"My conclusion is that self-control is worth ten times as much as self-esteem." So says social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, after extensive research and publishing on the subject over the course of his academic career. With hypnosis, we seek to alter and improve both of these aspects of the human personality and psyche, understanding that the image we hold of ourselves often drives our behavior through subconscious urges and motivations. A recent client told me that for years he smoked and was overweight, and often told himself he couldn't exercise because he smoked and was too fat! He spent years convincing himself with his own negative self-talk. Once he quit smoking, he no longer had that as an excuse, and began eating healthier and taking better care of himself. He has since experienced profound change in his life, even renewing and strengthening his emotional connections with his family. With regards to Mr. Baumeister's opinion, this client learned self-control, as he had come to regard the smoking habit with contempt, stating, "I hate everything about it". He knew what to do, but couldn't get himself to do it. Hypnosis provides an avenue into the subconscious area where habits and beliefs are stored. It is an enhanced learning state that allows the individual to quickly and effectively learn new behaviors to replace old, unhealthy ones. I would simply add to Mr. Baumeister's idea that better self-control ultimately leads to better, healthier self-esteem. The client in question has released and left behind old habits, behaviors and beliefs that no longer serve his purposes, effectively achieving a "psychological makeover" - his self-esteem is dramatically changed for the better.
I just had to share this. A woman who has come to see me off and on over the last couple of years for insomnia relief just left my office. She had a sleep study done at the local medical university in February and was told she had no apnea and there was no medical reason for her difficulty falling and staying asleep. She came in today for a "refresher" session. Under hypnosis, she releases stress and anxiety, and is given positive suggestions and imagery for sound, restful sleep, and off she goes. Just before Christmas 2013, she sent her adult son to see me for weight loss. She paid for a 3 session package for him. His first session was fairly routine. We discussed what hypnosis is and isn't, what his eating and exercise habits were, and how hypnosis can help "re-wire" the mind so that behaviors begin to fall into line with what the subject or client really wants. He had no particular difficulty going into trance, and was given suggestions and imagery for healthy eating and taking better care of himself. He booked his second session for the following week, but when the appointed time arrived, he did not show or call me to cancel ahead of time. In short, I never heard from him again. I assumed he did not like hypnosis, felt it did not help him, or simply didn't want to continue for some reason. I also assumed he'd done nothing about his weight problem. After today's session, his mother told me that over the last year, her son had lost 50 pounds and was eating healthy and going to the gym regularly. She said he was adamant that hypnosis had nothing whatsoever to do with it, that it was "silly", and that he had simply decided on his own to start taking better care of himself. "I think it's a macho thing - he doesn't want to admit he needed any help", said she. Nice.
More clients than I can count have told me this. "I've always been heavy", "I've struggled with my weight my whole life", and so on. This is a perfect illustration of what can be termed a "life script" - a set of firmly held beliefs and ideas about oneself that have been thoroughly imbedded in the subconscious area of the mind. All too often, they have no basis in actual reality. Perhaps Mom always provided a cookie or sweet to soothe a scraped knee or hurt feelings. A current client has described a childhood where alcoholism and parental squabbling were the norm. A child in such a situation might easily turn to snacks or food for feelings of comfort the parents are unable or unwilling to provide. Habits learned in childhood easily bypass the "critical factor", or the judgmental part of the mind that knows what is sensible. Even remarks made without malice can have a profound and lasting effect on the mind of a child. Coming from a parent, suggestions that their child is "big-boned", or that eating everything on their plate is a necessity often carry into adult behaviors of overeating or resignation to obesity.
The good news is that a life script can be changed and rewritten. The key to this is realizing that this script, or self image, is merely a set of perceptions and beliefs stored in the subconscious and accepted as "true". Changing these beliefs can be accomplished in a variety of ways, once it is discovered that changing them is indeed possible and well within the mental capabilities of just about anyone. Whether through affirmations, visualization, hypnosis or some combination of these and other mental tools, one must be consistent and steadfast. Never give up on yourself. The old well-worn neural pathways will be easy to fall back into, which is of course a common occurrence with diet and exercise regimens - a couple of weeks and its back to the old habits. Lasting, permanent, healthy change develops over time just as the original negative habits did.
A few years ago, when I started my practice as a hypnotist, I quickly realized one of the main challenges would be addressing the ideas that people had that were, frankly, based on ignorance and misinformation. These concerns are largely based on movies, TV, and entertainment shows, not on measurable reality and results. Hypnosis has long been erroneously defined and thought of as some sort of mind control or technique that an operator "does to" the subject "putting them under", and so on. For entertainment purposes, this definition is very useful. On the other hand, relaxing into a calm, meditative state to visualize and achieve your goals and improve your life does not make for a very entertaining story or comedy show. The impressions made by mass media are very powerful, however - perhaps a form of hypnosis? Repeat the message often enough and some will begin to accept it. How many people are now acquiring conditions and diseases they never had until bombarded by commercials for the "cure" for those very same conditions!? I've often found that those who are not familiar with hypnosis will hold onto those old beliefs no matter how much I explain otherwise. It is when they emerge from the "trance" state that they say, "Wow, that wasn't what I expected at all!"
So what is hypnosis, exactly? The word comes from the Greek for sleep, or hypno, which is exactly what it is not. Hypnosis is not a state of sleep or unconsciousness - in fact, many report a sense of greater awareness while in trance. The term merely comes from the appearance of the subjects; they appear to be asleep - eyes closed, very relaxed, breathing slowly and deeply - similar to meditation.
