So I’ve been practising hypnosis as a registered hypnotherapist now for almost two years. In that time I believe I have learned a great deal, both about myself and also about what we call ‘Hypnosis’.
In this series of blogs I’d like to share with you some of the models and experiences that can demonstrate how I’ve come to understand and utilise the ideas and techniques that are taught in Hypnosis. Within this I’ll also explore some of the contexts in which these approaches are used. At home in our relationships, at work with our colleagues and bosses, in education, in the media and in politics, it’s in these wider contexts that occupy our daily attention we can probably learn the most about what ‘Hypnosis’ may actually be.
Why learn about Hypnosis?
As human beings we tend to focus more time, attention and resources on mastering technology than we do learning about how we work as human beings. Everything we do in life is dependent on our state of mind yet we spend more time learning about tasks and systems than we do about how we think. Studying Hypnosis and understanding more about how we think can be powerful ways to look after our own mental and physical health, create more choice and control and get clearer about what we want in life. None of us are alone here and the way we interact, communicate and work with others is a key part of everything we do. This is often led and influenced by our state of mind – Our Perceptions, Our feelings and emotions. Our behaviour towards each other from families to nations is a reflection of the way we perceive and feel about the world. Although we all live in the world together, the version of the world each of us operates from is our own unique experience of it. We only know what we know, and what we don’t know we don’t know.
Science & Technology have given us lots of solutions for lots of things. The things human beings are capable of astounding, in many ways. However the problems we face in the world today aren’t ones that science and technology will resolve. I’ve heard it said that we have ‘space age’ technology currently being used by ‘stone age’ minds. We have enough technology and resources in the world today to be able to support every living thing on this planet. The problem is we don’t.
Fear, greed, ignorance and apathy aren’t ‘things’ that technology or science can fix. These are the kind of problems that live inside of us. Inside our thinking and our feeling and that we express daily in our behaviour. The trouble is we are never taught how to understand or how to get the best from our own psychology or recognise and work positively with difference in others.
Do you Work with People?
Wherever people work with people, individual perceptions, interpretations, feelings and emotions play an important role. Whenever we’re communicating with anyone, including ourselves we are directing attention and we do this both consciously and unconsciously. All communication is ‘hypnotic’ when we think about communication in these terms. Understanding hypnosis in this way helps us become more aware of the the influence we both direct into the world and take from it. It takes a great deal of self awareness to work well with other people. It can give us the tools and skills to understand ourselves and others better and communicate our experiences, thoughts and wishes in a way that makes more sense, to more people more of the time.
Where I’m coming from..
I’ve been studying Hypnosis actively for the last 10 years since discovering NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). Some of the earliest models in NLP came from how Milton Erickson (the grandfather of hypnosis) approached change and therapy. Throughout this series I’ll no doubt refer to NLP on several occasions (NLP training itself contains much of Milton Erickson’s approaches in terms of language. meaning and underpinning concepts).
I’m writing these posts not as an ‘expert’ but as a student of both NLP and Hypnosis. The main thing I’ve learned throughout my experiences is that we really do not know a great deal about the way we make sense of the world. If we think we do, it’s usually only ‘how’ it seems to work for us. In the words of Robert Anton Wilson;
“Is, is, is, the idiocy of the word haunts me. I don’t know what anything is, I only know how it appears to me”.
That’s probably the most important lesson I’ve learned so far. We all indeed have our own unique ‘Reality tunnel’ in which we experience the world around us.
What works for us and might be familiar to us is likely to be unfamiliar and ill fitting for others. What we think sounds fair and just can sound completely unreasonable to others. What we see as our perspective will look completely different from the point of view of someone else.
That being said, I do also recognise that there are people in the world that are ‘experts at doing certain things’. That is in context. I’ve met many inspirational people who have helped me a great deal over the years and continue to do so. The thing they all seem to have in common is a sense of curiosity rather than a sense of certainty.
