Once you have that problem, write down several statements about the problem. Why do you think you had the problem? What caused it? What's your reaction to the problem? Your statements could be almost anything. You might say things like: "Why do I keep doing that?" "That behavior just shows that I'm stupid." "I just can't seem to control myself." "The problem is really nothing, but it just seems to continually repeat itself."
These statements are all your interpretation of the problem. In fact, without this interpretation, you probably wouldn't even have a problem. Thus, perhaps it's important to now work with your inner interpreter.
You need to use your imagination with this exercise. Be willing to play like a child.
1. Now that you have listed a problem and some statements about it, ask yourself how you can best explain the way the problem happened. Perhaps you've already done that with one of your statements. If not, that's your next statement. Write down what you hear. In addition, notice the qualities of the voice making the statement. Where do you hear the voice—which direction does it come from? Whose voice is it? Is it your own? Is it someone else's voice?
2. Now find two more problems and repeat step number one. Make sure that the problems have some emotional significance for you.
3. Look at the three statements you've written about how your three problems happened. What do they have in common? Notice how permanent and how pervasive the statements are. Also notice the overall personality behind the voice.
4. Rewrite the three statements and make them more optimistic, specific to a time or occasion, and to the place that they happened. Also make them impersonal so as to separate them from your behavior.
5. Let's assume that a part of you—your inner interpreter—is responsible for these statements. Where does this part of you seem to live? Is it on one side of your head? Is it at the front of your head? Or perhaps it's coming from your heart? Notice, once again, where the voice seems to come from.
6. Think of this part of you as a friend that you created for some positive intention. Thank your part for helping to bring you to where you are today. It's really been a friend to you and you need to acknowledge it.
7. Once again, now that you are in communication with your inner interpreter, ask it to come up with some even more positive excuses for your three experiences.
8. Move your interpreter voice to some other part of your body—say your right shoulder. Change the tone of the voice. Make it sound like a cartoon character or a famous celebrity that you like. Try moving it again and giving it another new voice. Listen to that voice go over your new excuses and perhaps some even more optimistic ones.
9. Notice how you feel about your interpreter now.
10. Now let your inner interpreter go to where it feels best. That may be its original spot or it may be some new place in your body. Give it the voice you find most reassuring.
If you get stuck in this exercise, it is okay to make up an interpreter. In fact, you really never make up anything. When you make something up, you are just bringing it up from your unconscious mind.
You'll find that you suddenly have much more control over your feelings when you do this. Your interpretations are never reality. Instead, they are just judgments, feelings, or beliefs about some particular event. They feel real because they give you an emotional response. But emotions have nothing to do with reality. They are simply coming from you.
The nice thing about such interpretations is that they are changeable. They cost nothing to change, but give you tremendous benefits. It's now time to put your inner interpreter on your side. After all, it is your friend.
Here's how one person, let's call him Bill, went through this exercise. When he thought of a problem, it was the criticism he got from his spouse whenever they talked about trading. He could hear her voice in his head, saying, "Trading is nothing but gambling. It's a waste of time and has no redeeming values."
When Bill wrote down some statements about the problem, he came up with the following.
- I married the wrong woman. She's an idiot and she just doesn't understand what I do.
- Her parents instilled an old work ethic in her and trading doesn't fit that work ethic—that's why she gets upset.
- She wants security and she doesn't feel comfortable when I tell her about trading.
He noticed that the voice was kind of high pitched and always seemed to come from the right side of his head. It even seemed to be coming from an elevated position down into his head. When he repeated the exercise with several more problems, the voice had the same qualities and came from the same place.
When he tried to move the voice, he first put it in his throat and made it raspy. This didn't feel comfortable at all. However, he didn't have any problem moving it between his eyes and giving it a child's voice. This seemed very comfortable.
When he made new, more optimistic interpretations of situations, he found that it was quite easy when he kept the voice in this position. As a result, he decided to give his inner interpreter a new home. Now this part seems to appreciate him much more and gives him very few problems.
Try this interpreter exercise at least once a week for the next four weeks. Notice what happens after you do it and keep practicing. You could be adding a very valuable tool to your life.
These exercises are only useful if you use them. So decide how important they are to you and then do them.
Van K. Tharp, Ph.D.