“If you behave as though you’re happy you’ll really feel you are”.
Order Good Health
- There is nothing special about Auto-Suggestion: it is a constant and, therefore, a scarcely noticeable part of our mental processes
- Suggestions from outside are only effective when we accept them ourselves
- An Auto-Suggestion a day keeps the doctor away
- Auto-Suggestion to extend life
Reality the Hypnotist
It is hard to think of a time when we are not practicing Auto-Suggestion. Even during sleep our major Auto-Suggestions of the day are being consolidated. As soon as we wake up in the morning and regain self-awareness that is, when we connect our stream of perception to our memory, then, whether we like it or not, we start to create our moods for the day.
If you watch people doing their hair in front of a mirror you will see that, to some extent or other, they are convincing themselves that they look anything from ‘ok’ to very attractive. They will be acting naturally, of course, and will be unaware at the time that they are using Auto-Suggestion. Joking with friends on the way to their cars at the beginning of a shift, taxi drivers do not realise either that, ‘cocooned’ somewhere in their subconscious, they already have their feet on the accelerator, their vigilance is sharpening, and they are preparing to react quickly while chatting amicably with their fares.
If you take a close look at yourself you can see that most, if not all of the changes in your psychological state are achieved through Auto-Suggestion. If you are going to a wedding, for example, you put yourself in a totally different frame of mind than if you are going to a funeral: in each case you prepare to defend your emotions and to fulfill the role expected of you. If you know you are going to have a row with someone you either get yourself ready to give back as good as you get or, if you are hoping to smooth things over, you try to keep calm and controlled. We do most of this subconsciously. We are constantly being hypnotised by reality (that is, by our own inner world as well as by the outside one) and this dictates what we do and even who we are. However, we always have the choice to accept or to reject the hypnosis.
What Is Suggestion?
Although we are all well aware of what information is we are generally not so clear about the nature of suggestion, although it is essential to understand this if we hope to practice Auto-Suggestion.
Suggestion is the transmission of emotionally-charged information which is likely to influence people’s behaviour.
First let us analyse the difference between «neutral” and suggestive information.
Conversation No. 1
A: «Excuse me, please, could you tell me how I can get to Red Square?”
B: «Certainly, you want the third on the right and the first on the left. Then it’s straight ahead.
A «Thanks very much.”
Conversation No. 2
A: «Excuse me, please, could you tell me how can I get to Red Square?”
B: «I wouldn’t go there if I were you, love. Might get yourself killed.”
B: «There’s a gun battle going on at the moment.
The second piece of information is clearly the more suggestive of the two. Total neutrality in conveying information is impossible and there were even elements of suggestion in the first scene: the very fact that A addresses B suggests to the latter that he or she ought to respond and enter the conversation. B’s directions are not just useful tips expressed to the world in general; they answer A’s question and place the personal obligation on him or her to take the particular route described and none other. In other words, B’s answer suggests that the information is trustworthy.
Information No. 1
«And now for today’s weather. Temperatures in Moscow are expected to drop to -30°C…”
Information No. 2
«You’re not going out without a coat are you? You must be crazy! It’s absolutely freezing out there!”
Again it is easy to see that No. 2 is more suggestive, even though the figure of -30°C is in itself fairly impressive.
Thus suggestion is the element in the transmission of information which is aimed at influencing the addressee’s emotions. The form and medium through which it takes effect can vary. Although all information is potentially suggestive, in practical terms its effect is not constant. For example, the effect on Mr. J. is minimal when he hears that a distant relative he has never met had a wart on her left nostril when she was younger. The intensity of suggestion per unit of information also varies, in other words, it can be more or less effective. There is a vast amount of information in the world today but, fortunately, not all of it is particularly suggestive.
Suggestion is more effective when:
- The information concerned is something of special significance, either in general or for the addressee in particular;
- The information is entering a relative vacuum: the less someone knows (in general, or in the given field) the more suggestible he or she is;
- The information is accompanied by a non-specific appeal to the emotions: a special intonation, rhythm, or intensity as, for example, in a whole range of techniques which have been used for centuries in art, advertising and propaganda. The more concrete, tangible and vivid the information, the greater its suggestive power; the desire to conform to accepted behaviour (the herd instinct) is a general force which makes us more suggestible.
