Lets begin with the explanation of Hypnosis from a medical site;
Extract About Hypnosis from WebMD;
How Does Hypnosis Work? Hypnosis is usually considered an aid to psychotherapy (counseling or therapy), because the hypnotic state allows people to explore painful thoughts, feelings, and memories they might have hidden from their conscious minds. In addition, hypnosis enables people to perceive some things differently, such as blocking an awareness of pain.
Hypnosis can be used in two ways, as suggestion therapy or for patient analysis.
In other words, Hypnosis is a relaxed yet heightened state of awareness that helps change ones behavior;
Extract from "How Hypnosis Works" from how stuff works:
When you hear the word hypnosis, you may picture the mysterious hypnotist figure popularized in movies, comic books and television. This ominous, goateed man waves a pocket watch back and forth, guiding his subject into a semi-sleep, zombie-like state. Once hypnotized, the subject is compelled to obey, no matter how strange or immoral the request. Muttering "Yes, master," the subject does the hypnotist's evil bidding. This popular representation bears little resemblance to actual hypnotism, of course. In fact, modern understanding of hypnosis contradicts this conception on several key points. Subjects in a hypnotic trance are not slaves to their "masters" -- they have absolute free will. And they're not really in a semi-sleep state -- they're actually hyperattentive.
A more technical explanation of hypnosis...
The educational division of the US government (at least at one time, if not now) defines ‘Hypnosis’ as:
(a) Hypnosis is the bypass of the critical factor
(b) Hypnosis is the establishment of acceptable selective thinking
To understand what this definition of hypnosis means you need a few more definitions;
The conscious mind
The conscious mind contains the rational and analytic parts of your mind. When you reason out something, do math or analyze a situation you are using your conscious mind. Will power is also a part of the conscious mind as exerting your will power requires conscious effort.
The subconscious mind
Everything that happens in your life is recorded in your subconscious mind. You may not remember the lunch you had 3 years ago but your subconscious mind does.
You subconscious mind also contains all your habits and emotions. In fact, everything you have learned is stored in your subconscious. For example; when you are learning how to drive you use your conscious mind but once you have learned driving then this knowledge becomes a part of your subconscious mind. If you need to hit the brakes you do it automatically without any conscious decision.
You react from your subconscious mind.
When you are driving you can think about work or weekend plans without having to think of pressing the gas pedal or the brakes. You do so automatically.
In other words, once you have learned a skill or habit then you operate from your subconscious mind in that area. The same applies to beliefs. If you were told as a kid that ‘you are dumb’ or ‘you will never succeed’, and you believed it, then that is a part of your subconscious mind and it dictates your behavior and accomplishments. If you are a smoker then you smoke automatically rarely aware of each drag on the cigarette. The smoking habit is also something that has been programmed in to your subconscious mind.
The subconscious is lazy.
When your subconscious mind has been programmed with a new habit it is a part of you. This habit is something you have learned and your subconscious values it as knowledge. It could be learning how to ride a bike. Once you have learned how to ride a bike you can do so at any time in your life. It’s knowledge in your subconscious.
In the same way, if you smoke then that too will become a habit and this habit will also be considered to be learned knowledge by your subconscious mind.
Remember: The subconscious mind doesn't differentiate between good and bad; it just learns and acts on the knowledge that has been programmed into it.
The subconscious mind is protective.
Once a new skill or habit (good for you or bad for you) has been programmed into your subconscious mind it tends to become rigid. That’s why it’s a well known fact that habits are hard to change. Exerting will power to change is a conscious effort and after a while you just get tired. That’s why so many people start things and drop out (like dieting or trying to quit smoking). However, if you can change your subconscious programming then making the change you desire becomes easy and automatic. If you have been smoking for many years then the habit of smoking is very strong in your subconscious and since smoking has been done for so long your subconscious mind considers it to be valuable knowledge. To change the smoking habit means you have to replace all the habits involved in smoking with new habits. The power of the suggestions and emotional force behind those suggestions has to be stronger than the original habit for it to be removed and new beliefs to get programmed into your subconscious.
The critical factor
The critical factor blocks new beliefs and habits from entering your subconscious mind.
The critical factor is your awareness of the suggestions.
If you like what you hear then the critical fact is ‘bypassed’ and the suggestions go into your subconscious.
