What's your story?

Airport 1975I grew up in the 1970s, a time when air travel was still a luxury for most people, and 'the jet-set' was still a meaningful demographic group.

Because air travel was still something of a novelty, people were fascinated by it, and in particular by the occasional dramatic accidents that happened.

Hollywood fed this gory fascination with a series of airplane disaster movies – Airport 1975, then Airport ’76, Airport '77 – and they were a big hit.

The dramatic device of something going wrong on a plane remained popular for many years. Whether a movie, drama, or even comedy, something bad almost always happened when a character got on a plane.

In my impressionable mind, an association was being built: plane → crash. Over and over again in different scenes: Plane → crash. Plane → crash. Plane → crash.

Earlier in my life some genuinely catastrophic things had happened – I lost my father at 5 months old and was subjected to a series of unpleasant medical interventions for a pituitary condition. As a result I ended up with a mind that very easily goes to the most catastrophic possible outcome in any situation.

With all the recurring images of disaster in my head, I became very fearful of flying. I would start getting anxious a day or two ahead of the flight and then peak during the take off. One flight to the US was an 8 hour panic attack.

Logically I knew it was extremely unlikely anything would go wrong but another part of me had been brainwashed to think "Plane → crash".

Funny thing was, I always got on the plane. I refused to let my fear stop me from having a holiday or going on an expenses-paid business trip. But the price I paid in stress was wearing.

After a while I got tired of the anxiety and thought I’d do something about it. I needed to change the “Plane → Crash” story in my head. I read books that explained in great detail why flying is safe (eg no plane has ever been brought down by turbulence in the history of aviation).

But I still needed to brainwash myself with a new story about flying – one that goes “Plane takes off, flies to destination, and lands”. So I drove to the airport and went to the observation deck. And there amongst the geeks listening to air traffic control on shortwave radio, I sat and watched planes land. For 2 hours. Plane → land. Plane → land. Plane → land. Over and over again. It was deliciously boring.

Finally I was beginning to get it. Not just in the logical part of my brain, which already knew it, but somewhere deeper – planes land. So this is normal.

Three weeks ago I took the longest flight of my life – 11,000 miles from London to Sydney. I’ve flown to all sorts of places but had always dreaded the day I’d fly to Australia.

And it was fine. I still get a little tense on takeoff but after that I'm calm. And if ever I do get nervous, I remind myself of the intended end to the story – landing, going to my hotel and taking a swim in the pool. And every time that story comes true, it gets embedded a little more.

I rewrote the story that wasn't serving me. What story in your head is due for a rewrite? Is is about something you tell yourself is dangerous or risky? Is it something more subtle like, 'People from my background never have it easy'? Or perhaps, 'It's normal not to enjoy your work'?

What story do you want to replace it with?

Then... do everything you can to surround yourself with the story you want to come true.

Meet me in Sydney

Sydney Opera House BarI am getting people together for a free and informal Scanners Night / SWLP meetup this Wednesday in Sydney.

If you happen to be in this part of the world, please join us for a drink and a chat about work, play, and whatever else takes our fancy – in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House.

All the details are on the Scanners Night Facebook page here

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  • Brilliant post John - and I wish I was in Sydney for your Scanners meet up! Enjoy!

  • Nice story John... I have always loved to travel and loved flying.... but my wife suddenly (with the birth of our son) got a terrible fear, I think it was a mothers over-protective thing. For years we could not go anywhere. Infact we changed our political view into one that abhors the current spate of cheap flights. Now even the poorest family can afford to holiday in "The south". This is terrible news for the planet and its interesting to start to investigate your local area again, and we have had some terribly relaxing times in the wilderness of Norway (where we live). She was NEVER able to "force herself onto a plane, and once she even stormed off the plane having got as far as sitting in her seat. (they were not happy.. having to fish her suitcase off.. and I was not happy.. missing my holiday!)

    Last year, she discovered a cure, a threefold cure.

    1. Really WANT to go. She wanted desperately to go to a conference in Amsterdam on Alcehmy. Maybe the holidays, and the quick weekend trips to the UK were NOT really very important.
    2. Drugs! She got some valium from her Doctor... I really dont think its does so much, but the half the battle is the fear of the fear. you KNow you will be scared, so you get scared about that. The V just took the edge off.
    3. Travel alone. Weird but true. If you are with your family you have them to a) moan to, b) look after and stress you out. c) try and hold it together, when you are alone.. You are ALLOWED to be the one who grips the edge of teh seat in fear and crys, in front of your familly its tabboo...

    NOt sure if this related to the point of your post really but theres some parallels.

