Negative Thinking & the Great What If


NLP teaches you how to observe verbal as well as non-verbal behavior. And negative thinking can easily display itself in both of these. I observe people a lot for a living, and often there is an underlying pattern how exactly people tie themselves into knots.

Very simple speaking it works like this:

  1. Information is acquired through the 5 senses.
  2. Approximately 5-9 pieces of information are consciously processed, and the remaining 2 million bits of information that are actually coming in are simply filtered out (deleted, distorted and generalized.)
  3. An internal representation is formed inside the mind, we experience an emotion.
  4. We base our thinking based on this emotion.
  5. Our thoughts give us more emotions, and determines what we filter for, and how we behave.

Now this can go in great positive healthy ways, or a negative spiral downwards.

One typical pattern of negative thinking is a completely hallucinated “what if” scenario.

For example:

You are exhausted, after a bad day at work. And right before you leave the boss who you don’t like very much tells you on Friday at 7 PM , that he(or she) needs to speak to you on Monday. The boss who is still working on a deadline, says it in a rather what is perceived by you an agitated tone, he would not look you in the eye, and he is talking to someone else on the phone. Now one of your projects was late this week, but this was not your fault. Now you have the entire weekend to explore literally 1000s of options as to what could happen. What if I get fired? What if my boss doesn’t get why I was late? What if my boss has a conversation with me in the following x, y, z highly uncomfortable ways. Etc. You see, hear, and feel all the negative explorations in your minds eye, like a movie, with you starring in it. You prepare for several possible ways how you are going to respond. Imagine what he would say back. And you can explore this negative what if scenario, experience your movie as if it is real, have the corresponding emotions, which you then base your next thoughts on. And before you know it, you have a weekend of stress, no sleep, you talk about it with others. Etc.clock-89454_640

The reality is you have no idea what your boss really wanted to discuss with you. This could be anything, even something as futile as telling you that he needs to go on a business trip. And the matter could get worse, that based on your negative emotions, your exhaustion, levels of stress… may not even listen to it. And fire off in drama.

The brain can not tell the difference often what is really happening and we imagine is happening. Your experience of reality, is often not reality. The map is not the territory we say in NLP.

Now many solutions are possible to stop this negative spiral down. But here are a few ideas:

  1. The moment you start noticing that the spiral down starts happening, you stop your thought and tell yourself that whatever the conversation is on Monday then you will… with it.
  2. You play the movie of your boss on the phone where you make sure you do not look through your own eyes, but you watch yourself on that screen. In NLP we say, you are “dissociated.” You don’t feel the event, you simply observe it. You would then notice, that your boss may not have been agitated, he may have been tired after all it was 7 PM.  He also was on the phone, and you have no knowledge of what the phone call was about. Your boss could have been agitated about a million other things or people. Maybe your boss just wanted to go home. Maybe you completely filtered out noticing that your boss actually just spilled coffee all over his desk. You also failed to notice his personal assistant wasn’t there, to pick up the phone for him.
  3. You could also step into the bosses shoes, and look through his eyes. What does he see, hear, and feel? We call this the second perceptual position in NLP.
  4. You decide to do something fun and exciting, put yourself in a different emotional state. By which you look at the world differently. And start to have other thoughts. Filter for entirely different things.
  5. You decide to play with the coding in your mind, and start to think of the alternative “what if”, you imagine what you would see, hear and feel, if the conversation on Monday has a positive outcome. Imagine how someone who is better at communicating to him than you could handle any possible situation with him.

Now for the NLP (Master) practitioners out there, a lot of other ideas should come to mind, like anchoring, circle of excellence, map across, perceptual positions, SWISH, working with submodalities, timelines etc.negative positive 400

Now the interesting thing, this entire article focused on you having these thoughts. You can actually hear the “what if” thought patterns also occur in someone else’s verbal and non-verbal communication. A clue is usually when someone starts talking about what will happen in the future and when it is negative. They have no evidence really of what is happening in the future. Nor can you be sure that they experienced the real reality of what is factually going on in the past and with that also not the present they create for themselves.

Now an excellent way to start practicing this, is first NOTICING the “what if” pattern. And then default as a solution in one of the 5 ideas explained above. Or if you are an NLP practitioner devise a solution that works for you to stop the negative what if and the negative thinking.