Reality is Plastic — Summary

Learn about the surprising power of hypnosis and our subconscious mind

What hypnosis is

For many people, hypnosis is a mysterious subject which they either don’t believe exists or they think that it has something to do with a clock pendulum. These misconceptions stem from movies mostly. Most agree that hypnosis is some kind of state, it just isn’t clear what kind of state exactly it is. A state, however, is not a very satisfactory explanation because we are always in some kind of state.

Brain imaging hasn’t helped either because it hasn’t been able to find a difference between someone who is responding to a specific suggestion and someone who is simply acting.

It became clear however that the subject is responsible for inducing the hypnotic state given the right instructions, in other words, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.

Irving Kirsch’s alleged that the hypnotic state depends on a variety of factors like social context, expectations, and setting. Another characteristic he found was that the subject might experience their behavior with a sense of involuntariness. The sense of involuntariness may be the key suggestion effect of hypnosis.

People’s expectations also have a great influence on their hypnosis experience, much like the placebo effect, hypnosis is a type of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Imagination is a key element of hypnosis. The entire process rolls out in the imagination of the subject. Jo Griffin and Ivan Tyrell suggest that hypnosis is a result of accessing the REM state where we use the “reality generator” responsible for our dreams. Dreams allow us to discharge emotional arousal and it updates our instinctive templates. Whenever we act instinctively and without conscious effort, we rely on post-hypnotic suggestion. A suggestion which was previously learned and then set in the REM state.

The subjects will respond to post-hypnotic suggestions given by the hypnotist with the same instinctual and effectiveness as they do with other unconscious behaviors.

Here is a definition from James Braid:

“The real origin and essence of the hypnotic condition is the induction of a habit of abstraction or mental concentration, in which, as in reverie or spontaneous abstraction, the powers of the mind are so much engrossed with a single idea or train of thought, as… to render the individual unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, all other ideas, impressions, or trains of thought.’
– James Braid

This means that you are still fully conscious of what you are doing, and reflect on it, but you the only reality you follow is the one for which you are hypnotized. You are indifferent to ideas other than the ones your mind has locked in as reality.

The famous hypnotist Milton Erickson states it like this:

“A state of special awareness characterized by receptiveness to ideas.”

In other words, the person becomes more suggestible and open to the ideas being presented by the hypnotist. Notice that Erickson uses the word awareness rather than unconscious. His line of thinking is that hypnosis helps us deal with the bigger subconscious/unconscious mind. The subconscious comes more to the fore in the hypnotic condition, and because it is the place where all our bodily functions get regulated, our memories, experiences and mental patterns are, this state has a lot of potentials.

Milton developed a permissive and indirect approach to hypnosis. He hypnotized his patients simply through conversations, without even mentioning the word hypnosis. His insights and methods have revolutionized modern therapy. Erickson was also a master of rapid direct impromptu hypnosis. He used the handshake induction so often that by the end of his career no one wanted to shake his hand.

The perhaps most influential hypnotist of all time, Dave Elman, defined hypnosis as:

‘Hypnosis is a state of mind in which the critical faculty of the human is bypassed, and selective thinking established.’ Dave Elman

The critical faculty is a conceptual representation of a filter between the conscious and unconscious mind. It is rational and logical and typified by inductive thinking (thinking from facts to conclusions.)

When the critical faculty is bypassed our inductive, logical reasoning become suspended or inattentive and the unconscious mind becomes dominant. Once the critical faculty is bypassed, further selective thinking can be established. Selective thinking according to Elman is whatever you believe wholeheartedly.

Bypassing the critical faculty can be achieved by a variety of ways without hypnosis, for example by drugs, laughter, play, shock, confusion, information overload and other high emotions. The experienced hypnotist creates such moments artificially to establish selective thinking in the individual.

In short, hypnosis is a state in which the subject’s attention narrows and becomes fixed around selected ideas, and wider environmental stimuli are ignored.

How to become a hypnotist

To become a hypnotist, you have to believe with absolute confidence and congruence that you are a hypnotist and behave like one. You have to act out your expertise and skills like it is completely natural and with certainty that you know how to induce hypnosis.

Believe that your subject is a wonderful hypnotic subject and expect them to go into hypnosis and do exactly what you tell them.

A few things are important and helpful to set up before you hypnotize someone. Remove fear, eliminate misconceptions, increase the expectancy of becoming hypnotized, fire up the imagination and take control of the subject.

The audience and the subject should feel excited and expect to have fun, experiencing fear will close them down and make them unsuggestible. The subject should know that he or she is in the hands of a professional and about to have a great time.

In impromptu hypnosis setting things up needs to be accomplished in a few seconds or sentences, or through an instant induction through a handshake.

Hypnotic phenomena

Here are some phenomena your subject can experience once they are hypnotized.

  • Catalepsy. Loss of conscious control of the ability to move part of the body.
  • Ideomotor movements. Unconscious body movements.
  • Amnesia. Loss of memory or inability to recall information.
  • Hallucinations. Sensing something that is not there or not sensing something that is.
  • Dissociation. A sense of separation between mind and body.
  • Hypermnesia. Seemingly improved recall.
  • Regression. Reversion to earlier or more infantile patterns of behavior and memory.
  • Revivification. Recall and re-experience of a past event.
  • Analgesia. Partial sensory loss.
  • Anaesthesia. Total sensory loss.
  • Time Distortion. Contraction or expansion of the perception of time.

Some notes to Induction

Induction is the term used to describe any procedure used to hypnotize. There are thousands of inductions to choose from, and they can be rapid and instant or slow and progressive, verbal or nonverbal, over or covert. The inductions outlined here are all rapid, overt and most have a physical element to them too. But it is important to know that it is the hypnotist, not the procedure which induces the hypnotic state. So instead of learning lots of inductions, it is more fruitful to become extremely accomplished in just a few of them.

The author prefers a mixture of suggestions and instructions. The suggestions are a good way to show feedback from the subject so that the hypnotist can know whether the subject responds to the classic suggestion effect with a sense of involuntariness, without risking to give instructions which are not followed by the subject.

Another good method is the use of ambiguous inductions. Inviting the subject to respond by waiting for further instructions and suggestions. Ambiguity gives the Hypnotist options about how to best proceed.

To get to the actual hypnosis steps you need to read the whole book, it’s not something to be summarized.

Hypnosis is a great method to treat a variety of mental issues as well as an entertaining demonstration of the power of the subconscious mind. Its mysteriousness doesn’t subtract from its effectiveness.

To learn in detail about Hypnosis get the book by clicking here.


Also published on Medium.