Dr Richard Bolstad is Transformations Principal Trainer

Three articles on The Secret are published here together for your convenience:

Article 1:

Two Secrets Behind "The Secret"

© Dr Richard Bolstad

Channelled Entities Discover Hollywood

It began with the release of "What The Bleep Do We Know" in 2004. This special effects laden docudrama movie introduced the general public to a mix of quantum physics, neuropsychology and new age cosmology with one central message: reality is co-created by its observers. The film was produced by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vincente, all students at Ramtha's School of Enlightenment. Ramtha is a 35,000 year old Lemurian warrior apparently channelled by J.Z. Knight (the woman whose kitchen he first appeared in in 1978, who appears throughout the film).

If it's good enough for one channelled entity, it's good enough for another. Two years later "The Secret" has been released, with a similarly alternative sales and distribution system. The secret referred to in the film's title is the "Law of Attraction" -- that over time you will attract whatever you put your attention on (positive or negative). The level of joy you experience as you focus on something lets you know what kind of reality you are creating. "The Secret" has already been a great success, and I believe deservedly so! American TV interviewer Larry King hosted The Secret's producers on November 2nd 2006. The Secret is out!

The original DVD of "The Secret" is focused on the teachings of former Amway distributors Esther and Jerry Hicks, who since 1986 have channelled a group of spiritual teachers collectively called Abraham. A second version of the film has now been put out, and the Hicks are edited out of this version at their own request. Their agent explains on line that this was due to a conflict over money, and "when the producer recently insisted on further significant changes in their agreement regarding marketing, distribution, and theatrical rights, Jerry & Esther opted instead to be cut out of the film altogether."
(http://integrationcoach.wordpress.com/2006/08/)

Jack Canfield's Example

As thousands of people worldwide grab on to "The Secret" as the final answer to success, I would caution you to add some extra ingredients to the story. Think of this as "Secret Plus". An example from the film emphasises the two main concepts I would want to add to "The Secret" from an NLP perspective. In the film "The Secret", "Chicken Soup For The Soul" co-author Jack Canfield emphasises "Decide what you want, believe you can have it, believe you deserve it, and believe it's possible for you. And then close your eyes every day for several minutes and visualise having what you already want and feeling the feelings of already having it. Come out of that and focus on what you're grateful for already and really enjoy it, OK. And then go into your day and release it to the universe and TRUST that the unverse will figure out HOW to manifest it. " He gives the example of his own first great goal -- to earn $100,000 in the next year, set at a time when he was earning about $8,000 a year.

Canfield says that after he started visualising hs goal "... interestingly enough, nothing major happened for about thirty days; you know I didn't have any great breakthrough ideas, no-one was offering me more money. And all of a sudden I was in the shower and I was about four weeks into it, and I had a $100,000 idea. It just came straight into my head. I had a book I had written, and I said "If I can sell 400,000 copies of my book at a quarter each, that'd be $100,000. Now the book was there, but I never had this thought. And one of the secrets is, I think, that when you have inspired thought you have to trust it and you have to act on it. Now I didn't know how to do that. I didn't know how I was going to sell 400,000 copies. We'd never done that. And then, I saw the national enquirer at the supermarket. I'd seen that millions of times and it was just background, and all of a sudden it jumped out at me as foreground and I thought "Wow, if readers knew about my book, certainly 400,000 people would go out and buy it. " And about six weeks later I gave a talk at Hunter College in New York to 600 or so teachers, and this lady comes up to me at the end and she says "That was a great talk and I'd like to interview you. Let me give you my card." I said "Who do you write for?" and she said "I'm a freelancer but I sell most of my stuff to the National Enquirer."

