My friend and colleague, Lori Hammond, in Denver has published a rather lengthy but comprehensive post about hypnosis. It is well done and you can read it below or on her website. She offers some services that I don't offer as my focus is on musculoskeletal pain. She offers therapy over Skype or Zoom for weight-reduction amongst other things.
In her words:
What is Hypnosis?The other day I was texting, when I heard my sweet little nephew yell, “Aunt Lori!”
I was startled and he was visibly frustrated. He had been talking to me for several minutes and I hadn’t heard a word. I was so absorbed in my phone, I wasn’t even aware he had walked into the room.
Have you had a similar experience? Maybe you were so into a movie, book, or game that everything around you faded into the background. Almost seemed to disappear.
Guess what? That’s hypnosis. The word hypnosis has a magical, mystical feel to it, but the truth is you’ve been hypnotized many times.
Hypnosis, also known as trance, is focusing so intently on one thing that you don’t notice other things going on around you.
I didn’t hear my nephew talking to me because I was in a trance. I was so engrossed in my phone, that I was unaware that a human being had just walked into the space around me.
If you google “Invisible Gorilla,” you’ll find a video with several people tossing basketballs back and forth. An audience was asked to count how many times the players tossed the ball. Most of the participants didn’t notice a person in a gorilla costume walk through the scene. The gorilla even stopped and pounded it’s chest in the middle of the room!
The most focused participants were the most likely to miss the gorilla. The author of the study called this inattentional blindness. The audience was blind to what they weren’t focusing on.
Inattentional blindness is hypnosis.
This article will help you understand hypnosis and how you can use it to change your life.
Why does hypnosis freak people out?
The concept of hypnosis has been documented since prehistoric times but the word “hypnotism” was coined about 200 years ago. It comes from the greek word for “sleep” because sometimes (not always) hypnosis looks like sleep.
James Braid realized "hypnosis" was inaccurate and tried to change the word to “monoideism” but it was too late.
Monoideism is a much more accurate description since it means “single-thought-ism.” (Like when you’re thinking so much about writing a text you don’t notice your nephew.)
Two hundred years later, we understand a lot more about how the brain codes and interprets our experiences. But when “hypnosis” entered the scene in the 1800’s, people didn’t have access to the science and tools we have today.
When people saw how quickly hypnosis fixed problems, they assumed it was magical and mystical. Many people still erroneously associate magic or even witchcraft with the word hypnosis.
Hypnosis can be explained by neuroscience. That’s why anyone can learn hypnosis.
Subconscious vs unconscious:
I use the terms subconscious and unconscious interchangeably. They are different names for the same thing. That deep down part of us that directs almost everything we do.
You're already aware of this part of you on some level. Maybe you've said, "I did that subconsciously." or "There's a part of me that just wants to keep eating." This is the part of you that hypnosis accesses and heals.
What if I can’t be hypnotized?
You go in and out of trance every day.
If you flinch while when the bad guy jumps out in a movie, or cry when Bambi’s mom dies, you’re in a trance. You’re so absorbed in the story on a screen that you’re unaware of things in your environment.
When you miss your turn while driving, it may be because you’re so absorbed in the story inside your head that you didn’t notice your turn approaching.
When kids play dress up, tea party, or super hero, they’re in a hypnotic trance. They’re so engrossed in the activity, they really imagine being a different character. Everything else fades in the background.
People in an elevator go into trance almost immediately. They focus on one spot so they can tune out the strangers in their "bubble".
We all have our own story; our own trance
The way you experience the world is different from the way the person next to you experiences the world. We are all in our own hypnotic trance.
If you were able to hop into someone else’s body and see the world through their eyes, it would be like the craziest hallucinogenic trip ever.
The reality we experience is always the result of the story we tell ourselves. More on this below.
Anxiety is hypnosis
Anxiety happens when you focus so intently on what’s going on inside you (your thoughts) that you miss what’s happening around you. Just like the elevator trance, you “stare” so intently at a problem that you block out the present moment and the possibility that things may turn out great.
If you get in the habit of anxiety or focus on anxious thoughts for too long, you may have panic attacks or physical pain. Most people don’t know how simple it can be to stop anxiety in it’s tracks and experience peace in it’s place.
Before I learned hypnosis, I would often catch myself crying in my car. I thought about one of my kids and let myself imagine a worst case scenario, “What if she starts doing drugs and ends up on the street and I never see her again?”
I allowed myself to imagine this horrible future so vividly that I reacted as if it was true.
