Are you ruled by your head or your heart?
At some point in life we’ve probably all been in a situation where we’ve felt that our head is telling us one thing and our heart another. We might then agonise over which one is right and which one wrong.
What if I told you that it’s neither and that really, this internal conflict isn’t a battle between your head and heart at all, even if it might feel like it is?
Imagine that your friends invite you on a night out. You’re up against a really tight deadline and if you go out, you risk not completing the piece of work in time. You haven’t seen your friends for ages though, and would love to see them.
This is the type of dilemma that we would usually refer to as heart versus head. We believe that our heart is telling us to see our friends. And we believe that our head is telling us to knuckle down and complete the assignment.
In reality though, the conflict isn’t between our head and heart but between different parts of our mind.
Being in two minds
As we go through life, we have different emotional experiences, some of which leave an imprint on us. These can result in the creation of different Parts in the unconscious mind.
This is perfectly normal!
It’s usually our response to things that have happened or that we’ve seen and it’s our mind’s way of processing the situation.
These different Parts have their own values and beliefs which in turn produce certain behaviours. In NLP we work on the basis that all behaviour has a positive intention – even if it may not immediately appear so to us! The intention could be to protect us, relax us, make us feel better about ourselves or any number of other reasons.
Of course, this can lead to an internal conflict as the parts of our brain compete for our attention. We’ve all heard or used the phrase “I’m in two minds about this…”
Imagine, that as a child, whenever you were feeling sad or hurt, you were given food to make you feel better. This might lead you to the belief that food provides emotional comfort. Now, in adulthood, imagine that you hold the belief that you are overeating and need to be healthier, yet as soon as you experience an emotional upset, you turn to food again. One Part of your unconscious mind will be encouraging you to eat to feel better and the other Part will be telling you that if you eat it will make you feel worse. This results in an internal conflict between wanting to eat something and believing that we shouldn’t.
That’s just one example of how internal conflict can affect us. There are all kinds of internal conflicts that can take place in our minds all the time. Things like – Should I change career or start my own business? Should I end my relationship or stay safe? Should I move in with my partner and his son or stay living on my own? Should I move to a new location or stay where my family and friends are?
These are the sorts of things that can, as we wrestle with the options, lead to sleepless nights. At first the conflict may start as a niggle at the back of our mind; however, at its extremes internal conflict can lead to overwhelming thoughts and feelings which in turn produce out of control behaviours.
When we think of internal conflict, we tend to think of mental anguish, self-sabotaging behaviour, being torn between different options or of over thinking and worrying incessantly about choosing the right course of action. We also think of possible shame, guilt and self-loathing if one Part of our unconscious mind leads us to act in a way that is entirely at odds with the deeply held values of another Part.
A wise friend
Conflict can be healthy.
Yes, you heard right…conflict can be healthy.
What if you were to think of internal conflict filling the same role as a wise friend who is asking you “Is this what you really want to do?” Viewed this way, it’s a temperature check, a backstop, a safety valve. Internal conflict can be our mind’s way of telling us that something isn’t right, our values are being compromised, someone is stepping over our boundaries, or that something we have been suppressing is now bubbling to the surface.
Internal conflict that leads to out of character behaviour is a sure-fire way to tell that something needs to change.
It’s not as simple as looking at it as a battle between good (I must eat healthily) and evil (I must eat to soothe my emotions). Often the Parts of our unconscious mind have equally good intentions for us. One Part might want to protect us and keep us safe. The other Part might long to take risks to experience life to the full. Sometimes a Part is clinging onto beliefs we held when we were young, which turned into habits, but that are now at odds with who we are today. Conversely, we could be forming habits as an adult that are at odds with the values we were raised with.
Now extend that to individuals coming together within a team in the workplace. Each person brings all of their internal values and beliefs with them and internal conflicts can then spill over into the external too.
External conflict is important for both our team and individual wellbeing, even if it may not always feel so. If we agree with other people just for the sake of avoiding conflict we encourage group think and stifle original thinking. If we try to bend other people to our way of thinking, we ignore their needs and, ironically, increase the likelihood of destructive conflict at a later stage.
One of the biggest catalysts for conflict in teams is change. We all move along the change curve at different speeds and we’re all impacted differently by changes that occur. In this scenario, consider what might be happening in our unconscious mind. It can go into overdrive, with one Part arguing vehemently that change is a BAD THING and another Part telling us excitedly that this change could be GOOD FOR US. Now just imagine, that there are similar conversations going on in the heads of every member of the team!
Bringing different perspectives to the table leads to a more constructive attitude to change as well as less internal and external conflict. If we’re able to create a work environment that enables people to adopt a more playful mindset, it will lead to a greater variety of perspectives, increased creativity and innovation and more robust solutions, which perfectly blend blue sky thinking with the equally important finer details. Such thinking environments stretch people out of their comfort zones. Over time they feel more able to take risks, experiment with concepts and not worry about being judged. Every team needs at least one person who can take on the role of critical friend or devil’s advocate.
This is also a necessary part of team formation known as the storming phase, where difficulties are ironed out and norms are agreed. Think of it like a gateway to greater connection. Once the conflict barrier has been breached, it leads to greater mutual understanding, shared purpose and values.
When we reach the point of shared understanding and values, we create a harmony that is known as congruence.
It’s also possible to achieve internal congruence by creating harmony between the different parts of our unconscious mind using a powerful NLP technique called Parts Integration.
It’s a process that aligns and integrates the different values of different Parts of the unconscious mind. This leads to internal congruence, a feeling of empowerment and clarity in decision-making.
There are other benefits of Parts Integration too:
Acknowledgement of conflicting goals and priorities leading to better goal setting and delivery
Discovery of strengths we didn’t know we had
Greater internal balance, a sense of wholeness and wellbeing.