  • Anonymous

    By the way John, you are a genius at grabbing off the shelf web marketing tools.. I dunno how you find these things.. so  was wondering, what advantages do you find by using the Disqus comments system here, over the regular WordPress Comments?

  • Candy_newman

    An excellent post John. Change your personal story and you can change your outcome. I will be forwarding it. It is bloody freezing here in London ! Candy x

  • Lynneedwards1

    Timely! As always John. What I am playing with at this moment in my life is this very concept. I accept that the idea of rewriting your mind stories allows you to make things happen in the way that you want. It all makes such sense. It links all the good practices that we all know about from many disciplines. I understand the power of now/focus/law of attraction et al. It explains why Scanners have 'problems' - their focus, point of attraction is all over the place.
    My special interest at this time is 1) learning how to change micro focus with alacrity while retaining the macro focus which is my life as me.2) attracting specific things I want from my attention to them while always enjoying the day's random delights - my daily Lucky Dip
    eg. I pondered this very thing lying by the water in a quiet cove  yesterday evening watching the sun go down over Sydney Harbour. I decided I would spend time in that magical spot each day surrounding myself with the things I wanted, imagining them, living them in my mind. Just like you advocate. As an actor that should be so easy. But my mind wanders. I am spoilt for choice. Everything seems so darn exciting: which yacht do I like best, which balcony view from my dream house, which interesting people do I want to meet in the next few days? And also - I am living my dream right now in one way. Am I not missing the joy of right now by dreaming of the next thing? 2) In those moments of indecision I just go 'Ok whatever, surprise me - I'll take the Lucky Dip for today.' Yesterday's Lucky Dip? I returned home to read my emails and find that you have arranged a Scanners evening here. I find it hard to visit London from Manchester more than once a year. So Lucky Dip says 'OK we'll bring Scanners to you in Sydney. Here are the friends you have just asked to meet.Can't decide again Lynne? How about a group of Scanners? That do you?"  Clap hands with surprise and joy.Thanks John for co-creating. :-))) And for working out a strategy to overcome your apprehension about flying. 

  • Excellent post John, here is an excerpt from my new book in which I explain Tony Robbins Triad method. totally pertinent and kinda what you did anyway. But if you want a formula for it - this is it!

    From: 'How To Change Your Life One day At A Time' p.74:-

    "In Tony Robbins’ method of Strategic Intervention he talks about the
    Triad = Physiology + Focus + Language. These three elements are
    required for you to be in ANY state of mind.

    Physiology describes how you are physically, as in what’s your
    posture, if you’re tense ask in which area, the way you are breathing
    etc. Focus examines what you are paying attention to at any moment,
    what thoughts you’re having etc. And Language looks at the actual
    words you use either externally or internally.

    So for instance, think for a moment of a time when you were stressed
    and see if you recognise the following about your possible Triad at
    that time:

    Physiology: You were tense in your shoulders and face muscles.
    Possibly you rubbed your forehead often. Your heart rate went up and
    you began to breathe more shallowly.
    Focus: You probably kept thinking of how someone else was going to
    react to that circumstance. You may have frantically thought of ways
    to solve that situation so that you didn’t seem at fault. You might of
    even had thoughts that you couldn’t do this thing that was causing you
    Language: You blamed yourself for being stupid or an idiot. You blamed
    others for causing that situation and that it wasn’t your fault? Maybe
    you questioned why it was happening to you.

    Really think back to that occassion, feel what it was like - does the
    above sound familiar?"

    Hope that helps.

  • ...here's the 2nd part, p.75:

    "Well, the same Triad was operating when you had the experience of
    being on a relaxing holiday. I don’t need to give examples of how your
    Physiology, Focus and Language were different from the stressful
    experience, but it’s pretty obvious they would have been right? (No
    tension, breathing deeply and slowly, thinking about how this was
    great to be on holiday away from it all etc.)

    So here’s where understanding this comes in useful; your mind can only
    be in one state at a time. Therefore, at any time you find yourself in
    a negative state of mind be aware of your Physiology, your Focus and
    your Language. Then, go back to a beautiful experience you had once
    and relive it with as much feeling as you can. With practice you can
    change into that more positive state whenever you need to just by
    remembering your preferred state.

    Start with altering your posture - this alone will start to take you
    out of the negative state. When you begin to have doubts about whether
    you can achieve your goals for instance, imagine your Perfect Day and
    get back into that state of mind where you understand that you can
    achieve everything you want. Then deliberately change the words you
    are using to more positive ones. ‘I can do this’ or ‘I feel calm and
    in control.’ By changing the three aspects of your Triad you will
    begin to master your emotions in response to any situation.

