Dr Richard Bolstad is Transformations Principal Trainer

NLP: Teaching the Mindset Of Business Resilience

Studying Excellence: How Poland Avoided the Recession

Since 2007, the world economy has experienced the longest recession since the 1930s. But not everyone has been suffering. "Poland is the only country that was not negatively impacted by the recession. We have been calculating that from 2008 until late 2012, we have had almost 16 percent growth," Under-Secretary of State Beata Stelmach says in Warsaw. Rafal Szajewski, team leader for the services section at Poland's Foreign Investment Department, lists three key factors that he believes helped the nation defy a world-wide trend to recession:

a) Careful investment of EU funds instead of getting swept into get-rich-quick banking schemes.
b) Continued purchasing and business activity by a confident middle class.
c) Creating products and services at increasingly high quality and yet maintaining Poland's low prices.

These three factors in turn depend on three "soft skills" -- careful choices, confidence, and quality improvement. How did Poland get and maintain those skills, and how can you learn to do that in your business too?

Part of the answer is that these soft skills are directly transmitted in Polish business by the profession of coaching. Business coaching does for business what sports coaching does for a sports team. It involves people meeting regularly with someone who guides them to maximise their success. No sports team in their right mind would try to do without a coach. Hiring a coach means focusing on building the resources a business already has. Poland has the highest per capita number of Business Coaches of any country outside North America. The 2012 ICF Global Coaching survey, for example, studied coaches in 117 countries and identified some remarkable differences with Poland. Polish coaches help with personal growth and with maintaining the work-life balance substantially more than coaches in other countries. Polish coaches know that personal skills matter at least as much as specific business planning skills. Polish coaching has strong university backing. I have been teaching coaches in Poland each year since 2007 and have participated first hand in this explosion of coaching. NLP (Neuro Linguistic programming) based coaching training can show you how to build the soft skills of resilience for yourself and then how to coach others to use those same skills.

Resilience: The Researched Recession-proof Mindset

There are real changes in the global economy since the "Great Recession" began in 2007 in the United States. A report in 2009 by Bloomberg stated that $14.5 trillion of value of global companies had been erased in the first year since the crisis began. The loss of revenue for most small companies is now a simple background fact of business life in the 21st century, and the real life, day-to-day challenges of the prolonged recession in the world economy are the emotional ones. Some people have gone into chronic panic, some people have slowly recovered from panic, and others are resilient to these challenges. How do we install the Polish attitude?

I have worked training first responders for a number of major crisis events around the world, including the wars in Bosnia and Chechnya, the Tsunamis in north Japan and Samoa, and the Christchurch earthquake. Research on human response to other major crises has important lessons about how some people survive better. Almost half the United States population has at some time faced what psychologists describe as a traumatic event so severe it is outside the normal range of human experience, but only one in twenty develop chronic PTSD problems (Bonanno, 2004, p. 54). Psychologists list the three main types of response to disaster as

1) Resilience. People feel bad for a while, but they still manage to get good sleep, to eat healthily, and to plan successfully. They quickly get back to high level functioning in the new situation. This is the response we want to install for the recession.
2) Recovery. For a couple of months, people may be so distressed that they cannot function in their job, and cannot relax. Then, they bounce back.
3) Chronicity. People are so distressed that they cannot relax, cannot function in their job, and do not bounce back.

In disaster situations, these responses do not depend only on the severity of the problem, but on the survivor's personal coping style. Furthermore, the percentage of people who respond to a traumatic event by being disabled with chronic PTSD varies from culture to culture. In the research by Schnurr et alia (2004), Japanese ancestry Americans had only 14% of the incidence of PTSD that European ancestry Americans had. Polynesian (in the research, specifically Hawaiian; in many ways the same culture as New Zealand Maori or Samoan) ancestry also reduced PTSD rates to 35% that of other Americans. Resilience is pretty much the core successful human response to disaster that coaching seeks to remedially create. Research also shows that resilience is not a set personality trait so much as a set of actions you can choose to take.