The number and emotional power of the suggestions still have to be more than the original programming for your subconscious mind to get reprogrammed which means you may have to absorb lots of similar suggestion and maybe do a hypnosis session more than once to properly replace an old programming such as a bad habit.
However, if you genuinely desire the suggestions you hear and believe you can make these new beliefs a part of you then there is enough emotional power behind the suggestions for reprogramming your subconscious mind with ease.
In everyday life you encounter many situations where your critical factor is bypassed. Such as watching advertisement and getting a sudden craving for McDonald's or some KFC. However, when you are with a hypnotist your critical factor is on high alert so the “Critical Factor Bypass” (referred to as CFB in marketing), that advertisers are able to pull off, won’t work for a hypnosist.
Acceptable selective thinking
If you are doing hypnosis for self-confidence then the affirmations and suggestions you focus on to increase your confidence is what you consider to be ‘acceptable selective thinking’.
Affirmations and suggestions that are about feeling insecure and fearful of others would be ‘unacceptable selective thinking’.
In self-hypnosis you choose the affirmations and visualizations you are going to do during your practice, so you have chosen the selective thinking that you want to reprogram your subconscious with, i.e. you chose what is acceptable to you. If you go to a hypnotist you may hear some suggestions that don’t fit with how you view the world, for example, if you are very materialistic and your hypnotist says ‘you trust that the universe is helping you’ then you might just start laughing. At the very least, if you don’t laugh, you will think the suggestion is silly and it won’t work. The only attitude that works in hypnosis is one of genuine interest & desire. All other attitudes make hypnosis fail.
WebMD: "Forget the stage-show stereotypes. Hypnosis has helped people cut back on pain, anxiety, and depression medications, resolve intestinal problems, quit smoking, even have less stressful childbirth. There's no pocket watch involved. Hypnosis is simply a state of concentration and focused attention -- focused on a mental image. It's a skill that must be learned from a trained therapist. With practice, hypnotizing yourself comes easily. Self-hypnosis is the path to training both mind and body to make a desired change."
So, what is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is being in a focused state of awareness – focused on suggestions and visualization – to a point where you can block all else out and focus on only one thing at a time. When you do this in a relaxed state with your mind locked on the ideas with genuine interest then you are connected directly to your subconscious mind and you can reprogram it.
In other words, you have ‘bypassed your critical factor’ to establish ‘acceptable selective thinking’.
Myths of hypnosis reiterated
Hypnosis is not sleep. You will be aware during the entire process. Most people believe hypnosis is a kind of subconscious state so they don’t believe they are in hypnosis when it happens.
Your mind can’t be controlled. You will not become a zombie. You can even lie under hypnosis.
When most people think of hypnosis they think of a creepy old man controlling the mind of an innocent person to do horrible things. This is a stereotype promoted by Hollywood movies and it even makes for some scary scenes in a movie but it has nothing to do with the reality of hypnosis.
The problem with the common perception of hypnosis has to do with it’s name, the opposition by the barbaric doctors of the 18th century, misconceptions created by stage hypnosis and inaccurate portrayals of hypnosis in movies. I am going to address each of these in turn so you get the full picture of what hypnosis really is and how it is different from mind control.
First lets begin with it’s name. In mid 1800's Dr. James Braid was experimenting with the techniques of hypnosis and he noticed that after his subjects followed his instructions they would be in a very relaxed state with their eyes closed. Since his subjects appeared to be asleep he decided to name the method ‘hypnosis’ after the Greek God of sleep ‘Hypnos’. This name spread rapidly. Later after questioning his subjects he discovered that although they were relaxed and their eyes were closed they were far from being asleep. In fact they were very aware and highly focused on everything he said. With this realization he decided to change the name to ‘mono-ideaism’. Mono meaning one and ideaism referring to the idea or suggestion his subject was focusing on. This name more accurately reflected the reality of the hypnotic process of how the subjects focused on what the hypnotists was saying. Unfortunately the name hypnosis had stuck and with it the misconception that hypnosis has something to do with sleep. It doesn’t.
This leads us to…
Hypnosis Misconception #1: Hypnosis is a sleep like state.
Reality is that hypnosis is a state of highly focused awareness.