It's a wonderful and inspiring story. And a quick glance at Jack Canfield's own life makes it clear that it is only part of the secret of Canfield's success. Jack Canfield has a BA from Harvard, a Masters degree from the University of Massachusetts and training as a university teacher, a workshop facilitator, and a psychotherapist. His company Self Esteem Seminars trains educators and corporate leaders, and his first books and audiocassettes were on self esteem. The focus of his life's work is not on earning money, or even on writing books as such. His focus is creating a life of love and self esteem. He says in the introduction to his second book, for example "You are about to embark on a wonderful journey. This book is different from other books you have read. At times it will touch you at the depths of your being." He says that even non-readers tell him "that the love energy, the inspiration and the tears and cheers for their soul captivated them and motivated them to read on." (Canfield and Hansen, 1993, page xv). I believe this is a crucial part of the "Secret" of Jack Canfield's success. It does not appear in his edited comments in the DVD and I believe it needs to! It is the additional secret which is at the core of Seven Covey's "Seven Habits" and of NLP's values clarification processes. See Addition 1 below.

Secondly, Canfield has co-authored over 35 "Chicken Soup For The Soul" books since 1992 and says the first two books in that series alone took him two years each to produce. The books are, as the authors say "a true labor of love". Yet they talk in their preface to the second book (Canfield and Hansen, 1993, page xi) about needing a holiday "to unwind from the pressures of writing and speaking." and about valuing the emotional support they got "to persevere through what seemed like a totally overwhelming and never-ending task." That is the second thing to understand about and add to the secret; it takes time, work, precise skill and emotional resilience to manifest great results. See Addition 2 below.

Addition 1: Attracting What You Truly Want

The first thing I would add to "The Secret" is about knowing what is truly worth wanting. American life coaching expert Stacy Waltman wrote to Esther Hicks expressing her concern about the movie and published the discussion on line (http://integrationcoach.wordpress.com/2006/08/). She says "From our perspective, the messages in the movie, The Secret, seemed disproportionately slanted toward the attainment of material wealth and we are curious if this was your intention for the movie. We realize that this may be one way to reach to the mass of people who are not familiar with the Law of Attraction, and yet it saddened us to see such a high percentage of examples on obtaining cars and houses. Not that there is anything wrong with these examples -- however, we feel there were great opportunities to inspire viewers to consider the Law of Attraction not only for material wealth, but also to attract fulfilling work, spiritual growth and development; better relationships; community development; and even peace in the world."

Twenty years ago, sociologist Philip Slater published a daring critique of the modern western obsession with wealth. Slater claimed that "The idea that everybody wants money is propaganda circulated by wealth addicts to make themselves feel better about their addiction." (1980, p 25). Since then, the research has collected to back his challenge. Dr Tim Kasser and Dr Richard Ryan have completed a number of studies in 13 different countries, comparing people who are highly motivated by making money to those who are not. They say "The more we seek satisfactions in material goods, the less we find them there." Even when such money-motivated people believe that they are likely to succeed in making money, the obsession is correlated with low self esteem, depressed mood, and increased use of drugs. When they succeed, "The satisfaction has a short half-life; it's very fleeting."

Motivation to feel more connected with people, on the other hand, correlates with increased sense of well-being. A study by business school lecturers Dr Aric Rindfleisch, Frank Denton and Dr James Burroughs confirmed that "people who are more materialistic tend to be unhappy with their lives". Interestingly, their research suggests that the depression accompanying an obsession with money is reduced if the person has close, caring relationships. This research, Kasser and Ryan note, seems to contradict some important assumptions of the "American dream". NLP trainer Dr L. Michael Hall puts this more clearly than any other motivational expert when he says "Making money only for the sake of having more money does not really enrich our internal experience of life, or give us more quality in our thinking or feeling." Reviewing a study of successful millionaires by Dr Scrully Blotnick, he urges "Would you like to become rich? Good. Set that as your goal, then forget it.... It's not about money. Blotnick noted that almost all of those individuals who eventually became millionaires hardly noticed." (Hall, 2000, p 27).

Addition 2: There Is A "How"

Jerry and Esther Hicks' conflict over marketing rights of "The Secret" DVD and related products reminds us that success depends on detailed planning and sustained action. Jack Canfield's focus and trust in the universe may have attracted to him people who could support his goal of $100,000. It may have given him what seems to him now an apparently magical idea of selling more of the books that were already his life work. His focus also gave him a lot more that worked alongside these synchronicities and intuitions.

