Neuro Linguistic Programming and hypnosis are often shrouded in mystery and highly misunderstood. What are they? What can we do with them? First, they are methods for rapid behavior change in humans, tools. And like anything else under the sun, what we do with them depends on our intentions.
I’ve read Blog comments demonizing NLP because it’s sometimes used in clandestine ways to manipulate people. The person commenting went on to say that hypnosis and NLP were the work of the devil and anyone using them was wicked and not to be trusted. Those are heavy claims. Before we can understand what these wonderful tools can do for us it makes sense to first look at the relatively simple mechanics behind them.
The Conscious & Unconscious Mind
The scientific community the world over has come to agree that people have both a conscious mind and a subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is where our beliefs, desires and attitudes dwell. Virtually any message delivered over time and by a trusted authority figure may find its way to the subconscious. But even messages we might not readily agree we need or want can also find a home in the subconscious. Repetition is the key.
To keep things simple, let’s agree that the conscious mind stands duty evaluating all input during our waking hours. It rejects unfamiliar and messages it deems to be false. Diligence by the conscious mind ensures that ideas and principles that are not congruent with our primary beliefs don’t find a home in the subconscious. For this reason I sometimes refer to the conscious mind as the gatekeeper.
So let’s use a short example to see how this information can be useful to us. I once had occasion to work with a young lady who, on the day prior to my meeting her had four wisdom teeth extracted. I was walking along at the mall as she sat on a tall stool, the cashier at a kiosk. It was obvious to me she was in distress.
I approached and asked why she looked so sad. She explained that she wasn’t sad but that she’d had her wisdom teeth pulled the day before and one of the extraction sites was causing her a great deal of pain. She explained that the dentist had given her medication but she couldn’t take it at work or when driving because it made her drowsy.
Wanna Play Doctor?
I asked if she wanted to be rid of the pain. She looked at me with a quizzical, strained smile and asked if I was a doctor. I must admit that I fibbed and told her I was a doctor. The method I planned on using to help her required no touching and would take all of three minutes to accomplish. For this method to work it was important she believed I had the skill to do it. And since she apparently had faith in doctors I agreed to be a physician to build credibility and authority. With my answer she said she’d do anything to feel better.
Then I asked her if she could follow simple instructions. She said she could. I gave her this command: Close your eyes and while your eyes are closed, pretend you can’t open them. Now, while you’re pretending you can’t open your eyes, try to open them. I repeated it only once and she closed her eyes. And sure enough, both eyelids began to flutter as she tried but couldn’t open her eyes according to the instructions I’d delivered.
While she carried out the instructions I simply told her that her mouth was the picture of peace and tranquility. I mentioned a beautiful country setting with a still pool of soothing water. I told her that the peace and beauty of the country scene was the same peace and beauty that were now occupying her mouth. I repeated one or two such variations of peaceful and soothing suggestions and emphatically stated that her mouth would feel perfectly normal when she opened her eyes. Then I told her to open her eyes.
A pleasant smile came over her face right away. She brought her hand up to her slightly swollen cheek and felt it. I could see she was sweeping her tongue throughout her mouth sort of testing for pain. And then she said the pain was completely gone and asked what I’d done. I said we’d simply gone through a little guided meditation routine. She smiled warmly and thanked me.
Fooling The Gatekeeper
Why did this little exercise work? Remember the conscious and subconscious minds. The subconscious mind will accept anything the conscious mind allows in. That means I had to get the conscious mind, the gatekeeper, out of the way before I could deliver the pain-free suggestions. Had I simply started by saying, your mouth is the picture of peace and tranquility, the conscious mind would have said, NO WAY! My mouth hurts like hell.
That’s why I gave her the little eye exercise to do. Give it a try. Close your eyes and while they’re closed, pretend you can’t open them. Now, while you’re pretending you can’t open your eyes, try to open them. That set of instructions keeps the gatekeeper just busy enough so it doesn’t really notice I’m introducing an idea that’s incongruous with the reality of pain. And once those suggestions are comfortable in the subconscious, the brain accepts that the pain is gone. Could it really be so simple? Yes. It’s just that simple.
What I’ve just described is know as waking hypnosis. The subject was never in danger as she could have easily stopped “following simple instructions” at any time she pleased. But look at how powerful that little technique was. It transformed a suffering person into a person with a pleasant smile, pain free. What was the mechanism? We tricked her conscious mind. We kept it busy while we installed the idea of pain-free peace.
Just A Glimpse Of The Power Of NLP
Here’s the point: Whatever you can get the subconscious to accept will become real in your day-to-day life. Can you see the potential in that? People spend tons of money and years in therapy when they can often make rapid and lasting change inside of a very short session. Waking hypnosis is powerful but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The more common or well know method of hypnosis is one where the deep relaxation induction is used. But such measures are often not necessary because NLP practitioners have developed far more subtle and fast-acting techniques that are just as effective.
And to address the Blog comment I opened this piece with about NLP being the devil’s work I’ll say this. Nothing under the sun is good or evil. It’s what people do with things that make them either beneficial or dangerous. Electricity can cook your food or it can cook your goose. It all depends on how you use it. Here’s to using NLP and hypnosis for all the good it can bring!