Updated: Apr 14
Countless websites describe how to put yourself into a state of self-hypnosis (good example here). Rarely do they tell you what self-hypnosis is or what physiologically happens to you in this state. Without such understanding, it is less likely that you will receive meaningful, long-term help from self-hypnosis.
What is self-hypnosis physiologically?
Self-hypnosis is the conscious act of stopping yourself from falling completely asleep. Self-hypnosis allows you to set aside most of your conscious mind to give you access to your subconscious mind to emphasize (instruct to your subconscious) a constructive idea.
In the self-hypnotic state, you experience theta brainwave activity, the same experienced during REM sleep. If you want to learn more about the physiological and mental benefits of self-hypnosis, learn about the benefits of REM sleep.
Self-hypnosis is so natural and commonplace that everyone passes through the state at least twice every day. Did you know that? Once every time you fall asleep, and once again when you wake up. If self-hypnosis were harmful, it would have killed all of us long ago.
Theta brainwaves experienced during self-hypnosis do the following:
Provide deep physical relaxation
Heighten mental clarity; improve concentration on a single task; decrease awareness of surrounding environment
Enhance creativity and imagination; decrease or eliminate self-consciousness and worry
Improve memory recall
Increase verbal ability
Increase IQ performance
Stimulate the release of endorphins and promote euphoria
Anytime throughout your day when you focus on one idea at the exclusion of all else, you're in a self-hypnotic state. In such a state, events can happen around you that other people notice but you will not. You can be addressed by someone and answer intelligently without having any recollection of the conversation afterward.
You can experience hypnotic effects in the waking state in varying degrees from authority figures in your life such as parents, actors, sports figures, police officers, politicians, cinematic film, and literature. The more authority you emotionally give to an outside influence and the more emotionally connected you are to it, the more powerfully the outside influence can affect your subconscious.
You can be attacked by dogs countless times and not become afraid of dogs. But you can become afraid of dogs from one attack if that attack produces within you a sufficient emotional response. It’s not the degree of threat that matters, but the perceived degree of threat.
All hypnosis is self-hypnosis
When you undergo hypnotherapy, the psychologist is only helping you to hypnotize yourself. Hypnotists do not have magical powers. They simply know how it's done. You can learn to do it yourself better than a professional hypnotist. This is because:
You know yourself better than anyone else.
You (I hope) trust yourself more than you would a hypnotist.
Conscious vs. subconscious
You are consciously aware of only a small part of who you think you are. Five percent of your mind is the conscious part, while ninety-five percent is the unconscious part.
Imagine being the head of an organization consisting of twenty people, including yourself. This makes you 5% of the group. The other 95% are your nineteen employees. You cannot communicate with your nineteen employees. Instead, your employees act under their own direction. You are unaware of the direction they’re taking. In such a scenario, what is the likelihood that they are acting according to your will?
Here are some other ways of describing the problem stemming from your trying to “force” your subconscious mind to your will:
Will comes from the periphery of your mind. Imagination comes from its core. Imagination will always eventually win out.
Your conscious mind is the mind of choice. Your subconscious mind is the mind of preference. Ultimately, you will choose what your subconscious prefers.
Whether you know it or not, you are driven almost entirely by your ego, which is seated in your subconscious. If your ego is healthy, so will be your awareness of and perception of yourself and your environment. If your ego is unhealthy, you will be anxious and fearful. Such deep feelings manifest themselves outwardly in a myriad of destructive behaviors.
Why is the subconscious so dominant in our lives?
We are like blindfolded ants trying to direct a horse. What good can come from such limited power?
A lot of good, actually.
Your subconscious prevents you from changing too quickly, making you less “tossed to and fro.” Your subconscious controls so much of your mind and body that if you had to control all of it consciously, you would not live longer than a few minutes. By design, your conscious mind is weaker than your subconscious mind.
There are roughly 700 muscles in your body. Imagine trying to stand up while consciously controlling each of those 700 muscles. Go ahead, try it.
If you've ever wanted to walk and chew gum at the same time, you can thank your subconscious mind.
As a minimum, your subconscious mind,
keeps track of the importance and relevance of your memories
manages involuntary functions of your body, including heartbeat, digestion, circulatory system (100 thousand miles of blood vessels), hormones (fifty of them), nervous system (50 miles of nerves) and immune systems (including 2 million types of proteins)
provides the seat (center) of your emotions, imagination, preferences, and habits
Your subconscious mind is 100% loyal to what it thinks you want and will never give up on its goals for you. Your subconsciouis works 24/7/365 for you and never tires.
How can we let our subconscious mind know what we want?
Five ways you can change your subconscious mind
Endure a lot of repetition over an extended period of time.
Maintain a strong identification with a group.
Internalize ideas from authority figures, especially when received in an emotional manner.
Experience intense emotion (a savant genius becomes a peevish child during an argument).
Make use of self-hypnosis.
What is the best use of self-hypnosis?
Two words: overcoming habits. For more more on emotional habits, see this post.
Your emotional habits drive every waking moment of your life. This is okay so long as your emotional habits are healthy.
Emotional afflictions such as chronic anger, insomnia, lack of confidence, oversleeping, procrastination, shyness, anxiety, overeating, laziness, overworking, disorganization, and a hundred other emotional scourges largely occur automatically. Trying to overcome them requires enormous amounts of willpower. This is because your conscious mind is weak when matched against your subconscious mind.
Therefore, make your imagination work for you instead of against you. This is what self-hypnosis does!
General information about self-hypnosis -
The subconscious mind is the mind of a six-year-old. While under self-hypnosis, it is vital to speak to it as if you were speaking to a small child, using simple thoughts, small words, and short sentences.
All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Hypnotists have no super-human power over you.
