, and then he feels better. Then everyone in the group says nice things to him and hugs him.

Since I had been around scientists and murderers, I could act like everything was normal almost anywhere, but I was having trouble. Afterwards I asked the other people, "Was his brother really there?"

"Some of them said, "Of course he was."

"Where did you see him?'

You can do just about anything. If you act as if it's normal, other people will too. Think about it. You can say "This is group psychotherapy," put chairs around in a circle, and say "This chair is the 'hot seat.' " Then if you say "Who wants to work?" everybody will start to get nervous while they wait. Finally someone who gets motivated when stress builds up to a certain point can't take it anymore: "I want to work!" So you say, "That chair's not a good enough place to do it. You come and sit in this special chair." Then you put an empty chair across from him. Often you'd start in the following way:

"Now, tell me what you're aware of."

"My heart is pounding."

"Close your eyes, and tell me what you're aware of."

"People are watching me."

Think about that for a minute. When his eyes are open, he knows what's going on inside; when his eyes are shut, he knows what's going on outside! For those of you who aren't familiar with Gestalt Therapy, this is a very common phenomenon.

There is a time and a place where people believed that talking to an empty chair was meaningful, and in fact it was. It can accomplish certain useful things. It was also very dangerous in ways they didn't understand, and many people still don't. People learn repeated sequences of behavior, and not necessarily the content. The sequence you learn in Gestalt Therapy is the following: When you feel sad or frustrated, you hallucinate old friends and relatives, become angry and violent, and then you feel better and other people are nice to you.

Take that sequence and translate it into the real world without the content. What does the person learn? When he's not feeling good, hallucinate, get angry and violent, and then feel good about it. How's that for a model for human relationships? Is that how you want to relate to your wife and children? But why take it out on a loved one? When you're furious, just go out and find a stranger. Walk up to him, hallucinate a dead relative, beat the snot out of him, and feel better. Some people actually do that, even without the benefit of Gestalt Therapy, but we don't usually think of that pattern of behavior as a cure. When people go through therapy, or any other repeated experience, they learn whatever's done really quickly, and they learn the pattern and sequence of what's done more that the content. Since most therapists focus on content, they usually won't even notice the sequence they're teaching.

Some people will look you straight in the eye and tell you the reason they are the way they are is because of something that happened long ago in their childhood. If that's true, they are really stuck, because of course then nothing can be done about it; you can't go have your childhood again.

However, the same people believe that you can pretend you are having your childhood again, and that you can go back and change it. The fact that you don't like what happened means that the event is "unfinished," so you can go back and "finish" it in a way that you like better. That's a great reframe, and it's a very useful one.

I think everything is unfinished in this sense: you can only maintain any memory, belief, understanding, or other mental process from one day to the next if you continue to do it. Therefore, it's still going on. If you have some understanding of the processes that continue to maintain it, you can change it whenever you don't like it.

It's actually quite easy to modify past experiences. The next thing I'd like to teach you is what I call "briefest therapy." One nice thing about it is that it's also secret therapy, so you can all try it now.

Think of an unpleasant embarrassment or disappointment, and take a good look at that movie to see if it still makes you feel bad now. If it doesn't, pick another one. . . .

Next, start that movie again, and as soon as it begins, put some nice loud circus music behind it. Listen to the circus music right through to the end of the movie. . . .

Now watch that original movie again. . . . Does that make you feel better? For most of you it will change a tragedy into a comedy, and lighten your feelings about it. If you have a memory that makes you annoyed and angry, put circus music with it. If you run it by with circus music, the next time it comes back it will automatically have the circus music with it, and it won't feel the same. For a few of you, circus music may be an inappropriate choice for that particular memory. If you didn't notice any change, or if your feelings changed in an unsatisfactory way, see if you can think of some other music or sounds that you think might impact that memory, and then try playing that music with your memory. You could try a thousand soap-opera violins, or opera music, the 1812 Overture, "Hernando's Hideaway," or whatever, and find out what happens. If you start experimenting, you can find lots of ways to change your experience.

Pick another bad memory. Run the movie however you usually do, to find out if it bothers you now- . . .

Now run that same memory backwards, from the end back to the beginning, just as if you were rewinding the film, and do it very quickly, in a few seconds. . . .

Do you feel the same about that memory after running it backwards? Definitely not. It's a little like saying a sentence backwards; the meaning changes. Try that on all your bad memories, and you'll save another thousand dollars worth of therapy. Believe me, when this stuff gets known, we're going to put traditional therapists out of business. They'll be out there with the people selling magic spells and powdered bat wings.

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