He had written the book -- a job that "seemed like a totally overwhelming and never-ending task" already. He was both trained as a teacher and an accomplished writer and he was willing to put in the extra time promoting his book at presentations and writing about his book... and writing the follow-ups. When he urges us, on the DVD "The Secret" to let the universe solve the "How", his statement needs to be read in this light. NLP has studied the "how" of success in a number of fields. High achievers frequently do not know themselves "how" they get results, but that does not mean there is no "how".

Virginia Satir, the first expert studied by the developers of NLP, said in her foreword to the first ever NLP book, "The Structure of Magic" (Bandler and Grinder, 1975): "Looking back, I see that, although I was aware that change was happening, I was unaware of the specific elements that went into the transaction which made change possible.... I do something, I feel it, I see it, my gut responds to it -- that is a subjective experience. When I do it with someone else their eyes, ears, body sense these things. What Richard Bandler and John Grinder have done is to watch the process of change over a time and to distill from it the patterns of the how process." (Satir, in Bandler and Grinder, 1975, p. viii).

The history of NLP is the history of discovering the "how" that makes success happen behind the apparent magic of intuition and synchronicity. Robert Dilts emphasises that in successful creativity, the "dreamer" state is followed by a "realist" state and then a "critic" state (Dilts, Epstein and Dilts, 1991). This is not to deny the wonders of intuition and synchronicity, but to add to them such miracles as motivation, commitment, love, and the willingness to act in the material world. It means building what Lynn Timpany (2005, p 3) calls "outcome bridges" between the actions you are taking now and the outcome you are manifesting. She asks clients "And what will you be doing and thinking differently in any now moment when you are totally aligned toward this outcome?" For every step you take towards your outcome, the universe will surely take ten towards you. Ten times zero is still zero though. Your own action tells the universe you are ready to receive its gift!

From the research, what actually makes the most successful people in any field great? Since 1993, Professor K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University has conducted scores of studies and collated research from round the world about this question. He examined such fields as business success, medical practice, sports, musical aptitude and chess playing (Ericsson, 2003, 2004). His first major conclusion is that nobody is great without sustained work. It's nice to believe that if you find the field where you're naturally gifted, you'll be great from day one, but it doesn't seem to happen. There's no research evidence of top world class performance without approximately ten years experience or practice. The more hours put into that experience, the higher the success. That includes the apparent exceptions -- people such as golfer Tiger Woods (whose father had him practicing golf since he was 3 years old).

Secret Plus ... with New Ingredients!!!

If you haven't yet seen "The Secret" (or for that matter "What The Bleep Do We Know") I urge you to see the movie soon. And add to it these two key understandings:

Dr Richard Bolstad is an NLP trainer and one of the most prolific writers in the NLP field. He teaches on several continents each year. He can be contacted at +64-9-478-4895 or by email at richard@transformations.net.nz and his internet site is at www.transformations.net.nz

Bibliography

Article 2:

The Secret History Of "The Secret"

© Dr Richard Bolstad

The Originators Of The Secret

"The Secret" DVD continues to gain in popularity. The secret referred to in this recent bestselling movie's title is the "Law of Attraction" -- that over time you will attract whatever you put your attention on (positive or negative). In her book, "The Secret", Rhonda Byrne expands on and documents the DVD which I discussed in my earlier article (The Secrets Behind "The Secret"). There are three types of people quoted in Byrne's book as experts in The Secret. They are:

Byrne explains at the start of her book that she was first introduced to The Secret in 2004, when her daughter Hayley gave her a copy of Wallace D. Wattles' book "The Science of Getting Rich", originally published in 1910. In her book and DVD, Byrne mentions several other people from the "New Thought" movement of that time, a period which gave the world its first wave of "get rich quick" books. Byrne goes on to claim, "I began tracing The Secret back through history. I couldn't believe all the people who knew this. They were the greatest people in history: Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, Hugo, Beethoven, Lincoln, Emerson, Edison, Einstein." (Bryne, 2006, p. ix). Through the book, she quotes other highly successful historical figures who also seem to be saying that The Secret was behind their success.

