Yes, hypnosis. All a bunch of hocus pocus? Or are there real-life results to be gained from it? That’s what I was there to find out. I’ve been oh-so-curious about giving it a try. I mean, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned throughout these last couple of months of diligently forging a healthier lifestyle, it’s that the mind is the driving force behind it all. (And plus, I had a coupon!)
Think about it: every moment of every day your mind is navigating you through the world without even so much as a conscious thought. Things like driving and walking and talking are so automatic that you don’t need to think about them – they just happen. Wouldn’t it be nice if eating healthy required as little thought as these other actions? I’m sure it’s going to happen, but someday I won’t even be interested in seeing a dessert menu. Right? Right??!
So last night was the big night. This was my first time meeting the therapist, and we spent about 30 minutes before the session exchanging ideas, with her learning from me what I was hoping to get out of this whole experience and me learning from her what the session would entail. She put forth a bunch of concepts that I’ve become very familiar with over the past few months, which meant that I was very comfortable with her approach. Obviously, she’s a huge proponent of the idea of the mind controlling everything we do, and that the mind, much like other things, can be trained to do what we want. Some of the other ideas she espoused:
- The difference between “trying” and “doing”. One involves action, the other doesn’t. I’m sure you can figure out which one is which. And which is better. Git ‘r’ done, ya know?
- Establishing neural pathways for any behavior that we want to implement. The example she used: imagine you’re looking out from your front porch to your mailbox and there’s 2 feet of snow on the ground. Now, that first time when you go get the mail, it’s going to be tough going. Coming back into the house, though, you’ll take that same pathway and it’ll be a bit easier. Over the course of a few weeks, as you keep re-using the same trail, the trek becomes all that much easier. All behaviors are governed by a neural pathway: establish the path, ingrain it, and it’ll be a habit that you don’t even have to think about.
- The use of the “I am…” affirmation. I am a healthy person. I make healthy choices. I am lean and strong and enduring. You get the picture. And “picture” is the right word – along with that, visualize your goal in as much detail as possible!
- Self-talk should always be phrased with a positive slant: instead of “I am not going to eat chocolate!” it should be “I am going to make healthy food choices.” Stealing an example from a CD I’ve been listening to, it’s like the baseball coach who tells her player: “Don’t swing at the low, inside pitch because you’ll strike out!” … and what’s the first thing the player will do? Swing at the low, inside pitch. Why? Because the mind oftentimes doesn’t register the nots and the don’ts, all it hears is “swing at the low, inside pitch!” So, keep a mental eye on how you phrase your goals and self-talk and keep it positive.
- Set yourself up for success. In other words, if I’m trying desperately not to eat ice cream, then I probably shouldn’t buy ice cream and have it in the house. And then – YAY! – I didn’t eat ice cream tonight! Go, me! Make it easy as possible to succeed, whether that means cleaning the house of treats, or making plans to meet with a friend to train so you don’t blow off the session. Each success builds towards the next.
While there was more dialogue about these ideas and others, this is the Cliff Notes summary. So – then – onto the main event – the hypnosis session.
Improbably, it started with me getting comfortable in a lawn chair, of all things. Sure, a high end lawn chair, but a lawn chair nonetheless. I looked at it a bit skeptically, but it turned out to be fall-asleep comfortable, so I kept my snickering and smart-ass comments to a minimum. We started out by doing a full-body relaxation exercise, from head to foot. Inexplicably, this was pretty difficult for me — my mind kept thinking “YOU’RE NOT RELAXING ENOUGH!!” (my mind often shouts at me in captial letters) — but by the time she worked me down to my lower body, my mind was starting to cooperate (or submit, depending on what you think goes on during hypnosis!).
Then, there was visualization work: visualize your perfect place. What would it look like? What would it smell like? Sound like? Funny thing, the absolute first thing that popped into my head? Left field on a softball diamond. That whole scenario seemed a little distracting though, so I went with my next choice … grassy field with a stream bubbling along, and mountains just waiting to be hiked in the background. Then she had me visualize myself there, and what I would look like, how I would feel, how I would move around in the body that I had created for myself. The scene itself was a little fuzzy and out of focus to me, but I could totally visualize what I would look and feel like – though this is something I’ve been working on, so that could be why it came more easily.
After that exercise – by which time I was completely relaxed – she slowly took me a little deeper into the hypnotic state (she brought this about by telling me to visualize a book in my hand with 20 pages in it, and as I turned the pages, I would get more and more relaxed and open-minded… and then she started counting DOWN from 20, and I had a moment of panic when I realized I would have to read the book backwards. I can be such an in-the-box kind of thinker sometimes!).
Once I was there, she began with the positive affirmations and suggestions. “You will make healthy choices. Fattening and rich food will hold no interest for you. You are in control of your decisions and will feel full and satisfied after a healthy meal.” … and more along those lines (she was far more eloquent than that, though, I just don’t remember the exact wording). It was a slightly odd state of being; while I was utterly relaxed, I was also keenly aware of her voice and the suggestions she was making. At no time did I ever feel sleepy or like I was dozing off, which I almost expected would happen seeing as how I was exhausted going into the session.
Once she had gone through about 15 minutes (or so it seemed) of suggestions, she brought me out of the hypnotic state, by counting up to 5, telling me that I would wake up invigorated, as if I hadn’t even been hypnotized at all. I have to admit, I was looking forward to “awaking” (as it were) refresehed and re-energized, and that wasn’t quite the case. Certainly I was relaxed, but I was more ready to go to bed than to take on the world (didn’t help that my left contact was practically welded to my eyeball). I wonder if my 5.5 hours of sleep the previous night, along with my already 17-hour day had anything to do with it?
So – conclusions. I’m definitely glad I did it. Do I think that the suggestions given under hypnosis will “take” and produce real results? Well, the jury is still out on that, but I don’t think it hurts one bit to have those thoughts kind of floating around my subconsious. I do feel like now the healthy choice option is more appealing than it was, but that could be as much because I’m more aware of what I’m doing right now, trying to see if the urge to inhale chocolate, ice cream, cookies and pizza has lessened at all.
While this may or may not help in my quest for good food choices to become automatic, I think that there are a lot of areas that it could be put to good, practical use. For example, it’s definitely something I’ll seriously consider doing before heading into the marathon this fall. My well-documented struggle with the 26.2 has taught me the lesson that most of it is mental — even though the body is trained, if the mind says, “hell, NO!” then there isn’t a whole lot of success to be attained. I guess after this whole experience, I’ll put hypnosis into my toolbag – something else to persuade my brain into listening to what I really want.
Of course, if I find myself pecking popcorn off the floor like a chicken, complete with flapping arms due to hypnotic suggestion sometime soon, I might reassess my opinion of the whole process… until then, though, put me in the “cautiously optimistic” group on this one.