    Negative emotions are normal but they don’t have to be in control.
    They can’t exist without the programmed Triad that established them.
    Tap into your preffered state today and make a mental note of how your
    Triad was operating."

  • Anna Maria

    Interesting. This is just what I am working on a the moment: to surround myself with the story I want to become true, which in my case is a happy marriage. I am married and we love each other, but as life has been quite challenging we don't have so many good memories to help us to keep our joy when life is difficult.
    Yes, I want "to surround myself with the story I want to become true". I am going to book a couple of 'evening out', I am going to get some flowers to make my story to have colours and a smell, I am going to get some music to dance my story!
    Anyway, well-done, you are doing so well. Enjoy!

  • Alison

    I found this very interesting as I read it today after riding my horse. I have ridden for years, however I am increasingly nervous about riding, although I love it and want to get more out of it. I had an NLP session recently which has given me the positive thinking you describe. I have not ridden for months due to the weather but really enjoyed the ride out today and as it was a good experience I feel more confident to do more with her this year. The sun was shining and all was well with the world and I was doing what I love. Your book is fantastic - inspirational and I recommend it to people I meet who are a little disillusioned by life.

  • John, congrats on conquering your fear and re-writing your story. I've flown since I was a baby, much younger than you due to Dad in the Royal Marines and a childhood abroad. But I do find that the scary experiences on planes are all in my adult life and, regrettably, increasing. This always helps me - a statistic. Wouldn't you know it, you can take the girl out of accountancy etc. More people are kicked to death by donkeys than die in airplane crashes. Kicked to death by donkeys, not just kicked by donkeys. Yes, I know this is logical and your fears were not, but perhaps it might also help?   I think also desire helps, i.e. you clearly wanted to go to Sydney. I have already made up my mind that Oz and NZ are too far for me to fly even business class. I would consider it though in one of those bedrooms Stephen Fry enjoyed on the A380 I think it is?

  • Tina

    John, thank you for a wonderful story. Truly encouraging. I love how you went to the airport and watched planes land. As someone who has flown regularly since the age dot it came as a real shock to my system to develop my first panic attack on a flight in my mid twenties. I immediately did a British Airways fear of flying course where I learned that there are numerous fears (all different) and that lots of people are scared but use alcohol or valium to get them through it. Never succumbing to either, I have over the years found ways to curb my claustrophobia on board. I fly regularly and, like yourself, have never given into it. However, my dream of going to Japan is still out of reach as I struggle with long-haul flights. (8 hours panic attack?) I have no doubt in my mind that I will get there and reading your story is very inspiring. I am with Judith on this one. Yes, happy to book Business Class on A380 as size of plane makes huge difference to the claustrophobia. I don't really fear flying or crashing. BTW, for anyone out there, BA or Virgin do fantastic fear of flying courses. I highly recommend them for just putting things into perspective. Feeling supported and knowing you are not alone in your fear is half the battle. Thank you John for a great post.

  • Kicked to death by donkeys eh? I'll remember that one! (And watch out for donkeys)
    I was surprised how doable the Oz flight was when broken for a night at Hong Kong.

  • Thanks Alison! Must be cold out there riding if you're in the UK

  • And surround yourself with people with successful relationships. I've been surprised what I learned from friends who have been together for 20 years - quite counter-intuitive stuff.

  • Thanks Stuart. I thought Tony might have something to say about this kind of thing. NLP and similar things are supposed to be great for irrational fears.

  • Was great to see you in Sydney last night Lynne! Drop me a line about your cross-Australia bike trip - might feature it in my book...

  • So I hear. It just got hot here!

  • I seem to get a lot more comments because people don't have to wait for moderation any more and threading is better presented too.

  • That's an interesting take on it Mark, thanks

  • Cheers Bex

  • Anonymous

    Since posting that question, I have tried Disqus myself and see what you mean, plus I am NOW responding straight from my email notification of your post, interesting to see if that works, if so, another huge advantage! --
    mark francombe
    twitter @markfrancombe

  • Anonymous

     whoopsie, that actually didnt thread so cleverly, sorry John,  should have been a reply to your reply of my comment...
    I didnt mean to hijack your Re-writing you story" thread..."
    Please delete these if they are getting in the way...

  • Lynneedwards1

    Hi John,
    Are you still here in Sydney? We could meet up for a quick drink or just ask me what sort of things you want to know in email or over the phone. I'm considering continuing the Short Way Across series with India or Iceland.But Oz and NZ would be hard to beat.
    lynneedwards1@hotmail:disqus .co.uk  or 9810 1336 


  • Statistically air travel is the safest way. Die hard 2 airplane crash brought a good feeling because finally the plane lands safely. As a kid I had a forbear of elevators.