A lot of people regard the idea of hypnosis as something very enigmatic and even sinister.
And while Hollywood and its goateed villains with their swinging pendulums can be blamed at large for this murky and averse view on hypnosis, the reality is actually far less mysterious.
A common misconception about hypnosis and the reason that a huge number of people are weary of it is because people believe that hypnosis gives the hypnotist unrestrained control over the subject and turns the subject into the hypnotist’s slave, ready and more than willing to do their bidding. But the surprising truth is that subjects under the influence of hypnosis actually do have complete free will over their actions.
The Irish psychologist and cognitive scientist John Francis Leader elucidates by pointing out that hypnosis is actually a very common and everyday phenomenon.
For example, he points out how a person engrossed in a book or a television show or a movie sometimes finds themselves oblivious to the sights and sounds of the world around them, and often experience a feeling of being shaken awake once they leave their imaginations.
So hypnosis is not exactly a trance or a state of being half asleep, but is actually a state of heightened and focused attention. And the hypnotist is merely a coach or guide that leads a subject through the process of being hypnotized, and not an all powerful mind controller like the movies would have us believe.
So how exactly does hypnosis work?
The human brain is a complex and incredible machine. We might not stop to think about it, but simple tasks like throwing a ball at a target actually involve a staggering number of processes and calculations behind it.
For example, first the eye sees the target and relays information to the brain about the distance and elevation to the target. Then the skin relays information to the brain about wind speed and direction. The brain then takes all these factors into consideration and performs the incredibly complex calculation of which angle, elevation and force to throw the ball in a matter of micro seconds.
Then you consider the tasks that the brain controls like breathing and your heartbeat and you wonder how a person’s mind can even have the capacity to perform such an infinite number of processes and actions at the same time. The answer lies in the separation of the conscious and subconscious mind. While we’re hardly aware of our subconscious mind most of the time, it is still always at work.
For example, the subconscious mind filters every sound, sight, touch, taste and smell that reaches your senses and relays only the useful information to the brain. Just imagine hearing and noticing every sound that’s around you?
From the sound of the vehicles on the road to the birds in the trees to the sound of your air-conditioner to the sound of your fingers typing away at the keyboard; if you heard and registered all of this, you’d go mad within a matter of seconds.
So what hypnosis does, in a nutshell, is help a person achieve a state of relaxation and attention where the hypnotist is able to help shut down the person’s conscious mind and access and work directly with the subconscious. In this sense people under hypnosis are in fact like children – playful and imaginative and more ready to accept suggestions, no matter how bizarre.
A point to remember though is that even though accessing the subconscious mind is like opening up a control panel to the brain, this does not mean that the hypnotist can do anything he or she wants with the subject. The subconscious mind will only accept ideas and suggestions that the person isn’t completely averse to.
So while a hypnotist can suggest to a fully grown adult that walking around a room clucking like a chicken is a good idea, he or she wouldn’t be able to get that same adult to kill a person unless they already wanted to.
Can you be hypnotized?
Since hypnosis is a completely voluntary process, the degree to which you can be hypnotized rests on the skills of the hypnotist and on your mind’s ability to embrace the process. This is why researchers have found that people that are more imaginative and are more easily absorbed in fantasies are easier to hypnotize. For this same reason, children too are easier to be hypnotized and approximately ten percent of the adult population is considered to be hard or impossible to hypnotize.
It is a normal human tendency to build a wall of fear and distrust around things we do not understand, and this is true for hypnosis to a great degree.
But by understanding the basic principles and mechanics behind hypnosis, it is possible to approach it with a clearer understanding and appreciation and to eventually utilize it to dramatically improve your life.