So with a sense of curiosity and openness, I’d like to invite you into exploring the world of not only ‘Hypnosis’ but the way we make sense of the world around us. Then I’d like to invite you ask yourself the question; Is Hypnosis real?
What is Hypnosis?
Probably like most people, my previous experience of hypnosis included only occasionally seeing stage and screen hypnotists. Now this usually included some dodgy looking fellow encouraging others to somehow humiliate themselves. At the other end of the spectrum I’ve also seen the ‘evil hypnotist’ executing some evil dastardly plot through the use of mind control and influence.
I’m not going to go into the history and various definitions of hypnosis here. I think it’s safe to say that Hypnosis has been described as many things. For the purposes of this blog I’d like to introduce it as a tool we can use to increase our awareness of how we make sense and function in the world.
Hypnosis as I’ve come to understand it describes the process of accessing an altered state of consciousness where we can become more aware of the unconscious processes we operate from. As we go through the concepts and principles involve this definition will become richer and more detailed. I think it’s important for us to separate the ‘What’ it is, from ‘How’ it can be used.
To understand the differences between our conscious and unconscious it’s helpful to look at the way we make sense of the world around us. For this first section I’d like to define what I mean with the terms conscious and unconscious and get clearer about the difference and relationship of the inside world and outside world.
How we make sense of the world around us…
At birth we’re gifted with this amazing ‘Bio-chemical computer’ thats capable of processing information at lightening speed. Indeed just in the first couple of years of our life we are learning machines capable of accomplishing the two most complex things humans ever do; and that’s how to walk and how to talk. As we enter the school system learning then becomes a much more conscious activity with mixed and confusing information, judgment and rules.
Limits on perception
It is the nature of our perception that we can only be aware of so much. In fact, I don’t think any of us realise just how limited we are. Not only of the world around us, but also the world within us.Human perception is not only limited in what our sensory organs can process from the ‘Outside world’, It is also limited in terms of the amount of this information we can be consciously aware of.
Its probably impossible to put a number on, but research suggests that the human body is processing approximately 2.3 million sense receptors every second. Thats information coming from your eyes, ears, skin, nose and mouth. Every second your body is processing massive amounts of information from the world around you. If we didn’t have our senses we would have no way of communicating or even being aware of the ‘Outside World‘. Our body is processing more sensory information than the even the most powerful technological computers can track still now. The good news is, most of this is done out of your awareness.
You see, even as you’re sat or stood reading this now, you’re only aware of a very small amount of the sensory stimulation your body is experiencing; If you’ve a watch on your wrist, a ring on your finger, glasses on your face or shoes on your feet; unless they’re uncomfortable in some way the chances are you’re not conscious of them (Well at least until I brought them to your attention). The noises in the area around you, the shapes and colours on the screen, or in the room etc etc.. We are only ever consciously aware of a very small part of our sensory experience.
Hopefully most of your conscious attention will be on the ‘meanings’ of these words on this screen. In fact these are only pixels arranged in a uniformed order, creating symbols that in and of themselves don’t contain any meaning. That processing doesn’t happen in the ‘Outside world’ Its happening inside you right now, as you read this.
What we call ‘conscious awareness’
In the 1960’s a Psychologist by the name of George Miller conducted some research on the limits of our ‘working memory’. His experiments where looking at how much information we could be aware of and track at any one time. In Hypnosis and NLP this ‘working memory’ is also referred to our ‘Conscious Awareness’.
These limits became known as the magic number 7 +/- 2. This is referred to as the limits of our conscious awareness (or working memory). This means that we are only able to track between 5-9 pieces or chunks of information at any time.
I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of managing a busy work load or range of responsibilities but then if one more thing is added we can loose track of everything else. Like a juggler going one ball too many, usually they all or at least a few come crashing back down.
Throughout my NLP training with Chris Grimsley he used the metaphor of our conscious awareness being like a torch beam in a darkened room. Whatever we shine our attention on can only ever illuminate a tiny amount of everything that is going on.
Consciousness and stress
Even the most resilient of people have ‘off’ days. Our ability to consciously focus on anything can be greatly effected by stress. This magic number 7 +/-2 can decrease rapidly when we’re in fear or high states of stress. The term ‘tunnel vision’ in descriptions of fear, rage and anger and the inability to focus and communicate. It’s then when our ‘automatic’ ‘unconscious’ programmes and responses seem to ‘kick in’ . This is also usually when bad, sometimes violent, reactive and aggressive things can happen.
Consciousness is also selective…
Our Mind & Bodies work perfectly, for us. They take all this information in and seamlessly create an ‘internal reality‘ we operate from. We don’t experience the world around us as it is, we experience it as we are.
The ‘internal maps’ we create are very complex, they both put in and leave out information and they do this in a way that is unique to us. Our interests, our beliefs, our culture, our past experiences all serve to ‘filter’ the information we take from the ‘outside world‘. These ‘internal maps’ direct our attention ‘consciously’ and ‘unconsciously’.
‘The Map is not the territory” – Korzybski 1933
This ‘internal reality‘ isn’t a part of the ‘outside world’. It’s our own unique version of the ‘outside world’ and it lives ‘inside us’. Whenever we are thinking about anything, the past, the future, the meanings we make; we are not using ‘Sensory information’ from the outside world. We are using our own unique ‘Map of reality’. Most of the time we don’t even notice this, it’s seamless integration with our everyday lives.
Even in times when this ‘internal reality’ completely differs from the way others experience the world, we are more likely to cling on to our own perceptions and meanings.
Times in our lives where we feel stuck or limited in some way is usually is a result of an impoverished ‘internal map’. The truth is we always have a choice, usually of infinite things. However our beliefs, perceptions and thinking strategies can limit our awareness of what’s possible in the world for us.
So not only is our Conscious awareness very small in comparison to what’s going on, it’s also selective in what it puts it, leaves out and the ‘meanings’ it makes. Aren’t we amazing things!
Where is my mind?
One of the biggest assumptions made today is that what we call our ‘minds’ are a result of and inhabit our Brains. We experience the world around us though our bodies and we think, feel and behave with our bodies. The mind and body are a system and what we do with one will affect the other.
Latest research in Neuroscience have found that we also have complex neuronal networks in our hearts, gut and head brain. We use all of them to process and think about the world. You might have had the experience of having a gut or intuitive feeling about something, and your heart and your logical head telling you something completely different. Its a common experience. Mbraining and Mbit have researched this phenomena extensively. and have come up with techniques and patterns that can help the intelligences of the Head, Heart and Gut work together congruently. Google mBraining for more details. Interesting stuff.
Most of what we do is unconscious..
The things we do well, naturally and without effort are usually strategies we process ‘Unconsciously‘. Our ‘Unconscious Mind‘ is able to operate independently of conscious thought and at speeds we cannot process consciously.
A useful metaphor shared by Brian Watson that helped me get clearer about the differences between our conscious and unconscious;
Imagine you walk into a room with a book or piece of paper in one hand and a lovely hot cup of coffee in the other. Now as you walk into the room you drop the piece of paper. Consciously you know you can wait for the piece of paper to fall to the floor and then bend down to pick it up. No problem. This is because your conscious mind is intelligent. It can process how events are connected and predict outcomes and consequences.
However, your Unconscious is so clever and processes things so quickly that in the same situation, even before the piece of paper has gotten halfway towards the floor, your Unconscious can work out the speed, direction and angle. Guide your arm, spread your fingers and time the catch in a split second, without even thinking about it.
You can then stand victoriously basking in the glory of the power of your unconscious mind and then get a cloth to mop up your coffee!…
In Part 2 we will be looking in greater detail about the way we create these ‘internal maps’, and how we all do it differently. We will also begin to look more closely at The Internal Process of Thinking, Feeling and its impact on our behaviour.
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