Journalist Karen Kelly has checked out this mythological history of The Secret a little more carefully. She identifies Wallace Wattles as one of a series of wandering speakers and writers advocating "The Secret" in early twentieth century America, often under the name "New Thought". In general, the New Thought pioneers, such as Wallace Wattles, Charles Haanel (Whose book, "The Master Key System" originally sold for $1500 a copy in 1912), and Napoleon Hill (whose first book, "The Law of Success" came out much later in 1928) did indeed ascribe to the Secret. They mostly would add that consciously directed hard work is at least as important as visualising abundance. Napoleon Hill claimed to have been asked by Andrew Carnegie (in 1908) to explore the secrets of the world's richest men. Hill announced this years later, after Carnegie's death, and biographers and friends of Carnegie maintain that the meeting is at best highly unlikely to have gone the way Hill described it, and at worst fully imaginary. If you are interested in examples of think yourself rich books, by the way, Hill's book "Think and Grow Rich" is an excellent example. But Hill never claimed that all you needed to do was imagine being rich.

Neither did Earl Nightingale, one person who was not mentioned n the DVD "The Secret" and a new thought advocate who actually used the term "The Secret" in a similar way to the DVD. Nightingale went on to become the world's foremost publisher of self-development progams. His company now publishes a number of NLP and related CDs and books. Here is his own summary of what he calls "The Strangest Secret":

"When we say "nearly five percent of men and women achieve success" then we have to define success. The following is the best definition we've found: "Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.... It's also remembering that, no matter what your present job, it has enormous possibilities -- if, you're willing to pay the price by keeping these four points in mind:

1. You will become what you think about.
2. Remember the word "imagination" and let your mind begin to soar.
3. Courageously concentrate on your goal every day.
4. Save 10 percent of what you earn.
Finally, take action -- ideas are worthless unless we act on them."

Wallace Wattles, whose book Byrne discovered, had a much stronger belief in "The Secret" that "A thought... produces the thing that is imagined by the thought." almost regardless of action. Wattles himself never attained the success that Napoleon Hill and Earl Nightingale did though. Wallace Wattles, explains his daughter Florence, was poor and fearful of poverty most of his life, and in his last years, his family survived on the meager earnings that his lectures on "The Secret" gave them. He was also physically very frail, and he died in 1911, just one year after publishing his book "The Science of Getting Rich".

"The Greatest People In History"

Wattles is not such an inspiring personal example, perhaps. But maybe those "greatest people in history" were really the masters of using the secret, and Wattles and his fellow writers were merely the publicists. Unfortunately, Karen Kelly's research shows that, of the successful scientists, industrialists and philosophers, some leave their opinion of The Secret unclear, but many of them openly ridiculed "The Secret". Here are a few examples.

The Modern Teachers

The third group of people quoted in "The Secret" are the living teachers that Byrne sought out, whose professions are mostly "metaphysician" and "author". Physicist Fred Alan Wolf is an exception. As a bona fide scientist, he is used in the DVD to add scientific credibility to "The Secret", and quoted in the book explaining the notion in quantum physics that "mind is actually shaping the very thing that is perceived." (Byrne, 2006, p 21). He has since complained that most of what he said was edited out of the film, so that "The scientific basis that was mentioned was botched and all that got out was a simplified idea, a little more than an infomercial. I was dismayed because I had lots of interesting things to say, but I did not say the law of attraction is based on physics. There is absolutely nothing in physics that says just because you desire something you will attract it into your life." (in Kelly, 2007, p 101-102).

