To have a better understanding of how hypnosis works, you need to know how the two parts of the mind, the conscious and the unconscious, work. The conscious and the unconscious minds operate simultaneously but have very distinct characteristics, which play a vital role in how we live our lives.
And you are probably wondering – why the picture of the walnut? Read on…
The conscious mind
The conscious mind is the ‘thinking, analytical’ mind, the part of the mind you actively use all day. It is involved in decision making, categorising and filtering the vast amounts of information you come into contact with every second of your waking hours. The conscious mind is extremely limited in how much information it can retain at any one time. We use our conscious mind to evaluate our environment and to decide what to focus on at any one time.
The unconscious mind
The unconscious mind is the ‘feeling’ mind and it regulates most of the autonomic functions in the body – breathing, heart rate, digestion etc. It contains a vast storage area where every piece of information you experience in your life is stored. It is also the source of creativity and emotion. The unconscious is very literal – it doesn’t make judgements and cannot determine right from wrong, good from bad. It relies on the conscious mind to evaluate the feelings, events and emotions. Many activities, once learned, become unconscious – like walking and playing tennis.
Hypnosis is a way to access the unconscious mind
OK – time to introduce the walnut.
Imagine that the outer shell is the conscious mind, and the inner nut is the unconscious mind. The proportions are not far out, as the unconscious is far bigger than the conscious (if ever there is a conflict between the two, the unconscious usually wins – easily).
When we are awake and alert, the conscious (shell) completely encloses the unconscious (nut) – so the outer conscious is the first receiver of the millions of inputs coming to us every second.
Quite simply, hypnosis relaxes the conscious mind, that causes the shell to open. It is a way to bypass the ‘critical factor` of the conscious mind and to gain direct access to the inner unconscious. When you are in a relaxed state you are better able to access your unconscious mind, but your conscious mind will probably still be processing information as in hypnosis you are awake, conscious, and in control – you are not asleep.
And when you are guided into a deeper state of relaxation and enter into a good hypnotic state, the conscious mind opens and moves away more – allowing deeper access to the inner unconscious mind. We can then see long forgotten memories, re-code existing learning or offer suggestions that may not be readily ‘allowed’ by the conscious mind.
For example, imagine a man who smokes heavily. He consciously knows that it is poisoning his organs and harming him internally, but he can’t give up – because it is an unconscious programmed behaviour to smoke. If I said to him “you are a non smoker” the conscious outer shell would receive that and simply bat it away. However, with the conscious shell open, I can suggest to his unconscious mind directly, that he doesn’t like smoking and that it’s harming him. The unconscious will accept that, so he becomes a non-smoker.
Clients often find that their unconscious behaviour changes after a hypnotherapy session – but in behaviour that they wanted to change. Habits that take a lot of ‘willpower’ to change at a conscious level can be changed almost instantaneously using hypnosis.
You CANNOT be made to do anything against your will in hypnosis
It is important to realise that ‘suggestions’ will only be accepted and acted upon by the unconscious mind if they are for the benefit of the client and made with the clients permission. Someone in hypnosis cannot be made to do anything against their will or be made to do anything that conflicts with their beliefs, moral judgement or safety. Clients are usually perfectly aware of what is being said and can leave hypnosis at any time.