Open Letter to a Self-Trainer
A self-trainer asks:
Could there be a point in only selecting one area of symptoms at a time? For example in my case, my main issue is sleep. Second issue is anxiety, third is attention. By selecting every symptom I can relate to, will that dilute the focus and effectiveness of each selected symptoms, compared to if I only select one type of symptoms?
Try what you wish. Sleep issues are related to anxiety (and vice-versa); attention issues are related to both. The brain is not a bunch of individual independent neighborhoods; it is a complex interactive set of processes.
You, like most of us, would like to believe that you can “understand” them, that they form a nice neat flow-chart. Training with that belief, trying every last cognitive strategy you can think of and finally “giving up” and just letting the training work takes some people a very long time. Some even try and try and think and think until they get to the “giving up” point–then they quit: (If I can’t do it by thinking, I don’t want to do it.) The need to control is so destructive in them that they would rather live with what they don’t like than accept the possibility that it could change by itself.
I remind you that, if your conscious, thinking, controlling mind were able to resolve these issues, you would have gotten rid of them years ago. Surely there are psychological reasons why the need to control is so strong in some people and more amenable to being released in others. Working with such a client as her trainer, I can sometimes tease or bully or otherwise get her to take the big chance of trusting, and then the training begins to work. Sometimes that scares the hell out of her and she stops training or does other things (skips sessions, uses drugs, etc.) to sabotage the process. Sometimes the changes motivate her to trust further and in time she is able to make them lasting.
When one chooses to train himself, he must take that leap of faith himself–something which perhaps goes against everything he believes, something he doesn’t WANT to be true, something he has never experienced in his entire life. That’s a lot to ask. Just depends on how much he really wants to change what is disrupting (or, in another sense, defining) his life.
When I see trainees (especially self-trainers) who have an endless string of technical questions, a series of glitches we rarely see in the hardware and software, one after another, and multiple suggestions for how to make the process “more effective”, I know that the struggle is going on inside of them.
In an existential sense, what is anxiety? It’s based on an inability to trust that you can deal with those things outside your control as they come along; a sense that you must control them BEFORE they happen, which leads to a bewildering complexity of possible things to worry about it instead responding to the one thing that actually does happen.
And how can one sleep and sleep soundly if he needs to control things to be safe? Close your eyes? Leave conscious awareness of all the dangerous and potentially negative things surrounding you for hours at a time? Relax and go into yourself? That’s not possible in a jungle full of saber-toothed tigers.
And can one sustain attention to what is and is happening around her when she must always be looking for what might happen and what the effects might be and how to get “on top” of it before it happens? Of course not. What is happening—that to which we want to pay attention—is happening outside of us. We can’t focus on it when there are so many things going on inside our minds. After a while the brain doesn’t even bother to try any more.
Those who don’t learn to trust—and improve—their brains’ ability to steer their lives into the best patterns available to them in the universe they inhabit are doomed to anxiety and restlessness and inattention. Eventually they find themselves unable to “control” anything, because they can’t control the one thing that’s actually within their control.
It’s in you, waiting to be discovered. You have the mirror in which to recognize and strengthen it. So for an hour 2-3 times a week in a safe place, still your mind and let it come to the surface, introduce itself to you, get stronger and more confident and eventually change those habits which are blocking you to new ones that free you to live your life more economically, positively and successfully.