- The information comes from a source acknowledged to be authoritative. A reverse herd instinct sometimes takes effect: we become more suggestible when we are alone with the source of information, with a priest or a doctor, for example; authority is, in fact, a ‘suggestibility multiplier’ for any piece of information.
- The information is repeated by different sources with variation in form but the same essence; there is, however, a limit beyond which repetition tends to decrease suggestibility.
- The information is a mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar, the understandable and the incomprehensible, the recognisable and the unrecognisable; some experiments show that 37% new information is the optimum for maximum suggestibility.
- The addressee’s critical and analytical faculties are undermined in some way: by sleep, hypnosis, alcohol or drugs, and in some psychological disorders.
- The aim of the suggestion, that is, the desire to influence the addressee, is hidden. Most people (with the exception of those with severe mental difficulties) develop a natural resistance to suggestion, anti-suggestibility, in early childhood. This defends our personality and is vital if we hope to avoid becoming characterless automata, puppets inviting manipulation. Anti-suggestibility contains several elements: a negative attitude to life in general; experience teaching us not to be gullible and an awareness that by no means all suggestion is worth accepting; our faculty for critical analysis; and, finally, preoccupation, that is, we are already under the influence of some other suggestions; we have our own philosophy, faith or ideas, etc.
The ideal is not to eliminate our suggestibility entirely, since this would entail total isolation, but to make it discriminating and independent. None of us manage to do this with complete success: we all have areas in which we are recklessly suggestible and others in which we are just as uncontrollably anti-suggestible. Since we are generally submerged in a flood of often contradictory suggestion that leaves little scope for us to exercise our inner freedom, we tend to overreact slightly, resisting very forcefully the moment we recognise the slightest attempt to influence us. This is seen particularly clearly in young children in their ‘stubborn phase’ (their first manifestation of anti-suggestibility), in adolescents and in some adults of a negative disposition who seem to have stuck in the ‘stubborn phase’ for good. However, we all possess this faculty for resisting suggestion. It generally acts indiscriminately and without either our volition or our awareness. The more forceful the suggestion, the greater the resistance, our most vulnerable areas always being defended the most strongly. This accounts for the success of subliminal suggestion, since it creates the impression that we are deducing the true meaning of the communication ourselves and it does not come from ‘outside’. That is why a «chance remark» which does not seem to be addressed to the listener specifically can be so effective. This is the fundamental secret of the art of temptation, flattery and coercion. For the suggestion to be effective, the conditions above (Nos 1, 2, 3) should be met.
Information acquires suggestive power when it is internalised, that is, when it is perceived and starts to influence our emotions, attitudes and actions, in other words, when it becomes our state of mind. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SUGGESTION AND AUTO-SUGGESTION IS THAT FOR THE LATTER, WE ARE THE SOURCE OF THE INFORMATION.
So similar, but worlds apart.
If you are lying down then you are not sitting; if you are sitting, then you are not standing. It is obvious that you can only be in any one position at a given moment. But if you are standing then at least you know that you can sit down, and if you are lying down (unless you are ill or have a disability) that you can stand up. In other words, you have the possibility of assuming a different pose. You can even stand on your head if you feel like having a try. In mathematical terms, all these potential positions represent your body’s degree of spatial freedom.
The case of our moods is analogous. Although at any moment we are only in one particular state of mind, our mood retains its degree of freedom. Suppose you are attacked by a ferocious dog. You have at least three possible courses of action: to turn and run, to fight it off, or to stand perfectly still and do nothing. Let us assume that you adopt the first possibility. You take fright and run off but the dog gives chase, catches you up and bites you in the leg. You immediately experience a sharp pain and your fear is replaced by anger. The chances of your just standing still dwindle rapidly, even though at first it may have been your most likely reaction. You acted spontaneously: your subconscious chose your psychological state and you did no more than carry out its commands.
Now let us consider a slightly different case. Suppose you are a young man out with the young woman you love passionately. The accursed dog comes for you again and again your first reaction is to recoil; but the next moment you are transfixed by the thought, “She might be hurt”! Naturally you are immediately filled with resolve and set about protecting her.
