Now that the old year is over, our thoughts turn to the new one which beckons, bright, unblemished and as full of possibility as an unopened book.  At this time most of us will be taking stock of our lives; remembering what has past, and contemplating what lies ahead.  Did you celebrate the passing of a year with a champagne toast and a heart full of gratitude for the good times that were had, and the bad times left behind, or did you mourn for the year with a sense of loss, berating the misfortunes you had suffered and the chances missed? Does the thought of the New Year ahead fill you with excitement and enthusiasm, or a sense of heavy dread?

How we think about our lives, the perspectives we take and the conclusions we come to, all drastically effect our ability to enjoy life, no matter what twists and turns of fate may await. So many people allow faulty thinking to keep them fearful, despondent and stuck in old unhelpful patterns. They shrug their shoulders and proclaim their pessimism and gloom is a natural state, as if they were helpless victims of their thoughts! It doesn’t even occur to them that they have a choice in the matter, and it is possible to alter the way you think so that you feel better about your life, even during challenging times.

It always amazes me that we put so much emphasis on teaching children algebra, spelling and computing skills, yet at the same time totally ignore educating them about how to get joy and satisfaction out of the most powerful piece of hardware ever, their brains! Master a few simple programming techniques on your thought patterns and the whole human system will undergo a massive upgrade and function in a way that optimises health and happiness.

Whenever I work with clients at my hypnotherapy practice here in North Somerset, I utilise time both in and out of trance to help my clients master their habitual thought processes in order to gain control over not only unhelpful habits, fears and compulsions, but also those thought patterns that get in the way of them being happy, confident, solution focused individuals. Using a combination of hypnotherapy, neuro linguistic programming and cognitive behavioural interventions, it is possible to re boot your brain, so that it works for you, rather than against you!

One of the simplest ways you can turn your brain into a happiness seeking missile, is to make a conscious effort to notice all the good things in your life, from the green light on your way to work, to the smell of your freshly laundered pillow as you drift of to sleep. The moment you decide to notice and count the blessings in your life, is the same moment that your brain begins to search actively for what makes you happy, setting off a chain reaction that seems to compound and expand the good so that it minimises the bad.  You will find that the more notice you begin to take of life’s little gifts to you, the more there will be to notice. As every dieter knows to their cost, once food becomes the focus of your attention, it will appear everywhere! Luckily the same think goes for smiles, sunshine and moments of bliss!! So start a ‘happiness journal’ today.  Let your creativity run wild with this, personalising your journal with pictures, doodles, inspiring quotes, or whatever makes you smile. The physical act of recording your happiness actually embeds the good feelings deeper into your subconscious, and once you have a happiness journal, you will never be short of something uplifting to read if you are feeling a little down.

Why not resolve to make 2012 the year you decide to take control of your thoughts and programme your brain for happiness? Throughout the next few weeks I’ll be giving you lots more tips to train your brain so that it works for you in ways that you may not have thought possible. But for now, why not spend a little while focusing on what was good about 2011, and being truly thankful for all the small blessings it delivered.

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy New Year!

As you may have gathered from the fact that this is the second of three blogs that contain reference to a Dickens novel in the title, I’m a bit of a fan of the Victorian novelist! I first read A Christmas Carol when I was about 9 years old, and I’ve been hooked ever since. From the first page I was entranced and utterly absorbed by the great storytellers art that transported me to a snow filled landscape of ghosts, carriages, poverty and redemption.

Since that first magical encounter I have seen countless versions of the tale on stage and screen, from parodies to pantomimes, and Alistair Sim to Jim Carey. Watching it on T.V with a large glass of sherry and a box of tissues to hand is as much a Christmas tradition in our house as mince pies and indigestion.

It was however, not until I began working as a hypnotherapist some years ago, that I noticed how Dickens’ story contained many therapeutic interventions which are routinely used by hypnotherapists today to help transform the lives of their clients! Charles Dickens lived in an era where poverty and need were rife. Societies’ rich had become so immune to the sight of children starving in the streets, that they no longer noticed the bare foot urchins shivering in the shadows, let alone cared about their plight. So, like any good therapist keen to open a client’s eyes to things they would rather not see, he presented his message for social reform in a metaphorical story that would engage their senses whilst delivering a deeper meaning to their subconscious mind.