Traumatic Responses explained in the Brain

When a traumatic event occurs, a "neural network" is set up in the brain with memories of the event, instructions about possible responses, and an "emergency rating". If the emergency rating is low enough, a pattern of Resilience occurs, where the person is distressed by the event but able to keep functioning normally. If the rating is high enough then at least for some time a PTSD-style response will occur and the person will have severe difficulty performing normal daily functions. This is because a high emergency rating triggers an alarm in a brain area called the Amygdala. The aim of the alarm is to ensure that if the emergency recurs, a "panic" response will override conscious thinking and cause the person to act quickly to save their life. You can understand that in a physical disaster, this is a very sensible body response. While this panic response mostly saves lives, occasionally it results in panic being triggered accidentally by sensory stimuli that are themselves not dangerous (like reading the morning newspaper). Even in that case most people will gradually edit the neural network over the next couple of months so that it no longer interferes with everyday functioning, a pattern called Recovery. Some people have a pre-existing thinking style which makes recovery difficult (eg a pattern of constantly checking in case something bad is about to happen again) and they will then continue to have problems long term, a pattern called Chronicity. Which of the 3 patterns will occur is determined by the pre-existing thinking style and model of the world, previous experience of similar trauma, the severity of the current traumatic events, and the social support available at the time of the current trauma.

How NLP Coaching in Sports Builds Resilience

In 1999 New Zealand's most famous triathlete Steve Gurney first contacted me before the Coast to Coast triathlon. There were news stories flying about the younger fitter competitors ready to sweep the race away from him. He explains "It is very easy in the nervous days leading up to the race to succumb to the rumours of incredible training performances, and reports of "on fire form" of one's race competitors. Thoughts that rush through my mind in these days leading to the race are "have I done enough training? Am I overtrained? Have I thought of all possibilities,...?? In the weeks leading up to the race it is critically important to develop and strengthen my mental attitude. For, I believe the winner will be the athlete with the fiercest burning desire. Even an athlete who has done a little less training than the other competitors can compensate, thereby winning, by racing with greater passion and determination." (Gurney, 2003).

In 1999, what was most important, Steve explained, was that he needed to get clear on why he was racing. He created the vision of a future where he would be a motivational writer and speaker, encouraging others to succeed in their own fields, by his own dramatic example. Seeing those people in his mind was one of the key things that got him going through the most difficult parts of the race that year. Now, he is listed with Celebrity Speakers and others, and tours the country talking to business and other groups and to school kids about what it takes to be healthy and to recover from challenges. He two books written about "turning obstacles into opportunities, and insights into what I consider to be my recipe for repeating success." That, he identified, is his mission. The benefit of this mission was immediately obvious back in 1999. In an open email soon after the race, he says "A BIG thanks to you for the NLP work we did before the Coast to Coast. It made ALL the difference, and I'm astounded at how quickly you arrived at a solution. It totally turned my thinking around 180 degrees to a resolved and determined attitude. A much more positive state. Race day was incredibly enjoyable and it was just a breeze. I smile now as I think about it and have very colourful and enjoyable visions. Powerful stuff." As an NLP Trainer himself, Steve Gurney now gives that secret of success to others in sports and business.

He explains "I'd like to share with you a small but extremely powerful story of how I used mental attitude through Neuro-Linguistic-Programming (NLP), to boost my performance in this year's Coast to Coast. It's a story about turning a negative into to a positive,.... Converting "worry" into a "challenge"! Instead of being scared of the competition I wanted to "relish in the challenge" I was worried about the mountain run. Despite being a handy runner and getting plenty of run training under my belt I'm not as fast over Goat Pass as Gelately. Historically, I would emerge from the mountain run with a deficit of 8 to 10 minutes on the leader. It then requires a mammoth effort for me to close this gap before the finish line.,...very stressful! (Of course I could run through the mountains faster than the leaders, but it is a matter of efficiency. I need to carefully pace myself to race at a speed that I can maintain for the entire 11 hours, not just a 3-hour mountain run. I could win the mountain run, but blow up before the race finish line)"

"I enlisted the help of my NLP guru, Richard Bolstad for some help with this one. To summarise, the solution lay in blowing apart my belief that I always trail the lead runners by 10 minutes. Bolstad powerfully pointed out to me that reality is whatever I imagined it to be, and in fact, with a little work I could alter my beliefs to be more powerful and positive. I visualised the lead runner to be "just around the corner" ahead of me, possibly even behind me, and not the dreaded 10 minutes that I was imagining. It worked a treat! I emerged from the run 1 minute ahead of Gelately!! My best mountain run to date!! The mechanism is one of positivity, fun and enjoyment. This releases endorphins and other natural "go-fast" chemicals that enhance focus, concentration and more efficient use of muscles and blood glycogen."