Although you may not have noticed it, Auto-Suggestion has just been taking place. You could say that the situation prompted you to act since it was the presence of your girl friend that inspired you with courage, but that does not alter things substantially: you accepted the prompt.
Auto-Suggestion is a force operating within the mind’s sphere of freedom. It does not conjure up something out of nothing but simply increases the probability of the domination of one of the possible states of mind. It is a redistribution of your hierarchy of significance: you are choosing the person you want to be. It rarely happens consciously but there is a good reason for that.
Let Your Feelings Resist Control
You have to be a Flaubert for your temperature to rise when you are describing a fever; or a Gorky to cry out with pain and to see blood on your skin when you are describing your heroine’s murder. It would be excruciatingly boring if, like robots, we could just press the appropriate button in our brains to send us the desired mood: button number one and we experience delight and enthusiasm, number two and we are moved to tears, number three and we suddenly burst out laughing: music, poetry and drama would instantaneously become obsolete.
It is also fortunate that our mood is not subject to programming; when, for example, we are supposed to be enjoying ourselves we often have a miserable time. For thousands of years human nature has been revelling in paradox. However, it is possible to control your feelings: they simply have strong locks which, with a little effort, you can learn how to open.
Order Your Moods
«Tell me your Auto-Suggestions, and I shall tell you who you are».
A familiar scene: a birthday party, a few hours when everyone should be having a good time. But, alas, the whole affair seems very gloomy and the tension can be cut with a knife. Everyone feels they ought to be enjoying themselves and only wishes they could. But wanting is not enough: the general mood has to be set. Someone puts on a CD. Some general conversation and banter starts up, but everyone is still fairly restrained. One or two manage to enter into the spirit of things but the rest still hold back, perhaps because they are too anxious to join in, and they skilfully succeed in putting a damper on the whole proceedings. It is all a little embarrassing, the laughter is rather forced and one poker-faced young man is clearly not going to smile on principle. At last, however, a particularly funny anecdote is greeted with a spontaneous burst of laughter. Encouraged, the narrator quickly starts a second, someone else thinks of an amusing story and interrupts, the serious young man’s resolution weakens and he smiles in spite of himself; everything is suddenly fine, with people chatting in a relaxed way.
If you consider the psychology behind this behaviour and, in particular, what everyone was doing during the first few moments of the party, you will see that they were all engaged in suggestion and Auto-Suggestion; they were rearranging their hierarchies of personal significance. They all gave themselves the subconscious order to «enjoy themselves» and tried to find a way of doing so, that is, a way of «unlocking» their feelings. The CD, the stories and the general atmosphere were the keys.
Essentially the same happens when you induce your own mood in Auto-Training or during other, more specialised types of Auto-Suggestion, (for example, when an actor assumes a role). At first, you are simply getting into gear, there is just a shadow of what you are going to experience, as yet nothing more than an outline; then the real feeling springs out of your subconscious.
This process is very similar to the way we remember something. In an endeavour to recall someone’s name, for example, we try to unfold the hidden knowledge which, at present, is cocooned in our consciousness as nothing more than the conviction that we know the answer: we are sure we know something, but we are uncertain what. Our yes-no mechanism links the conscious to the subconscious. We make repeated efforts to remember something vaguely connected with the question and sift through all the possible variations. The conscious sets the subconscious mind swinging to and fro: “No, it’s not that, something like it though. Oh yes, that’s it”!
This is what happens when you are trying to solve a difficult problem. You just have to glance into your mind, recall as much as you can and start to unfold the solution that is already there somewhere. Set your subconscious mind swinging to and fro and make a few concentrated attempts to solve the problem. If nothing comes of this, give your mind a break, stop thinking, relax, go for a stroll (the sifting of information will continue). Keep on doing this and the solution will invariably come to light when you are taking a break. To anticipate slightly, this is also the way in which the mood you order during Auto-Training floats to the surface: as if the subconscious had suddenly recalled it.
