Think of a problem. Those four words are used repeatedly throughout NLP trainings because most of the time NLP techniques are used in a prescriptive manner. That means that, after the fact, we can examine a problem, make new choices and mentally rehearse a more ideal performance in the future. But what about those events that we didn't prepare for? Is it possible to shift from negative feelings to more resourceful feelings in the moment, without prior planning or an external trigger?

Shift Happens
I remember a time when I had to travel from New York to Boston for an important family event. Very early on a hot August morning, I went to pick up the rental car I had reserved a week before. The rental agent told me that, because some cars hadn’t been returned yet, I'd have to wait until one came in or make other arrangements. I finally got a car—two hours later. Now I was stuck in morning rush hour. Worse, there was a lot of repaving being done on the highway and the heat left a lot of overheated cars stalled on the road.

When I finally got to Boston (having missed the wedding and most of the reception) I was in an awful mood. One of my nephews, who was six at the time, asked me why I was so grumpy. I told him the whole story: the car rental, the traffic, the heat... And then he said, "But Uncle Kevin, you're not driving now."

Instant state change! One moment, I'm grumpy and reliving all the unpleasantness of the morning, and the next I'm enjoying myself.

At that point, I knew that positive state changes could happen suddenly, and faster than any NLP technique I had learned so far. But I didn't know how to generate them for myself. They were always a reaction to something external, usually something someone else said to me. Yet I was very curious about how we could learn to do the same thing for ourselves.

Emotions are Choices
William Glasser, M.D. in his book Choice Theory makes a strong case for the idea that emotions are choices, even when they don’t feel like it. Using my trip to Boston as an example, he would say that the reason I was grumpy with my family was not because I spent most of the day stuck in traffic, but because at the reception I was choosing to generate grumpy emotions.

Whether or not emotions are choices is true, it is a very useful assumption. Here's an experiment. Pretend that you are grumpy and mentally label your experience each of these ways:

1. I am grumpy.
2. I am feeling grumpy.
3. I am choosing to feel grumpy.

What are the differences for you? Which gives you the greatest freedom (and responsibility)?

When I taught my first Master Practitioner class, at graduation one of my students told me that he had just solved a big mystery: that much of what I taught in class was geared toward recognizing that we can choose how we feel. This was a powerful revelation for him—he had spent much of his life being angry, thinking he had no choice about it. He asked me why I didn't just tell everyone at the start that emotions can be chosen. "Who would have believed me?" I asked him.

Some people try to suppress or hide their emotions. Others venerate them, with the idea that ALL emotions have to be fully expressed, preferably with an audience, before an emotion is complete. I don't think emotions should be suppressed or avoided, but I’m surprised how often what I’m feeling seems to have been chosen blindly, without considering more than one possibility.

Here's another experiment to illustrate the ephemeral nature of emotions. Think of a small task that you can do, should get done and have been putting off. When you think about it, what emotions do you feel?

Next, ask yourself "Is there any reason I can't put off deciding how I'll feel about doing this until after it's done?"

Notice what happens. In my experience, both with myself and with my students and clients, if the answer is no, the negative feeling spontaneously disappears and we go and do the thing that we had been putting off.

Author's Bio: 

Kevin Creedon's work lives on in and throughout the lives of the people he's touched in his unique way. A part of his legacy has been captured and preserved on this best-selling DVD - Bang Bang!