What do Psychologists Say Builds Resilience?

The American Psychological Association says research suggests "10 Ways to Build Resilience", which are:

(1) maintaining good relationships with close family members, friends and others;
(2) to avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems;
(3) to accept circumstances that cannot be changed;
(4) to develop realistic goals and move towards them;
(5) to take decisive actions in adverse situations;
(6) to look for opportunities of self-discovery after a struggle with loss;
(7) developing self-confidence;
(8) to keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context;
(9) to maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualizing what is wished;
(10) to take care of one's mind and body, exercising regularly, paying attention to one's own needs and feelings and engaging in relaxing activities that one enjoys.
They also recommend...
(11) Learning from the past and
(12) Maintaining flexibility and balance in life.

What NLP Shows Us: A. How To Create Resilience

NLP provides precise tools for quickly accessing the state of mind you want to be in, for setting and achieving realistic goals, for finding more useful meanings and new self-definitions, and for letting go of past distress and creating learnings from the past.

1. Goals: Richard Wiseman did a very large study showing the importance of the way we approach goals. He tracked 5,000 people who had some significant goal they wanted to achieve (everything from starting a new relationship to beginning a new career, from stopping smoking to gaining a qualification). Dramatic and consistent differences in goalsetting made the mere 10% who were successful stand out from the other 90%. Most of all, successful goalsetters described their goal in positive terms, and considered carefully what challenges they would face actually doing the work to achieve it ("ecology" in NLP). The complete inventory of successful strategies that Richard Wiseman's research found fits neatly into my NLP-based SPECIFY model for outcome or goal setting (Bolstad, 2002).

Sensory Specific: Firstly, the most successful people did imagine achieving their goal, and were able to list concrete, specific benefits they would get from it, rather than just say that they would "feel happy". They had what Wiseman calls "an objective checklist of benefits" and made these "as concrete as possible", often by writing them down. He notes "... although many people said they aimed to enjoy life more, it was the successful people who explained how they intended to spend two evenings each week with friends and visit one new country each year." (Wiseman, 2009, p 91- 93)
Positive: Secondly, they described their goal positively. Wiseman says "For example, when asked to list the benefits of getting a new job, successful participants might reflect on finding more fulfilling and well-paid employment, whereas their unsuccessful counterparts might focus on a failure leaving them trapped and unhappy." (Wiseman, 2009, p 92)
Ecological: That's about as far as the research results coincide with the "Secret". For example, one surprising result of the research by both Gabrielle Oettingen and Richard Wiseman is that it pays to think about challenges you may face in achieving your goal (even though that may feel unpleasant at the time). After thinking about the positive benefits of achieving their goal, the most successful participants would "spend another few moments reflecting on the type of barriers and problems they are likely to encounter if they attempt to fulfil their ambition.... focusing on what they would do if they encountered the difficulty." (Wiseman, 2009, p 101) Oettingen trained people to do this process, which she calls "doublethink" and NLP would call checking "ecology". She was able to increase their success dramatically just with this step.
Choice Increasing and Celebrated: Related to this NLP concept of ecology is the fact that successful goal-setters made sure that they felt as if their progress was bringing them rewards rather than limiting their choices and creating work. They did this most of all because "As part of their planning, successful participants ensured that each of their sub-goals had a reward attached to it" so that it "gave them something to look forward to and provided a sense of achievement." (Wiseman, 2009, p 93)
Initiated by Self: Successful goal-setters have a plan. They do not leave their goal up to "the law of attraction" or to someone else who will save them. Wiseman notes "Whereas successful and unsuccessful participants might have stated that their aim was to find a new job, it was the successful people who quickly went on to describe how they intended to rewrite their CV in week one, and then apply for one new job every two weeks for the next six months." (Wiseman, 2009, p 91)
First Step Identified: Wiseman found that it was particularly important to break the goal down into small steps and manage one step at a time. "Successful participants broke their overall goal into a series of sub-goals, and thereby created a step-by-step process that helped remove the fear and hesitation often associated with trying to achieve a major life change." (Wiseman, 2009, p 90-91)
Your Resources Identified: In NLP we encourage people to identify both internal and external resources. Wiseman's research studied only external resources, most especially friends, colleagues and family. "Successful participants were far more likely than others to tell their friends, family and colleagues about their goals.... Telling others about your aims helps you achieve them, in part, because friends and family often provide much needed support when the going gets tough." (Wiseman, 2009, p 91)

