Hypnosis is an ancient practice that spans the globe. Neuroscience is a recent field. For a lot of our history, we didn’t even know what the brain did. Until recently, the only way to examine a living brain was to study people with head injuries.
For millennia, hypnotists managed just fine without knowing any neuroscience. Those days are behind us. What changed?
The triune model divides the human brain into reptilian, mammalian and human components. The theory is that as we grew smarter over our evolutionary history, we bolted on new structures to the brain. As such, all mammals have a simpler, more reptilian brain at the centre. Humans have extra features on top of that, creating three separate layers.
As with all of neuroscience, the truth is much more complicated than this. Even so, this simple model helps you be a better hypnotist.
The reptilian brain consists of the basal ganglia, the structures that sit on top of the spinal column. It controls involuntary actions, whether they are ingrained (such as regulating temperature and heart-rate) or learned (such as habits). It also has a role in motivation, decision-making and memory.
Any hypnotist will find this intriguing. Stage hypnotists know all about temperature – a popular opening for a routine involves hypnotising subjects to feel hot, then cold, then hot again. Then there are classic trance phenomena like arm levitations and eye locks. In other words, involuntary actions. And hypnosis is excellent for treating decision-making issues, whether they are bad habits, addictions or even depression.
You might have a goal. Whether it’s securing a promotion, finding true love or changing the world, your days are easier when you follow your purpose. But that doesn’t mean that every day is easy. You can, and will, still get stuck. Knowing your destination doesn’t mean you know your next step. When you’re in this situation, the right epiphanies open all your possibilities.
I bounce between extreme states. Half the time, I struggle to think of what to do next. Other times, my brain becomes so saturated with ideas that I don’t know how to process them. Being buried by possibilities is a very nice problem to have. The solution’s easy, too – document and prioritise.
What about when you can’t think of new ideas? That’s just as easy (and a lot more fun). All you need to do is tap into an unconscious style of thinking.
When you follow your dreams, one thing is certain: the life you used to live is over. Your future doesn’t fit the pattern that it used to. Everything becomes fresh, which is another way of saying that everything is uncertain.
Uncertainty is great. Chaos is just another word for opportunity, when you approach it with the right state of mind. The old comforts fade away. What replaces them is something much better.
You’re programmed. Don’t even think you aren’t. As a social creature, you’ve absorbed a crazy amount of nonsense from your environment. Some of that nonsense is useful, like the idea that it’s safe to cross when a blinking, human-shaped light appears on the other side of the street. Most of the nonsense is trivial. Some blocks you from living the life of your dreams.
Think of a house. Now, here’s a game for you: take 20 seconds to draw a house. It doesn’t have to be a specific one – generic is fine. Ready? Okay, go.
What did you draw? That depends on who you are and what your background is. Most people draw something like a big ol’ square with a door in the middle, a window either side and a triangular roof on top. Maybe a chimney with a curl of smoke, too.
This is all great, except that I’ve never seen a house like that. It’s the archetypical house we hold in our heads… and there’s nothing in reality that matches it.
People often complain about not having enough time. Whether it’s getting out of going to the gym or abandoning treasured dreams, it’s a popular excuse. I sympathise, even though they’re lying.
Time? You have plenty of time – more than you know what to do with. It’s easy enough to prove. How much do you know about the last season of reality TV? Or are video games more your speed? Are you going out with friends a little more often than you should?
You want to enjoy life, I get it. Well, sort of. Writing is part of my dream life and I enjoy it more than wasting time. I crave following my purpose more than I crave distractions from it. And, wow, look at all the time I find for it. If something is important to you, then you can do the same.
But if you say that you work all day and come home exhausted, so what’s wrong with a little TV? Now we’re getting closer to the truth. That’s not a shortage of time, though – it’s a shortage of energy. Why is it acceptable to say you don’t have time (“I’m bad at prioritising every day!”) but running out of energy (“I have biological limits!”) is taboo?
