Feb 23, 2024

A Technical Explanation Of Hypnosis: How Hypnosis Works

“Hypnosis is a form of highly focused attention” from Newsweek’s article “Altered States“

TIME Magazine - How Hypnosis Works, According to ScienceWhen you think about hypnosis, what do you visualize? For many, it’s a clock-swinging magician or a comedy act that forces an unwitting volunteer to make embarrassing public admissions on stage.

But hypnosis has a surprisingly robust scientific framework. Clinical research has shown that it can help relieve pain and anxiety and aid smoking cessation, weight loss, and sleep. 

It can help children and adolescents better regulate their feelings and behaviors. Some people can even use “self-hypnosis” to manage stress, cope with life’s challenges, and improve their physical and emotional health.

    The educational division of the US government at one time defined Hypnosis as:

    (a)    Hypnosis is the bypass of the critical factor

    (b)   Hypnosis is the establishment of acceptable selective thinking

    To explain how hypnosis works, I will use this old definition, and then I’ll cover the new definition of hypnosis. 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 using your conscious mind. Willpower is also a part of the conscious mind, as exerting your willpower 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. 

    Your 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 to drive, this knowledge becomes part of your subconscious mind. If you need to hit the brakes, do it automatically without any conscious decision. i.e.

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 into 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 willpower to change is a conscious effort, and you just get tired after a while. 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, making the change you desire becomes easy and automatic. If you have been smoking for many years, then the habit of smoking is powerful 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 them 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 has to be more than the original programming for your subconscious mind to get reprogrammed, which means you may have to absorb lots of similar suggestions and maybe do a hypnosis session more than once to properly replace 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 easily reprogramming your subconscious mind.

    In everyday life, you encounter many situations where your critical factor is bypassed. Such as watching advertisements 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 hypnotist.

 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 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. 

 So, how does hypnosis work?

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.’

In the most recent revision of the definition of hypnosis by the American Psychological Association, hypnosis is defined as

“A state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.”

It doesn’t quite explain how hypnosis works, yet it provides a generalized overview of hypnosis for researchers, and that seems to be their primary goal. As the American Medical Association itself admits,

“While there are substantial variations in theoretical understanding of these phenomena, the above definitions were created with interest in simplifying communication regarding hypnotic phenomena and procedures within and between fields of research and practice, and so are intentionally largely atheoretical.”

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 more intelligent people with good imaginations tend to be less gullible and more suggestible. 

  A good leader is someone who is highly suggestible. A good leader will absorb all the ideas/solutions presented to him/her and then make a decision based on what is suitable for the situation if they already have the knowledge to know which suggestions are appropriate and which are wrong.

If the leader needs to learn more before deciding, all suggestions will remain on his/her mind until he/she can eliminate the ones that research doesn’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 also shows your imagination is vital.

Being 100% suggestible means that you can absorb new ideas easily – with fear or doubt – and then you can sort the false from the truth and take action accordingly. So, being highly suggestible is a very desirable trait for success.

    In hypnosis, suggestions are made for changing habits, ideas, or beliefs. These suggestions are absorbed into the subconscious mind. Anything that doesn’t fit a person’s knowledge base will be rejected. That is why hypnotists make many suggestions in each session so that at least 15-20% of the suggestions are made to the subconscious mind, so at least some change occurs. It’s also why you need several hypnosis sessions for severe problems and have to work with your hypnotists to tailor the suggestions to your liking.  

 Stage Hypnosis Suggestibility

    Many hypnotists exercise imagination before a stage show to determine which audience members are highly suggestible.

If the person follows the imagination exercises appropriately (and meets other criteria such as the 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 against any individual's 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 any person would do when having fun with friends.

The best part is that being on stage and ‘under the 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.

 The ONLY Attitude That Makes Hypnosis/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 aim 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 appreciate what you hear, 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, you don’t have enough desire to make the change 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.

Hypnosis & Self-Hypnosis

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