Mindful Self-Hypnosis: Faster, Deeper, Better

Mindfulness meditation is all the rage, and rightly so! It’s an effective method with a long pedigree. But it can be elusive and confusing to the newcomer, tied as it is to Buddhist spirituality, which most of us aren’t familiar with.

As Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I’ll show you something simpler than mindfulness meditation that works as well or better, at least for beginners. Easier to learn, with fully actionable step-by-step instructions. I call it mindful self-hypnosis.

And if you’re in the Corvallis area, you can sign up for my free class in mindful self-hypnosis. More about that in a bit.

Mindfulness from a Hypnotist’s Perspective

A lot of definitions of mindfulness boil down to “minimizing self-talk.” What is self-talk? Most of us endure a lot of distracting, unhelpful chatter (and imagery) inside our own heads, as we scold ourselves, second-guess ourselves, and generally freak ourselves out. Mindfulness promises to dial this down … and it does.

But let’s ask ourselves, “Does self-talk ever vanish spontaneneously, leaving us in the realm of pure experience, without the internal chatter?” Why, yes! Yes it does. We’ve all experienced this many times.

Our self-talk tends to vanish when:

  • When something jaw-dropping happens: when we are shocked, fascinated, or amazed.
  • When we’re absorbed in something: a sunset, a book, a conversation, a task.
  • When happens when we’re “in the zone” and everything just flows.
  • When we’re deeply relaxed.
  • When we are in a hypnotic or meditative trance.

So let’s talk about hypnotic trance for a moment. Even in a light state of hypnosis, your unruly mind talks less and listens more. And when your unconscious mind is listening really closely, that’s a good time to tell it something useful!

That would be enough to make hypnosis the go-to self-help technique, but that’s just the start. But first, what’s the difference between meditation and hypnosis?

What’s the Difference Between Mindfulness Meditation and Self-Hypnosis?

Hypnosis is one example of a meditative state. Some people will argue that there are several different kinds of meditative states, but I don’t think this distinction is useful. For our purposes, the difference is in how you use it, and our goal is to have the best of everything.

What’s the difference between hypnosis and self-hypnosis? It’s self-hypnosis if you’re acting as your own hypnotist, either by following written instructions or listening to a recording. With regular hypnosis, there’s a hypnotist in the room doing that part for you. Self-hypnosis tends to work more slowly, since there isn’t a hypnotist in the room to customize the session based on what’s working best for you in the moment, and because you’re always wearing your hypnotist hat and your client hat at the same time. But once you learn self-hypnosis, you can use it whenever you want for free.

In hypnosis (and self-hypnosis), we always remember to tell the listening mind something helpful, through hypnotic suggestions. (By the way, there’s no real difference between a hypnotic suggestion and an affirmation.) At the very least, we use suggestions for relaxation and well-being. But we can do so much more! We can craft these hypnotic suggestions to encourage specific results, whatever’s right at the top of your personal improvement to-do list. Such suggestions are central to hypnosis, but not to mindfulness meditation.

We can also use extremely broad, generalized suggestions for well-being, in case we missed something. For example, Émile Coué’s classic, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better,” from Self-Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion (1922).

But mindfulness meditation has something that hypnosis (usually) lacks: a special form of inner dialog, where you simply acknowledge any response being offered by your body or imagination to your meditative process. For example, if I’m using the mantra, “I am now a nonsmoker,” and the thought comes into my head, “This is boring,” I acknowledge to myself that this thought happened, and say “I am now a nonsmoker” again. If the thought “This is boring” happens again, I acknowledge it again.

The trick here is not to argue with the response, but just to acknowledge that it happened, perhaps favoring it with a regal nod of recognition. If you start arguing with the response, you’ll trigger a  hamster-wheel cycle of internal chatter. Returning at once to the mantra prevents this without denying or ignoring the response. That’s important.

Call and Response

I call this process “call and response.” The mantra (or suggestion) is the call; whatever my mind and body do next is the response. This is standard mindfulness meditation stuff, except that, instead of focusing on our breathing or saying standard mantra like “Om,” we’re going to use a hypnotic suggestion, chosen for your needs at the moment.

For example, if we want to banish insomnia, we might use the suggestion, “I fall asleep when my head touches the pillow.” With mindful self-hypnonsis, the basic structure of the session becomes:

  1. Go into hypnosis using a hypnotic induction, such as progressive relaxation.
  2. Take a deep breath.
  3. State “I fall asleep when my head touches the pillow,” either silently or aloud.
  4. If you notice a response from your mind or body,
    • Acknowledge that the response happened (without analyzing it or following up on it in any way).
  5. If you don’t notice a response by the top of the next breath,
    • Say, “Relax deeper,” either silently or aloud.
  6. Go to Step 2.
  7. (Eventually) emerge from hypnosis up or move on to another suggestion.

