What Hypnosis Isn’t, What It Is, and How It Can Help You Reach Your Goals: Part II
By Richard Blake, MIT, CHT
In Part I of this article, I explained how hypnosis has nothing to do with mind control. Hypnosis is a perfectly natural state of mind that you put yourself into all the time, such as when you are watching a movie or reading a book. Hypnosis occurs whenever you focus your attention for a long enough period of time to bypass the analytical part of your mind. When that bypass occurs, you can access the subconscious mind more easily.
In Part II, I want to explain how accessing your subconscious mind through hypnosis can help you reach your goals. But what exactly is the subconscious mind? How does it work? The subconscious mind has two important functions:
- It generates emotions that are designed to help us get our needs met. Fear motivates us to protect ourselves. Sadness motivates us to replace someone who was lost or something that was lost. Anger motivates us to make things fair. Boredom motivates us to challenge ourselves more. And so on.
- It stores all of our experiences, becoming a vast database of information. It begins more or less empty at birth and records every event in our lives, including all of our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and habits. It forgets nothing.
By accessing these two functions of the subconscious mind, hypnosis allows people to successfully reach their goals.
Let’s examine how this works by using an example—a person who wants to lose weight. The common prescription for weight loss is simply to “eat less and exercise.” Sounds simple, right? Until you start trying to do it! You might be enthused about eating less for a little while. You diet. You try exercising more. Nevertheless, after a week or even a month, you give up. What happened? Something that sounded so easy has suddenly become an impossibly difficult challenge! Why is it so hard to change our habits?
Let’s call our weight-loss person “Sam”. Sam is 40 years old and wants to lose 50 lbs. Sam’s weight has yo-yoed during the many different diets Sam has tried, but the weight came back to stay. Sam just couldn’t stop eating too much during stressful times or at certain times of the day. Sam has tried to exercise more, but gave up after a while because it was so much easier not to take a walk every morning. It was too cold or too early. Sam had so many other things to do instead.
Let’s explore how the subconscious mind is creating this situation for Sam, so we can see how hypnosis can use the subconscious mind’s abilities to help her lose weight.
The Role of Beliefs
Let’s say that Sam gets a high fever as a toddler. Mom panics and says something like, “If we don’t take Sam to the doctor, she’s going to die. We need to go there right now!” Little Sam thinks, “I’m about to die! If Mom says so, it must be true!” When Sam forms this belief in her conscious mind, it immediately gets stored in her subconscious mind. Sam, of course, does not die. Mom takes her to the doctor and Sam gets better in a day or two. Although Mom was overreacting and Sam quickly recovers, the belief that “I’m about to die” remains stored in Sam’s subconscious mind.
The Role of Emotions
Another function of the subconscious mind is to generate emotions to help you get your needs met. Because the belief that she is about to die is stored in Sam’s subconscious mind, her subconscious mind is going to generate an appropriate emotion—fear—that will motivate Sam to protect herself from a perceived threat. The subconscious is trying to help Sam to meet her need for safety and security. It doesn’t matter that her belief about being “about to die” is a mistake. The belief has already been stored, so the subconscious mind will continue to act on that belief and generate a feeling of fear.
Let’s say that Sam easily becomes upset and agitated because of this constant fearful feeling. Perhaps her mom, trying to soothe her and comfort her, gives her some ice cream to make her feel better. And it helps!
Most people who engage in too-much behaviors such as eating too much, do so because they are trying to distract themselves from uncomfortable feelings. That’s why we have terms such as emotional eating and comfort food. But people can distract themselves with all kinds of too-much behaviors, such as smoking too much, drinking too much, gambling too much, or even working too much.
Whenever Sam feels that uncomfortable feeling of fear, she knows she can feel better by eating a bowl of ice cream. While she is eating and enjoying the ice cream, her mind is focused on the ice cream instead of the fear. Sam is distracting herself from uncomfortable feelings.
But the problem is that, after she finishes her ice cream, the feeling of fear comes back. Because the belief that she is “about to die” remains in her subconscious, the fear does not permanently go away. What is Sam to do? She felt temporary relief from the fear while she was eating, so she decides to eat more ice cream or some candy or potato chips. She once again feels temporary relief. But the fear always comes back and compels her to eat more food to seek relief.
Sam gets caught up in a vicious cycle of feeling bad and distracting herself. This cycle becomes a habit. And where do habits get stored? In the subconscious mind. The habit of overeating becomes an automatic behavior for Sam whenever she feels an uncomfortable emotion.
The Role of Habits
So Sam has the habit of eating too much to distract herself from uncomfortable feelings. After this habit has caused her to gain a lot of weight, she wants to go on a diet. She wants to “eat less and exercise.” But when she tries to reduce the amount of food she eats, what happens? Her distractor is gone, and she is left with nothing but her feelings—her fear and any other uncomfortable emotions that she was using food to distract herself from. These feelings become too painful for her, so she breaks her diet and goes right back to overeating. The habit of overeating emerges as the clear victor.
Perhaps Sam also has the habit of being very sedentary. Although she has tried to exercise more, she always gives up after a week or two. She always talks herself out of exercising, even though she knows it’s healthy for her and will help her lose weight. Since she finds it so difficult to stop overeating, perhaps she figures there’s no point in exercising.
Habits, just like beliefs, are permanently stored in the subconscious mind. Both good and bad habits are stored there, indiscriminately. If you try to change your habits, you are bound to meet resistance from your subconscious mind.