The hypnotic state is analogous to something called Dhayana which is the name of meditation in a system called Yoga. In the Yogic ‘Dhayanic Meditation’ the yogi focuses his or her mind entirely on an object or image. This exercise is meant to build concentration and still the thoughts of the mind. The Dhayanic meditation practice can be fairly hard for the novice practitioner as holding the mind still (on a single object/image) can be very difficult.
The hypnotized person is in a very similar state to the Dhayanic meditative state in that the mind is focused in one direction. The difference is that in Dhayanic meditation the practitioner has to exert a personal force of will on holding the mind steady on an object or image while in hypnosis the person just has to follow what the hypnotists if saying and focus only on the words of the hypnotist. That means that the hypnotist acts as a guide. Another difference is that instead of focusing the mind on just one image the subject is guided to focus his or her mind on a series of suggestions, thoughts and visualizations which helps a person create change in themselves. Much like a Dhayanic meditation but in a more dynamic way.
To restate this: In both Dhayanic meditation and hypnosis the person has a highly focused state of awareness. In Dhayanic meditation the awareness is focused on the chosen object/image. While in hypnosis awareness is focused on the words of the guide (hypnotist). In both cases the person has complete awareness, it’s just focused awareness.
The next big setback for hypnosis also happened in the 1800’s.
Dr. James Esdaile used hypnosis as preparation for his patients before surgery with a recovery rate that was unheard of in his time – and was comparable to recovery rates after the discovery of chloroform/ether.
What he did was conduct surgeries on prisoners in India, documenting them carefully. He ended up performing over 3000 surgeries with recovery rates of 95% while similar surgeries in England had a recovery rate of about 50%. What he did was have a lackey pass a metal plate over the patients body for about 2 days till the boredom put the patient into a deep trance. Then he would perform the surgery (even stuff like amputations!). He found that not only did the recovery rate go up to over 95% but post operation shock went down considerable as did blood loss! (now we know that hypnosis reduces shock and bleeding but back then this was revolutionary).
Dr. James Esdaile took his results back to England for review by his fellow doctors and was shocked by the feedback he got. Essentially the doctors in England formed a committee to analyze his results and decided that hypnosis shouldn’t be applied to English patients because, I quote ‘If God didn’t mean for people to suffer he wouldn’t have invented pain’. It’s possible that they were too lazy to do the methods of were just jealous of their colleagues results and didn’t want to give him any fame. Dr. James Esdaile, shocked and disappointed went back to India to carry on his work.
Surprisingly a year later chloroform/ether was discovered that made a patient unconscious during the operation, reduced bleeding and improved recovery rate (comparable to Dr. James Esdaile's results). For some reason ether/chloroform was not ignored using the same logic that ‘God meant for people to suffer’ apparently God had changed his mind about patient suffering. This was a big setback for the development of hypnosis techniques and was the an example of doctors setting back medical development for personal reasons.
After this setback hypnosis entered it’s dark ages. It was only the stage hypnotists that kept hypnosis alive over the next half century with their fancy and hyped up stage performances. In stage hypnosis it was discovered that with just a little encouragement many individuals would act incredibly silly thereby entertaining the entire crowd. This became a means of livelihood for several generations of stage hypnotists.
Stage hypnosis may seem to be a situation in which several members of the audience come under mind control but that is not the actual situation. The whole performance is an elaborate and very effective setup. What happens is that the stage hypnotist determines which members of the audience are most ready to follow along with the instructions (with a relaxation exercise as well as ‘suggestibility tests’). The people selected tend to be those who are oppressed by their normal social roles and need a means of letting go. Just like people let go of their inhibitions when drunk (i.e. alcohol reduces inhibition and becomes an excuse to act silly) in the same way they let go and act silly on stage with the excuse of being hypnotized.
It isn’t that simple but that is the basic idea of how stage hypnosis works. It’s an act and NOT mind control. To get the selected performers ready to follow the instructions of the stage hypnotist the individuals have to pass a series of tests. Relaxation, suggestibility and willingness to volunteer are a part of the process of selection –as well as creating an aura of expectation and convincing the stage performers that they are the ‘stars’ of the show. This increases the mental pressure (and willingness) on the volunteers to perform. The stage hypnosis performers are aware during the entire experience and can refuse any command that goes against their belief system. That is why a stage hypnotist will only ask the volunteers to do stuff that they would probably do if they were drunk anyways. And that’s how the whole stage hypnosis performance comes to be. More explanation of how stage hypnosis is done will come in another post.
