You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
But don’t mess with mister in between
There are two significant parts to our minds. Our conscious mind and subconscious mind.
- EVERYTHING BEGINS WITH A THOUGHT.
- THE ONE THING WE HAVE COMPLETE CONTROL OVER IS WHAT WE THINK ABOUT.
To a considerable extent Hill is correct in this, but, and this is where the second statement often fails, we only control what we think about if we are aware that we can, and if we know that there is a need to do so.
So there is a need for education about
- The value of positive thoughts and goals and
- The need to control negative thoughts about stuttering and
- How I control my negative thoughts, also
- The value of witnessing (watching yourself with curiosity).
1. Conscious avoidance
With our conscious mind we have a thought. Once we begin thinking of something then we focus on it, and once we start focusing on something that impacts and influences our lives. In order to think and focus on it we usually visualise a still image or a little video of the subject of our thought. Our subconscious mind sees the still image or little video of the subject of our conscious thought and tries as hard as possible to make that happen. The subconscious mind only sees the subject of our thought, not any qualifying parts of the thought.
The problem with negative thoughts
If with our conscious minds we think that we do not want to stutter, in order to process this thought, we visualise stuttering. Our subconscious mind says okay, I can do stuttering. I will do everything I can to make this happen. Similarly, whenever we think about any negative thought, on the lines of “I don’t want something to happen”, we visualise what it is we do not want, and our subconscious minds try to make that happen. If we worry about something, this is usually because we do not want it to happen, and hey presto we visualise what it is we do not want, and our subconscious mind tries to make it happen. When it happens we may think we have not worried enough, so we must worry more, so it happens again. This can be a vicious cycle.
You wake up and are thinking through the plans for today. Suddenly your scanning ahead produces a cold feeling and you begin to tense up. The family is going to McDonald’s and you will be expected to order the food. You never want the children to see and hear you stutter. You have started the ‘fight / flight’ scenario. You begin visualising McDonald’s and waiting in a queue with the children and your partner saying I want, I want …. or worse, I do not know what to have, please help me…. Slowly the queue gets shorter until it is your turn. HEEEEELLLLLLP Nightmare………………….
You start the scanning again. You quickly think of avoidances. The car has a flat tyre, so no trip out. You have a frog in your throat, so your partner has to order. Nooo.. perfect solution. You will need the toilet. It has worked many times before. This flight proposal runs through your mind many times until you arrive at McDonald’s. Depending on various things, this may take up a lot of your thoughts during the morning.
The moment arrives. You have driven there; got out of the car; you all walk in and then your youngest slips over and hits their head. Your partner is nearest and picks up and cuddles the child. HELP. CATASTROPHE. You cannot use the toilet excuse. OK. You square up your shoulders and think. I can do this. I will not stutter, I will use the picture numbers I will not stutter on the numbers. So you start off with the numbers and then the kind, stupid, stupid assistant interrupts and asks ‘with or without xyz’ and ‘What about our deals?’ You are up the creek without a paddle. You know you block on the ‘w’ of with or without….. You are thinking ….I do not want to stutter. I do not want to stutter….
Move on a few minutes.
Eventually you are eating at the table. Your children are happy and excited, your partner is chatting to you about the next part of the day. Everyone else in McDonald’s is going about their day. Only you are still focussing on your stuttering experience. During the experience you could say that the two parts of your minds were at war with each other, wanting the opposite things and only you knew about this war.
2. Better communication
So, how can you change the fear of being heard stuttering (“I do not want to stutter”) into a positive thought?
Communication is something we all do but I believe people who stutter may not have practiced it all the time they are in avoidance and try to hide their stutter. 55% of communication is body language, 38% is voice tone and volume and only 7% is the words we speak. You have concentrated on the 7% for a long time. The 93% is more important (relaxed eye contact; smile of confidence; volume, not a whisper; etc). Study the body language of others. Think and observe what they do right.
A positive way ahead is to think and focus on better communication, concentrating on the 93%. In your conscious mind you visualise yourself speaking with a relaxed smile, with people listening and enjoying and laughing at what you are saying. Your subconscious sees this visualisation and says “OK I can do that. I will help in any possible way.” Now both parts of your minds are in harmony and wanting to achieve the same things. The pressure is off the words you speak and the concentration is on all the other aspects of communication.