The use of analogies or metaphors in Hypnotherapy is very common. By relating something new to that which is already known, we create a metaphorical bridge that enables us to transport suggestions to the subconscious mind while spanning over critical faculties. Dickens’ took his readers on a dream like journey that opened their eyes and awakened their conscience, in a way that avoided them reverting to their usual negative assumptions about the poor. Through Scrooges visitations they were able to examine the nature of their own lives, past, present and future, and more importantly, experience the consequences of their actions if they continued on the same selfish path.

Life Coach and author Anthony Robbins coined the phrase ‘the Dickens’s Pattern’ to describe the method of stepping into our future to experience it in the ‘now’ in order to deliver maximum impact. Time projection is a very powerful technique that is used to motivate change. Scrooge put it succinctly when he said “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead, but if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.” The good news is that once we are well and truly motivated, it becomes relatively easy to change course, and choose a new pathway in life that will take you in a different direction.

As a hypnotherapist, I find the way I use language to communicate with my clients is extremely important, and the more engaging and emotive it is, the more likely it is to resonate on many different levels. When Dickens said “Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it” the surface meaning is quite obvious, and more evocative than simply saying “Scrooge was too mean to use candles.” At a deeper level however, the use of the word “darkness” and it’s many sinister connotations, also nudges our subconscious to search for other meanings that may be more personally meaningful, such as ‘remaining ignorant and blind to what is going on around us is the easy option!’

Throughout Dickens story, he used strong characters and imagery that his readers could, and still do, identify with:”External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he; no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.” Even reading that sentence gives me Goosebumps! Scrooge has become so synonymous in our minds to all that is miserly and mean about the human spirit that his name is now a common part of our vocabulary.

Dickens’ use of metaphor and symbols is most obvious in the three spirits who haunt Scrooge on Christmas Eve.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is a personification of memory. In order for Scrooge to grow as a human being, he must remember his past and learn from it. The light that shines from this Ghost’s head symbolizes the “illumination” which can come from reflecting on one’s past, and the cap which the Ghost wears symbolizes the ability each person has to extinguish the light of memory, as many people chose to do, rather than face up to past mistakes.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is a personification of generosity. Everything about this larger than life spectre, from his opulent robes to the abundance of food on which it rests, embodies the spirit of generosity and plenty. A sprinkling of seasoning from the Ghost’s torch enhances the flavor of meals and of relationships at Christmas (something we could all do with!). The Ghost stands for generosity not only of material goods, but also of spirit. It is generosity that protects against the evils, of“Ignorance and Want.” As the spirit’s robe is drawn back Scrooge is shocked to see these two aspects of the human psyche suddenly manifest before him as vicious, terrifying, little children, who are more animal than human in appearance.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a personification of the relentless march of time towards both a fixed and an unfixed end. Resembling depictions of the Grim Reaper, this Ghost may be seen as symbolizing death, the final journeys end. This is the depiction that provides Scrooge with the ultimate motivation to change. When we reflect on the choices we make in life, the inevitability of our own demise, and how it is likely to occur, it often give us the leverage we need to make profound but difficult changes, such as stopping smoking, adopting a healthy lifestyle, or in Scrooges case, transforming himself from a miserable, cantankerous old miser, to a generous and caring human being. When Scrooge asks to “erase the writing” on his own headstone, he is not asking for immortality; rather, he is asking for the opportunity to change. The fact that your life will end is fixed; the meaning that your life will have had is up to you!

It is of course possible to find a hidden meaning behind all of the characters in the story. To me Tiny Tim represents that fragile and gentle part of our souls that is trusting and loving, always sees the best in life and others, and that flourishes when cared for, but withers and dies if neglected. Marley’s ghost I feel is our conscience, that can weigh us down in chains of regret and remind of us “what might have been” But you may of course read something different into the characters and the message they convey; that’s the wonderful thing about using metaphors, we can all read into the story what is most appropriate and meaningful to us!

Ever the consummate professional, Dickens even revealed the reason behind Scrooges neurotic hatred of Christmas: the Ghost of Christmas Past shows most of the events that negatively affected Scrooge’s character occurred during the Christmas holiday season – a classic case of a phobic response that has led him to associate Christmas with loss, loneliness and rejection. In behavioural terms we call this ‘one trial learning,’ and it is responsible for causing many of the most common phobias. A nip from a dog in childhood can lead to an irrational fear of all dogs; the anxiety and stress associated with travel can merge with the unsettling effects of air turbulence to enhance and lock those memories together, creating a fear of flying. One heart stopping, tongue tied moment during a speech can lead you to dread and ultimately avoid future events that might place you in the spotlight. Don’t worry though; at my hypnotherapy practice here in North Somerset most phobias can be quickly and successfully treated without the need to revisit them in person!