If you have ever observed children (or if you can remember yourself as a child) you may have noticed that, especially when they have just been reprimanded or disappointed, children often comfort themselves by repeating things like «I’m almost grown up, », - «I’ll be strong enough one day»; «I’ll have a big red motorbike that’ll go to the moon», or something similar.
This is the beginning of Auto-Suggestion and auto-psychotherapy. The form will change, it will become more sophisticated and subtle, but it will essentially be the same. Auto-Suggestion arises involuntarily with our first flashes of self-awareness; it is our inner double, our first comforter and therapist.
Order Good Health
It is not easy to understand the nature of Auto-Suggestion since it is almost always combined with other, more obvious forces. Although the way it works may remain a mystery, you can nevertheless rely on it totally. Consider the following: two people suffering from the same illness are prescribed the same medicine by an experienced doctor. Although one recovers, the condition of the other deteriorates. The reason for this can, of course, be ascribed to their different constitutions, to their body chemistry that reacted to the medicine in various ways. It can, however, also be attributed to their differing attitudes. One patient believed in the treatment, the other did not. By pure chance, one of them may have felt better shortly after starting the treatment and that was sufficient for his or her Auto-Suggestion to start working and begin the chain reaction. The other, however, happened to feel a little worse on the day he or she started taking the medicine and then immediately lost faith. I have observed in myself and my patients that Auto-Suggestion can intensify or weaken the effect of any chemical. Although it cannot, of course, prevent a lethal dose from taking effect, it can help if there is the least chance at all. In some tribes trials were held by giving a group of suspects a fairly large dose of poison in the belief that only the guilty party would die.
Auto-Suggestion takes effect when two possibilities hang in the balance. It should be accomplished in good time. So that it takes root in the subconscious where it can stimulate your own forces and start off the chain reaction before a potential state of the opposite kind gets the upper hand.
I consider, for example, that some people get obnoxiously drunk simply because they have an irresponsible attitude to their own behaviour. It is not just that they drink a great deal or do so on an empty stomach, but that they are unwilling or unable to practise autosuggestion at the correct time. This would make them feel better and help them behave in a more acceptable manner, even though they have the same concentration of alcohol in the blood. Anyone who has the occasional drink can tell you that this is possible and that your original frame of mind is decisive. The secret of the infamous «ability to hold your drink” clearly lies in the state of mind you assume at the outset. (This does not of course, mean that the author approves of this dubious skill. And drinking and driving never go together, whatever your state of mind.)
Let us consider now the very practical question of colds and other infectious diseases. Suppose you are not actually ill yet but you have either been standing about for a long time wet to the skin and very cold or have been mixing with people who are already ill. Although the danger of your going down with something seems quite great, it is still far from certain whether you will or not.
The physical and psychological mechanism of cause and effect is extremely complex and it is almost impossible to know exactly why someone falls ill on some occasions and not on others. I have often found that, even if I have been in ideal conditions for catching a cold or flu, if I make a timely, concentrated Auto-Suggestion (not necessarily verbally, but to the effect that «I will not fall ill») I do not have any ill effects in the least. The main thing is to do the Auto-Suggestion early enough for it to be effective.
Thus although you cannot force someone else to stay healthy you can force yourself. The reverse is also quite common and people fall ill at the very worst possible time, just when they can least afford it. This is similar to one of the paradoxical states mentioned earlier. There are also quite a number of people who are able to fall genuinely ill when it suits them!
In a reader’s letter I came across the following interesting idea: on average, most people live to about seventy or eighty simply as a result of mass suggestion. All our lives we prepare ourselves and each other to live approximately this long, and therefore we do. Consequently, if people were to live in a society where the accepted norm was to live 200 years and dying any younger was considered almost immoral, simply inconceivable, then they would reach that age too.
This is not as fantastic as it sounds. Ageing is, of course a complex process involving a mass of as yet irreversible and uncontrollable organic changes which are genetically programmed. But psychological resilience (what is usually called the will to live) plays a tremendous role towards the end of our days, as old people themselves and their families know full well. Anyone who is depressed tends to age quickly whereas people who live to a ripe old age are noted for their invincible belief in their own good health, and, most important of all, in the necessity of continuing to live. True, it is not clear which is the cause and which the effect in such cases, whether sprightliness exists thanks to Auto-Suggestion or vice versa, but this is perhaps irrelevant as long as one complements the other.