2. Reframing: NLP offers a number of models for understanding how organisational leaders succeed in achieving their goals. One is reframing. Reframing is based on the awareness that events in themselves don't have one specific meaning. Human beings give them meanings. The NLP term for such "meanings" is "frames".

The question behind reframing is "What else could this situation mean, that would be useful?" It's a question that all highly successful communicators ask themselves. Oprah Winfrey is one of the world's most successful television presenters. Yet when she was a child she was the victim of horrific sexual abuse by her cousin, her uncle and her mother's boyfriend. Lots of people told her that meant that her life was damaged. For years she believed that she was to blame. Oprah eventually decided it could have another meaning: it could mean that she was able to speak out and help people around the world who have lived in fear. Her talk-back TV show achieves exactly that. When she began running it, people told her she couldn't succeed, especially when Phil Donahue was already so successful in the business with The Phil Donahue Show. "They said I was black, female and overweight. They said Chicago is a racist city and the talk-show formula was on its way out." For Oprah, that just meant that she didn't need to try and be the top show. She explained "I felt completely uninhibited to speak with my own voice." (Williams and Williams, 2003, p 92-99). In 1986, Oprah Winfrey made a syndication deal with King World productions and debuted on national TV. She made $30,000,000 the first year.

That's the power of meaning reframing. To restate, events in themselves don't have one specific meaning. Human beings give them meanings. When someone tells you that their husband died last week; you don't know what that "means". You only know what the sensory specific event was. The meaning depends on how they filter that event. They may feel happy that they are free of an oppressive relationship, or glad that their husband is free of pain, or grief stricken that he is gone, or guilty that they didn't do more for him. Meaning is a result of our filtering processes, and a meaning reframe offers new filters.

In offering a meaning reframe, it will often help to reflective listen (to pace the person's own frame) first; to say "So you thought that the event meant.... I think it could mean...." When the person feels that you have understood their meaning, they are more willing to listen to yours. Oprah Winfrey might say "So you thought my unhappy childhood meant I would be damaged for life. I think it means I'm in an ideal situation to speak out on behalf of other children and get some changes."

When the second biggest car rental firm promotes itself with the slogan "We're number two; we try harder!", that's a meaning reframe! And when Pepsi-cola takes on the century old "classic" Coca-cola empire with the slogan "Pepsi, the choice of a new generation", that too is a reframe. Such moves seem chance acts of creativity, until you understand their linguistic structure. And after all, ALL business is reframing (or is that another reframe?).

3. Anchoring: Anchoring is a way of associating a powerful positive feeling state with some gesture, mental image or word, and then being able to trigger the state whenever you want it just by using the gesture, word or image. Until you experience it, like Steve, its almost impossible to imagine just how effective this is. On the other hand, everyone has had the experience of hearing a song on the radio that they haven't heard for years and years, and as you listen, the whole feeling that you had all those years ago comes back... even the memories of the experience from years ago become more available! That's what NLP calls anchoring. The song becomes an "anchor" holding your brain at the state of mind where it was first set.

