What is a hypnotic suggestion?

What is a hypnotic suggestion?

So what is a hypnotic suggestion and how do they work?

Hypnosis may seem a bit mystical or magical, however in essence it is the power of words and how they are used that can bring about incredible changes.

When someone is in a state of hypnosis, the power of the critical, analytical, conscious mind is greatly diminished, and the subconscious is more focused and more positive and thus more likely to accept suggestions made during this time.

The real magic behind hypnosis is the ability of the subconscious mind to listen to words and to translate them into new ways of thinking and responding.

Cause and effect

Everything we do, every action we take in life, is triggered by something. Cause and effect.

You are thirsty so you have a drink; your phone rings so you answer it; you feel angry so you shout; you feel stressed so you eat. And so on.

In the same way, so much of our unwanted behaviour is down to triggered responses based on our past experiences, e.g. eating because you are feeling a bit low, biting your nails because you are a bit bored, having a cigarette because you are a bit stressed. All those actions came from a cause.

At a conscious level, we may not even be sure what the cause is and in many cases we find it very difficult, if not impossible, to change our reactions, which is why many habits are so difficult to give up.

However, when using hypnosis, you can help to retrain or reprogramme your mind to provide a different and better response to the trigger, a new cause-and-effect situation. This is done through the use of hypnotic and post-hypnotic suggestions.

Direct Suggestions

These are suggestions related to things that will actually happen during the hypnosis session, such as close your eyes, become aware of your hands, imagine you are on a beach, relax your muscles, and so on. These are particularly useful if you are using hypnosis whilst going through a procedure such as dental work, having an injection, dealing with pain, etc.

Post Hypnotic Suggestions

These are suggestions used to bring about desired changes at some point in the future. They are given to an individual whilst they are in hypnosis, for an action or response to take place in the future, after the hypnotic experience has ended. They are specifically beneficial when using hypnosis to prepare for an actual event, such as taking a driving test, doing a presentation, or preparing for childbirth.

Like everything in life, a post-hypnotic suggestion is set up with a cause or trigger, followed by a response or action.

If x happens (trigger) => then y happens (response)

You hear your name (trigger) => you answer (response)

An example would be going to the fridge to eat something even though you are not hungry. The trigger would be going towards, and opening the fridge. The old response would be to take something and eat it. The new post-hypnotic suggestion might be to immediately stop, take a deep breath and ask yourself if you really need to eat this now. Or to make the feel of the fridge door on your hand, or the noise of it opening, a trigger to remind yourself of the resolution you made to eat only when you are truly hungry.

Post-hypnotic suggestions are the main tools of hypnosis which bring about desired changes at some point in the future. They are specifically beneficial when using hypnosis to prepare for an actual event, such as taking a driving test, doing a presentation, or preparing for childbirth.

For example, if you were using hypnosis to prepare you for a big race, it would be totally impractical and unreasonable to be on the starting line of a race and to ask everyone to suddenly stop while you take yourself into hypnosis. What you really need is to have done all the mental preparation, in advance so that your body automatically responds in the way you have instructed it to.

By giving your mind a new set of experiences and responses, when the time comes, these are triggered in your mind and you automatically follow the new set of responses. Clinical trials have proven the success of giving these types of suggestions when in hypnosis.

Sometimes, following post-hypnotic suggestions will initially take some conscious effort as well; however, after a short period of time, you become less conscious of them, until they become automatic. It is like learning to drive a car. You are initially very aware of which pedal to push, but after a while you no longer even think about it anymore.

The more you practise something, the more it becomes instinctive and easy. With post-hypnotic suggestions, the more you hear them, the more your mind takes them on as your own reality.

So by 'practising' them over and over again, when you then encounter the trigger for real, your mind is quick and instinctive at producing the desired response.

Remember, the mind does not know the difference between things that you have imagined and things that are real.

Dr. Maltz writes that:

"Experimental and clinical psychologists have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the human nervous system cannot tell the difference between an ‘actual’ experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail"