Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What do I mean by "hypnosis"?

"Hypnosis" doesn't really have an agreed upon definition - because it isn't a sharply defined cluster of things. The socio-cognitive guys have figured out that hypnosis is really just a grab bag of tricks that happen in "normal" situations. There is no "special state" and no voodoo magic - we just utilize the principles of influence that come up naturally in everyday interactions - even if we dress it up like stereotypical hypnosis to make it flashy and exploit the expectation that comes with it. We can do the same things stripped of the "formal hypnosis" clothing - which is what "conversational hypnosis" is - just hypnotic principles applied in a natural conversation setting. However, you can usually get results with things that don't even look anything like hypnosis.

The fact that hypnosis can be effective for pain control used to seem magical to me. But now I don't even need to use hypnosis for pain control. When I have a level 6 pain, I just say a few sentences and follow the thought processes that congruently follow them and the pain drops right to 0. This isn't even a "brain hack", it's just using my brain as it's meant to be used. Pain is just information and it doesn't have to be bothersome - not just in some abstract philosophical sense but for real with your actual human brain. Take a moment to let that really sink in.
When I do use the term "hypnosis" (and the processes which I use the term to describe), I generally mean stuff like "dissociations produced by focused attention". Directing attention to exclude and dissociate different thought processes can be used for clever (and sometimes even useful) "hacks". Say you come to me to help you deal with stage fright saying "I just can't do it!". If I help you by having you focus on the metaphorical oomph of the fear and shoving it in the trash can - and then giving amnesia for ever having the problem to counter any "what if it doesn't work" meta-fears... it might work - but it's a hack. There's no reason you should need to visualize trashcans. If the fear is an important signal, you're not listening. It's just a clever jury-rigged solution.
So if I'm having someone's attention entirely focused, using amnesia or other dissociations, and am jury rigging some temporary scaffolding of a solution, then I'll have no hesitation referring to it as hypnosis - even without scare quotes. I mean, it's full-blown hypnosis - all the connotations of the word apply.
One step less "hypnotic" is what you could call "conversational hypnosis". Since my method of operation is to just say what comes up naturally, I'm not actually framing it as "hypnosis" of any kind (neither in my head or to the other person). It would be an extra and useless label. Worse than useless if I share it with people potentially scared off by the word's connotations which don't apply to the current context. But every so often people will tell me that they feel hypnotized or ask if I had hypnotized them after having a particularly moving conversation. They seem to say it when I have their full and undivided attention and evoke powerful emotions. If you look at the conversation that causes this, there are definitely the same hypnotic elements to it that get them to think in near mode.
But it's not doing anything unnatural. It's not splitting them, it's putting them together. And none of the "amnesia and mind control!" connotations apply at all. So while sure, its hypnotic, it's not really full blown hypnosis. I might remind someone of a time they felt very confident, pace and lead to make sure they're re-experiencing that state so well that they're just focused on what I'm actually saying (and therefore not the thought that they "can't"), and then remind them "hey man, that one was tough compared to this! If you can handle that... what do you think it says about your ability to handle this..." and watch them visualize it - reconditioning their response in the process.
Or I could go one more step less hypnotic. You say you "can't". Why? You just feel this strong fear in your stomach and feel like everyone will look down on you? Ah.. yeah, that'd be bad... And they might. So given that, what do you want?
Before you succeed with this approach, they're still going to have to visualize the outcomes (near mode simulate) and recondition themselves. Just because you're strategizing at a high level doesn't exempt you from the low levels. But we're still relying on focused attention one step less and just dealing with each and every objection that comes up by hearing it out and deciding what to do given the new information.
So if I'm doing something along these lines, I sure as hell refer to it as "not using hypnosis", since it's the minimally hypnotic way of doing things.
I've been trending away from full blown hypnosis, but it's still in my arsenal and gets used occasionally. There are good criteria on how to choose which to use, and I'll cover that next.


  1. well get to it I'm interested in hearing what you think is the good criteria on how to choose "conversational hypnosis" or full blown hypnosis

  2. I actually just recently went out the other end of non hypnosis (seems like even though WDYW wasn't the end, acknowledgement was the end of that road) and I'm now (finally! It's been a few years...) starting to move in the direction of hypnosis.

    But that pure acknowledgement phase, whew, what a trip... The days of pure WDYW paled in comparison to the sheer depth.


  3. I'm kinda on more than one path.

    The big one that is inseparably part of me is having my interpersonal skills influenced by my knowledge how hypnosis works and how people think - spitting out stuff like "conversational hypnosis" or "acknowledgement" as the situation dictates. As I get a better understanding of "hypnosis", the more of it I can replicate without the spirals and wizard robes. I have this idea that in the limit of perfect understanding, the gap will shrink to zero. But I'm not there yet, and I can still do things with "hypnosis" that I can't do (or can't do as easily) without.

    But simultaneously I'm playing with various "jedi mind tricks" to explore the space and have a fuller bag of tricks for when I *do* need to reach inside and pull out some magic.

  4. The first paragraph made me lol. So did the comments. So much nostalgia. :P Tylenol!

    I think this really highlights the difference between the "hypnotic trance" state and general hypnotic influence which may or may not induce profoundly different states.