WTF Is It, And Should You Try It?

WTF Is Self-Hypnosis And Should You Try It?

"With self-hypnosis, you get to write, produce, cast, direct, and star in your inner movie."

WTF Is It And Should You Try It? is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Every now and then, we take a closer look at the lifestyle trends taking over our news feeds and find out whether they're worth the hype.

If the word "hypnosis" conjures up images of swinging pendulums and people clucking like chickens, you're definitely not alone. We've all seen scenes of hypnotists using the practice to gain control over their subjects and strip them of their free will. But have those ridiculous stage acts you see on TV shows given hypnotherapy a bad rap? 

I spoke with a few hypnosis experts to find out whether the practice can be used as a legitimate technique for improving confidence, reducing stress, and reaching our goals. Turns out, hypnosis is more like meditation than mind control. And, you can do it anywhere, all by yourself. 

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Shutterstock

So, what is self-hypnosis exactly?

"Hypnosis, whether guided by someone or by yourself, is a state of focused attention that activates mental, emotional, and physical responses from suggested instructions," Peter Lambrou, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and co-author of Self-Hypnosis: The Complete Manual for Health and Self-Change, said. "From deep relaxation, changing unproductive behaviors, to enhancing other forms of therapy or healing, self-hypnosis is a valuable human tool that people can be taught to use from a young age to anywhere in our life." 

Hypnosis is used to create a highly relaxed state of inner concentration that allows people to be more receptive to suggestions and develop new thought patterns. The technique can be tailored to different treatment methods, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, and involves a deep relaxation process, focusing your attention, and creating suggestions. 

It sounds much more mystical than it actually is. In fact, many people use self-hypnosis unknowingly to generate stress, anxiety, and fear in their lives. In this case, self-suggestions are created without awareness of the deep impact they can have. 

"In a more positive use, the person will formulate positive suggestions, create a relaxed internal focus, and repeat the positive suggestions, using imagery that involves any or all senses," Dr. Lambrou said. "In that focused state of mind the suggestions are usually acted upon more deeply than mere affirmations or 'happy talk' such as 'I'm fine, I'm confident, I'm OK.' " 

What are the benefits and how does it work?

"When we create that internally focused, relaxed state of mind, our usual judgmental part of our mind is slightly set aside, so that the suggestions are acted upon more deeply than usual conscious thoughts," Dr. Lambrou said. 

Studies have shown that hypnosis can be used as a legitimate technique for treating a wide range of symptoms such as pain, nausea, fatigue, and discomfort. It's also been found to be effective for decreasing stress and anxiety, which can help people in nearly all aspects of their lives including their relationships, experience at work, and lifestyle. 

"During meditation, you would sit and observe the flow of undirected thoughts with a goal of emptying the mind and releasing thoughts, but with self-hypnosis, you get to write, produce, cast, direct, and star in your inner movie. You are focusing your mind on a specific outcome you desire, rehearsing the thoughts, beliefs, words, and actions that you'll use in that situation," said Lauren Archer, a certified cognitive behavior coach and clinical hypnotherapist.  "What we say to ourselves, believe, and act upon becomes real for us. Self-hypnosis provides a method to consciously influence our inner dialogue, our beliefs, and our behaviors, which then creates change in our experience of reality." 

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How do you hypnotize yourself?

Hypnosis experts have different methods for completing the practice, but each one includes a relaxation stage, a change stage, and an exit stage. Here's one way to do it. 

Before you begin, you need to decide what your intention will be. Do you want to feel less stressed about an upcoming presentation at work? Kick your smoking habit? Go for a run every Wednesday morning? Some experts suggest writing it down on a piece of paper. 

Once you determine your intention, find a place that's comfortable for you and relax your body. "Focus on one section at a time. For example, relaxing from your head to your toes or vice-versa," Archer said. "Progressive relaxation brings your attention into the present moment, giving your conscious mind something to focus on other than your external circumstances, and allows you to enter a receptive state for the rest of the process." 

Take slow and deep breaths. "Count your inhales only from 0 to 100 and then from 100 to 0," Brian Alman, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and co-author of Self-Hypnosis: The Complete Manual for Health and Self-Change, said.  

Next, mentally state your intention and use all five of your senses to visualize it. You may want to repeat your intention with a series of positive affirmations. Visualize it coming to fruition. Imagine the shapes, sounds, smells, and temperatures around you while you are achieving your goal. Notice your posture, breathing, expression on your face, and the way you move. Take a mental note of all the things you see, hear, and feel. 

"Let's say your objective is to enhance your productivity in your career," Archer said. "After relaxing into a light trance, you may envision yourself in a business setting, confidently shaking hands with satisfied customers, signing contracts, getting pats on the back from your manager, speaking articulately, and celebrating success by scheduling a relaxing vacation."  

Enhance your visualization with positive emotions. "If you simply visualize yourself doing well, but don't feel the palpable sensations from having reached your goal, the process won't be as effective," Archer said. 

Finally, count from 1 to 10 to exit from your trance. This will help you gradually bring your awareness back to the present and slowly reorient yourself. 

It may seem like a lot of steps, but it can take just several minutes to complete. 

Should you try it?

It's definitely worth trying if you're looking to reduce stress, enhance your performance, or work to change a behavior. But only if you're willing to keep an open mind throughout the process. If you're going to feel too silly to follow through or get easily distracted, this probably isn't the practice for you. 

"Self-hypnosis is not an alternative to therapy," Archer said. "If in doubt, consult with a professional. Self-hypnosis is powerful, but it isn't magic. We live in a highly interactive world, with laws of cause and effect in place. You can only influence yourself, not others — although changing yourself does have a ripple effect on all of your relationships." 

Cover image via Shutterstock

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