Another current teacher of the Secret is medical doctor Ben Johnson, who is also quoted repeatedly in the film. He now expresses grave concerns about the way his ideas are presented there, and criticises the "... be all and end all idea that all we have to do is think, ask, believe and whatever we want will fall out of the sky. No matter how much positive thought or warm and fuzzy stuff we put out, you cannot discount the rule of three: it takes three times as long, costs three times as much, and requires three times as much energy to get anywhere you want to go." (in Kelly, 2007, p 53-54).

Even some of the metaphysical authors and teachers used in "The Secret" are now backtracking from the simplicity of Rhonda Byrne's claims and talking in more detail about paying attention to the "how" behind success. John Demartini, quoted repeatedly through The Secret, says "I would love to have seen other components in the DVD.... There are so many things I would have clarified. At the same time I am grateful it went ot to a mass market."(in Kelly, 2007, p 52-53). Karen Kelly suggests that some of Esther and Jerry Hicks concern with the DVD (they are teachers who were initially very involved in the DVD but asked to be edited out of it) may involve their sense that The Secret is a kind of Law of Attraction 101 for beginners.

John Gray, also quoted in the film, expresses concern with Byrne's extreme claims, for example the idea that you can eat MacDonald's fast food and lose weight if you think positively about the Big Mac. He says "There is legitimate criticism of that idea. When people eat bad food, they should feel bad. Another version of her weight-loss line of thinking is that if you shoot someone, have a positive thought in your head while you are doing it, so it won't be a bad thing. Obviously it is. And putting bad food in your body is like shooting yourself." (in Kelly, 2007, p 29).

Law of Attraction Lite: You Will Attract More Of Whatever You Put Your Attention On Because Your Attention Will Shape Your Actions

Karen Kelly contacted some people doing solid research on the proposal that ideas influence (rather than determine) our results. One such researcher is Harvard University psychologist Ellen Langer, whose work I have quoted many times in previous articles. In February 2007, Langer reported the results of another fascinating study of health results and expectations (Crum and Langer, p 165-171, 2007). Langer studied 84 housekeepers working in seven different Boston hotels. The women in four of these hotels had their health pretested and were told that their job cleaning 15 rooms a day was providing healthy exercise which met all the requirements for an active lifestyle. The women in the other four hotels were merely pretested. After four weeks, the women in the second group had the same health statistics. The women who believed that their lifestyle was healthy had on average lost two pounds of body weight, reduced their body mass index by 0.35 and dropped their systolic blood pressure by 10 points. It is likely that these improvements continued further over the following months.

Such research clearly indicates that our expectations shape our results, whether by "the law of attraction" as some metaphysical force, or simply because when we expect and visualise different things, we act in different ways (externally in the world, and internally in our bodies) and these different action strategies generate different results. That is what NLP has been saying all along. Robert Dilts emphasises that in successful creativity, the "dreamer" state is followed by a "realist" state and then a "critic" state (Dilts, Epstein and Dilts, 1991). Since 1993, Professor K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University has conducted scores of studies and collated research from round the world about the need for the Realist state. He examined such fields as business success, medical practice, sports, musical aptitude and chess playing (Ericsson, 2003, 2004). His first major conclusion is that nobody is great without sustained work. It's nice to believe that if you find the field where you're naturally gifted, you'll be great from day one, but it doesn't seem to happen. There's no research evidence of top world class performance without approximately ten years experience or practice. The more hours put into that experience, the higher the success. That includes the apparent exceptions -- people such as golfer Tiger Woods (whose father had him practicing golf since he was 3 years old).

Where Does That Leave The Secret

It seems that no-one has really been keeping "The Secret" secret for thousands of years. In general, the people that Byrne suggested have been keeping it secret just didn't believe in it. The great historical figures who achieved remarkable things did so largely from the belief that working hard creates success. Even the most liberal of modern scientists, as featured in "The Secret" DVD, do not in general believe in The Secret, and tend to say that science contradicts it. The people who do actually believe in The Secret are often teachers and promoters of books about it, and even they usually express caution that "The Secret" as presented in the DVD and book is itself not enough to account for success.

