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Self-Hypnosis: What, Why & How? A beginner’s guide

Over the next few months I intend to offer up some self-help tips to Southampton Clinical Hypnotherapy Blog readers.
Included will be various hypnotic and behavioural strategies for tackling some of the more common problems people face day to day.

In order to make the most of these offerings I want to begin by providing you with a simple self-hypnosis technique that I teach my clients in practice. This will give you a nice frame for future self-help work.
What is self-hypnosis?

Self-hypnosis gives a person the ability to enjoy all the great benefits of hypnosis without the aid of a hypnotist. There are many ways that a person can learn to enter and exit hypnosis. Entering hypnosis is most commonly done via what is known as a ‘hypnotic induction’.
The man considered by most to be the father of modern hypnosis James Braid described hypnosis as a form of “mental concentration”. After coining the term “neuro-hypnotism” meaning nervous sleep, or sleep of the nervous system he later relabeled his work “monoideism” meaning to concentrate on a singular idea.
A hypnotic induction begins the narrowing of our focus towards an idea and in effect helps us enter hypnosis.
So learning self-hypnosis helps a person to enter hypnosis without the assistance of a hypnotist.
Why use self-hypnosis?

Without further discussion of what hypnosis ‘is’ (that discussion goes way beyond the pages of this blog) it would be useful to explain my reasons for using hypnotic techniques in therapy.
I believe that hypnosis should be primarily used as an adjunct to therapy rather than be considered a therapy in and of itself. Put simply I believe hypnosis is best considered a tool for supporting, improving and exaggerating the beneficial effects of therapy.
Although my work and programmes are influenced and draw from a wide range of therapeutic approaches a large majority of the techniques I commonly use stem from the field of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I choose to use CBT approaches as there is a large body of research supporting and demonstrating the effectiveness of their use in practice.
CBT is largely concerned with left-hemispheric brain function (in right-handed people). This simply means that CBT is primarily concerned with syntax or self-talk.

This is where hypnosis comes in –

Neuroscience tells us that hypnotic processing has significant influence in the right-hemisphere, the side more concerned with imagery.
Imagery based approaches to therapy have demonstrated good efficacy rates with medical and psychiatric disorders (Sheikh, 2003) making hypnosis a valuable clinical tool.
This helps us to understand how combining CBT with hypnosis gives us a more complete therapeutic model.
This understanding also gives a rationale for using hypnotic imagery outside of the clinical domain, such as in sports performance for example.
Hypnosis does not only help us overcome problems and gain relief, it can also be used to improve performance and achieve many ambitions and goals.

So now we understand how hypnosis can benefit us let’s look at how a person can use this powerful tool for themselves – Self-hypnosis!
How to use self-hypnosis

It is important to understand that hypnosis is not dangerous and no one has ever become stuck in a trance. It is however always worth considering your environment before practicing self-hypnosis. For example hypnosis can be very relaxing and you should allow sufficient time between practicing and driving, give yourself a chance to reacclimatise before doing anything that could pose a risk.
If you are prone to falling asleep easily, practice self-hypnosis sat upright in a chair.
Top Tip: I believe the best position to practice self-hypnosis is seated with feet flat on the floor and hands placed comfortably on your knees.
Learning to enter and exit hypnosis can be a very enjoyable experience but without a goal it will not serve you incredibly well. So set a goal before starting.

Setting goals & planning –

You can choose almost anything to be your goal with in reason. Try to make your goal realistic and specific. An example goal might be to learn how to become better at public speaking. So don’t set the goal at speaking to 1000 people, make it 10 and work upwards.
Now you have your goal you’ll want a basic plan for your session (I will be providing plenty of ideas and plans in the next few months on this blog so subscribe to keep up to date).
Your basic plan for becoming better at public speaking could involve the use of hypnotic imagery, in which you imagine yourself speaking with confidence in front of a small group of people.

How to use imagery –

Have a rough idea of what you might want to imagine before beginning but expect it to develop as you go.
Imagery can mean different things to different people and once you start using it you will find what suits you. Some basic pointers are:
Create imagery that suits you, images don’t have to be exact or even clear just notice what you notice.
See if you can notice visual images, sounds, maybe you can imagine smells, you may notice temperatures or even physical things such as the floor you stand on. You might just get a feeling or can imagine how it feels.
The more you practice the better you will become at using imagery.