By the end of the book, Scrooges awakens on Christmas morning, delighted to discover that ‘change can happen in a trance!’ It has taken just one night for Scrooges’ miraculous transformation! And as for the real subjects of Dickens therapy, he concludes that he had “endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly,”or in other words, he hoped his little metaphorical tale had entertained and informed, planting a seed of humanity in their subconscious minds that would continue to grow and ultimately blossom!

As for me, I have endeavoured in this dry little morsel to whet your appetite for Dickens, Metaphors and Hypnotherapy, that it might tempt you to feast further!
Wishing all my clients and readers, past, present and future a wonderful, peaceful and uplifting Christmas, and a New Year full of love, laughter and good health.
Merry Christmas, and “God bless us, everyone!”

Christmas has the potential to be one of the most stressful events in the calendar. According to a recent survey, the average preparation time is 13 full days – if you are a woman (considerably less if you’re a man!) This involves 288 hours of shopping, four hours wrapping, three hours decorating the house (though I reckon it takes that long just de-tangling the lights), nine hours cooking and 11 hours cleaning up the mess. Then of course there are the vast sums of money you feel you really must spend if you are to create that mythical, much sought after ‘perfect Christmas’ as depicted by Marks and Spencer.In the midst of this assault course on body and wallet, amid an atmosphere of unrealistic expectations inspired by Hollywood and the media, is it any wonder that so many of us feel anxious and stressed at the mere mention of jingle bells.

I can guarantee that the vast majority of the clients who visit at my hypnotherapy practice in North Somerset will be suffering from some form of stress, whether or not that has been their primary reason for seeking help. Stress happens when the demands placed upon us become overwhelming. It’s our bodies’ response to events that make us feel threatened in some way. When you sense danger – whether it’s from the thought of all your Great uncle Bill descending, or from the fear that the last bag of brussel sprouts are about to be snatched from your grasp, the body’s defences kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response.

Unfortunately fighting or fleeing is not really a viable option – though I have witnessed a few scuffles in Tesco’s recently, and they do say Barbados is particularly delightful at this time of year! Stress leaves us feeling agitated, bad tempered and even depressed. It also affects our ability to fight off infection, have you ever noticed how many people spend Christmas in bed with Flu?

So what is the best way to deal with Christmas stress? It’s simple really, change the way you think about things. When you feel that wave of panic threatening to take over, STOP, take a deep breath, and ask yourself “is this really important? In a few months time, will any of this still matter?”  What are you telling yourself that is making you feel so anxious? Is there something else you could tell yourself that would be more helpful?

Striving for perfection can only ever result in anxiety and disappointment, because nobody has the kind of Christmas you are struggling so hard to create. All families argue, trees shed, children fight, Turkey is dry, gifts disappoint and hangovers happen. Once you accept this and lower those unrealistic expectations you can relax and begin to enjoy yourself.

It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air. ~W.T. Ellis.

Put things in perspective.  Is it really worth fighting through the crowds on Christmas Eve when your time could be better spent celebrating with family and friends? Will anybody notice your homemade short crust pastry or just your short temper? Do things differently this year.

Prioritize what is important to you and your family and forget about the rest. What is the point of having a picture perfect Christmas if you are too stressed out and exhausted to enjoy it? What really matters is creating an environment where peace, love and goodwill can flourish, and where the true meaning of Christmas can be celebrated.

So sit back, relax and have a very merry stress-free Christmas!

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?  It came without ribbons.  It came without tags.  It came without packages, boxes or bags.  And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.  Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.  What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?  What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”  ~Dr Seuss

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Hello and welcome to my blog! The last few weeks here in Somerset has been a very exciting time for me, watching as the lynnwardhypnotherapy website has evolved from a vague idea into something solid and informative that I hope prospective clients will find useful. And now today  I am writing my first ever blog, and wondering with each tap of the keyboard whether I will produce something worthy of posting, let alone reading! The beginning of anything new is always a time of excitement and expectation mingled with a liberal dusting of fear. We hope to do well, harbouring a vision of how wonderful our lives will be when we reach our goal and attain perfection, yet secretly fearing we are not up to the job, or even deserving of success.