Forget taboos. We’re here to solve a problem. Read More
There’s a question – a class of questions, really – that clarifies your life’s goals. They sound trivial, but don’t judge them. Judging uses the wrong part of your brain for this exercise. In the right context, these questions can trigger new ideas that reshape the way you think about your future.
It’s a strange thing, feeling stuck and unsure of your purpose. Don’t get me wrong – it’s so common, it’s practically universal. But it’s strange that your mind wouldn’t know what fulfils it. You have many blindspots with the eye that looks inward. Even so, it’s a curious lapse on self-awareness.
So don’t be surprised if the solution is equally strange and curious. Don’t think about how it couldn’t possibly work – that sort of thinking created your mental block in the first place.
I make no promises about this technique. If you approach it with the right attitude, you can find your life’s purpose. Imagine knowing – not deciding, but truly knowing – what you should be doing with your life. Waking up each morning, driven by your clarity of mission. And how would you act differently if you knew you could find a new purpose if ever you needed to?
This technique works by putting you in a hypnotic trance, but maybe not the way you might expect.
Gather a small group of people who you trust, maybe four or six in total. Take it in turns to answer questions like:
What did you enjoy doing as a child?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What’s a problem with the world that bothers you more than it bothers other people?
If you could change something about the world with a push of a button, what would you change?
If you knew that you were guaranteed to succeed, what would you do with your life? Why?
Those questions go from easier to harder, so start at the top if you need a warmup. Let everyone get the chance to answer and give people the chance to ask each other questions. The more people elaborate, the deeper the answers become. Whether you have rules around interruptions or timing is up to you, but aim for fewer rules and a more flowing process.
The first few answers might be awkward or superficial. That’s okay. Keep moving round the group. Give everyone the chance to add to their answers or tackle different questions. New ideas will pop up.
If these questions sound boring to you, that’s because you’re alone. Add a group of people who start building on each other’s answers, and you have something very different: the recipes for a powerful hypnotic trance. Don’t believe me? Give it a go and notice just how strange the world looks after. And who knows – you might just have an insight that changes your future.
Of course, you don’t need other people with you to enter a trance. It helps if you’re new to it, that’s all. Another approach is to listen to hypnotic guided meditations – the sort on the Awakened Thought page. The library grows every month, so bookmarking it is worth your time.
Wander over and have a glimpse:
There’s a guy named Michael. He likes to socialise, go for walks and spend time in his garden. He also enjoys solving crosswords (in pen) and doesn’t own a GPS.
Who is this gentleman? He sounds old-fashioned – is he from the 1920s?
Or is he an author and leading neuroscientist with great ideas about strengthening your brain?
Dr Michael Merzenich talks a lot about ways to exercise the brain. He wrote a book about it and created online brain training games. There’s a lot of content that he covers, but if I were to distil his message, it would be this:
With social media, you have no excuse for not knowing what people think. Head to a favourite platform, punch in a few words and see what happens. You can see what people ask the most, what questions other people think matter… really, there’s not a lot of human nature you can’t learn from the internet.
A recent foray into the mind of the masses was on the topic of success. I wanted to know what people thought about it, what strategies draw their attention and how they decide what sorts of success they should aim for.
An interesting side effect of studying hypnosis is that people don’t surprise you. Once you get in the habit of looking below the surface thoughts and finding unconscious explanations, other people’s behaviour makes a lot more sense. Every action, no matter how bizarre, has some logic at its core.
So when I say that their questions surprised me, you know I mean it.
The top questions weren’t about how to obtain success. They fixated on what success means. What is a successful life? What’s the difference between success and fulfilment? What does success mean to you?
These questions got great answers, none of which were of any use to anyone.
In the field of mind training, sooner or later someone mentions lucid dreaming. It’s one of those skills that’s practically a superpower. You spend so much time asleep. Reclaiming that time, while still resting deeply, would be valuable. In a dream, you can learn and explore without the limits of time, space or matter. Your own virtual reality training pod.
I get why people like it. A younger version of me almost learned how to do it. What stopped me? I realised that, as incredible as the technique is, it wouldn’t do much for me. I already knew something better.
Yes, I am confident enough to dismiss something that I call a superpower. Here’s why.