There is a very important lesson to be learned from the history of the DVD "The Secret". In her research, Karen Kelly found plenty of evidence that our attitude alters our reality, but little evidence for claiming that our attitude determines reality. Kelly suggests that Phineas T. Barnum (another "New Thought" writer, whose book "Art of Money Getting" came out way back in 1880) had the best blend of "The Secret" and reality. He, of course, was the originator of the quote "There is a sucker born every minute."

For me as an NLP trainer, the dramatic rise to fame of "The Secret" is a very sobering story. The success of "The Secret" DVD and book reminds us that we "New Thought" trainers and coaches can make enormous amounts of money very quickly by simplifying our message and saying what people want to hear. There is a risk in doing so however. The risk is that, after a few months, like new converts after a Christian revival meeting, our students will then retreat from our ideas in disappointment, discover with shock that some of our claims were dishonest or naively incorrect, and possibly abandon what was real and useful along with what was mere showmanship.

We can do better than that, because there really is a method to the way that successful people succeed. There is plenty of evidence to prove that our clients' expectations and hopes, while they don't create everything, can radically alter their results. This in itself is miraculous, magical, and makes life a delight. There is no need to claim that all our clients' results are generated by their expectations, let alone to claim that this is the one truth that accounts for the advances of human history. I remember only too well the honest and shocked comment that one of my students made on hearing that an NLP trainer we knew was sick. She asked "But how can an NLP trainer get sick?" I realised when she said that that I had unwittingly fallen into the same trap that Rhonda Byrne is in now. We are living as mortals in a material world, and the beauty of what we teach others is that it works with ordinary mortals to make their lives extraordinarily different.

Dr Richard Bolstad is an NLP trainer, writer, and metaphysician [just joking about the last bit]. He teaches on several continents each year. He can be contacted at +64-9-478-4895 or by email at richard@transformations.net.nz and his internet site is at www.transformations.net.nz

Bibliography

Article 3:

Research On SPECIFYing Goals

© Dr Richard Bolstad 2009

In developing NLP, we have studied hundreds of people who have achieved success in many fields through history, and the way they set goals is central to their success. The purpose of goalsetting is to motivate you to actually achieve what you want in life. It is not to motivate you to avoid problems, and it is not to distract you so you avoid thinking about the problems. It is to motivate you to act! Almost everyone believes that they use goals to some extent, but what is different about the way that the most successful change agents set goals? The answer is that they SPECIFY them. What does that mean? It means to make them:

Sensory specific and timed
Positive
Ecological
Choice increasing
Initiated by you... with...
First step identified
Your resources identified

Outside of the field of NLP, most people understand the importance of goals, but not many of them actually use this SPECIFY process. Recently, there has been some dramatic new research about what enables goals to work. That is what this article is about.

This research suggests that the two most common unsuccessful choices people make in goalsetting are:

1) Paying attention to what they don't want all the time, instead of what they do want.
2) Fantasising about having achieved what they want, instead of planning action.

Unsuccessful Choice 1: Focus on the Problem. Focusing on problems and what we don't want is paying attention to the past. It feels very different to focusing on the goal, outcome or solution to those problems, and it has very different results. In 2000, Dr Denise Beike and Deirdre Slavik at the University of Arkansas conducted an interesting study of what they called "counterfactual" thoughts. These are thoughts about what has gone "wrong", along with what they could have done differently. Dr. Beike enlisted two groups of University of Arkansas students to record their thoughts each day in a diary in order to "look at counterfactual thoughts as they occur in people's day-to-day lives." In the first group, graduate students recorded their counterfactual thoughts, their mood, and their motivation to change their behavior as a result of their thoughts. After recording two thoughts per day for 14 days, the students reported that negative thoughts depressed their mood but increased their motivation to change their behavior. They believed that the negative thoughts were painful but would help them in the long term.