 As a hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner, one of my first jobs with a new client is helping them to form a very clear and well thought out objective or goal to work towards. My client may begin by telling me they want to lose weight, but I want to know “how much weight and by when? What resources and skills can you draw upon to achieve this goal, and which do you need to acquire? What will achieving your ideal weight look like, and feel like? How will it affect other areas of your life?”

One of the criteria for ensuring a goal is achievable is by asking “is it realistic?” Now, being the kind of hypnotherapist who likes to instil the virtues of self-belief and limitless possibilities in my clients, at first I thought the whole idea of ensuring dreams were ‘realistic’ robbed them of their magic, and more importantly lowered our expectations. Wouldn’t a lot of my clients, having experienced a lifetime of setbacks and failures, simply give up on any aspirations they had because they didn’t feel realistic or achievable? Surely I should be encouraging them to ‘dream big?’ Then I had the very dubious pleasure of watching some young hopefuls audition for a talent show, and I suddenly realised the importance of having realistic goals if we are not to go through life feeling constantly disappointed. Admittedly, there were a few talented singers up before the judges, and it was noted with hard work and a lot of luck, their dreams of stardom could come true. For many others however, the lack of even a hint of talent or that elusive x-factor seemed irrelevant to them when deciding they wanted to be the next Michael Jackson or Madonna. They were immune to the judge’s criticism, and their families were indignant when it was suggested that they were not headed for stardom. Seeing the anger and frustration these people felt at their ambitions being thwarted, I began to ask myself would we all do better to occasionally step back and ask if what we are asking of ourselves, our partners and our lives is realistic? If not, we are condemning ourselves to a miserable struggle, that rather than inspiring us, will leave us disappointed and disgruntled. Aim high by all means, but not so stratosphericly high that your goal will always remain out of reach. Yes, you can achieve your ideal weight, but probably not by next Tuesday!

I think the stress associated with impossibly high expectations is all too obvious at this time of year. Watching T.V last night, I couldn’t help but notice the idealized way Christmas was being depicted in the commercials. Laughing children cavorted in the snow, happy families gathered around exquisite tables laden with delectable delicacies, and pure delight was expressed at the opening of each perfectly wrapped present. And it wasn’t just the adverts. The usual array of celebrity chefs were urging me to be inventive with my brussel sprouts, whilst another so called ‘expert’ assured me that the trick to successful entertaining was planning ahead – and there was me thinking it involved spending three days slaving in a kitchen the size of a playing field!

Any alien tuning in would assume that Christmas was a universally magical time of snow, happy families and goodwill, all made possible by excessive spending, overindulgence and holly. I couldn’t help but contrast the media portrayal of Christmas with the reality of shops bulging with overheated bodies fighting over must have goodies, whilst Christmas medleys drown out the sound of tills ringing and nerves shattering.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, or rather I am keen to rekindle our romance. When I was a child, Christmas really was an exciting and magical time. Money was in short supply, but not love and laughter. The smell of roasting Turkey still transports me back to my mother’s kitchen, filling me with a sense of longing for Christmas past. I’m reminded of a quote I once read that ‘Christmas is a time when you get homesick – even when you’re home’

Perhaps it’s this nostalgic desire to recreate that sense of enchantment which drives us through exhaustion and the threat of financial ruin to strive to make Christmas perfect?

No matter how hard we try though, Christmas will never live up to our great expectations if it’s based on tinsel tinted memories and Hollywood depictions.

But Christmas can be a time to celebrate and have fun if we think about setting realistic goals. The moment we let go of the idea that everyone has to undergo a festive transformation to rival Dickens’ Scrooge; we can release the pressure we place on ourselves and our families and relax. If you find yourself being brainwashed into believing that everybody else out there is enjoying peace, goodwill and joy, then tune into the soaps for a reality check!
So what if our home bears no resemblance to those immaculate, garland adorned creations in the glossy magazines, and the nearest we get to festive spirit is an encounter with the Bristol Cream.The ‘Perfect Christmas’ can’t be bought with a credit card or cooked up in in the kitchen.

This December, why not take a moment to decide on some realistic and achievable goals, such as treating yourself to a long soak in a scented bath on Christmas Eve, agreeing on a budget for presents and sticking to it, or sitting down as a family to discuss what each person considers important about the holiday – and how they intend to help make it happen.

As for me, my expectations for this blog are similar to the ones I harbour for Christmas; that it may be fun without being frivolous, easy to digest, occasionally inspirational and always enjoyable!