Tuesday, May 6, 2014

On provoking the impossible

If you want a certain outcome with someone, the most straight forward approach is to just ask for it. Please pass the milk. Okay. But you don't always get it. Sometimes you'll hear "I can't just stop thinking about it!" or "I don't know how to subconsciously twitch my finger!". Hypnotists have all sorts of tricks here - I won't even start to go into all of them.
So say I told you, right now, subconsciously twitch your finger. If you're an experienced hypnotic subject, you can probably do it. The rest of you won't. Why not? Maybe you don't know how. But I can explain it and I can break it down into easier to follow steps, and then consciously focusing your mind on it will easily lead to the desired option. Not only that, but all the alternatives of "I don't know how" are no longer lit up. All of a sudden, it's not so impossible. This works, but its not the only option.

Believe it or not - and this is fascinating - I can pressure you into it. Well, not in this case, obviously. I have no leverage here. But as a changework hypnotist, there are often strong reasons people want to be hypnotized. Not just for shits and giggles, but like "so I can stop feeling anxiety and enjoy my life!". So when one of these guys does not respond to a suggestion, I can put them between a rock and a hard place: I know you don't know how to do it. However, your alternative is life crippling anxiety, so do it anyway.
Do or Die
How can I ask him to do something that he does not know how to do!?. It sorta is fair to say he doesn't know how to do it. He's never done it, he has every reason to do it, and if I explained it better, he'd do it. He don't know how. But build enough pressure and he will. Provocative hypnosis can be quite exciting.
Look at it this way - we've all had something so scary where we just can't do it. When I was learning to do a back flip off a rope swing, I couldn't let go of the rope. It wasn't some responsibility-dodging bogus rationalization of "can't" - I legit couldn't let go. No one was pressuring me but me. I had already made the decision. I had already pushed off the rock, and I was hanging upside down above the water telling my hands to let go - and they just wouldn't...
And I'm sure you can get that feeling. Imagine you're standing on top of a cliff looking over the edge at the water far below. Your heart is racing and you just can't freaking do it. It's not that you don't want to - you really really want to. Everyone's doing it, so you know it's safe. Besides, you bet a lot of money that you could do it, and you'd feel really embarrassed if you wuss out. But you just can't. Your legs lock up.
And then, like a bad dream, out of nowhere a pack of rabid wolves show up and corner you. Everyone jumps and swims to safety. I bet you follow.
Magic! You just did something that you "couldn't" do!
It's no different when you "can't" quit smoking - or stop depressing, or stop anxietying. It even works for "I don't know how" - you just stop focusing on what you don't know and start focusing on doing it. When the stakes get high, pointless thoughts get out of the way. And when obstructing thoughts get out of the way, you often find a solution. Not always, but often.
So anyway, I was hanging there upside down with no time to think through that argument, but I somehow come up with an idea - "kick your damn hands off the rope!". So I did - and my hands let go anticipating the kick.
Funny how easy it is to convince yourself that you are "one person".

Don't Hammer On Screws
Of course, cranking up the pressure isn't always the right tool for the job. If you use this hammer on things that aren't nails, they might go in, but there might be collateral damage. They might just buckle. They might say "Stop hitting me with a hammer you asshole". There are only certain classes of cases where it even makes sense (though that's an involved topic for a future post). Sometimes it flat out won't work.
For example, you can't just tell depressed people to "just get over it!" - it makes you an unempathetic asshole. It's probably the worst advice you can give. Not because your advice is wrong, per say. Sometimes that is the action they need to do. It's just ineffective. The problem isn't that they aren't aware of the "possibility", it's that they can't just willpower over that activation energy. And adding your social pressure won't help either. You can't possibly push hard enough to do it directly - because you aren't that big and scary. You're just a little guy adding pain, but not enough to go over threshold. So telling depressed people to "just get over it!" usually is an asshole thing to do - i.e. you're way off in calibration because you're not empathizing with them, because you're living in lala "should" land where they "shouldn't" be depressed and are just moralizing at them.
However, sometimes pushing is the right move. When Jorgen Rasmussen pushes you, it's not because he's off in lala land blindly trying to moralize you. Even if he's really pushing hard. Even if he's genuinely angry and insulting... Even if you run away without change. He's gotten some amazing results on "impossible" clients... but even empathetic skilled people will miscalibrate occasionally. And if you punish them for their honest misses in being too pushy, but don't say anything when they aren't being pushy enough, then you bias the process for the worse. You don't want to train people to be too nice to you.
The Take Away
As a "changework artist", don't buy into "I can't" as a show stopper. Don't let them convince you that "I don't know how" means they need an explanation. Stay aware of how much pressure you can exert and how they'll take it. Work to have access to more pressure. Work to make them less likely to fight it when you do turn on the pressure. And of course, work to not require pressure.
As a person who wants to improve, if someone is pushing you... thank them!!! Stop your excuses and rationalizations as they come up. Cut out the "I can't"s and the "I don't know how"s. Even if you feel like you can't - acknowledge the feeling and just see what happens. Even if you really don't know how - acknowledge the feeling and focus on doing it. Facilitate that pressure to the best of your ability - just go into that pressure and sit thereWelcome the extra pressure, because if it pushes you over the threshold, you get to change.


  1. Enjoyed this post. A common view on responsibility/punishment/pressure seems to be that if someone "deserves" pain of severity X then they also "deserve" pain of any severity less than X. But of course it's actually the other way around. If Y is the lowest severity that will work to change behavior, anything less than Y is just creating useless suffering, while something greater than Y may or may not be worth it. If someone combines the common view with the "gun to the head test" according to which one is resposible for doing something if they could refrain when someone put a gun to their head... Then you can imagine some nasty results as they go ahead and apply social shaming and other punishments to anyone they imagine could be incentivized to change with a bullet. Nice to see someone else articulate a coherent view that doesn't endorse indiscriminately inflicting pointless minor suffering but also doesn't totally forbid "provocation".

    I'm not a hypnotist or student of it, just some guy from lw who this stuff fascinating. Also want to apply the info to improve my life though I'm definitely neglecting exploitation for exploration there. Looking forward to more posts.

  2. Thanks for the insightful comment.

    I also think of myself as "some guy from lw who finds this stuff fascinating" :)