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The Art of State Control: Engineering Perspectives to Get What You Want

Change your body to change your mind


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Caty Lee

3 years ago | 5 min read


Conventional thought says that state is unmovable. All you can do is wait for emotions to pass. A new perspective is a sip of coffee, alcohol, or 10 minutes of high-intensity exercise away.

Relying on external agents strips you of power. You can’t go for a run in every demanding moment. Blown about by whatever state has you in its grip, you’ll be ineffective. You’ll confront excessive nerves during challenging times. You become a friend of creative blocks, inertia, and bulging neck veins.

When you control your state from within, you gain power over your reactions. You determine your life’s trajectory. Your good mood no longer depends on coffee, alcohol, or three payments of $397.

Don’t wait for the perfect arrangement of events, people, and opportunities. Change your state. From there, circumstances automatically shift. With authority over your emotional state, well-being becomes your foundation, not your end result.

Why You Confuse Everyday Challenges with Life-Threatening Catastrophes

In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky explains what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Unlike zebras, we experience anticipatory anxiety and post-stress torment.

We spend hours or weeks flustered over an event in the past or future. But zebras respond to lions only when they’re pursued by them. After they’ve outrun the threat, they relax.

When you get anxious before a client phone call or job interview, thank your body. Recognize that it’s running a program that once conferred an evolutionary advantage. Your body is generating energy that can help you ward off threat.

Physiologically, nervousness and excitement are indistinguishable. It’s a matter of interpretation. Of course, in some states, bodily tension accelerates to the extent that our minds feel useless.

Simple Bodily Changes Create Dramatic Inner Shifts

As Stephen Porges confirms in the Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory, slow exhales are an excellent way to pivot into a physiology that supports calmness.

In danger, your exhales would not be slow. So, when you slow down the rate of your exhales, your body responds. It registers it as a cue that things are alright, that your life isn’t threatened. But we require more.

It’s so easy to react to a situation way out of proportion to the degree of threat represented.

Worse, western culture rewards the ability to detach from emotional pain. Yet that tendency to split off from pain and hide it away comes back to bite in high-stakes situations.

NLP and hypnosis expert Dr. David Snyder explains it with the following analogy. Bachelor pads tend to get messy. But when a guest visits, our bachelor stuffs his debris into the closet and forgets about it. But when he’s looking for a shirt the following week, he opens the closet and his avalanche of waste attacks him.

This is what happens when a sudden onslaught of anxiety hits you before a phone call. With your shaky voice and sweaty palms, you know you’ve got stored emotional pain.

While I’m all for processing and understanding emotions, there are instances when you don’t have time. State control becomes effective in moments when you need to be “on” right away. Moments when you can’t pour over a journal with candle light and chamomile tea.

Make the Building Blocks of Thought Work for You

A core presupposition in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is that physical state determines emotional state. In NLP, state refers to moment-to-moment images, narratives, sounds, postures, and breathing patterns.

Change your physiology, and your emotions and interpretations follow. The key is to recognize what you’re doing with your body in moments of high emotional intensity.

When you’re excited, take note of your posture. Notice your breathing patterns. Get clear about the images and conversations going on in your mind. Do the same when you’re anxious, angry, or afraid.

If you practice changing the state of your body, you’ll learn to conjure emotional states when they’re needed.

So, how can you do it? First, identity three to five emotions that you want to practice engineering. For example, I’d choose curiosity, playfulness, and gratitude.

For each state, I’d practice by envisioning an experience related to it. In NLP, the five sub-modalities comprise thought — taste, smell, sight, sound, and touch.

To become curious, remember a time when you felt it. Imagine seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard, touching what you touched, and so on. From there, adopt the breathing patterns and posture you occupied in that state. Initially, envision the sensations at a distance. Gradually pull them closer, making the images brighter and the sounds louder.

Anchor the state by tugging on your ear, squeezing your index finger, or slapping your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Or do something else. The point is to use a repeatable action as a lever. Over time, pulling that lever conjures the associated emotional state.

When you establish the anchor, break the state by thinking of something neutral. Bruised bananas. The existence of quarters. Whatever. This is a pattern interrupt, and you use it to isolate states from each other.

After the pattern interrupt, return to the ear tug or finger squeeze. Confirm the return of the curiosity, playfulness, or whatever state you’re attempting to anchor. If it doesn’t return, try again.

Don’t become discouraged if this at first feels contrived. This is something you practice and become increasingly good at doing.

But it’s very important that you do it. We use fire drills to avoid panic and chaos in real fires. It’s equally important to prepare for strong emotions before they arrive.

This is how you respond, rather than react, to challenging emotional states. When you know how to change your state, you don’t get lost in it.

You recognize anger or anxiety for what they are rather than merging with them. Knowing how to change your state is your ticket to personal freedom.

For State Control, All You Need Is Consistency

The body and mind are indistinguishable. Change your physiology so that it supports peace, safety, and resourcefulness. Your mind will change along with it.

Your perceptions become raw material for creating resourceful states in the future. Or they become alarm bells you can use to prevent reactivity.

Being able to change your state on command is important to achieving goals and building relationships. There will always be times when your state just isn’t conducive to getting what you want.

When you know how to change it, you don’t need to wait around for your coffee to cool or your friend to arrive on time. You simply replace your tiredness or irritation with a state that supports peace.

Practice state control in the same way that you brush your teeth. It doesn’t require an immense amount of commitment.

Try it. Two minutes of practice every day will dramatically impact your quality of life. When you see changes over a week of consistent practice, imagine how resourceful you’ll be in a few years.

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Caty Lee

Helping readers find authentic forms of motivation using NLP, subconscious mind modalities, and the tools of holistic health.


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