Mantras and statements –

Some people like to create statements to tell them self in hypnosis. These statements are like mantras, for our example we might state “because I am practicing hypnotic public speaking I am improving at public speaking….I am improving at public speaking”
There are loads of tips and things that you can do in self-hypnosis and we will explore those in further blogs.
So now we have a goal and a plan lets learn how to enter and exit hypnosis.
Hypnotic Induction

A nice simple way to start your journey with self-hypnosis is to learn what is known as an ‘eye fixation’ induction. The eye fixation induction was James Braids’ original and preferred method of induction. Below is a simple version I have adapted and use a lot in practice.

Here’s how to do it –
Before you start pick a cue word or short phrase, something like “hypnosis now”. You can use this cue word whenever you choose to enter hypnosis.
Get yourself into a comfortable position, feet flat on the floor, hands resting on your knees (if you practice self-hypnosis laying down try not to get into your preferred sleeping position).
With your head remaining comfortably looking forward, raise your gaze upwards as if you were looking out of a window in your forehead (remember keep your head looking straight forward, don’t move your head as you raise your gaze upwards).
Pick a spot on the ceiling or high on a wall and concentrate your focus upon it.
While you complete the following counting exercise, keep your eyes focused on that spot and only allow your eyelids to close when it becomes too much effort to keep them open (you will notice your eyes begin blinking a lot and start to feel tired).
Ok, so you’re now sat comfortably, staring upwards, next you will need to begin counting downwards in your mind starting with the number 5.
As you think the number 5 in your mind try and visualise it. Perhaps notice if it looks bold or has a colour, make it as vivid as you can, perhaps imagine seeing it written in bright lights.
Next think and visualise your cue word. Again if you can, try and notice what your cue word looks like, make it vivid.
Then do the same with the number 4.
Follow this by thinking and visualising your cue word.
Repeat this all the way down to zero, closing your eyes at which ever point feels comfortable to do so (when you’re finding it too much effort to keep them open).
Top Tip: To get into a nice rhythm as you do this pair the number with a nice deep breath in and when you are ready exhale slowly thinking your cue word.
A nice easy formula for this is –

  • Deep breath in = think and visualise the number

 

  • Slow breath out = thinking and visualising your cue word

Hypnotic Deepener

Once you have completed your induction you will need to deepen the hypnotic experience, using what is known as a ‘hypnotic deepener’. This allows the level of focus to be increased ready for you to implement your plan.

Here’s how to do it –
First imagine yourself standing at the top of a set of 10 stairs.
Each step represents a level of hypnosis.
In your mind you will then imagine stepping down, one step at a time.
Each step you take will help you to go deeper into hypnosis.
See if you can match your descent downwards with feelings of relaxation, telling yourself in your mind statements like “9, I am feeling more and more relaxed….8, feeling more peaceful and calm.
Trust that by the time you reach the bottom you will be sufficiently hypnotised to implement your plan.
Top Tips: Absorb yourself in the image as best as you can (remember not to worry too much if the imagery is not crystal clear just notice what you notice, that will be enough for you).
Things you may notice – the surface of the floor (carpet, wood, tiles etc), what it feels like under foot (hard, soft, cold, warm etc). Can you hear or feel your feet as you move them? Is there a hand rail (if so, what is made of and what does it feel like)?

Some people imagine a grand staircase, like that found in a posh hotel, others picture a familiar staircase, perhaps your staircase at home. It’s up to you, experiment, try different ones.

Implement your plan

Once you have completed your deepener you can begin to implement your plan. In this case see yourself in the scenario (in front of 10 people) successfully delivering your speech. Run the whole scene from start to finish stating your mantra. Repeat the scene a few times until you feel comfortable that it has sunk in. Again, make the scene as vivid as you can. What do you see, feel, hear, notice? Are you alone in the scene? Etc.
It is important to have belief in what you are doing, trust that doing this will help you, be positive about it and expect to experience positive changes.
Remember that the use of hypnotic imagery intensifies change work (Boutin, 1978).
Exit Hypnosis

As I stated earlier you can not get stuck in hypnosis, in fact if you wish to stop at any point just open your eyes and allow yourself a moment to reacclimatise.
Many people do however like to have a structured way of emerging from hypnosis.

