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MENTAL TRAINING: Making Use of Self-Hypnosis

By Paul Schienberg, PhD

Self-hypnosis is a technique that is often used by athletes for the purposes of pain management, anxiety reduction, or maximizing exertion. Hypnosis is a temporary, trance-like state, which is characterized by the individual being exceedingly suggestible. If a hypnotized individual is told that he/she can not move his arm, then he/she will act as if that limb has been paralyzed. Typically, people enter this state with the help of another individual (the hypnotist) but some people can hypnotize themselves (self-hypnosis).

This article is the second of a two part series focusing on the topic of hypnosis. The first article focused on some of the misconceptions and uses of hypnosis and this one will provide instruction for individuals who want to use this often misunderstood technique. You should be aware that not everybody will benefit from it. In some instances it may be necessary to consult a specialist in this area.

Pick A Goal

First and foremost, it is important to pick the goal of using self-hypnosis. That is to say, will you be using the technique in order to reduce anxiety that you have prior to a competition or for pain management? This decision is critical since it will impact the post-hypnotic suggestions that are used. Without having a goal, this exercise amounts to little more then guided imagery (which can have beneficial impacts as well but is clearly not self-hypnosis).

Entering the “Trance”

In order to enter a self-hypnotic state, it is important to create an environment that is conducive to it. This means that you should find a quiet, comfortable place where you will not be disturbed. Ideally, you will find a comfortable chair where you can sit without having to cross your arms and legs. Pick a spot on the wall in front of you and count backwards from ten. As you do this, slowly close your eyes so that they are wide open when you start the countdown and close just as you end it. You are now ready to use the imagery portion of the technique.

Imagine yourself standing at the top of a darkened staircase looking down towards a door that is open with a light coming from the room just behind it at the bottom of the steps. Begin walking down the stairs towards with the light at the bottom of the steps progressively getting brighter as you get closer. When you reach the door, push it open. Inside, there is a plain white room with a black leather reclining chair that is facing away from the door. You walk over to the chair and sit in it. As you sit down, you are aware of the pleasant leathery smell of the chair. You are surprised by how cushiony yet supportive the chair is. It is the most comfortable chair that you have ever sat in. You begin to feel relaxed and are amazed at how this room is the perfect temperature, not too hot or cold. You should make positive self statements such as “I feel calm. I feel relaxed. I feel at peace.” Repeat these several times pausing between repetitions and taking a cleansing breath in through the nose and out through the mouth until you feel completely relaxed. Once you do this, you should go on to the post-hypnotic suggestion of the technique.

Post-hypnotic Suggestion

The suggestion that you use is what is at the core of the technique. Make sure that it is not something that is overly complicated. The simpler the goal, the more likely that you will reap the rewards of self-hypnosis. If the goal of entering the hypnotic state is improving focus through out a golf match then you would make a statement such as:

    “I will focus on the task at hand. All distractions can wait until after my match has ended. The only thing that matters to me is the upcoming competition. I will remain focused until the last putt has been sunk on the eighteenth green.”

It is important that you repeat the suggestion at least two to three times so that it is ingrained in your memory. In addition, it is important to try and repeat the suggestion verbatim. Other post self-hypnotic suggestions can be made as well. For example, if the goal is pain management for a sore arm then you would make a statement like the following: “My arm feels good. It is light and powerful. It is healthy and strong.” Again, repeat the statement several times in order to maximize the benefit of the suggestion. You are now ready to exit the self-hypnotic state.

Exiting the “Trance”

It is important to leave the room that you have imagined for yourself in order for the suggestion to become part of your sub-conscious memory. In order to do this, imagine yourself getting out of the leather chair. You should try to be aware of the absence of the leathery smell. Walk towards the door and turn to look at the room one last time. Imagine the how the back of the chair looks and be aware of the approximate dimensions of the room. You might even want to try shutting the door behind you. Slowly begin to climb the stairs. As you do this, slowly begin to open your eyes (it should take you a ten count just like when you closed them to begin the exercise).

Suggestions

Self-hypnosis often takes a great deal of practice in order to achieve maximum benefit. It is important that the post-hypnotic suggestions are always framed positively. That is to say, never make a statement such as “I feel no pain” or “I will not loose my focus.” You may want to try and write out exactly what you want your post-hypnotic suggestion will be. This has a two fold effect in that it will allow you the time to make up positive self-statements as well as improve the likelihood that you will repeat it verbatim. Finally, if you would like to further explore the benefits of hypnosis on your athletic performance, we strongly suggest that you consult an expert. If you would like a referral to a qualified professional in your area feel free to contact us using the link at the bottom of this page.