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Mind Over Minefield

by Dr Harry Alder(more info)

listed in mind matters, originally published in issue 28 - May 1998

Complementary medicine can be a minefield. Sometimes a battlefield. Its typical freelance sole proprietor can be as fiercely competitive as any ruthless corporate giant. Along with the financial and marketing hurdles faced by any small business, complementary medicine faces its own special hidden mines, not-so-hidden enemies, within and without.

Minefield image

All manner of survival challenges face lone practitioners: misrepresentation, misunderstanding, unhealthy rivalry, rogue operators and increasingl litigation. Specifically, the difficulty in running a truly professional, reputable quality practice when vulnerable to cut price, poor quality service that potential clients have no way of differentiating.

As a writer on mainly NLP and marketing topics I am a couple of stages removed, so I can only guess what it is like nearer the eye of the storm. As a businessman outsider I was initially bemused to witness what I considered petty vendettas going on among the founders of NLP.

Writing for a wider lay public and training mostly inside companies, my livelihood did not seem to be as immediately threatened as other trainers and consultants. Then I learned that I was included on a list of British users of the NLP term who were next in line for litigation after the US side had been sorted out. Although I was personally not to be intimidated about using an obviously generic term, my publishers were of more nervous stuff. So every new manuscript had to include nauseously flattering acknowledgements to all and sundry 'just in case'.

It all came much nearer home when specific allegations of copyright infringement and plagiarism were addressed directly to me through my publishers. This concerned one of several popular NLP techniques I described in one of my books, having seen it demonstrated at live training events. Although the technique was never trademarked, it turned out that it had been described in a book by one of the top three or four NLP Big Names, hence the copyright allegation. The fact that I had never read this book, or any others of that author, unfortunately did not assuage the nerves of my publishers. The mere threat was enough.

So nice words were written to the Big Name's solicitors and thousands of my books were returned to the printers where little addenda were stuck in the front acknowledging the unique contribution of this Big Name and citing his book (which I still never got to read) and publisher.

Lots of abortive expenditure. A long delay in publication. Free advertising for the Big Name. That's called marketing by implicit threat of litigation, and publishers and UK lawyers increasingly submit to it.

That's not my style and my first instinct was to fight the Cause. This is how most of us react when principles are involved. Even though full litigation is less common, most of us find ourselves in conflict from time to time, either personally or as representing our specialist service. Typically this involves peers, competitors, enemies, or those we thought were colleagues.

For instance, you just begin to get a good reputation when you hear third hand of somebody maligning you or your practice. Clients are pinched from under your nose, taken in by somebody's plausible pitch, which includes rubbishing every previous remedy or service provider. Or somebody undercuts your fee level. You know that loss-leading cannot last forever but it doesn't take forever to be priced out of business. Somebody else gets away without even a semblance of quality service, but you have no way of warning customers and potential clients without it sounding like sour grapes or professional rivalry or just another, confusing hard sell.

NLP training has its share. The business is sensitive to price reductions, especially if backed by professional-looking promotion. Cut price, high speed, Big Name training packs in numbers to such a degree that feedback and questions, let alone skills coaching, are almost impossible. I've come across qualified practitioners having undergone such stage events who had not heard of the most basic NLP terms and techniques, and were unaware of key skills. Pack-em-high events make the profits of course, but the trainee loses out. The same disparity of standards applies equally in therapy and consultancy and is as likely to show up anywhere in the field of complementary medicine. All this is hard on the conscientious professional who wants to do a quality job without distasteful infighting.

So, what course can you take? You can take up the Cause, of course, and seek to right all the wrongs. Campaign for regulatory standards, quality controls, licensing, fairer competition, advertising controls, or whatever burns in your heart for a better world. Apart from the time, dedication and organising skills needed, this course can mean lost sleep, headaches and various fringe diseases. And you certainly cannot, at the same time, do justice to the business you set out to do. This is a bitter, unhealthy, lose-lose route, whatever its intuitive attraction when faced with unfairness. The sad truth, however, is that really worthwhile Causes take more than a single lifetime to fulfil, whilst lesser Causes take just long enough to spoil your core business. True winners rarely emerge at the end and ulcers come free.