Here is a nice way to do it –
Simply begin counting from 1 up to 5. With each number you count allow yourself to feel more alert. It maybe useful to imagine feeling more energised, becoming more alert with each number, before opening your eyes.
That’s it, that’s how to use and experience self-hypnosis!
But how do I know it worked?
Hypnosis is subjective in that everyone has their own experiences when practicing it.
Some people report feelings of dissociation, perhaps like daydreaming or that moment just before you drift off into a light sleep. Although often associated with sleep hypnosis is definitely not sleep. You will be aware of the things you hear, many people even notice a heightened awareness of the senses or focus of attention.
Often people report a feeling of being deeply engrossed in the experience, like being absorbed in a good book or film. Others simply report feeling deeply relaxed.
You may find you experience one or more of these sensations or something entirely different.
Whatever you experience it is important to trust that it is enough for you and what you are doing. Approach the experience with a positive expectancy. Bandura (1977) highlighted the importance of expectancy in therapy.
You will notice I use the word “practice” a lot, that is because you can develop and improve your hypnotic skills and hypnotisability (Gorassini & Spanos, 1999).
Adopt a willing positive attitude towards your experience rather than just ‘waiting to see what happens’.

Cello Grading

I was much amused by the situation. I was sitting outside the exam room waiting for the tinkle of the bell that signalled it was my turn to face the examiner. As anyone who has been nervous about an exam, performance, presentation will attest, the worst time is the wait just before the start.

My exam was the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM) Cello Grade 1 Practical exam which I was taking for charity, sponsored by my generous friends and family. Consider it a musical alternative to abseiling down a local tall building, running a marathon or sitting in a bathtub of baked beans.

Learning not to Squeak

This was the culmination of some four months of lessons and practice. Being a non-musician, barring Grade 5 trumpet at the age of 15 and the ability to play the first two pages of one piece on the piano, it was a bit of a steep learning curve. Fortunately I had allies.

My looming exam consists of some set pieces, some scales and some music tests including an oral requiring me to sing phrases to the examiner. Scary stuff.

My allies

My first ally was my wife, stage name Rebecca Gilliver and she is a proper cellist. Principal of the London Symphony Orchestra no less. On the day of my exam she was playing in a quartet at the Wigmore Hall in London. Even if you are not into classical music you have probably heard her play, on films such as Harry Potter and TV programs such as Downtown Abbey. Rebecca was my main, and so patient teacher.

Other allies included my friend Jennie Brown, also a LSO cellist, who gave me a valuable lesson and advice. Her feedback was usually prefixed with the phrase ‘..do you mind if I’m a bit rude about your playing…’

Another cello friend is Judith Broadbent – who is actually an ABRSM examiner. She offered great advice over the phone and some test sight reading pieces for me to practice on.

My final ally, and almost as awesome as being taught basic cello by the Principal of the LSO, was my accompanist Sophia Rahman. I play three set pieces in the exam which require a piano backing and Sophia, living close to the exam venue and up for a laugh, agreed to accompany me. If you Google Sophia you will pretty quickly work out that she is also a serious musician. Fortunately one with a great sense of humour. I was confident that whatever notes I happened to play, in whatever order and at whatever speed, Sophia’s playing could carry me through.

It was all a bit like taking your first guitar exam with Eric Clapton as your tutor and Pink Floyd as your backing band.

Practice Makes Permanent

Something that became clear very early on was the importance of correct practice. The biggest hurdle I had to face was getting the physical posture and movement skills right – the position of the cello which sits upon an adjustable steel spike, the bow hold, the motion of the bow in a straight line across the strings with the right speed and pressure, shoulders and elbows correctly positioned. All are essential to get the right quality sound and intonation. As cellos don’t have frets like guitars you have to judge perfectly when to place the fingers of your left hand to play the different notes. A millimetre out and you are gratingly sharp or flat – this is called bad intonation. Whilst practicing in our lounge an occasional ‘ouch! SHARP’ or ‘you are SOOO FLAT’ would be yelled from whatever other part of the house my wife was in.

Yet some of the more frustrating hurdles I had to cross were due to ‘practicing in’ errors and making them automatic. Not noticing a wrong note played in a phrase, repeated, becomes unconscious, wrong and a habit.

The process of practice became playing each piece and when hitting a problem, working just that small section until it became fluent with correct tone, intonation, volume and phrasing before moving on.

