How hypnosis works is a mysterious and often misunderstood phenomenon for most people in our society. This is because only a minority of people clearly understand it and communicate it well to others. This brief article attempts to address these misconceptions and explain in simple terms, what it is and why (and how) it works.
How Hypnosis Really Works
Hypnosis involves making changes involving our thoughts and feelings in areas, and at levels, that are often outside of our conscious awareness.
For explanatory purposes, it is useful to think of our mind as having both conscious and subconscious (or unconscious) aspects. That is, at any given time, only part of what is going on inside us is accessible to our conscious awareness while everything else that is occurring simultaneously is therefore operating at subconscious levels.
Because we can only be actively aware of a very limited amount of information at any given instant (modern scientific research has established that for most people, we can only maintain active awareness of approximately 5 to 9 pieces ["chunks"] of information at a time), the vast majority of what is going inside us is happening at an unconscious level.
The practical effect of all of this is that, far more often than most of us realize, we are often responding to external events at an emotional level (and based on past behavior patterns) with the conscious mind acting to rationalize our responses afterwards. When we seem to get stuck in regards to particular issue or problem in our life, it is very often precisely because of this ability to process things automatically and unconsciously — sometimes we need some assistance in slowing things down and sorting them out, in order to make beneficial adjustments and changes in our life. This is what hypnosis is all about and we will continue to look in more detail at how hypnosis works to do this for us.
How Hypnosis Provides Access to the Unconscious Mind
The specific techniques utilized by hypnotists for accessing the unconscious mind is beyond the scope of this article as endless volumes have been written on this topic.
Underlying any specific techniques, however, are a few essential elements:
- a narrowing or focusing of attention (“where attention goes, energy flows” — often simply taking time to put our attention where it has not been recently in relation to the problem can be extremely therapeutic in and of itself, but hypnosis can utilize this truth to its full advantage for you)
How hypnosis focuses attention: most hypnotic inductions (methods of bringing a person into a hypnotic state) involve specific directions to pay attention to certain things as brought into awareness by the suggestions of the hypnotist. The ability to follow simple directions without trying to anticipate or involve yourself in a specific outcome by doing so is one of the essential skills of experiencing hypnosis as a subject. This is a skill that can be developed over time; but the willingness to pay attention and follow directions are a basic pre-requisite.
- bypassing of the “critical factor” of the mind (the critical factor is the logical part of the mind which continually explains to us why certain things won’t work — this is necessary and useful but is also often a major roadblock to achieving desired change; consider the times you have given well-considered and good advice to a friend or family member who promptly dismisses it, saying something like “that won’t work for me”… sometimes we need to get around that part of us and hypnosis is just the ticket)
How hypnosis bypasses the critical factor of the mind: this is one of the most fun and fascinating aspects of hypnosis as this is different for everyone and every circumstance; while there are many general principles, rules, and techniques, there are no guarantees and this is a great part of the skill and art of hypnosis. (This is also where you can really flatten the learning curve and save a lot of time by working with an experienced practitioner.)
- stimulation of the imagination (once we get our attention in the right place to solve a problem and get around some of the typical obstacles and defenses that our conscious awareness may present to us, we need to influence new channels of more desirable ways of thinking and feeling so that they remain active and accessible to us in our daily lives as well)
How hypnosis stimulates the imagination: Modern research in neurology and related fields has shown that in many circumstances imaginary practice (i.e. practicing a physical activity by imagining doing so instead of physically doing it) is nearly as effective (and in some cases possibly even more effective) than actual practice as it exercises our neurophysiology in similar ways, producing similar results (and in the case of free throw practice as an example, imaginary practice focuses on successful results in all cases where actual practice involves the experience of failure which while necessary, can have negative influence on expectancy vs. imaginary practice). In hypnosis, you can try out your changes in advance.
In general, hypnosis is a process and a skill. It is a process in that is a live, dynamic activity involving two people in traditional hypnosis or hypnotherapy, or a single person in the case of self hypnosis, or even a group of a people at the same time. The hypnotist is a skilled facilitator who has training and experience in stimulating unconscious responses in the hypnotic subject, but does not necessarily cause the subject to behave, perform, or change in a specific way directly.
Many people very knowledgeable regarding how hypnosis works have stated that “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis” as at some level, it is ultimately the person who is the subject of the hypnotic experience who is responsible for changing his or her own self (whether at the level of thoughts, feelings, behaviors or otherwise). While this is an important point to make, it is a bit of an overstatement as well as it is clear that many people get more effective results with hypnosis more quickly through working with a skilled hypnotist or coach than they would simply by employing self-hypnosis on an individual level (although great results are achievable this way as well).
The easiest way to learn more about how hypnosis works and to get comfortable with how it looks and feels from the inside is to attend a workshop, take a class, or schedule a session with a qualified hypnotist, hypnotherapist, or coach. By experiencing a hypnotic state firsthand, you will learn experientially how hypnosis can provide access to beneficial states and resources and help remove obstacles to powerful personal growth and change.
How Hypnosis Can Help You
Knowing now how hypnosis can help you to make desired changes in your own life, you can learn how to effectively use self hypnosis or work with a certified hypnotist or hypnotherapist to get expert assistance in utilizing hypnosis for positive personal growth and change.
More information on how hypnosis works…