How Hypnosis Works
By Martin Tyrrell
There is so much misinformation out there about hypnosis, we decided that we would set the record straight about exactly what hypnosis is and how it works.
You see, many people still think that hypnosis is about putting someone into a weird state, telling them to do something, and then that thing will happen. But hypnosis doesn't work like that. This is so important to understand. Otherwise, if you don't get immediate and miraculous results, you might get disheartened and give up, and that would be a terrible shame, because hypnosis is the most powerful and effective mind tool available to you.
So how does hypnosis work? Well, hypnosis 're-educates' your unconscious mind. By that I mean your habitual responses, or instincts.
So, for example, you might think of a certain person and feel nervous. How does that happen? You thought of someone, and even though they weren't in the room, you felt nervous! How did you do that? Well, at some stage, a mini hypnotic state glued together in your mind that particular person and the emotion of anxiety. That's what hypnosis does - it helps you learn - and fast.
So, we can use hypnosis to change this response. We can take deliberate control of the way you feel by relaxing you and having you imagine things that make you feel good, and then have you rehearse doing the problem situation while feeling the way you want to feel.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? And it is! Of course, there are many subtleties involved as well, but this is the most fundamental use for hypnosis. Changing your emotional reaction - how you feel about something.
Think of the applications...
- If you're a smoker, change how you feel about cigarettes
- If you're trying to lose weight, change how you feel about fatty and sugary foods
- If you dislike public speaking, change how you feel about that
- About exercise, about achieving, about yourself, ...
The list really is endless. And all from one 'simple' tool.
One thing I always make clear to my clients is that hypnosis has not been successful until it has changed the actual situation. What I mean by that is that it's one thing sitting at home feeling all calm and peaceful about the presentation you've got to do next week, but feeling different at the presentation itself is the only proof that matters.
You can't call yourself 'changed' until you've done what you were aiming to do, while feeling the way you wanted to feel. And once you've done it, you are changed. Your experience is changed. And no-one can ever take that away from you.
So if the unconscious mind learns so quickly and so effectively, how can we use hypnosis to teach it new things? Well, the first thing you need to understand is that the unconscious mind needs a clear message about what you want from it. This is really at the core of all hypnosis. Once you understand this, you will understand the central mechanism of almost all self-help approaches - positive thinking, visualisation, autogenics, the Silva method - all sorts. They (and hundreds of others), all use this 'trick'.
So what do I mean when I say 'give the unconscious mind a clear message'? Well, think of it like this: When you can do something without thinking, you have assigned it to your unconscious mind - talking, driving, writing, walking, eating, catching a ball and so on. And you usually get there by repetition.
But you can get there much more quickly by attaching emotion to it. Here's what I mean:
- You have an embarrassing experience and afterwards, you only need think of it to blush (it's an unconscious response - try blushing deliberately!)
- You have a terrifying experience and afterwards, any situation similar to it makes you feel anxious
- A film makes you laugh and afterwards, just thinking of the scene makes you chuckle
The common factor is all these scenarios is emotion. Emotion makes the 'pattern' stick. The more emotion, the more stuck it gets, and the greater the effect in the future.
Are you starting to see why this is so important? So, given this fact that emotion causes patterns to 'stick' in the unconscious mind, what happens if you think negatively all the time? Anxiety is the easiest emotion to create - all you need to do is worry!
And what happens then? The most common mistake (and I mean seriously, startlingly common) is firstly to think of something you don't want to do (like feeling anxious when public speaking, blushing at a party, stumbling over your words at an interview). Then you feel anxious because you just thought of something scary. And right away, you begin to 'stick' the pattern! Your unconscious mind has received a clear message about how you want to feel in the situation itself! This is called negative self hypnosis.
I guess you can imagine how difficult it makes things if you are constantly having to 'battle against yourself' - that is, creating patterns through negative thinking that make it harder for you to perform the way you want.
Using hypnosis a lot trains your brain to focus on what you want, not on what you don't want, giving you control over the contents of your thoughts. That's why, if you want to get out of your own way, we recommend using hypnosis on a regular basis. This gives you the immediate benefits of the hypnosis itself, plus in the longer term, stops you doing negative self hypnosis and making life difficult for yourself.
So to sum up, hypnosis works by re-educating the unconscious mind, giving you control over responses that you can't control consciously or by trying harder.