Another route involves a personal cause to achieve your purposes and outcomes. It usually means more control, a healthy self-belief, and a lofty disdain for volatile emotions. NLP has a lot to offer in areas such as controlling how you feel, aligning beliefs and values with what you want to achieve, and generally thinking in a more purposeful way. As a proven, practical technology it will cope with almost any minefield.

You'll find more than you need in a couple of books, but let's give examples, starting with controlling how you feel. First of all you need a high speed solution when emotions are stirred. I find that one or two 'anchors' do the trick. To set up the anchor in the first place you will need to go through a standard relaxation procedure, and recall a positive, resourceful state that you want to replace the unwanted state, and vividly relive this. Associating this emotion with a specific anchor (like making a circle of your thumb and small finger or crunching up your big toe – anything without any other association) installs the recalled state into your brain neurology as a permanent mental resource. You can go through the recall process any time you like and recover the state you want. The trouble is, however, that our more basic mid- and lower-brain processes are too quick for our more civilised cortexes and we respond to a comment or situation precipitately. That's where anchors come in, which automatically and instantly make the association. This is all very basic NLP, covered in my book NLP: The new art and science of getting what you want. This and other simple control techniques allow you to responding to interpersonal conflict with 'better judgment'.

The dangerous emotion happens just below the conscious level of the mind, or just below the surface of the metaphorical submerged iceberg. You have probably learnt by now that trying to correct 'above the surface' behaviour without reference to what goes on below the surface of your mind provides a short term answer at best. Usually it simply doesn't work. Will power may be no more effective that pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. Habits are of hardier stuff. But some of the trouble lies even deeper in the submerged iceberg, including self belief, values and identity. We tend to take things personally and it hurts our self-esteem and identity. The chances are that our attackers (if there are any) never lose a moment's sleep over what to us is blood boiling. We lose out, however worthy our Cause.

So it pays to get your values and self image right sooner rather than later, in order to get control and perspective even when facing the most harrowing situations. A simple listing of 'what is important to me' will soon sort out priorities, and what deserves your time and energy.

Getting your own mental house in order doesn't mean being passive to the wrongs around you, but simply taking control of how you act and react. The bonus is when you do make a rational choice to pursue a Cause – bringing about change in others as well as ourselves – you will be many times more effective. So you need not neglect your business in the process. The above NLP book also covers values, and Maxwell Maltz's little book Psycho Cybernetics is one of the best I've seen on self image, long preceding NLP.

Another very effective tool that can dramatically turn otherwise harrowing personal situations round is reframing. This means putting another 'frame', or perspective on a situation or event. Once again, you can do a DIY job on your own neural networks and simply think differently.

With any mental process it helps to get into the right state of mind by relaxing and visualisation before getting down to the serious business of making changes. There are scores of ways to stimulate creative perspectives and I describe some in my book on creativity entitled Train Your Brain. If you want to try a simple one start with 'Points of View'. This is good for typical interpersonal problems of the sort where somebody gets under your skin or makes you see red. I will use as a simple example the 'problem statement' 'She just doesn't understand', but it works with any problem-statement of that sort. Start with something innocuous then move to major people problems. The process simply forces more points of view. And that means more choice, about feelings as well as behaviour. You generate points of view by making up sentences incorporating the words: good, bad, right, wrong, stupid, smart, better, worse in the following format. I have given illustrations below, but try a few of your own.


It’s good that she doesn’t understand because she might not be able to face things.

It’s bad that she doesn’t understand because it’s ruining our relationship.

It’s right that she doesn’t understand because she doesn’t have all the facts.

It’s wrong that she doesn’t understand because that’s what she’s paid to do.

It’s stupid that she doesn’t understand because she is coming off worse.

It’s smart that she doesn’t understand because she can’t be held responsible.

It’s better not to understand than not to care. It’s worse not to understand than not to sympathise.


