You’re already a self-hypnosis pro.
You’re zoned out at a red light when the car behind you beeps as if to say, “Snap out of it! The light turned green.” If you can relate, you’ve hypnotized yourself in a way. “Hypnosis is the process of going into a trance state,” explains Dr. Eric Spiegel, a clinical psychologist in the greater Philadelphia area and president of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. Another way to think of it is as a state of heightened attention — zoning out may seem unfocused, but you’ve really filtered out most peripheral distractions like the feel of the leather seat on your legs or the sight of a dog running in the distance.
Perform the ultimate act of self-control.
More than simply zoning out or seriously relaxing, though, hypnosis — be it self-induced or guided by a medical professional — aims to maximize that state, typically by offering “suggestions” to the unconscious mind in way that skirts the conscious mind’s pesky input or judgment. “This shift in consciousness enables us to tap into many of our natural abilities and allows us to make change more quickly,” according to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. “Because hypnosis allows people to use more of their potential, learning self-hypnosis is the ultimate act of self-control.” Here’s how to get started:
Understand the limits.
Plenty of research suggests hypnosis can be beneficial for a range of medical and mental health issues, from chronic pain and digestive conditions to anxiety and disordered eating behaviors, though factors like the patient-provider match and the patient’s personality make a difference. And, while research on self-hypnosis is harder to conduct, it’s likely most helpful (and safest) to try for habit-related goals like boosting confidence or quitting a soda habit, experts say. “If you can afford private sessions, there’s no doubt that’s the fastest way to change the habits and beliefs that don’t serve you,” Smith says. But if you can’t, self-hypnosis may still work faster than simply trying to change habits consciously.
Pick a goal.
Hypnosis without a goal isn’t really hypnosis at all, says Grace Smith, a hypnotherapist in Vero Beach, Florida. She calls the practice “meditation with a goal.” “The whole reason we do hypnosis is to experience a result,” she says, whether that result is weight loss, stress relief or cutting back on alcohol. If you’re not sure which goal to zero in on, make a list of behaviors you’d like to change and rank them by how much they drive you nuts daily, Smith suggests. Start with the one that’s most distressing; the other problems may resolve themselves once you tackle the underlying thought pattern that may be fueling them all.
Get help, if necessary.
First, a caveat: If you are significantly distressed by a habit on a near-daily basis — say, you often feel crippled by social anxiety or can’t do your job effectively because you have to take so many smoking breaks — self-hypnosis may help, but shouldn’t be considered a substitute for well-established medical treatments or used before hypnosis guided by a professional. “Hypnosis is not a standalone treatment,” Spiegel says. His organization calls its members “health care professionals who use hypnosis along with other tools of [their] professions.” Self-hypnosis can be most effective after you’ve made significant progress with a hypnotherapy professional, and have recorded sessions to work from at home, Spiegel finds.
Chill way out.
Assuming you’re using self-hypnosis responsibly, though, you can begin your practice by getting into that super-relaxed, “trance” state. David Godot, a clinical psychologist in Long Beach, California, recommends doing that by starting a meditation practice first. “Get comfortable being present and learning to relax the body,” he says. “The better relationship a person has with their unconscious function, the better experience they’re likely to have with any mind-altering practice or event.” Hypnotherapy apps or recordings can also help guide you into that state, often by focusing on deep breathing, visualization and counting down. Just be aware that many such programs haven’t been tested and aren’t evidence-based, one 2014 review found.
Create (or borrow) an affirmation.
Once you’re settled into that zoned out — yet focused — state, repeat an affirmation. For example, if you want to stop procrastinating, you may tell yourself, “I easily complete the biggest item on my to-do list first,” Smith’s book, “Close Your Eyes, Get Free,” suggests. The idea is to replace the suggestions that regularly race through your mind (“It’s too late to make it perfect, so why start now?”) often without your awareness, explains Godot, secretary of the Society of Psychological Hypnosis. “The practice is to get into a relaxed, focused state of mind and to focus on changing those types of self-suggestions and introducing these [new] suggestions,” he says.
Self-hypnosis is called a “practice” because you’ll benefit most if you do it regularly. If you’ve spent most of your life telling yourself you’re not worthy of the relationship, job or health status you want, for example, you won’t be able to change that overnight. But with practice, you can start to rewire those subconscious thought patterns and experience positive behavior changes in many domains as a result, finds Smith, who quit smoking and overcame her fear of public speaking through hypnosis. She continues to self-hypnotize daily. “For peak performance-oriented individuals,” she says, “this could not be a better addition to any self-development work they’re already doing.”
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