Listening to Teacher

…is something I have to admit I was rather poor at. Especially when I was focussing on my intonation and she was going on about my bow hold. I knew my bow hold had collapsed and turned from a delicate, flexible, poised affair into a something more suitable for hammering in nails. But I was trying to get the other had right and couldn’t possibly get two things right at the same time.

Generally, when Rebecca pointed out a simple correction I needed to make to dramatically improve my playing then I would immediately incorporate it into my playing…. some days later.

Applying my Hypno Skills

So, remembering that this is a hypnotherapist’s blog I am guessing that you are correctly assuming that I used some of the skills on myself.

This was the source of the amusement I mentioned at the start of the blog. The idea that me as a hypnotherapist who works with classical musicians and writes on dealing with stage fright, performer anxiety, bow shakes – probably should be setting a personal example. I chuckled at the thought that I was simply not allowed to be nervous in any way for PR reasons.

So what ideas, skills, processes that I typically use with my clients DID I use on myself. Did I walk my talk?

Anxiety is useful

Whenever I see clients with any kind of anxiety – which in our modern society is becoming more and more common – I start off by pointing out that this emotion is useful – this emotion which is possibly currently debilitating, or ruining their performance and sometimes even leading them to consider giving up their career.

Anxiety is a message, a useful reminder. It is telling us to be prepared, be attentive and alert. It is useful unless that message is invalid or exaggerated.

Just reminding ourselves that some level of anxiety is normal and useful is a worthwhile thing to do. Get the message, don’t submerge yourself in it. I decided to call my anxiety ‘excitement’.

Keep it Real

When we get anxious we tend to distort our thoughts. We catastrophise (‘It is going to be a DISASTER’), we discount our often considerable skill and experience (‘I CAN’T do this’), we mind read and read the future (‘They will HATE my playing’). We do the mental equivalent of slamming doors in our face (‘It is TOO difficult for me’). In a panic state we do ‘black and white’ thinking and mentally close the door on even considering other options, we hear it in our language when we say things like ‘I MUST do…..’

I focussed on some key beliefs which I mentally reminded myself of whenever I started feeling anxious and saying such nonsense to myself:

1. If I learn and practice well, I will get sufficiently good at this.

2. Mistakes during practice teach me, as long as I spot them.

3. It is about the music, my performance, not me personally.

4. Good enough is good enough, better is a bonus. I will probably make mistakes on the day – it isn’t about not making mistakes it is about demonstrating a general level of ability.

Of course we should aim high, yet be rational. Decide to do the best we can but don’t expect perfection. Perhaps even include enjoyment in your goal. I want to get really good at X and enjoy getting there. Goals in themselves are rarely as important as becoming the kind of person capable of achieving that goal.

Mental Rehearsal

When I was learning I mentally played scales, reminding myself of which strings and which fingers played which notes. In my mind I flawlessly executed scales and arpeggios.

More importantly I mentally imagined waiting and walking into the exam, playing my pieces and exercises, doing the music tests. Yet I was not some much practicing the actual exam – I was rehearsing being mentally calm and physically relaxed. I was training my brain and body to be relaxed in that situation.

I mentioned that I had taken the grade 5 trumpet when I was 15, I can still remember how nervous I was and how relatively poorly I played. I did pass. I still have my school trumpet, and it still has the dented bell from when it slipped out of my nervous, sweaty hand at the end of the exam.

Use your resources

There are very challenges few in life that we face totally alone and in isolation. Facing and overcoming previous challenges has built emotional muscle. Learning to do something difficult reveals that good teaching, awareness and correcting errors, study, practice will inevitably build skill. This is something you know and can rely on when facing a new challenge.

As I did to my great benefit – we can call on our friends, whether for practical support or encouragement.

So when I walked into that exam, I had the benefit of all the other exams and tests I had walked into, all the challenges I had faces. I had the support and hugely valuable passed on skills of my allies.

The only way to truly fail is to avoid such experiences. Even a challenge faced and failed has the potential to teach us. Ironically the people who want to stay safe, to be right or to avoid failure tend to avoid challenging situations, fail to move out of their ‘comfort zone’ and thus fail to develop the skills, attitudes, beliefs that will most help them achieve that goal. Their lack of emotional muscle, ability to be flexible, learn and apply themselves means they cope poorly when life does throw a bend in their path.

So how did I do?