Note the different pattern of the last two. The trigger words good, bad, etc. help to stimulate different points of view. You can be as ingenious as you like – try half a dozen for each trigger word. What happens? The 'problem' takes on all sorts of perspectives. In place of a black and white situation you find insights, humour, new angles. And just one idea might lead to a creative solution. Note that this is not just a semantic exercise, but the new perspectives represent actual electrochemical changes in your brain – and that beats any prescribed drug. By imagining negative as well as positive viewpoints you don't just get the rosy 'positive mental attitude' side, but also a worst scenario. And if you can imagine the worst and rationally face it you have got control. You are master of the situation.

Another simple reframing device is 'reversal'. Take any problem statement, such as: 'He is ruining my business', 'She is a bare faced liar', 'He makes my blood boil', 'They have got their facts all wrong'. Don't pull any punches at this stage. Then reverse the statement, in effect taking a 180 degree point of view. Reword it as you need to as long as you approximately reverse the meaning or the effect of the statement on how you feel. Then creatively consider what issues the new 'truth' suggests. This is a brainstorming type exercise so all the rules apply about going for quantity rather than quality of ideas, not quashing even the craziest notion etc. Using the first one as an example, the reversal or new 'truth' could be: 'He is helping to build my business.'

The issues this throws up may be:


In helping my business, what might he do?

If he were in my position what would he do?

What aspects of this whole situation might help my business?

What can I do to make his actions beneficial to me?

What can I do to support him in his help?

What 3 lessons can I gain that will help build my business?

In what 5 ways may it turn out that I am better off in the long run?

How can I help him to help me?

If he was a top marketing expert what would he suggest to help me?

If he were a top. . . etc., etc.

If I was him what would I do to help?

Does he smile when he is helping?

What tone of voice does he use?

How far might I grow the business with his help?


And so on. This is right brain stuff and you need to relax and let the creative juices flow. If you find yourself saying it's silly, that's just your rational left brain asserting itself. It does take a bit of practice to get quickly into right brain mode. The reframing effect is like the Points of View technique but by taking an opposite perspective from the outset you don't mess around at the edges of the problem. Don't go for logical ideas. If there was a logical solution you could no doubt work it out, in which case you don't really have a problem. Go for insights. Expect inspiration. Allow some time for incubation after you have brainstormed as often a 'eureka' comes suddenly when you are not thinking about the problem. And whether or not you get a ready-made solution you will certainly change how you feel, and that may well have been a problem in the first place.

These problem-solving techniques can be used to change your perspective on a problem, and how you feel about it, but you can tackle any Causes you decide to espouse – in other words right wrongs, change the law, the world, or even people. You simply cannot tell what amazing ideas lie within your own resources. If you want to generate hundreds rather than scores of choices, there are plenty of other reframing techniques described in Train Your Brain, as well as tips on preparing yourself for super creativity by way of belief, state of mind, and lifestyle. Start making changes where you have most control, in yourself. Most of the time you will find that the problem either evaporates or otherwise takes a different form that needs different action to what you would otherwise have taken. Using your mind in this way creates choices. And more choice means better quality decisions that will transform minefields into personal success.


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About Dr Harry Alder

Harry Alder is an experienced businessman, having held top corporate director and public authority positions. He now trains senior executives in leading companies in personal effectiveness, specialising in the area of creativity and innovation. He is a popular keynote speaker at management and sales conferences internationally, and his books and research have also involved broadcasting on television and radio in the UK and in the far east.
He has tutored MBA students in strategic management, marketing, finance (he is an accountant by profession), and other subjects over a number of years. His writing on these subjects is extensive, with scores of published articles in leading management and training journals. His books include:
The Right Brain ManagerNLP: The New Art and Science of Getting What You WantThink Like a Leader;  The Right Brain Time Manager;  NLP for Managers;  NLP for Trainers;  Masterstroke;  Train Your Brain;  Corporate Charisma.
Currently being published (1998) Mind to Mind MarketingHow to Get, Do and Be what you wantCorporate PositioningNLP in 21 Days. Dr Alder has a masters degree and doctorate in business administration, and is associate professor of a leading international business school. He is a certified NLP master practitioner. Dr Alder can be contacted on 01604 702189.

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