That’s pretty much the whole structure, except that, in a typical session, we’ll use 4-6 suggestions: 2-4 very general ones and 1-2 specific ones.

Why Does Mindful Self-Hypnosis Work?

So here’s the key concept: most of our real thinking, our real decision-making, is done by our unconscious minds. The conscious mind is a wonderful thing, but it’s only a small part of the mind, and most things are done behind our backs, by our unconscious minds.

If we can solve a problem with our unaided conscious minds, that’s what we do. End of problem! But when the solution needs assistance from our unconscious mind, we need to bring it into play. How can we do this? The most obvious methods are to use willpower to practice the new way we want things to go, whether it’s learning to play the guitar or give up smoking, and keep at it until the new behavior is automatic.

The problem? We have a limited amount of willpower, and some tasks require more than this. We need a willpower transfusion, or a willpower substitute.

 

Hypnosis provides this. In hypnosis, you’re patient and can hold focus for a long time, as if you had endless willpower. This also means that distractions have little effect on you, and your negative self-talk fades away. Painful thoughts and feelings become much more comfortable. This clearly makes hypnosis (and self-hypnosis) ideal for resolving stubborn issues.

This is true for even quite a light trance, the kind beginners at self-hypnosis can achieve easily. And you’ll go even deeper with practice.

Reaching the Whole Mind

If you think of the mind as containing many different structures, and with outlying areas that may not get the memo right away, you can see how mindful self-hypnosis works. Take the suggestion, “I enjoy doing paperwork.” With mindful self-hypnosis, it might go like this:

  • Conscious Mind: [Stating the suggestion] “I enjoy doing paperwork.”
  • Brain Region #1: No, I don’t.
  • Brain Region #2: Paperwork is boring.
  • Brain Region #3: Paperwork is scary!
  • Conscious Mind: [acknowledges the part it could detect, then repeats the suggestion] “I enjoy doing paperwork.”
  • Brain Region #4: I like it when it’s all finished, done right, fair and square. That feels good.
  • Brain Region #1: Well, yeah, that part’s okay.
  • Brain Region #2: Are you sure?
  • Conscious Mind:  [acknowledges the part it could detect, then repeats the suggestion] “I enjoy doing paperwork.”
  • Brain region #6: Wait, what? What are we talking about?
  • Brain region #5: Procrastinating is more unpleasant than the paperwork itself.
  • Brain region #2: That’s true. It’s boring, but procrastinating is torture.
  • Brain region #3: But it’s still scary!
  • Brain region #7: I’m hungry.

And so on. By patiently repeating the suggestion, you focus your entire mind on what you want, until even the outlying areas have time to hear and ponder the idea.

And as the brain considers, it creates responses, a few of which make it all the way into conscious awareness: as a thought, an emotion, a sensation in the body, an image, a fleeting glimpse of a dream: anything.

In ordinary self-hypnosis, you either try to ignore the response or go deep enough that you don’t hear it anymore. But I think acknowledging it works better: it facilitates the internal process of change.

Acknowledge, Don’t Analyze

These responses are just side effects of the process. When a sculptor is creating a marble statue, the first thing you get is a rubble-strewn floor. And the last thing you get is a statue. You need to acknowledge the rubble to keep from tripping over it, but analyzing or judging the rubble is a waste of time and diverts attention from the statue. So sweep the rubble away by acknowledging the responses and letting them go.

Credit Where Credit is Due

I learned the concept of mindful self-hypnosis from Cal Banyan, who developed 7th Path Self-Hypnosis, which you can get as a book/CD set from Amazon.com. The concepts are similar, but the structure is different.

I was also influenced by Michael Yapko’s Mindfulness and Hypnosis: The Power of Suggestion to Transform Experience.

Sign up for my Free Mindful Self-Hypnosis Class!

At the time of this writing (February, 2018) I’m offering free classes in mindful self-hypnosis in my Corvallis, Oregon office. The class takes just over an hour. Sign up below:

 

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Robert Plamondon
Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. Robert's publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of reprinted classics, including Hypnotherapy of War Neuroses, which covers treating PTSD in veterans. Robert and his wife Karen sell free-range chicken and eggs at the Corvallis farmers' markets. Robert's hypnotherapy office is in downtown Corvallis.

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