Hypnosis is usually described as a state of altered consciousness characterized by deep relaxation and increased focus. The focus associated with hypnosis can be so intense that other cues in the environment are ignored, or completely shut out of consciousness. Increased suggestibility is also thought to be associated with a hypnotic state, because a person is detached from his or her usual ability to judge and criticize. Self-hypnosis refers to the process of reaching this state by self-suggestion.
Although hypnosis is still considered by some to be a mystical or magical state, the state of self-hypnosis is actually not much different from the trance-like states most people experience on a daily basis. For example, being completely absorbed in a book, a movie, or a daydream is similar to being in a self-hypnotic state. Additionally, performing a certain task day after day can be associated with a trance-like state, such as not being able to remember the actual process of driving home from work because it was done so automatically.
The uses of self-hypnosis are often geared toward psychological wellness or personal growth, and the basic belief behind many of these wellness programs is that negative thoughts in the subconscious mind provoke the majority of issues from which people suffer, including difficulties ranging from excessive shyness to weight problems. These wellness programs often provide CDs or webcasts that first help the descent into a hypnotic state, and then provide positive thoughts or instructions for personal goals, such as overcoming self-esteem problems or smoking cessation. Supporters of these programs claim that these affirmations will reach the subconscious and become ingrained in a person’s way of thinking because the mind is open to suggestion during hypnotic states.
Instructions for how to perform self-induced hypnosis without a CD or webcast vary, but there are general guidelines included in most programs. First, self-hypnosis should be carried out in a quiet place where disturbances are unlikely, and the body should be in a comfortable seated position with the eyes closed. After taking several slow breaths, a cue or image should then be concentrated upon that signals the descent into a hypnotic state. This cue may be to imagine a sinking feeling into the chair or floor, to count backward from 100, to focus on a single sound in the room and block out all others, or to imagine a slow descent down a staircase.
Once a state of deep relaxation is reached, it is time to repeat the affirmations or the instructions that are the overall goal of the self-hypnosis. In general, a state of self-hypnosis will not be as deep as when being hypnotized by someone else because enough awareness must be maintained to make these self-suggestions. Although it is difficult to say whether or not self-hypnosis actually works on the specific personal growth goals, proponents claim that it has benefits similar to meditation or other mind control methods, such as helping to relieve stress and increasing self-awareness.