To test out this hope, the researchers then enlisted a group of students to keep similar diaries for 21 days, to determine if any actual change in behavior would result from counterfactual thinking. Three weeks after completing their diaries the undergraduate students were asked to review their diary data and indicate whether their counterfactual thinking actually caused any change in behavior. "No self-perceived change in behavior was noted," Dr. Beike told Reuters Health. Counterfactual thoughts about negative events in everyday life cause us to feel that we "should have done better or more," Dr. Beike said. "These thoughts make us feel bad, which motivates us to sit around and to feel sorry for ourselves." So what does work? The study found that "credit-taking thoughts", in which individuals reflect on success and congratulate themselves, serve to reinforce appropriate behavior and help people "feel more in control of themselves and their circumstances." (Slavik, 2003).

Unsuccessful Choice 2: Fantasise About The Solution. Although focusing on the problem you have had does not lead to success, neither does merely fantasising about the future success. Lien Pham and Shelley Taylor at the University of California did a study where a group of students were asked to visualise themselves getting high grades in a mid-term exam that was coming up soon. They were taught to form clear visual images and imagine how good it will feel, and to repeat this for several minutes each day. A control group was also followed up, and the study times of each student as well as their grades in the exam were monitored. The group who were visualising should, according to proponents of "The Secret" DVD and the "Law of Attraction", have a clear advantage. Actually, they did much less study, and consequently got much lower marks in the exam (Pham and Taylor, 1999).

This result is very consistent. There are now a large number of research studies showing that "The secret" or "The law of attraction" (visualising your outcome and then letting go and trusting that the universe will provide it) impedes success. Gabrielle Oettingen at the University of Pennsylvania has done a number of studies showing the same result. In one study, women in a weight-reduction program were asked to describe what would happen if they were offered a tempting situation with food. The more positive their fantasies of how well they would cope with these situations, the less work they did on weight reduction. A year later, those women who consistently fantasised positive results lost on average 12 kilos less than those who anticipated negative challenges and thus put in more effort (Oettingen and Wadden, 1991). Oettingen followed up final year students to find out how much they fantasised getting their dream job after leaving university. The students who fantasised more reported two years later that they did less searching for jobs, had fewer offers of jobs, and had significantly smaller salaries than their classmates (Oettingen and Mayer, 2002). In another study she investigated a group of students who had a secret romantic attraction, a crush, on another student. She asked them to imagine what would happen if they were to accidentally find themselves alone with that person. The more vivid and positive the fantasies they made, the less likely they were to take any action and to be any closer to a relationship with the person 5 months later. The result is consistent in career success, in love and attraction, and in dealing with addictions and health challenges (Oettingen, Pak and Schnetter, 2001; Oettingen, 2000; Oettingen and Gollwitzer, 2002).

Richard Wiseman (2009, p 88-93) did a very large study showing the same result. He tracked 5000 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. He followed people up over the next year, and found firstly that only 10% ever achieved their goal. Dramatic and consistent differences in the psychological techniques they used made those 10% stand out from the rest. Those who failed tended either to think about all the bad things that would happen or continue to happen if they did not reach their goal (what NLP calls away from motivation, and what other research calls counterfactual thought) or to fantasise about achieving their goal and how great life would be. They also tried to achieve their goal by willpower and attempts to suppress "unhelpful thoughts". Finally, they spent time thinking about role models who had achieved their goal, often putting pictures of the role model on their fridge or other prominent places, to remind them to fantasise. These techniques did not work! And the most successful people did not waste their time doing them.

Wiseman warns that visualising what it will be like to have achieved your goal has become a popular tactic. "This type of exercise has been promoted by the self-help industry for years, with claims that it can help people lose weight, stop smoking, find their perfect partner, and enjoy increased career success. Unfortunately, a large body of research now suggests that although it might make you feel good, the technique is, at best, ineffective." (Wiseman, 2009, p 84). This is because, as Wiseman notes, whether you achieve your goals is primarily a question of motivation; of getting yourself to do certain things. Fantasising that everything has already been done reduces motivation.

Goalsetting - What Works?

The complete inventory of successful strategies that Richard Wiseman's research found fits neatly into our NLP-based SPECIFY model.