Stage hypnosis explanation clip;
All of the above explanation is just to explain…
Hypnosis Misconception #2: Hypnosis is mind control and stage hypnosis shows mind control in action.
Truth: It’s a show based on a process with no mind control. Participants are aware throughout and can reject any suggestion that doesn't fit their belief system.
Finally, hypnosis is used in Hollywood movies as a method of mind control to create interesting stories. No one has ever been controlled with hypnosis so the stories in the movies are pure fantasy. However, images created by movies last – i.e. they create a strong impression – so many believe the movie hype even though there is nothing in the news media to corroborate such stories.
In summary the myths of hypnosis are as follows;
It’s mind control.
You are in a sleeplike state during hypnosis
You might lose control and reveal your secrets
you might not wake up
Myths 1 and 2 required an explanation of why this misconception came to be, which I have done.
Myths 3 and 4 are also wrong. Since you are aware during the entire process of hypnosis there is no question of ‘not waking up’. Your attention is simply very focused. If the hypnotist stops talking you will notice and simply open your eyes to see what’s going on. Also, since you are aware you have complete control over your mind – that means you can easily lie while in the state of hypnosis if you want to. It also means that that hypnosis can’t be used to make criminals tell the truth. There is simply no mind control involved.
The ONLY Attitude That Makes Hypnosis (or Self-Hypnosis) Work
Hypnosis isn’t ‘hit or miss’ nor is it a ‘sure thing’ or even ‘mind control’. Many people have used hypnosis to quit smoking or lose weight but not all have succeeded. If hypnosis was mind control or a sure thing then everyone would be helped by hypnosis. So that myth is easily disproven by personal observation of the people who have experienced hypnosis. Of course, this leads to the belief that some people are ‘hypnotizable’ and some aren’t so a hypnosis session will either work or not work. This isn’t true either. Hypnosis is simply a state of focused concentration. Everyone can focus their attention. So hypnosis (and self-hypnosis) will work every time providing the person has no misconceptions or fears of hypnosis (i.e. they know they will also be aware and their minds can’t be controlled) AND they have the right attitude.
There is only one attitude that makes hypnosis and self-hypnosis work
That attitude is “I love this affirmation/suggestion and I want this change in myself’. If you focus your attention in a relaxed hypnotic state –with a genuine desire to achieve the change you are aiming for – then and only then can you re-program your subconscious mind with the new beliefs.
Three attitudes that block hypnosis and self-hypnosis from working
Don’t like the affirmation/suggestion – If you don’t like what you are hearing then, of course, you won’t want it to be a part of you. So it won’t. This is how it is in everyday waking life and how it is in hypnosis.
Neutrality – If you don’t care whether a particular affirmation/suggestion works or not then you have a neutral perspective. If you are neutral then you don’t have enough desire to make the change a part of you. So it won’t work.
You ‘hope’ it works – If you like what you’re hearing and want it to be a part of how you see and deal with life, BUT don’t really believe you can do it, then it won’t work. You may hope that you could make the particular change you heard in the affirmation/suggestion but you don’t believe it.
Suggestions and Suggestibility
Suggestibility is often misunderstood as gullibility. Gullibility is being naïve or easily fooled. Suggestibility is the ability to absorb new ideas and can be correlated with a high IQ. That means that smarter people with good imaginations tend to be less gullible and more suggestible.
A good leader is someone who is highly suggestible. The good leader will absorb all the ideas/solutions presented to him/her and then make a decision based on what is right for the situation if they already have the knowledge to know which suggestions are right and which are wrong. If the leader needs to learn more before deciding then all suggestions will remain on his/her mind until he/she can eliminate the ones that research don’t confirm. Being suggestible has nothing to do with mind control.
A gullible person will accept all suggestions without any investigation.
Being suggestible is not only a sign of intelligence but it shows your imagination is strong as well. Being 100% suggestible means that you can absorb new ideas easily – with fear or doubt – and then you can sort the false from the true and take action accordingly. So being highly suggestible is a very desirable trait for success.