The actual experience of hypnosis is very common and natural, something we all do a few or several times daily. Daydreaming is a good example. The eyes are open, but the mind is far, far away, on a beautiful deserted island. Perhaps you've been on a long or familiar drive, arrived at your destination safely, but couldn't remember parts of the drive. Getting so involved with a fictional film or book that you had an urge to cry or experienced some other emotion. These are all natural "trance" states that most of us have experienced many times. All hypnosis amounts to is directing this ability we all possess (creative imagination) to cause the subconscious part of the mind to bring about a change in a particular behavior. With repetition, the change becomes permanent. Remember that all of your learned habits and behaviors are stored in your mind on a subconscious level, so changing them means change on that level as well.
The other day a young woman came in to my office to quit smoking. She told me a story that I've heard a few times over the last couple of years. She had been to another hypnotist in the area for this issue and was unsuccessful. She was clearly committed to the hypnosis process, as she felt the reason for her lack of success going into trance was perhaps her own attitude or mood at the time (this past October). This is a different scenario than the person who thinks hypnosis is a "scam" or "doesn't work". What she described to me was an all too common occurrence where the operator had not established trust and rapport with her, and simply tried to put her in trance and then give direct suggestions. This is, frankly, an outdated and often ineffective approach, best left behind in the 1950's when it was common.
Hypnosis is not like getting a flu shot. It can and will vary with the operator, and should be tailored to the individual seeking help. Spend some time speaking with your potential hypnotist and get a feel for them and how they communicate. Ask questions. Gauge their professionalism. If it doesn't feel comfortable like you will be successful, find someone else.
After discussing her issues with smoking and her nervousness about leaving the habit behind, she was able to achieve a nice comfortable trance and responded to all of the suggestions she was given. She has a reinforcement recording to listen to before sleep and should be fine - we'll see in a few days with a follow up call.
As a follow up to Monday's post on creating your own affirmations, I wanted to describe how to give them real permanence and power. While simply repeating it to yourself as much as possible throughout the day is important (especially right before falling asleep - you naturally move into light hypnosis as you nod off), you should consider investing a few minutes each day to make it even more powerful. Find a place where you can sit or recline undisturbed for a few minutes. Close your eyes and begin to concentrate on your breathing, making each breath deep and slow, as you think about exhaling any cares, worries or pressures. You may find relaxing soft music (at low volume) enhances this process. As you are breathing deeply and slowly, begin relaxing each area of your body from the top of your head down to your toes, or start with your feet and move upward through the crown of your head. Take your time - it is important to feel genuinely relaxed through your entire body. Those of you who have practiced yoga, meditation, or worked with me or another hypnotist or therapist will be familiar with relaxation techniques. For those who have not, there is of course lots of information on the internet or simply email me with any questions, I am always glad to help.
Once you are completely relaxed, continue to breathe slowly and deeply and begin to create a visual image of your affirmation. Imagine or see yourself actually doing the thing you want to accomplish, and be certain to include the emotion you will experience at accomplishing your goal - the joy of an improved relationship or connection, the satisfaction of regular exercise, healthy eating and weight loss - whatever emotional aspect you created in your affirmation. Use the power of repetition and make a point to do this every day, at more or less the same time. The "magic 30 minutes" before sleep at the end of the day works well for many, while others may prefer a routine of first thing in the morning. Whatever your preference, it is important to establish it as a habit. You are creating a new neural pathway that is, in that sense no different than any other learning process you've already accomplished - this one just happens to be something healthy and positive you may have struggled with in the past.
As always, please comment and share.
In his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey describes the process succintly: "A good affirmation has five basic ingredients: It's personal, it's positive, it's present tense, it's visual, and it's emotional." He then goes on to describe the process of visualizing the affirmation in a state of deep relaxation with eyes closed - hypnosis, in other words. A few minutes is spent each day relaxing and then repeating the affirmation and visualizing it. With repetition a behavior or thought process begins to change and come into line with the affirmation, as this process necessarily makes an impression on the subconscious part of the mind where habitual behaviors and thoughts are stored and triggered. This is one of those built-in tools that everyone has, but relatively few actually take advantage of. Though using affirmations created by others can be effective ("Every day in every way I am getting better and better"), your subconscious knows it isn't you and may not take it in and process it as effectively as you would like.
To create your own affirmation(s), let's break it down.
Clients often create their own solutions - hypnosis merely provides the state of mind to allow and implement those solutions. Today, a young woman who was suffering from test anxiety and stress related to her college classes created a "knowledge magnet" in her mind. This magnet will powerfully attract and hold on to any information she wants to retain and have available when needed. She will turn it on when studying, attending class, and taking exams or quizzes with a simple hand motion and breathing exercise. We will test her results here in the next few weeks. Similar devices are often created under the enhanced learning state of hypnosis to create "pain control dials", "stop smoking switches", and "overeating controls". What devices for self improvement can you think of? Have you ever had the thought "I know what to do, how do I get myself to do it?".
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From the moment of birth, we begin learning and accumulating knowledge - what is known, vs. what is unknown. Our minds are designed to protect us and keep us comfortable and safe. To that end, we begin forming a “life script” at a very early age. This life script is a combination of our experiences of the world and environment surrounding each of us. It ranges from something as static as our home, neighborhood or physical environment to variables such as the makeup of our families and the nature of the parenting we receive. Children in particular are susceptible and highly suggestible to the input from their parents and family. Whether the input is positive or negative in nature, small children do not have enough knowledge to differentiate the positive suggestions that should be taken and accepted, and those negative ones that should be rejected. Unknowingly, we each create a life script which can ultimately limit us in what we achieve and accomplish according to what we believe we are capable of. We often mistakenly believe that our circumstances are entirely out of our control. Hypnosis allows access to the area of the mind where all of our deeply held beliefs about ourselves reside - our “life script”. Under hypnosis, we can begin to change that life script, bring the subconscious beliefs into alignment with our conscious desires for success, fulfillment, and happiness.