Sophia said this in an email to Rebecca ‘Steve was great! I thought he coped brilliantly with a tricky situation. He was much calmer than the other two’

The other two, like most of the other people taking a Grade 1 exam for the GradeOne-Athon, are professional musicians learning a new instrument for the event. Proper musicians used to being paid to play in front of audiences. Being a non-pro I of course had it easier, with no expectation of any underlying musical competence to be disappointed!

Did I pass? Probably, there is a two week wait for the result.

Exam done and charity commitment satisfied I’m now looking at Grade 2. Rebecca says that we can get onto the basics now (!)…..she did skip this exam as it was too easy for her…..when she was 8.

Fight For My Life: How Hypnosis is helping me get my life back.

As I write this I’m listening to Adam Eason’s (apparently he’s very good) “Safe, Controlled Relaxation” MP3. It’s a free MP3 I got for signing up to his newsletter. I never dreamed it would it help me in what has become, without being too dramatic, a battle to get my life back.

Life hasn’t been great these past few months. One weekend I was looking forward to a walk with my friends. A near road traffic accident happened and I got thrown forward, hitting my head on the sun vizor. I felt fine and did the walk with my friends. Towards the end of the walk my heart started behaving weirdly and upon getting back into my friend’s car, my right eye clouded over with a red haze which alarmed me beyond belief. But the haze seemed to clear and I spent the evening with my friends in the local pub. It was only on the way home that I noticed my balance was off and people I met on the walk home were giving me concerned glances and asking if I were okay.

Later at home I still felt off and noticed my eyes were very red. Eventually, in the small hours of the Sunday morning, I walked up to the local hospital. There’s a massive hospital a short walk from my house. Next thng I know they’re taking my blood pressure and checking to see if I”ve broken anything. Then they hand me to another doctor who tests my reflexes, shines lights in my eyes and ears and tells me the news that my retinas have survived and there’s no evidence of problems with the brain.

Given a clean bill of health, I get cocky the next day and over do it. The first thing I notice is a weakness in my right arm. Then there’s a pull like nothing I’ve ever felt before. And whiplash makes its entrance.

I spend a week in bed and four weeks in varying degrees of pain.

I return to Cardiff but the whole experience has shaken me up and my ability to handle stress has, if I’m honest, been destroyed. My worst fears are no longer phantoms in some forgotten dream that fades with the first light of the dawn. They are facing me across a chessboard and I feel I’m running out of pieces.

I experience problems with my back and legs and the whole experience panics the life out of me. One night, there’s a tug…simply a muscle relaxing as I sleep. But the sensation frightens the life out of me enough to wake me. I’m terrified. I fear the loss of my ability to move, stand and walk. My mind knows the fear and calls all it has to rally together and fight it. This is a bad idea. I end up running around my flat in the dark in a mad panic, bumping into everything. My hands hit the metal door handles and both, over the course of the next few days, swell up. The muscles were on high alert and they’ve over reacted. Eventually, I speed to the hospital to have them x rayed. Nothing broken. Just bruised.

My body spends most of its time wating to scream, my mind feels like it’s being held together with rubber bands and tape and I do my best to carry on with normal life.

I’m given valium to help with the panic attacks and, if I’m honest, I use it too much. For other people, it helps them sleep and relaxes their muscles. For me, it raises my blood pressure to ridiculous levels and messes with my heart. I become groggy and forgetful on it.

I spent the night at a friends house and he gives me a lift back. I open the door to my block of flats and the door to the block of flats hits me in the back. The pain is beyond belief. Eventually, I head to the hospital.

But the door is not their concern. My blood pressure reading makes two medical students with me shout: “man! That’s high!”. Suddenly they want all sorts of samples. Half way through the day, my parents (who were coming down to help me celebrate my birthday) are treated to the sight of me on a hospital bed with various drips attached to me. Various doctors, CT scans, X rays, blood tests etc follow and by the end of the day I can’t stand up or walk. I have this vivid memory of being wheeled around the hospital in a very weak state because they wanted to see if the infection they could not find was in my chest. It wasn’t. They couldn’t find it.

They kept me in and all I could do was sleep. I gave myself up to whatever was going to happen. The other people on the ward were significantly older than me and I spent a night with a drip attached to me and having to press a button so a nurse could bring me a little seat and a bucket to go to the toilet in. Not the worst ever but….