The transcript of Richard Bandler's Sales training gives several examples of anchoring in action (Bandler and La Valle, 1996, p39). "Sit down with someone and ask them to just close their eyes for a minute. Now say to them "I want you to remember a time where you were excited".... Or "a time where you felt invincible" ... or whatever it is. And let them remember it. And I want you to see if you can notice it on their face. Now when those things exude to the point where they are maximally expressed, at that point in time, I am going to make a little anchor. Touch them, or make a sound, a gesture, or a word. Now you have them think about something else.... Now go back and fire off the anchor for the person. Notice the response come back." As he points out, this is not only a technique for getting yourself into the state of mind you want, it's also a sales pattern. "Now this is my basic sales program: Induce good feeling; attach it to product."

Mary Kay Ash, manager of the multimillion dollar company Mary Kay Cosmetics, used anchoring with her staff. When she met a new staff member, she would greet them with a smile and say "Hi, how are you!" She explained "When a new employee answers, "Uh, pretty good. How are you Mary Kay?" I'll say, "You're not just good, you're great!" This generally gets a faint smile, and the next time I see him or her and ask "How are you?" he or she will say, "I'm great." Each time afterward, the response is, "I'm great!" and the smile gets bigger and bigger. If you act enthusiastic, you become enthusiastic." (Williams and Williams, 2003, p 341-342) This process of anchoring every new employee was so important to Ash that she once declined an invitation from President Ronald Regan because she had to be in Dallas greeting the new employees there, and setting up what we would call in NLP the anchor of "I'm great."

NLP Trainers John Grinder and Anthony Robbins negotiated with the United States Military to run a series of NLP Training programmes. The military were excited by the idea of being able to have their best performing soldiers "modelled" so that new recruits could be taught the strategies that work perfectly; however they had previously expressed concern at the price the NLP Trainers considered fair. They met in a big conference room. At the head of the table was the chair reserved for the General in charge. Even though the General wasn't present, Grinder and Robbins noticed that people unconsciously glanced over to his chair every so often. The two of them moved over to the chair and stood with their hands on it, as they presented the price they wanted. This time, no-one questioned their rate. It had been anchored to the General's chair.

John Gottman's research on relationships shows the importance of anchoring relaxed states for negotiation and conflict resolution. He has demonstrated that no matter what verbal skills someone uses, in any conflict where one person becomes "Emotionally Flooded" as evidenced by the person being physically over-aroused, with a pulse above 95 beats per minute, conflict resolution is guaranteed to fail. Couples who resolve conflicts learn to do what Gottman calls "self nurturing", which basically means to anchor themselves into better states of mind (Gottman and Silver, 1999, p 25-46).

What NLP Shows Us: B. How To Avoid Chronicity

The thinking styles that obstruct change and recovery after a traumatic event are of course ones that were learned earlier in a person's life. The simplest way to deal with them is to show the person how they are operating and have them practice an alternative. It's not very glamorous compared to ten years of psychotherapy, but it's a lot cheaper. Andy Austin lists several of these "patterns of chronicity" and here we have adapted his categories as a reminder.

The Big "What If..." Question. "Yes, but, what if... which means...(an impossible to manage scenario)?" The positive intention of negative "What if?" questions is to attempt to anticipate and find solutions to future challenges, but by running it on impossible scenarios, the person is locked in panic. Happy people don't spend all day asking "What if I die horribly?"

The Big "Why...?" Question. "Why did this happen to me?" The positive intention of past-related "Why?" questions is to find new meanings, but the person rejects each possible future-oriented meaning and keeps searching as if trying to find a meaning which can change the traumatic event or recreate the past.

The Big Maybe Response. When asked to scale their current experience of an emotion, or give any report on their internal experience, the person says they are not sure, or prefaces their answer with "Maybe". The positive intention of "Maybe" responses is to avoid mistakes such as false hope, but by refusing to commit to any specific data, the person can never measure change and can never experience success.

Testing for Existence of The Problem Rather Than Testing for Change. Even though 99% improvement might be made, if the person with chronicity is able to locate just 1% of the problem existing, this will generally be seen as representative of 100% of the problem existing. The positive intention of "Can I still do it?" responses is to detect and respond to danger effectively, but by failing to notice improvement the person continuously reinstalls the entire problem.

Negative Nominalisations. The person talks about their traumatic responses as if they were "things" rather than actions. "I have Trauma", "I have PTSD", "I have a Wounded Inner Child", "I have a Clinical Depression.". The positive intention of Negative Nominalisations is to explain what is happening by labelling it, but the result is that the processes being discussed seem permanent, damaged and even become personified as malevolent, and so are unable to be simply changed.