It was discovered some years ago that rats, dogs and cats can raise or lower their own pulse rate, regulate their blood pressure, interfere with the functioning of their kidneys, influence the electrochemical events in the brain and control the blood supply to various parts of the body, etc. In short, they can control themselves physiologically in order to avoid pain or to receive a reward, An animal will manifest this remarkable talent, for example, if the only way to ring a bell is by lowering its own blood-pressure and if the bell’s silence results in its receiving an electric shock.
In their experiments with humans, Lang, Cammi and Müller connected their subjects by wires leading from their brains or hearts to a bell or a striped screen. The subject’s task was to ring the bell or change the width of the stripes by altering his or her blood-pressure or the frequency of brain waves. After some time, most of the subjects succeeded in doing so, that is, they were able to regulate their own bodies.
All the subjects found it difficult to describe exactly what they had done. Some «set something inside themselves swinging». Others simply tried concentrating on relaxing and tensing different parts of the body. The main thing seemed to be to stumble upon the right state once so they could then reproduce it fairly easily at will.
It is not difficult to do, you simply need to run through all the possible states of your blood-pressure or brain waves and take careful note of the feed-back. Keep making spot-checks on the way you feel until you notice the desired change.
Praying To Yourself?
These experiments using physiological control show some time-honoured practices in a new light. When, for example, people are praying for good health, inspiration or success, they are involuntarily setting their subconscious swinging to and fro in this way. They are practising autosuggestion in an ancient and poetic form, relying on a powerful external force they believe to exist, not suspecting that the force is in fact within their own body. On the contrary, they may even consider themselves to play no part in it. They ask for a miracle from a transcendent, supernatural being and receive it immanently, through themselves. There is, of course, far more to the spiritual experience of religion than pure physiology.
The Assertive Formula
There is a universal pattern for any Auto-Suggestion. Whether you are concerned with getting your mind to work quickly, trying to relax, preparing for sex or attempting to overcome fear you always go through the following stages:
demand – volition belief – result
(I must) – I want to – I can – I act – I achieve
The first element, «I must», is bracketed since it is not always necessary: you may not be obliged to be cheerful, for example, you may simply decide it is time you attacked your depression and so you try to change your mood to fit your wish. If you do not want to but nevertheless feel you ought to be bright and cheery (you are with friends, you have guests, you are responsible for entertaining a colleague), then you have to aim at the formula: «I must want to» which sounds a little paradoxical but is fairly familiar I am sure.
The next element, «I want to», is indispensable. The transition from this to «I can» is the decisive phase, the birth of belief which progresses to the desired state or action. This transition seems rather mysterious to us although, in fact, we are physically and mentally programmed to deal with it. Anticipation (or «feed-forward») is an important part of existence which is found in every living thing from the cell, or perhaps even genes upwards. If our wishes did not contain the technique of foreseeing what might happen we would always lag hopelessly behind events. All body functions show that the seeds of accomplishment are present in any wish. Your digestive juices, for example, start working when you are hungry even before there is any food ready. When you are still awake and not yet conscious of being particularly drowsy your eyelids are nevertheless beginning to droop. (The words of the bible acknowledge this: «But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart».)
When the element of anticipation in our desires becomes belief it can perform miracles: people can accomplish the «impossible». There is nothing new in this; my task is to help you learn to use what you already possess. In the Auto-Suggestions that we make unconsciously every day, the assertive formula generally takes effect quickly and automatically whilst remaining cocooned in our subconscious and never impressing itself on our conscious minds. In fact, there is no reason why we should want to know that when, for example, our boss appears we tense up and start reacting more efficiently, since all this happens automatically anyway.
If you learn how to use Auto-Suggestion consciously you will acquire this automatic reaction sooner or later. Any demands you make on yourself will be realised immediately. The assertive formula then becomes condensed:
(I must) I want to – I achieve!
or even, simply:
This is pure virtuosity. Many of us can already do this in situations in life when we have no doubts. Those of us who do not yet have this gift can work at it consciously. Be bold, you can do it!