An experiment was done to test the value of our thoughts. A group of people were selected to throw a basketball into a basketball hoop.
The group was split into three. Their levels of skill were measured right at the beginning. One third went and practiced throwing the ball for 30 mins into the hoop every day for a week. One third spent 30 mins every day in a quiet atmosphere thinking about throwing the ball into the hoop and the remaining third did nothing during that week. After one week, the level of skill was measured again. As you would expect, in the last group there was no change, but both the first and second group improved by a similar amount. In this one example the subconscious could not differentiate reality from conscious focused thought.
When you are with your therapist you will learn about different ways to reduce your stutter. Select one or two of these tools which you would be comfortable using at home or in public. If you have not found one, persevere. Ask your Speech and Language Pathologist and ask at self-help group meetings about different speaking techniques. You can use this tool, or tools, combined with your thinking ‘better communication’ to help you to build up many good memories of communication. Replay these in your mind again and again to slowly replace the memories of stuttering. Reduce the use of these tools as your experience grows.
Now when you wake up in the morning, scan the day ahead and picture a planned visit to McDonald’s. There is no build up of fear while you are thinking of better communication and visualising memories of good communication. Instead there will be anticipation of the eating experience where your family and you have so much fun.
Your two minds are in tune with each other. A happy day ahead.
My negative thoughts about stuttering
Pre-2006 I was in what I call the stuttering phase of my life.
Stuttering was a big part of my life. I was big on avoidance, in all its various forms, because I wanted to hide my stutter as much as possible. I was big on “I cannot”, because of what other people told me. I did make exceptions, when I was thinking about family members who needed my help. However when my family was not involved and it was just myself I thought about my stuttering most of the time, and blamed my stutter for every poor outcome in my life. In social activities I had very low self-esteem and self-worth, so I was constantly thinking about not talking and not engaging with other people in any kind of conversations. So I did not practice communicating. By this, I mean I did not practice non-verbal body language which is a significant part of communicating, and I did not practice vocal delivery. I had many negative memories and built up social anxiety and lack of self-worth. I scanned ahead for speaking situations and rehearsed my words over and over, to swap them if possible, if I had no choice and had to speak.
Because of information that other people gave me, which I accepted without question, I knew my stutter limited what I could do in life. Nothing alerted me to the fact that I was not alone, and nothing alerted me to the fact that I could do anything if I chose to. I lived and remained a subset of my full potential for 68 years. I consciously chose the life of avoidance, building comfort zone walls and roof around me.
I did not know any better. But having said that, I had a happy married life, my wife and I have two beautiful children, both of whom are married and have two children each themselves. So even pre-2006, I did some things right and had a rewarding life.
In January 2006 I had a need to “do something about my speech”. So I searched quite a lot on the Internet to see what was available at that time and I found a speaking technique (a tool) which I was happy to use in public. Using it, plus breathing in a different way, addressed several stuttering issues. I also learned two most important things:
- I was more than my stutter,
- I had to avoid avoidance.
Starting to communicate
I was given early retirement in 1991, without any choice. This meant that I had time to really think about those two important things. Around 2007, I began the process of technical meditation which has completely transformed my life, and I completed online training about how our minds work. This was where I first heard about WITNESSING. Witnessing is standing back and watching with curiosity. Another time I heard about witnessing was in a talk by the IFA president David Shapiro where he was describing some of the things he asked his clients to do.
So with a particular tool to help me with the vocal content and better breathing, plus thinking about body language and vocal tone, I began to build good memories of my communication skills and concentrated on what worked well. I joined a local Toastmasters International club, where I learned to improve my non-verbal body language and vocal tone. Here we received both constructive criticism and praise every time we spoke. Now I began the current phase of my life, which I call my communicating phase where I pass ideas to my subconscious and let it find the words to communicate the ideas.