Your unconscious mind wants to help you. It's your own personal genie. When you think, "What if I mess up my speech later?" and vividly imagine yourself messing up, your genie (unconscious mind) says, "Your wish is my command" and makes it happen.
When you say, "This is going to be a hard day" your genie will only see things in your day that line up with that belief and you'll miss all the amazing things happening around you.
If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this.
Think about what you DO want. Not what you don't.
Imagine yourself giving your speech flawlessly. Tell yourself, something awesome is going to happen today. Your genie will make it happen.
If you're experiencing anxiety, you're probably already using your thoughts to imagine things. You're pretending bad things are happening while you drive in your car or sit on your couch.
You may as well start pretending your life is awesome. It may not change your life right away but it will change the way you see and feel about your life.
I dare you to try it. Play pretend!
If you think negative thoughts, you will only notice negative experiences.
You will re-interpret positive or neutral experiences to have a negative meaning.
You can become so addicted to feeling anxious that it feels wrong to feel good. This is the anxiety trance. Your thoughts are on autopilot.
The neuroscience of anxiety
Anxiety shows up as an electrical disturbance in one hemisphere of the brain. When energy is trapped in one hemisphere you experience the emotion without a time stamp. This means you feel the emotion as if the experience is happening right now.
There are simple exercises that quickly disrupt and dissolve the stuck energy so it can move freely between both hemispheres of the brain. The movement allows the disturbance to release so you can experience peace.
It’s like someone who’s been holding their breath, finally being able to exhale a sigh of relief.
Addiction is hypnosis
Your beliefs about life and your abilities are based on your own hypnotic trance. You’ve interpreted some past experience to mean you’re out of control.
You might think you’re addicted to food, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol etc and you can’t help but give in to that addiction.
You may be so focused on being an “addict” that you’re missing out on all the other possibilities around you. Remember, your mind considers your thoughts to be a wish or command. If you think, “I’m addicted” your body will act accordingly.
Your body does what it thinks you want by triggering cravings and behaving like an addict, which causes you to think you’re an addict. Talk about a vicious cycle!
How quickly can hypnosis fix my problem?
A good hypnotist can guide you to find freedom very quickly. Often in as little as one session.
Helping people understand how quickly they can change is one of the hardest parts of my job. They believe their problem is hard to get rid of because they’ve been doing it for years.
When people label themselves as “addict” or “alcoholic” it sends and even stronger subconscious message to their body. It is now their identity.
People often come to me when they’re at the end of their rope. Many have been in talk therapy for years and think they know why the problem exists but have been unable to solve it.
They’ve tried everything and they’re desperate. They want magic.
The “Magic” of Hypnosis
Hypnosis seems like magic because it quickly succeeds where talk therapy and other self-help methods often fail.
Imagine picking up a rock about the size of your palm. How long did it take to pick it up?
Almost no time.
Perhaps you carry that rock around for a few months, years, or even decades. Then you decide to drop the rock. How long does it take the rock to fall to the ground?
Almost no time.
Hypnosis is like this. There’s zero correlation between how long you’ve had the problem and how quickly it can be released.
It’s my job to un-hypnotize people so they can find freedom. I help people discover when they picked up the problem so they can quickly put it down.
We almost never consciously know when or why we picked up the rock (bad habit/addiction). In fact, the more we try to figure it out consciously, the more we reinforce the problem.
Every time we talk about our problem it becomes more ingrained in our identity. We go deeper into the trance of our limiting belief about ourself.
During trance your unconscious can go straight to the moment you picked up the rock then work out the solution so you can immediately drop the problem. Even if you’ve been carrying it around for years.
Hypnosis can change your life
I began researching hypnosis several years ago for help managing my out of control behavior with food. I saw a couple different hypnotists but didn’t feel confident they could help me so I took matters into my own hands and started studying hypnosis.
I got more than I bargained for. Yes, I learned to achieve and maintain my goal weight. More importantly, I learned how to control my moods and emotions.
I began to experience life in a completely new way, as if looking through new (happy) eyes. Hypnosis has enriched my life beyond anything I ever imagined.
How does hypnosis help?
Hypnosis accesses the part of you that knows how your problem formed and how to fix it.
When you drive, you may be aware of the car in front of you, the traffic signals, the song on the radio, etc. You are only consciously aware of about 7 things at a time.
Your unconscious mind takes in everything around you all the time. It notices every car you pass while you drive, the flowers on the side of the road, the smell of the french fry you dropped under the seat last week, and the phone number on the radio ad.
Your unconscious mind can process about 20 billion bits of information per second.