I started physio. My muscles were again too much on alarm and I got a minor re-injury in a friend of mine’s car.

There’s a minor infection thing on my bum which they’ve given me a cream for and the hospital doctor put me on anti depressants.

Panic attacks have still been a problem and slow down my recovery.

Still got problems with my legs and back but working with the physio and GP on them.

I have a cold at the moment and my body wants to scream: “infection! Emergency!” at me all the time.

Hypnosis is helping get my blood pressure down. My heart rate is also now more under my control and the relaxation recordings have really helped me control the panic attacks.

I attend a depression support group. For a long time I wondered whether I was a “bad person” with all these things happening to me at once. Missing out on fun social events, worries about movement and nerves have all taken their toll on me. I worry the various panic attacks have slown down my recovery and I honestly don’t know if I’ll get back to the person I once was. I’ve been touched to realize how surrounded by love I am from friends and family. My relationship with my parents has been a bit dodgy because of my fear of being on my own and not feeling like I can do my own thing by myself like I used to.

I’ve never known terror like it to be perfectly honest.

My hands have healed a lot and I have regained a lot of my ability to handle stress. I still wake in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning with a fragment of a remembered nightmare to do with health matters. I’m doing my best.

The Beauty in Ordinary Things – And How That Relates to Hypnosis

One of my favourite films is called American Beuaty. It won a bunch of awards, though gets a few dissenting critics deeming it pretentious. I can understand why, but love the film nonetheless. My favourite character is Ricky Fitts.

He records things on his camcorder that he finds interesting and beautiful, yet others may find the same things ordinary, even mundane – this is depicted wonderfully as Ricky watches a plastic bag blowing around in the wind against a wall and he thinks it is lovely to watch. That’s him and his girlfriend watching the clip of the plastic bag in the picture here.

It is this idea of finding beauty personally that I want to start with in this hypnosis blog entry today and then relate such ordinary psychological processes to how we define what hypnosis is. Let me explain…

Last night I was sat in bed with my kindle in my lap, reading a sic-fi novel. It was pretty early by most people’s standards as I had just put my 2 year old son to bed.Katie was getting our baby daughter to bed. As I sat there, I could hear him humming, gently singing in his high pitched voice, and offering up some of the loveliest random, seemingly tuneless “la-la-la’s” that I have ever heard. I put my kindle on my lap, turned the light off, leant back against my propped up pillow and just listened as he sang and drifted off to his own little dream world.

To me it was majestic and utterly heart warming. I have been to listen to the dawn chorus of the birds in the New Forest here in Dorset in the early hours of the day. I have had the pleasure of listening to my good friend playing lead cello for the London Symphony Orchestra. I have delighted in live recordings of Iggy Pop singing ‘Search and Destroy’ – all of which I thought were wonderful and among my favourite things to listen to, but all paled in comparison to how much I adored listening to my son singing himself to sleep last night.

Likewise, my baby daughter recently fell asleep in my arms this week and as her breathing changed as she fell deeper to sleep, her little snores got louder and sometimes even had a squeak to them! She would then pause in her breathing and sigh as she exhaled and carried on with her dinky snores. I have slept in a room with some snoring noises of mammoth proportions before – on floors with drunken University friends, in bedrooms with family members and on trains with total strangers – and none have been anything other than grating and distracting. Yet my daughter gently snoring in my arms is a delight.
At the beginning of January, I wrote this on my Hypnotherapy School Facebook page:

“Ran my first Sunday long run of 2014 this morning as part of my Spring marathon training… Up and out the door at 6am… Car windows iced over, the stars were clear in the sky and my first few miles spent being mindful and warming up, enjoying running… Onto the dark sea front with a hint of a red glow in the backdrop, I listened to the waves crashing in on the sea front and pushed my pace some, engaging in some self-hypnosis for altering my perceived level of effort… I spent the final 3 miles of today’s 14 listening to drum and bass music, totally dissociated… Got home in time to clean up and cook my wife breakfast… As with hypnosis, the ordinary psychological processes can seem (and truly are) really magical at times… 2014 is off to a magnificent start.”

I do not always delight in these things when I am up at dawn and out running, and I know for a fact that the vast majority of runners don’t necessarily enjoy the seemingly mundane aspects of their runs when they are running 5-6 times a week.

