Magpies – the black and white bird of the crow family, supposedly fond of stealing shiny things – nest cosily in a tree alongside our garden. Every summer, when they have raised their brood of young, we hear their chattering and see the fledglings descend on our garden as a striking flock of these monochrome birds.
Watching our magpies recently reminded me of the traditional nursery rhyme about these birds, One for Sorrow, that I was taught as a child in England. The exact wording varies from place to place, but perhaps the most common modern version is, One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret, never to be told, eight for a wish, nine for a kiss, ten for a bird you must not miss. The rhyme dates back to at least the early 16th century and seems to originate in superstitions connected with magpies, considered a bird of ill omen in some cultures, and assumes that the number of magpies you see determines whether you will have bad luck, good luck or the chance of other events in your life.
Now I guess you’re wondering what does a children’s nursery rhyme have to do with NLP? Well, consider the message in the lyric. What does this old rhyme condition us – and subsequently our children and our children’s children – from earliest childhood to do? It teaches us to allow external events to determine our fate – if you see only one magpie then of course you’ll have a bad day! It teaches us to take the blame and put it outside of ourselves, blaming the world, other people, events and anything else we can find, for the parts of our lives we don’t like or for not achieving our goals. This childhood conditioning results in unconscious patterns of behaviour that last into adulthood.
Just stop and consider for a moment. How many times have you heard yourself and others make this kind of statement : “I haven’t lost the weight I wanted because your food is too good”; “I didn’t pick up the dry cleaning today because Kornelia called and made me forget”; “I didn’t get my pay rise because my boss is an idiot and doesn’t see how hard I work”; “I didn’t go to the gym because you wanted me to do the grocery shopping”; “I missed the bus because Kim kept me talking”; “My business wasn’t a success because people didn’t buy my product”.
Some of the first things you learn when reading or studying NLP are the presuppositions – assumptions or principles that provide the foundation when we work with NLP. One is particularly relevant in this example: “YOU are in charge of your mind and therefore your results (and I am in charge of my mind and therefore my results)”. This presupposition is all about the cause and effect equation. Are you on the effect side of the equation, where life controls you and you make numerous excuses and blame others when you don’t achieve your goals? Or are you on the cause side of the equation, where you take responsibility and acknowledge that your actions create your outcomes, your results and, ultimately, determine whether you achieve your goals?
Once you start to think about the statements mentioned above the more of them you’ll hear coming from your own mouth and from others – it’s similar to when you consider buying a silver car and then all you see to see on the roadss are silver cars. So, as Richard Bandler would ask, “Who is driving the bus?” What are these statements and patterns we are talking about? Aren’t they all excuses of one kind or another? Laying blame on someone else is much easier than taking responsibility for your own life, your actions and your results. Or is it?
To be at cause means taking 100% responsibility and acknowledging that in one way or another you create everything that happens to you and you are the cause of all your experience. You are not entitled to anything and the world, or life in general, certainly does not owe you a living or anything else for that matter. To achieve whatever you define as success in life, to achieve those big amazing goals most important to you, you must assume 100% responsibility for your life, your actions and your outcomes, i.e. your results. The difference between many successful and unsuccessful people is simply taking responsibility. Paradoxically, the easiest thing and hardest thing to change is yourself. But the power to change lies only with you. It is your choice if you want to change these self-defeating patterns and achieve your goals – you can!
A good place to start is a day at a time. Imagine yourself to be an actor and start by playing the role of the new you. Actively consider your thoughts and actions – listen to yourself and enthusiastically stop yourself from making excuses, blaming and complaining – either in your mind or out loud. For the first couple of days you may be surprised at how many times you catch yourself making an excuse, laying blame on others or complaining about something that, on reflection, was always in your power to change. As soon as that excuse starts to come out of your mouth the new you will take responsibility for what you’re saying and immediately suggest another course of action. The more you do it the more you will reinforce the new pattern until it becomes unconscious. You will see a whole new world of opportunity and will increase your energy and drive towards those goals you most want. Go on, try it.
And when you next see a magpie perhaps you can recognize the opportunity to observe this amazing bird that is the only non-mammal that can recognize itself in a mirror and you can just smile when you remember the old rhyme.
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