Ways to change your mind

TUNG VU, a Sydney-based doctor, is feeling good.

TUNG VU, a Sydney-based doctor, is feeling good.

Despite training at Harvard and Sydney, the 46-year-old doctor was once racked with self-doubt. Then something magical happened: "I became more comfortable in my own skin with my decisions - both professionally and elsewhere. I gave up constantly second-guessing myself."

Logistics and IT manager Scott James, 42, enjoyed a similar breakthrough. "I'd always been more comfortable in the engine room than steering the ship. I now find myself setting goals I wouldn't have dreamed of previously."

The responsibility for these "transformations" lies with two high-profile yet controversial movements whose aim is to revolutionise the way participants see themselves.

Landmark Education and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) are credited by many participants with breaking habits that may have prevented a promotion, achieving elusive work-life balance or repairing broken relationships.

There may, however, be a darker side. Both movements have their detractors. They capitalise on people who are mentally vulnerable. Their recruiting techniques can be quite robust. The word "cult" is even occasionally whispered.

But should we really be discouraging people from self-improvement - especially men, who are often stereotyped as emotionally illiterate? I went along to find out.

The Landmark Education Forum requires three 13-hour days and one evening and costs $650. Landmark's Dr Cathy Elliott describes it as "a leadership and development program which provides powerful tools for causing breakthroughs". It's popular; 120 people were at the forum I attended in Sydney and it attracts this number monthly. Typically, 45 per cent are male and 57 per cent of those are university educated.

Dr Vu's participation led to what Landmark describes as a "breakthrough". "I bought my first investment property within a month. Before that, I'd already looked at well over 100 properties, felt I had not found the 'right' one and consequently taken no action. It turned out to be my best-ever investment decision," Dr Vu said.

The course nurtures breakthroughs by teaching the difference between your interpretation of events and the reality, raising self-expectations beyond perceived capability, enrolling others into your world of possibilities and - controversially - instructing you to make calls to apologise to people with whom you have "incomplete" relationships and "give up being right".

Participants are invited to share their breakthroughs, leading to many tears - I witnessed grown, professional men sobbing - but also fascinating stories.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming immediately feels more scientific and less intensely emotional at the course I attend through the Australasian Institute of NLP.

It's described as "understanding how the language of the mind creates the patterns we run in life". Or, as participant Gerhard Diedericks puts it: "The ability to regularly self-detox the mind."

The clearer the unconscious mind, the fewer interferences clog your conscious mind, allowing you to reprogram to your desired mental state (in Landmark language, this is called "being racket-free").

It's commonly used for smoking cessation, weight loss and professional-personal coaching.

Laureli Blyth runs the course I attend and says "80 per cent of the executives I coach feel like a fraud, and fear that people will discover they don't know what they're doing".

Her business partner, Dr Heidi Heron, asserts that NLP alleviates this self-doubt: "I've seen many of my students change career, advance in their careers and create more work-life balance."

At worst, eccentric; at best, powerfully transformative. If either movement is a cult, then sign me up.

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