Why am I indulging myself on my hypnosis blog in this way today then, and what is this connection with hypnosis? Well, it is not at all as tenuous as you might think. You see, I find these afore-mentioned things to be beautiful. Others may not. I do.

I find them magnificent because of my own personal attitude towards them. I have a particular mindset that flavours my responses and relationship with these occurrences. These things are all very ordinary, yet they yield truly magical outcomes and experiences to me.

I’ll connect this to hypnosis and self-hypnosis:

Hypnotism was discovered by James Braid in 1841, and entailed a more common sense psychological explanation of the apparent effects of Mesmerism (a historical precursor of hypnotism).

Braid defined hypnotism as “focused attention upon an expectant dominant idea or image” (Braid, cited in Robertson, 2008). Later, Hippolyte Bernheim, a very important figure in the history of hypnotism, said that there was no such thing as “hypnosis” other than heightened suggestibility, and named his approach “suggestive therapeutics” (Bernheim, 1887).

Hypnotism is essentially the art and science of suggestion, and not that of inducing “trances” or altered states of consciousness.

A 1941 paper written by the personality theorist, Robert White, entitled “A preface to the theory of hypnotism” is considered by many to be the beginning of the non-state, cognitive-behavioural approach to hypnosis. Research cited by White in this seminal article suggests that responses to hypnosis are primarily a result of the conscious attitudes and voluntary efforts of the individual. As a result, he redefined hypnosis as follows:

“Hypnotic behaviour is meaningful, goal-directed striving, its most general goal being to behave like a hypnotised person as this is continuously defined by the operator and understood by the client” (White, 1941).

White took the perspective that “hypnosis” is actually a verb rather than a noun. That is, it is a skill that the individual does and it is not a passive state that seems to automatically ‘happen’ in a mechanical fashion in response to something a hypnotist does. White supported the notion (though it was not the first time this notion was supported) that all hypnosis is, to some extent, self-hypnosis. Or a process of hypnotising oneself.

Nonstate theorists apply healthy scepticism when explaining hypnosis, they look at it in rational terms and with Braid’s original approach of Scottish common sense.

In contrast to the popular “trance-state” way of explaining hypnosis, based on extensive scientific research, we explain hypnosis in terms of a hypnotic “mind set” comprising of ordinary processes, such as our beliefs, our imagination, our expectations, our attitude toward hypnosis, our level of motivation, the depth of our engagement with the role of being hypnotised and some other factors too.

The term “hypnosis” then, simply refers to a set of attitudes and behaviours that facilitate hypnotic responses, and not an “altered state of consciousness” or “hypnotic trance” of some kind (Barber, Spanos and Chaves, 1974).

To add some meat to the bones of this, you can go and grab a copy of my book The Science of Self-Hypnosis: The Evidence-Based Way To Hypnotise Yourself – because there is a great deal more to this discussion and explanation than I can offer up in a simplistic blog post.

To experience hypnosis (or self-hypnosis), you simply need to engage in a hypnotic mindset. A ‘hypnotic mindset’ simply means that you will be motivated to hypnotise yourself, you will be confident in your ability to respond, optimistic about the hypnosis process, and that you will expect to automatically experience the responses being suggested or imagined. If you adopt this mindset, you will derive more benefit from hypnosis and become more responsive to hypnosis.

This hypnotic mindset may seem sobering and a far cry from the magical way hypnosis is often presented. Some people do not like having the magic whipped away from them. However, one important consequence of this is that the role of the hypnotic subject, and the role of the self-hypnotist has now been demystified and made more easily learnable. In order for you to be a successful hypnotic subject or self-hypnotist, you learn further evidence-based hypnotic skills and apply therapeutic, beneficial protocols and adopt this hypnotic mindset throughout.

Today I conclude, that hypnotism is basically about inducing a set of attitudes or mind-set. The self-hypnotist or hypnotic subject learns to adopt a favourable attitude, to “get into the right mind-set”, prior to engaging in hypnosis.

You can see then that my own set of attitudes, expectancies and mind-set effects my responses to things (like my son singing himself to sleep, my daughter snoring, the way I perceive the environment of my long runs during marathon training) which are fairly ordinary in the perspective of others, yet becomes magical to me. The same as Ricky Fitts finding a plastic bag a beautiful thing to watch. Likewise, engaging in ordinary processes with a particular set of attitudes can create what we know as hypnosis which can be magical in many ways too.

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