And this has been happening since the start of your life. Everything you’ve ever heard, seen, learned, or experienced is stored in your subconscious mind.
Sometimes the brain codes your experience in unhelpful ways. Your subconscious might think it’s in danger every time you feel lonely and send a strong, “MUST DRINK ALCOHOL” signal.
During hypnosis you tap into the part of you that knows why you feel compelled to do the problem. And you have access to the wealth of problem solving resources just below the surface of your awareness.
Your unconscious mind knows how to fix the problem.
The solution is inside you
Imagine visiting a colossal museum that stretches for miles and miles and is many stories high. The museum is filled with artifacts and books of knowledge. But the museum is dark.
Inside, there’s a security guard with a flashlight, but he can only illuminate 7 pieces of information at a time.
Hypnosis distracts the security guard so you can have access to everything in the museum.
In this museum you can discover the exact moment you began biting your fingernails, what happened to make you start biting your fingernails, and what your subconscious was trying to do for you by starting the unsavory habit.
Your subconscious always has some positive intention behind bad habits.
Most importantly, you can ask your subconscious to find new helpful behaviors to replace biting your fingernails.
A hypnotist does not control your mind but rather teaches you to control your own mind. A hypnotist will show you how to access the resources that already exist inside you.
There are enjoyable ways find and fix the problem without experiencing negative emotions from with past events. The subconscious mind can heal past experiences without you consciously being aware of them.
How does it feel to be hypnotized?
There are as many answers to this questions as there are people. Some people become so deeply relaxed that their body feels heavy, as if they’re sinking into the surface below them.
Some people feel light, as if they’re floating or detached from their body.
And some people experience the amazing sensation of. . . sitting in a chair with their eyes closed, listening to the hypnotist speak.
There is no feeling that means you’re hypnotized. Whatever you experience is right for you.
Most people remember as much from a hypnosis session as they would from any conversation. Sometimes my clients will say, “I don’t think it worked because I heard everything you said.” They don’t understand that they must hear everything in order for the process to work.
Hypnosis accesses your amazing unconscious mind but you remain conscious the entire time.
You’ll be aware of everything going on during hypnosis. But something totally different is happening on an unconscious level. Old programs are being rewritten. Old memories are being re-coded so you can quickly heal.
When you played pretend as a child, you were aware of everything about the experience. In fact, you were so absorbed in the experience you were able to imagine being Wonder Woman or Batman.
It’s also ok if you’re an analytical person and you evaluate your experience the whole time. “Am I doing it right?” “I don’t really think I can visualize.” etc. While your conscious mind is busy overthinking the experience, your subconscious will make the desired changes as long as you play along with the process.
What if I can’t be hypnotized?
This is my favorite question. Because I know you’re already hypnotized. Right now. You may be hypnotized to do the “nail biting” trance or the “drink too much” trance or the “overeating” trance.
Somewhere in the past, your subconscious decided it should pick up the rock (your bad habit or addiction) in response to something you experienced. You repeated that response so many times that it became automatic and now you believe you are an alcoholic, a food addict, a nail biter etc.
Of course you’re going to act accordingly.
This is why talk therapy isn’t always a helpful option. We talk about our problem over and over. This makes us sink into a deeper “I’m broken” trance.
We try to consciously figure out why we have the problem and what to do about it.
The answer resides in our subconscious and we can access it in a moment during hypnosis.
One of the hardest parts of my job is helping people understand how quick and enjoyable permanent change can be.
What if I get stuck in a trance?
Imagine being engrossed in a movie, playing pretend, or zoning out while you drive or play on your phone. What would happen if there was an emergency? You would immediately become aware of your surroundings and do what’s necessary to ensure your safety.
The same is true with hypnosis. You will probably enjoy hypnosis so much you don’t want to move. But you ALWAYS have a choice. A hypnotist can never make you do anything you don’t want to do.
Hypnosis doesn’t always look like sleep
NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a way of helping people change quickly. NLP can be used during a hypnotic trance or when someone is wide awake.
Even when NLP is done outside of a formal trance, it’s still hypnosis. Remember, any time you’re fully engaged in your experience you’re hypnotized.
NLP uses your imagination to change the way your brain codes memories, the world around you, and your experiences. Your mind stores your perceptions and experiences as symbols and metaphors. NLP helps your brain re-code these things on the spot by changing the symbols and pictures.
I’ve seen countless people let go of an addiction to certain foods or drinks in 60 seconds using a simple NLP technique that re-codes the way they think about ice-cream, soda, fried chicken etc.