How Hypnosis Helps Overcome Obstacles to Your Success
Stored in Sam’s subconscious mind are beliefs that are not based on reality. She was never really “about to die.” These misperceptions caused the subconscious mind to generate chronic fear. In order to cope with that uncomfortable emotion, Sam developed a habitual response—overeating—and that habit likewise became stored in her subconscious mind, along with her all of her beliefs and her habit of being sedentary.
How can hypnosis change this situation so Sam can reach her goal of losing 50 lbs.?
You might be tempted to respond, “Well, if Sam can form that problematic belief in childhood, why can’t she simply form a new belief to replace it—the belief that she is safe and secure? Why can’t she just start exercising every morning and let that new habit get stored in her subconscious mind instead of just sitting around all the time?”
The problem is with the analytical part of the mind. Remember, this is the part of the mind that gets bypassed in hypnosis. The analytical part of the mind has another function besides thinking and analyzing. One of its more covert functions is to protect beliefs stored in the subconscious mind. It protects them by filtering out beliefs and experiences that contradict beliefs stored in the subconscious mind. Whether they seem like good beliefs or bad beliefs, the analytical mind protects and maintains whatever beliefs are stored in the subconscious mind.
In Sam’s case, if she were to tell herself that “I’m perfectly safe and I’m not about to die,” the analytical part of the mind would reject that belief and keep it from getting stored in the subconscious mind—even though Sam herself is trying to establish this new belief and this new belief is perfectly reasonable. It’s as if the analytical mind were saying, “Sam is telling us we’re safe. But that contradicts the belief that we are about to die, so we need to reject this new idea. It’s dangerous.” So when Sam is telling herself she’s safe, she won’t feel that it is true. Her subconscious mind will continue to generate fear based on the misperception that she wants to change.
So Sam gets into a contest of wills between her conscious mind and her subconscious mind. She knows she’s safe and tells herself that she’s safe, yet the subconscious mind doesn’t get the message, thanks to the analytical mind’s filtering function. The subconscious mind therefore keeps on creating a feeling of fear, based on the stored belief that Sam is “about to die.” The feeling of fear also continues to drive the habit of overeating.
The habits of distracting herself with food and remaining sedentary are also maintained by the analytical mind. If Sam tries to tell herself not to eat when she feels uncomfortable emotions, her analytical mind will filter out that new idea, as if it were saying, “The habit of overeating is stored in the subconscious mind. We always eat when we feel uncomfortable emotions. We can’t just do nothing about those emotions! And you always sit around when have the chance. It’s who you are. That habit is likewise part of your subconscious programming. We can’t just become a walker or a jogger! What you are asking us to do contradicts the programs you have already established.” So, the analytical mind causes Sam to talk herself out of exercising in the morning. It’s too cold, too early. It’s not something she should start doing now.
Now you can see why creating new habits can be so difficult. Your analytical mind is resisting your efforts by filtering them all out! Nevertheless, as you recall, hypnosis is the bypass of the analytical part of the mind through focused attention. When we bypass the analytical part of the mind, we are bypassing its ability to filter out new beliefs and new habits that you want to have.
In Sam’s case, a hypnotist would want to do two things: First, Sam would enter hypnosis so she can bypass the analytical part of her mind. The hypnotist would then guide Sam into giving new beliefs to her subconscious mind regarding her experiences with illness as a child. With the analytical filter bypassed, the client and hypnotist can replace a fear-producing belief with a confidence-producing belief. When the belief that Sam is “about to die” is replaced with the belief that she is “healthy and will live a long time,” it is no longer necessary for the subconscious mind to produce the emotion of fear.
When Sam is no longer plagued by a constant feeling of fear, she also is no longer motivated to eat so much. She no longer has that to use food to distract herself from the uncomfortable feeling of fear.
Second, with the analytical mind bypassed, the client and hypnotist can replace bad habits with good habits. It’s always easier to replace one habit with another habit, instead of trying to stop a behavior entirely. Whenever Sam feels an uncomfortable emotion, she can create a new behavior instead: She can drink water or do something fun that she enjoys doing. She would be replacing the problematic habit of overeating with the healthy habit of keeping herself hydrated and enjoying her life more. When the analytical mind is no longer filtering out these suggestions for change, the subconscious mind readily accepts them and stores them, which also helps Sam begin to implement them.
The same is true for Sam’s habit of remaining sedentary. With the analytical filter bypassed, Sam can adopt new habits about exercise, because the new habit is being stored in her subconscious mind. By attaching some kind of exercise regimen to a behavior that she does every morning, such as brushing her teeth, Sam will find it so much easier to begin exercising and continue exercising, because her subconscious mind is working for her conscious intentions instead of against them.
Sam’s case is just an example. All habits and misperceptions stored in the subconscious mind can create problems for us in our lives—holding us back and keeping from being the people we want to be and living the lives we want to live. By using hypnosis to clear away unpleasant emotions from our pasts and to install new behaviors and habits that we want to have, we can more easily reach our goals.
Richard Blake is a registered hypnotherapist and co-owner of Root of Healing Naturopathic Medicine. Having trained with some of the most widely-recognized hypnosis experts in the United States—Jack Elias, Cal Banyan, Marilyn Gordon, and Ron Eslinger—he has used hypnotherapy to help hundreds of people overcome their self-limiting beliefs and successfully reach their goals. You can find him at www.rootofhealing.com.