The state of self-hypnosis is similar to sleep, but your brain remains highly focused on one idea.
Communication and decision making systems are still in place.
Under self-hypnosis, speak and think as if what you’re trying to change has already been changed. Instead of telling yourself, “I want to be happier,” tell yourself, “I enjoy being happy.” Then imagine living happily, as if you already were. This will be easy for you to believe if you are under self-hypnosis. Whereas, if you say under self-hypnosis, “I want to be happy,” you're only telling your subconscious that you are not presently happy. This may make your life worse. You must understand this principle!
Under self-hypnosis, focus on only one idea. Focusing on two ideas will re-arouse your conscious mind and draw you out of self-hypnosis. Reign yourself back from trying to do everything at once.
Under self-hypnosis, you do not entirely suppress your conscious mind. If you did, you would fall asleep as you do every night. This is why learning self-hypnosis techniques requires practice.
If you're reading this, chances are your a beginner at self-hypnosis. Here a simple but powerful technique that will give you some successful experience with self-hypnosis. This technique is so powerful it may be all that you'll need.
Every time you fall asleep and every time you wake up you pass through a mental state called hypnagogia. In such a state, we are all much more susceptible to suggestion than we are normally. This includes susceptibility to our own suggestions.
I have successfully applied the following technique in my life:
Pick one issue in your life that concerns you. Self-hypnosis can only work on one concept at a time. I recommend an issue that is easily described using a maximum of two or three words. If you are struggling with overeating, the words may be, "I eat less." If it is quitting smoking, the words may be, "I hate smoking." If it is reducing anger, the words may be, "I love peace."
Wait until you are comfortable in bed and just about asleep. The longer you delay the process the better. Just let yourself begin to fall asleep as you normally would. Nothing fancy. More is not better.
When you are in this final state, repeat in your mind the one to three chosen words. Believe those words. Believe you have already achieved the desired condition. You are not trying to achieve a new condition. Instead, you are reminding yourself of a condition that has already been a central part of you life for a very long time. The message is not, "I will eat less," but rather, "I already have been eating less."
It is critical that during this process you use only those several words. Do not elaborate. Accept them at face value, as if the issue has already been solved. If you rehearse anything further in your mind, you will drift backward away from sleep and away from the hypnagogic state.
It is as simple as that.
You will make as much progress with one to three sessions of this technique as you would with years of willpower. Understand that when you're entering the hypnagogic state you are more suggestible than you're used to being during the day. Reading this now, you may say think, "This is a bunch of nonsense!" Such is a normal response. But you will not feel such resistance after you enter the hypnagogic state.
The point must be made that night dreams are the work of the subconscious. Dreams are always about the person dreaming. As previously stated in this post, the subconscious mind is the mind of a six-year-old. What would the emotional state of a six-year-old be if it were put into an adult setting and expected to deal with adult pressures life? All Home Alone jokes aside, I imagine the person would feel like we feel in our dreams: anxious, fearful, intimidated, vulnerable, and under pressures he or she does not understand.
Let's give this young, impressionable person some help.
You want to make a decision? Your brain has already made it.
Scientists measuring brain activity have found that when a person makes a conscious decision, the person's brain makes the choice seconds prior to the person's awareness of making the decision. In fact, scientists can watch on monitors the decision about to be made, and can therefore predict what the person's choice will be before he/she is aware of consciously making the choice. This is eerily close to mind-reading in advance.
Does this mean we're not responsible for our actions because our life's choices are made ahead of time by some unseen, unaccounted for, inner person?
The answer is no! because we are the builders of our own subconscious, whether we're aware of this responsibility or not. The adage, "as a man thinketh, so is he," (see Proverbs 23:7) is literally true. It is physiologically correct.
This is one reason why it is hard for us to overcome our weaknesses and improve ourselves. Our inner person (subconscious) seems to be resistant to the changes we want to make in our lives. And in fact, it knows at all times what choices we're going to make before we make them.
Imagine engaging in a battle where the enemy knows your every action before you do. Such would be a difficult war to win!
This is the life we live. It is critical, therefore, that we have as healthy of a subconscious as we possibly can.
Suggestibility vs. Gullibility
Do not confuse suggestibility with gullibility. Gullible people have inadequate critical faculties at all times. Suggestible people have good critical faculties but can dismiss them when they choose.
The five-minute rest
Five-minutes is all it takes to significantly reduce your stress. If ten steps are required to induce self-hypnosis, consider a five-minute rest as step zero.
If you can't spare five minutes from your schedule, then your life is over-programmed! It's not good for you to be in a 24/7 panic. Just because it's common for people to be continually stressed doesn't mean it's healthy.
Here's the process:
When you can get away, find a couch or a comfortable, soft chair in a quiet location. If you're at work, then when on a break go out to your car.
Sit, or lie down if you can. Close your eyes. Take note of your heartbeat and your rate of breathing.
Inhale and exhale deeply and slowly. Think calm, faraway thoughts. Ignore your present concerns because they can wait for five minutes. Pretend--for the moment--that your life is perfect. If this is hard for you to do, then keep trying. It will become easier with practice.
In five minutes or less you'll feel much calmer. You will stay calm for a considerable time afterwards, several hours at least.
We tend to be in the habit of being continually stressed--to the degree that our bodies and minds never become unstressed. This habit is not healthy. Practicing this technique once or twice a day will help train you to recognize when you're experiencing runaway, constant stress.
If you're one of those people who read about a technique like this and think, "No way will this work for me," then what does that tell you?
For online coaching on how to take advantage of self-hypnosis, check out iNLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming), which helps people overcome major life-inhibiting roadblocks with use of hypnosis, self-hypnosis, and other means. Be sure to read through their informative Blog page.