I assume that because you are reading this, you plan to use hypnosis on yourself and possibly on others as well. That being the case, you need a clear idea of what hypnosis is. In upcoming articles, we will be exploring what hypnosis is in three ways:
- through the lens of history
- looking at how great hypnotists like Milton Erickson and Dave Elman defined hypnosis
- through the lens of science
For now, I want to provide you with a simple, understandable, and clear description of hypnosis is. So here it is:
Hypnosis is a naturally occurring psychological process that when used deliberately makes positive use of relaxation, strong concentration, and the imagination.
When a person is able to skillfully create concentration, induce relaxation, and stimulate the imagination in oneself and others, the effect can be powerful! It is almost like creating a “virtual reality simulator” in the mind. Let us look at this definition a little deeper.
A Naturally Occurring Psychological Process
It is important to understand right at the outset that there is nothing magical or mystical about hypnosis (although hypnosis can be used in combination with spirituality). In essence, hypnosis is really a simple psychological process. All that this means is that if the brain/mind can be directed to go through the right steps, then every human being (with the exception of those with brain damage or those with severe mental handicaps) can go into hypnosis.
The fact is people go into hypnotic trances every day without being aware of it. Here are several examples of everyday hypnotic trances:
- “Zoning out” while driving. Ever take a trip to a familiar location and realize upon your arrival that you do not remember the trip because your mind was absorbed elsewhere?
- Daydreaming. This often occurs when you are thinking about a future project or event, recalling a past event, or just letting your mind drift. You can become so absorbed in that inner reality that you do not realize what is going on in your outside environment.
- Reading an interesting book. Have you ever found yourself enraptured in a book where the author seemingly is creating a movie in your mind? Maybe you were even identifying with the character(s) or feeling certain emotions (such as excitement or anger) about the fictional events happening in the book.
- Getting engrossed in a movie. This is similar to reading an interesting book and is sometimes even more hypnotic due to more of your physical senses being stimulated as well as your imagination (such a sight and hearing). Sometimes you can become so fixated on the movie that two hours of watching it only seemed like a few minutes!
- Becoming deeply involved in an interesting conversation. This can happen when you are talking to someone about a subject that you are very interested in or listening to a charismatic public speaker.
- Sexual fantasies. Yes, I said it. Most hypnotists would avoid talking about this. However, sexual fantasies can be one of the most powerful trances that humans enter into, because sex is such a basic human drive and need. They also show us how powerful hypnosis can be, because when we become engaged in a sexual fantasy “trance,” it can affect our emotions and even our physical bodies! (Note: We will get into erotic hypnosis and seduction hypnosis a little later on down the road!)
First of all, let me state that hypnosis not relaxation. A person is able to go into hypnosis without being relaxed. For example, if you were in the process of witnessing a horrible car accident, chances are you would be in a highly focused hypnotic state. It is also reasonable to assume that you would not be relaxed. This just goes to show that hypnosis and relaxation are two different things.
That being said, relaxation can be a “doorway” into hypnosis. There are many ways to “induce” hypnosis in yourself and others (“shock” being one of them, as in the example above). We will be talking more about how to do this in later articles. For now, let us focus on what relaxation has to do with hypnosis.
Most hypnotists and hypnotherapists prefer to induce physical and mental relaxation in their subjects/clients as a primary way to lead them gently into a hypnotic trance. The reasons for this are simple to understand. Let me list a couple:
- Developing focus. Most people in today’s world do not know how to deliberately relax. We are so used to being “on the go.” As a result, we often find our minds constantly racing and wandering aimlessly all over the place. In this state of mind, it can be extremely difficult to focus and concentrate. As we have already stated, strong concentration is one of the prerequisites for being able to go into hypnosis. In order to help a person develop intense concentration, hypnotists will often use hypnotic techniques to help their subjects/clients relax their bodies and clear their minds first.
- Increased ability to learn. If you think about it, you function much better when you are relaxed, do you not? On the other hand, it is very difficult to function effectively when you are in an anxious or distracted state of mind, is it not? Experience shows that when you are in a relaxed state of mind, you can focus better, perform better, andlearn more easily. That is exactly the state that hypnotists want to lead you into! After all, they are trying to help you learn new ways of thinking, feeling, believing, and acting.
In reality, anytime you enter into a focused state of mind, you are in hypnosis (even when you are focusing on something negative). Also, common sense dictates that in order to learn something (or even memorize a phone number, for that matter), you must concentrate on it. Does that make sense? That is why strong concentration is an integral part of the hypnosis process.
It does not stop there. There is another role that concentration plays in hypnosis and it is all about control. In other words, it is about being able to control someone’s (or your own) attention. In hypnosis, we want to direct a person’s attention to certain (positive) things while keeping their attention away from other (negative) things. You see, what we focus our attention on has everything to do with how we experience reality. For example, we can focus on anxious thoughts and experience anxiety, or we can focus on calming thoughts and experience calmness. It all boils down to what you focus on.
The problem is that most people cannot reliably control their own attention. They feel like they are being used by their minds instead of them using their minds in positive and productive ways. If you fall into that category, it is OK; we all do at times. This is where a hypnotist/hypnotherapist can be useful. As hypnotists, we are trained in a variety of hypnotic techniques to direct one’s focus of attention. Also, this is where self-hypnosis can be quite useful as well. Over time you can use self-hypnosis to train yourself to deliberately control your attention (we will go in depth into self-hypnosis in upcoming articles).
Whether you realize it or not, your imagination is very powerful and plays a huge role in your daily life. Unfortunately, many people use their imagination in a destructive way by imagining things going wrong and often picturing worst-case scenarios. What these people do not realize is that they are training their subconscious minds to respond with fear, anxiety, and failure by constantly imagining and mentally rehearsing negative outcomes. Do you remember what I said about a “virtual reality simulator” in the mind? Well, that is what your imagination is!
Hypnosis is about using your (and others’) imagination as a positive tool deliberately and constructively. You see, imagination is the “language” that your subconscious mind (the part of the mind that controls your automatic responses) understands. All real inner change occurs at the level of the subconscious mind. That being the case, it is important that we learn to use our imagination in a positive and constructive way so that we reprogram our subconscious mind to respond in new and more empowering ways that lead to success!
Stay tuned, because as we go along I am going to show you how to use hypnosis effectively to do just that in your own life and in the lives of others!