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: Here's a surprising result of the research by both Gabriellle Oettingen and Richard Wiseman. 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 was able to increase their success dramatically just with this step.
Choice Increasing: Related to this NLP concept is the fact that successful goalsetters 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 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 goalsetters 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 list both internal and external resources here. 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)

Deciding Which Goal To Choose

Another important issue comes up whenever people set goals, and whenever they make decisions to purchase something. It is related to what NLP calls a "convincer metaprogram", a personality trait that determines how easily people make decisions. In research, the two extremes of metaprogram (personality trait) are called maximisers and satisficers. Richard Wiseman explains: "Extreme maximisers tend to check all available options constantly to make sure they have picked the best one. In contrast extreme satisficers only look until they have found something that fulfils their needs." The result, from research, is that maximisers actually do get better quality and more for their money, but they cannot turn off their maximising, so they are never satisfied. In one study, 500 students from 11 universities were categorised as either maximisers or satisficers, and then followed up as they sought employment. The maximisers got jobs earning them 20% more money, but they were less satisfied with their jobs and more prone to regret, pessimism and anxiety. (Monterosso et alia, 2002). Wiseman recommends that if you are a maximiser, you may want to set limits around each major decision, so that you know when to let go of the decision.

Inside Your Body, The Secret Rules

The body, being fully under control by your mind, is actually one place where visualising IS action, and therefore works. This is due to what psychologists call the ideo-motor and ideo-sensory responses of the body (ideas are inevitably linked in the body to actions and sensory experiences). Harvard University psychologist Ellen Langer, has done considerable research on the effect of imagination inside your body. In February 2007, Langer reported the results of another fascinating study of health results and expectations (Crum and Langer, p 165-171, 2007). Langer studied 84 housekeepers working in seven different Boston hotels. The women in four of these hotels had their health pretested and were told that their job cleaning 15 rooms a day was providing healthy exercise which met all the requirements for an active lifestyle. The women in the other four hotels were merely pretested. After four weeks, the women in the second group had the same health statistics. The women who believed that their lifestyle was healthy had on average lost two pounds of body weight, reduced their body mass index by 0.35 and dropped their systolic blood pressure by 10 points. It is likely that these improvements continued further over the following months.

An at cause ("proactive") style of coping with stress is associated with enhanced activity by the body's immune cells (Goodkin et alia, 1992). That is to say, when someone is in a state where they feel in charge of their life, and as if they are making choices about their future, a check of their immune cells (T lymphocytes to be exact) will show that these cells are more actively protecting the body from infection, and eliminating cancer cells. In fact, people who adopt a more "optimistic" approach to life live 19% longer, according to a 30 year study at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota (Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, and Offord, 2000). Mayo clinic doctor Toshihiko Maruta says "It confirmed our common-sense belief. It tells us that mind and body are linked and that attitude has an impact on the final outcome, death."

In one dramatic example of the power of mind over body, Ellen Langer worked with two groups of elderly men (aged 75-80 years), at Harvard University. For 5 days, these two comparable groups of men lived in a closely supervised retreat centre out in the country. One group was engaged in a series of tasks encouraging them to think about the past (to write an autobiography, to discuss the past etc). The other group was engaged in a series of tasks which actually took them in their experience back into a past time (1959). They wrote an autobiography only up to 1959, describing that time as "now", watched 1959 movies, had 1959 music playing on the "radios", and lived with only the artifacts available in 1951. Before and after the 5 days, both groups were studied on a number of criteria associated with aging. While the first group stayed constant or actually deteriorated on these criteria, the second group dramatically improved on physical health measures such as joint flexibility, vision, and muscle breadth, as well as on IQ tests. Their medical assessments (hearing, vision, memory, mobility, hand strength etc) after the experiment were consistent with them being several years younger than their results at the start indicated (Langer, 1989, p 100-113).

Bibliography:

Dr Richard Bolstad is an NLP trainer. He teaches on several continents each year. He can be contacted at +64-9-478-4895 or by email at richard@transformations.net.nz and his internet site is at www.transformations.net.nz
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