In hypnosis suggestions are made for changing habits or ideas or even beliefs. These suggestions are absorbed into the subconscious mind. Anything that doesn’t fit with a person’s knowledge base will be rejected. That is why hypnotist’s make many suggestions in each session so that at least 15-20% of the suggestions make it through to the subconscious mind so at least some change takes place. It’s also why you need several hypnosis sessions for serious problems and have to work with your hypnotists to tailor the suggestions to your liking.
Stage Hypnosis Suggestibility
Many stage hypnotists do imagination exercises before a stage show to determine which audience members are highly suggestible. If the person follows the imagination exercises properly (and meet some other criteria such as desire for attention) then a stage hypnotist will note these individuals to call on for the show. Ask most participants in a stage hypnosis show and they will tell you that they were aware of what the hypnotist said and felt motivated to follow along. If the stage hypnotist had said something that went against any individuals beliefs or values then the suggestions wouldn’t work. That is why stage hypnotists stick with silly suggestions like barking like a dog or clucking like a chicken as it is something any person would do when having fun with friends. Best part is that being on stage and ‘under control of a hypnotist’ gives a person an excuse to let go and act crazy. Many people are repressed or big attention seekers and these people are easy to notice and make perfect volunteers for a stage show. A stage hypnotist preselects volunteers through imagination exercises and body language long before any volunteers are asked to come on stage. Only the ones who showed the right character type for a stage show are selected from the raised hands of the volunteers.
Stage hypnosis explanation clip;
Hypnosis Is A Normal Everyday State for Everyone
I have covered what hypnosis is i.e. a state of highly focused attention. Now I am going to show that being in a state of focused attention (i.e. hypnosis) is a normal everyday experience for all human beings.
To begin with in almost all activities that you engage in you have to be in a state of focused attention to accomplish that activity.
When you drive a car you are in a state of focused attention (or you should be for safe driving).
When you are reading a book you are in a state of focused attention. How involved you are in the book also indicates how –highly- focused your attention is. If the book is exciting or romantic and you are on the edge of your seat or feeling romantic then you are in a state of highly focused attention towards the book and your emotions are being guided by the words of the author who is acting as ‘hypnotist’.
The same thing happens when you are involved in a movie (or TV show). You laugh, cry or get nervous and excited depending on what is going on in the movie. If you are bored with the movie then you won’t get involved with the story but if your attention is highly focused on the story (i.e. you are involved with the movie) then you will experience it as if it were real.
In the language of hypnosis the extent to which you are focused indicates your ‘depth of trance’. If you are not involved in the book or movie then you don’t move emotionally with the story which means that you have a light state of trance. If you are heavily involved of focused on the book or movie you are in a deep state of trance.
Calling a trance state ‘light’ of ‘deep’ is simply hypnosis lingo for how highly focused your state of mind is at your current activity.
You can actually say that hypnosis is a state of mind that everyone goes in and out of throughout the day. A few more examples will make this clear.
When you are daydreaming and therefore oblivious to what’s going on around you or even if someone called your name then you are highly focused on your imagination. That’s a hypnotic trance.
When you are feeling love, such as when you are in love, then your mind is focused on romantic thoughts and you even feel love towards everyone you meet. You are in a hypnotic trance (highly focused attention).
In the angry and loving examples your hypnotic trance is an emotional one based on a few thoughts that you are currently engaged in.
In these cases your hypnotic trance is self-created – i.e. your thoughts guide you to feel what you do. While in the examples of the book and movie you are guided by the writer and actors to feel what you do.
That is the difference between hypnosis and self-hypnosis. In self-hypnosis your focus is internal and you choose what to focus on and that creates your hypnotic trance. In hypnosis your focus is guided by a person (like a book or movie) and that external guidance creates your hypnotic trance.
By these examples I have shown that being in states of highly focused attention is a normal part of everyday experience for all human beings. I’m sure you can think of many more examples of states of highly focused attention involving sports, work, learning or talking to friends all of which are different states of focused attention. All of these states are different types of hypnotic trances.
In other words hypnosis is a part of everyday life. The only reason people think it is something different than what they experience everyday is the terminology (i.e. words used to describe the experiences). This terminology makes hypnosis seem like something mysterious. Hypnosis is not only not mysterious it is something that we are all masters of and experience everyday.
How to Hypnotize Tutorial: Dr. Richard Nongard's 1-Hour Crash Course in Hypnosis