See the end of this article for a fun self-hypnosis exercise based on NLP.
You do not have to have to be in a deeply meditative state to be hypnotized, you don’t even have to close your eyes or sit still.
Children playing pretend are hypnotized to vividly imagine their experience.
A marathon runner is hypnotized by the steady pace of her feet and breathing.
My brother races motorcycles on the weekend. When he circles the track at 100mph he’s completely focused on his experience. He’s one with the bike and instinctively notices and responds to what's happening on the track.
He starts to feel depressed when he doesn’t race for awhile. This is because motorcycle riding is his meditation. It’s his trance. And trance is a truly healing and restorative state.
Meditation and trance are different words for the same experience.
When I work with clients I often have them imagine their thoughts and feelings somewhere outside their body. This can be hard for an analytical person. I know because I am one.
When I finally quit telling myself I couldn’t visualize or that I didn’t understand and just pretended I was doing it, my life changed significantly and permanently.
Here’s the cool thing about hypnosis. You don’t have to believe it’s working. You don’t have to feel anything in particular. In fact, you can think it’s total BS.
But if you play along and follow the hypnotist as they guide you, it’s nearly impossible to NOT change.
Playing pretend is hypnosis
Your brain codes experiences in the language of pretend. Dreams are full of symbols and metaphors and exaggerated adventures because that’s how our brain files and interprets events.
When you play pretend, you make quick changes. You change neural pathways in the brain. Your brain recodes the way it interprets life. This creates an immediate shift in physical and emotional pain, cravings, and addictions.
Hypnosis doesn’t change the past. It changes the way you perceive the past so you can experience a different present and future. It teaches you how to change your moods, emotions, cravings, and anxiety on command.
Perhaps you’ve seen a stage hypnotist make someone bark like a dog or quack like a duck.
The quacking, barking people volunteered to go on stage and accepted the suggestion to act ridiculous. They knew they were signing up to be silly. And the hypnotist almost always sends some volunteers back to their seat when they choose not to cooperate.
Hypnosis is not mind control. A hypnotist has no more control over your mind than anyone else. You always have a choice to accept their suggestions. You can allow them to guide you through a focused experience or you can say, “No way, I’m not barking like a dog.”
How do I use hypnosis to change?
Here's an awesome exercise you can use right away. Anyone can use this simple self-hypnosis technique. Don't disregard it because it's easy.
If you actually do the exercise and fully engage your silly playful imagination, you will see a difference.
NLP Exercise: Boost your confidence
1. Think about a time you lacked confidence in the past. Close your eyes and really remember how you felt. Notice your posture when you're not confident. Notice your thoughts. Notice the way you're breathing.
2. Where do you feel "not confident" in your body? (Just pretend you know.)
3. Pretend to pull that "not confident" feeling out of that part of your body and push it out across the room.
4. Look at the spot where you pushed "not confident".
5. Close your eyes again and think of the most supremely confident person you know. Someone who has the confidence you want. This can be a real or imaginary person or character.
Example: Batman is supremely confident. Calm and cool, he commands authority when he steps in the room.
6. Think about how the confident person would behave. Imagine them in a future situation where you want confidence.
Example: See Batman walking into the blind date you have later and notice how at ease he is.
7. Notice the way the confident person stands, breathes, and speaks. Notice their posture. Pretend you know the thoughts they're thinking.
8. Now pretend to step into that person's body, or let that person step into your body. Or you can pretend that person comes and whispers the secret of confidence in your ear.
You don't need to consciously know the secret. Just notice the way your own posture and breathing changes when you imagine being the confident person.
9. Now, while you're pretending to be this confident person, open your eyes look out at the spot where you pushed the "not confident" feeling.
10. Pretend to see that spot shrink or the not-confident feeling dissolve, or float away. Your creative brain can make it disappear in whatever way is right for you.
Ok, here's the cool part. Please don't read what's next until you've done the exercise because it's a bit of a spoiler.
The fact that you could imagine what it's like to be that confident person means it's a resource you can use anytime. You just changed from not-confident to confident in a moment. And you can do it again, whenever you want, just by playing pretend.
When you change your posture and your breathing it changes your moods and emotions. You think with your body as much as with your mind.
It's simple, but it works!
You can use this exercise to access any characteristic you want. If you want to have more patience with your kids, imagine Mother Theresa interacting with your kids and notice what it feels like to step into her body.
When you're about to lose it with your kids, pretend to be Mother Theresa (or whomever you choose) and deal with your kids as Mother Theresa.