I will mention the two main tools in my toolbox
- I found out during my study on the Internet, about research by a Swedish person who stutters called Per Alm. Based on his research he hypothesized that there was a medial and lateral path, involved in speech. I experimented myself with my interpretation of what he talked about and observed that when I used my medial path, I was stuttering, however if I used my lateral path where external influences were involved, I rarely stuttered. Examples of this are when I sang / when I was speaking in unison with other people / when I was acting and speaking as if I was someone else / when I was alone, or with a pet or a very young child.
- I bought a book by William D Parry which talked about the Valsalva manoeuvre. This led to me to retrain my breathing so that I breathed more from my belly rather than from my shoulders.
Negative and positive
Many people talk about negative versus positive thoughts. They suggest that positive thoughts are the way ahead, so discard negative thoughts. To my mind this is like playing a game where there are two players one white and one black. And when you play this game you assume that white is right and white must win. However, if you play this game you will lose. Many aspects of life consist of a duality. There is no ‘white’ without ‘black’, there is no ‘good’ without ‘bad’, there is no ‘up’ without ‘down’. ‘Positive’ and ‘negative’ are just another duality, where you can’t have one without the other. If we keep this in mind and if we prefer to focus on positive things which produce happy results, we need to have a mechanism to handle the negative thoughts which will automatically occur. Because I am constantly witnessing everything about me most of the time, I am able to welcome negative thoughts relating to stuttering as old friends. Examining them in the first few seconds to see if there is anything I can learn as to why they have occurred and if there is anything I should do about them. Then I wish them goodbye and switch to a positive thought about improving my communication skills. I also know that when I feel sad or when I feel worried it is because of some negative event which has happened or will happen. So I ask myself, can I learn a lesson, does it serve any purpose and is it resourceful to continue feeling sad or worried for any time period? Usually the answer is no, so I leave it behind, because, as Napoleon Hill said I have the ability to choose my thoughts. I like to choose thoughts which make me feel happy and relaxed.
Witnessing, or watching with curiosity
Like many people who stutter I think about the way I speak and I witness the majority of my speaking moments. Because I learned how our conscious mind links to our unconscious mind, I rarely think about stuttering. Instead, I think about communicating better. I make positive goals towards better communication, rather than negative goals to get away from stuttering. So I now consciously strive for better communication day by day. When David Shapiro talked about witnessing, he was asking his clients to count the number of times they said a particularly difficult word or phrase without stuttering. He was doing two things. He was getting his clients to focus upon the positive and what worked and at the same time he was asking his clients to witness how they spoke. Once you start to witness like this, you can extend this and witness your good communication moments, building up good memories to use in affirmations and visualisations. You can witness your actions, you can witness your behaviour, you can witness anything you say or do or think. Once you start doing this you are truly onto a path which is a spiral upwards. When you see yourself thinking about stuttering, you can change it to thinking about communicating better. You can use memories of better communication when you used your tools described earlier. Your subconscious mind sees these memories, and says “Yes I can make that happen, again and again”.
There is a saying “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right”.
You know you can do whatever you want to do and increasingly you say “I can” and constantly ask “How can I?”. This question is the most powerful question you can ever ask yourself. The question in your conscious mind assumes you can and it tells your subconscious mind to find the answers. You are assuming you can and you want to know how. This is very positive.
- Tell yourself to avoid avoidance and mean it;
- Witness your thoughts words and deeds;
- When witnessing your thoughts, remember that you choose them, so that if you are feeling sad and you do not want to feel sad, change your thoughts to happy thoughts;
- When witnessing, have in the back of your mind the question ‘Is this resourceful’;
- By all means listen to what other people say you can or cannot do, but think for yourself, and make up your own mind. Before joining a Toastmasters International club, I never dreamed that I would be able to stand up in front of an audience I did not know and open my mouth and communicate. You can do what you set your mind to do;
- Think ideas and pass them to your subconscious to make up the words;
- Welcome negative thoughts, examining them to see what you can learn, and then pass on to an equal and opposite positive thought;
- Focus on better communication, because that is a good towards goal;
- Accept new challenges, especially speaking challenges;
- Always think “I can” and constantly ask if needed, “How can I?”.
 Lyrics by Sam Cooke
 Napoleon Hill
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