The Source of All Fear (#710)

For much of the past decade, I have had the privilege of studying with and working alongside the co-creator of NLP, Dr. Richard Bandler.  As well as being a brilliant psychologist and fearless therapist, he is also a hypnotic storyteller.

Perhaps my favorite of Richard’s stories is about his work with a schizophrenic who everyone in the medical profession had deemed incurable. This man hallucinated snakes everywhere he went – and as he was terrified of snakes, he lived in a constant state of fear.

This man had been a very successful businessman and was happily married with a family before he started to see snakes everywhere. Now, he was locked up in one of those old-style mental hospitals you see in horror movies, living in a drug-induced haze and spending his days in a wheelchair.

When the man’s wife came to Richard and asked for his help, he asked her if she was willing for him to try something a little bit radical. She was desperate and said that at this point she was willing to try anything to get her husband back, so he took her at her word.

The next day he stopped off at a joke shop owned by an old Chinese man who had a huge pet python named “Alice”. An hour later, he appeared at the hospital with a barrel full of rubber snakes and a very real Alice inside a burlap sack.

After informing the staff what he was up to –they were already pretty familiar with Richard’s unorthodox techniques – he filled the shower room at the asylum with the rubber snakes, turned on all the showers until the room was filled with steam, and gently wrapped Alice around a warm shower head.

He then had one of the orderlies wheel the man into the shower room and leave him there.  Well, of course, the man knew something was up, and when he looked around, all he could see were snakes all across the floor and hanging from the showers and ceilings.

As soon as he began to scream in horror, Richard came into the room and commanded his attention.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” Richard said. “You tell me which snakes are real, which ones are rubber and which ones are hallucinations and I’ll wheel you out of here.”

Now sometimes people think Richard was being cruel, but remember, this man was in the chronic ward of a mental institution – he had been written off as incurable by the conventional doctors.

So the man began pointing at rubber snakes all around the room and saying “rubber snake”.  He pointed up at Alice, who had begun to uncoil and make her way down towards the floor to see what all the fuss was about, and said “real snake!”

He then began to do something a little bit curious. He started pointing to empty space in the air as if there were something there and poking at it with his finger. When nothing happened, he would say “hallucinated snake” with an ever-increasing sense of delight and well-being.

By the time, Richard wheeled him out of the room, he had already begun to master the art of knowing the difference between what’s real and what’s just imagined.  And since what he had been imagining was scaring the daylights out of him, that was a really useful skill for him to master.

Once he could recognize that it was only his own thoughts that were scaring him, he quickly began to get his life back. And the same thing is possible for all of us, even when our stories aren’t quite as dramatic as this one.

Once you realize that you’re not afraid of what you think you’re afraid of – you’re afraid of what you think – life gets a whole lot less scary and a whole lot more fun.

As I wrote in Supercoach:


The worst thing that can ever happen to you is a thought – generally speaking, a thought about whatever you think is the worst thing that could ever happen to you. But just because a thought pops into your head doesn’t mean it will immediately manifest in your life. (If it did, there would be more deaths by roller coasters going off their tracks, people falling from very high places, and heads exploding due to stress than any other cause.) That’s because in and of themselves, thoughts have no power. It’s only when you invest your own energy and consciousness into them that they begin to become real.

A thought without your personal investment is no more powerful than a tea bag without boiling water. It’s only after you add the water that the tea begins to infuse and create the flavor, and it’s only after you add your agreement and energy to a thought that it begins to impact your life.

Have fun, learn heaps, and remember:

You can entertain your thoughts or you can let your thoughts entertain you!


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