When fear, sadness or other feelings hold you back, the LMNOP system can help you move past “stinking thinking” and create new positive thought patterns.
I felt lost in the civilian world. I couldn’t sleep. I felt guilty about surviving when good friends did not. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but my treatment of choice was drinking.
At the lowest point in my life, I came to the realization that I needed to confront my fears and suffering head-on. As I studied findings from neuroscience and psychology, I developed a system that put me on the path from despair towards a fulfilling life.
Science shows that our initial response to any external event is dictated by references formed from all our past experiences. Although we can’t control this subconscious response, we can learn to recognize it and choose whether and how to act on it.
Furthermore, over time it’s possible to establish new neural pathways that actually do change the brain’s initial automatic responses.
I summarized everything I read and learned into something I call the LMNOP cycle. This is a way to face and engage your feelings instead of avoiding them and letting them control you.
M is for meaning.Ask yourself what are the underlying beliefs that feed the disempowering emotion. For example, I was coaching a client who had anxiety attacks every time he sat down to work on his computer. He realized he had created a subconscious narrative that no one would want to read his work.
N is for “not me.”Tell yourself, “This is not me, this is just my brain.” We don’t need to be defined by the way our brains subconsciously react to the world around us. This powerful step further separates us from our immediate emotion and gives us room to choose how to respond.
O is for options.As in, opt for a new interpretation. For example, the individual who was having anxiety attacks at the computer thought about how successful he had been in the past and reminded himself that people do value what he writes. That allowed him to choose confidence over anxiety.
Even if you don’t fully believe your new narrative (and you won’t at first), when you substitute a more empowering meaning, your brain will start to search for evidence to validate that interpretation.
P is for purpose and preemptive strikes.It is vital to start doing something different from your normal pattern because that is what starts to rewire the brain. (As in the informal axiom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”) You need to figure out where you want to end up, then start taking mental or physical actions in line with what you wish to achieve.
To be successful, decide in advance what you will do when obstacles occur. Having a pre-emptive plan reduces the amount of cognitive energy you will need to keep moving forward.
The writer in my example had a pattern of retreating to his television when he felt panicked. That was a pathway in his brain that he had to break. He gave himself a small, simple goal: Sit at his computer for five minutes. This plan enabled him to weaken the old pattern and create a new one. Once he was comfortable at the keyboard for five minutes, he slowly began extending that time to 10 minutes, then 15.
There is no “one size fits all” to this. Another person might start with five minutes of a new behavior and then be able to jump to 30 minutes. The key is to create new patterns that serve you and improve your life, and build on them at your own pace to ingrain them into your brain.
Printed as “Life lessons: A method to master unhappy emotions,” Summer 2016 Esperanza