Being "At Effect" rather than "Being At Cause". By being "at effect" the person experiences emotional problems happening to them, rather than being something that happens by them. A person "at effect" will seek treatment rather than seek change. Questions such as "Will this work for me?" or statements such as "It didn't work for me." And "It worked for a day and then the problem came back." Presuppose that the problem and the NLP process are 100% responsible and the person themselves is 0% responsible for their own results. The positive intention of "At Effect" responses is to explain what is happening without being at fault, but by not allowing for the possibility of their responses affecting their internal experience, the person makes it impossible to change their experience.

Three Stage Abreaction Process. The person has a "nocebo" (I will not please; the opposite of placebo) response to NLP processes where they have an "uncontrollable" negative response to all interventions designed to actually help them change, although they permit interventions which maintain their problem. A small percentage of all medical clients in clinical research trials will complain that they get headaches etc due to an inert "pill". This nocebo response also occurs with psychological interventions. "Abreaction" is a term from Freud's work, referring to the re-anchoring of an old traumatic response. The positive intention of "Abreaction" responses may be to protect the person from feared results of the change process, but it blocks all change. It is of course perfectly possible to explain that abreaction-nocebo responses are simply accidental anchored responses and of little psychological significance (a view closer to Carl Jung's view of them).

Stage 1. Signal (Implied Threat of Emotion) e.g. "This is making me feel ill."
Stage 2. Increased Amplitude of Signal (direct Threat of Emotion) e.g. "Now I really feel sick. Your process is harming me. Stop or I will start screaming!"
Stage 3. Abreaction (what Andy Austin calls Punishment of the Practitioner) e.g. vomiting, convulsing, running out of the room screaming, uncontrollable crying.

Just pointing out these patterns and encouraging clients to create more useful foci for their attention is the solution to these patterns. The search for a special magic that will make the patterns go away is part of the problem. Like any new behavior, developing more resilient patterns of responding to challenges takes time and attention. The Key Questions process (appendix following) is useful for helping a person consciously create a new more effective guiding question for the context they want to change.


Key Questions

1. Start. The guide steps into a resourceful state and establishes rapport.
2. Choose The Context. Explain that the habitual questions we ask ourselves almost unthinkingly as we are in a situation guide our decisionmaking in that situation. Some questions do not focus us on what can be changed, but instead actually prevent us being able to change. Ask the client what situation, or what context they want to find a new key question for. (eg. "at work" "my relationship with my kids" "dealing with a colleague"). Say "As you think of that situation, imagine stepping back into your body there. Notice what you see through your eyes there, what you hear, and what you feel in your body. Be aware of how you are deciding what actions to take."
3. Elicit The Old Question. "If there were a question that quietly guided all your behaviour in this context, what would it be?"... "Now think of that question. Check that when you say that question to yourself, it reminds you of the situation." (You're checking it has the same submodalities; ie feels like thinking of that situation itself. Often the person will give you a polite "watered down version of the real question eg "Why is this not working?" rather than the real "Why do I always screw this up?").
4. Find The Positive Intention. "If you knew, what is your unconscious mind's positive intention in asking this question in this situation?" If the person tells you a negative intention (like "to get me worried") ask "And when it gets you that fully and completely, what even more important thing will you get through that?"
5. Create A New Key Question. "What question that would be even more effective in getting you the positive benefits you want in that situation?" Often the simplest question will be some version of "How can I more fully get that positive intention?" "Why" questions tend to be backward looking and ineffective, and questions that have a yes/no answer (where yes is positive and no is negative, eg "Will this person like me?") often create anxiety.
6. Install The New Question. Having a chosen a better question, say "I'd like you to step back into your body in that situation, and say the new question to yourself -actually say it aloud now, as you imagine being in that situation. Notice that when you're in that situation now, the new question is quietly at the back of your mind, guiding your behaviour, and check that that feels much more enjoyable! Imagine a future time, when you'll be in that situation again, and check how asking that new question changes the way it feels."