How self-hypnosis can banish bad habits

It’s said to help with everything from quelling anxiety to quitting smoking, but is self-hypnosis really the wellness tool it’s hyped up to be?

Can’t help but think of pocket watches and chickens whenever you hear the word “hypnosis”? While it’s traditionally been seen as a way to control or manipulate someone for dramatic or comedic effect, hypnotherapy can make a significant difference to your health and wellbeing, too.

“Hollywood and stage hypnosis is a performance and, unfortunately, they’ve given the therapy an unfair reputation,” says Claire Aristides, clinical hypnotherapist and founder of the Mindology app.

While trained therapists such as Aristides can help you use hypnotherapy to overcome unwanted habits (such as drinking too much and smoking), more and more people have started to take the practice into their own hands with self-hypnosis.

What is self-hypnosis?

According to Aristides, self-hypnosis is similar to meditation but more goal-orientated.

“All forms of hypnosis are self-hypnosis because no-one can make you do anything you don’t want to do,” she tells Body+Soul.

“It’s simply about getting into a meditative, sometimes trance-like state. Once there, you’re highly focused and suggestible.”

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Clinical hypnotherapist Georgia Foster describes this state as somewhere between being awake and being asleep.

“It’s called the alpha-theta brainwave state and it’s what happens approximately 20 minutes before you fall asleep,” she explains.

Once in this state of total relaxation, it becomes easier to change your habitual thinking patterns, which means it’s the perfect time to suggest certain goals or desires to yourself.

“An example of this would be if you want to lose weight,” Foster tells Body+Soul.

“Imagine yourself in the clothes you want to wear, feeling good about it.”

The idea is that if you repeat this process enough, your everyday habits will begin to line up with your goals.

“The applications of self-hypnosis are endless,” explains Foster.

“It’s brilliant for emotional over-eating, drinking less alcohol, overcoming phobias, quitting smoking, and improving self-esteem.”Aristides agrees, and adds, “Not only are you aiming for a sense of calmness, but you’re also empowering your mindset and starting to work on your personal development goals.”

Facts versus fiction

Although the benefits of mindfulness and meditation are well-documented, research into self-hypnosis has only just begun – but the early results are promising.

“Some of the most revealing neuroscience research shows that meditation, self-hypnosis and visualisation activities produce alpha and theta brainwave activity, which help to relax and de-stress the mind and body,” explains Aristides.

But the benefits don’t stop there. As well as protecting your immune system from the negative effects of stress, self-hypnosis has also been shown to significantly increase your sense of mindfulness and relaxation.

“What I love about self-hypnosis is the ability [it gives] an individual to take responsibility for creating positive change from within,” Foster tells Body+Soul.

“When I first became a clinical hypnotherapist, hypnotherapy was seen as a bit hocus-pocus, but now many neuroscientists across the globe confirm that hypnosis is an extremely good method to fast-track emotional changes.”

One of the reasons hypnosis is such a powerful tool for personal development is that it works on the principles of neuroplasticity.

“The brain is malleable and with repeated practice, you can build new neural pathways,” explains Aristides.

“It sounds technical, but all it really means is that through repetition you can build new habits to support your mental wellbeing.”

How to get started

To achieve the best results, both Aristides and Foster recommend that you practice self-hypnosis several times a week, if not daily.

“Making it part of your daily routine is the best way to make long-lasting changes to your mental wellbeing and mindset,” says Aristides.

“When you wake up or just before you fall asleep, take yourself into a calm state and focus on your goals and what you want to feel and experience for the day.”

According to Foster, after seven days of self-hypnosis, your brain will view the things you’ve been telling it as comfortable and familiar.

“It will then take these actions on board as real,” she adds.

“The unconscious mind sees everything as real, even though it’s imagined, therefore in the reality of life it will become an assumed behaviour.”

Maintaining your self-hypnosis practice is the key to its success, so Aristides recommends incorporating it into your existing routines.

“For example, if you’re already doing yoga, as you fixate on a point for your posture, tell yourself that you’re calm and in the zone and add in your positive suggestion goals.”

Do it yourself

Follow these steps by Claire Aristides to practice self-hypnosis at home.

1. Sit in a comfortable position with your legs uncrossed. Reduce distractions by being somewhere where you won’t be disturbed.

2. Find a point to focus on and fix your gaze on it. Take a deep breath in and hold it for a moment, then breathe out. As you do, silently repeat to yourself, “My eyelids are heavy and ready to close, I can relax and let go.” Repeat this a couple of times, then close your eyes and relax.

3. Breathe in and out slowly and count down from five to zero. Tell yourself that with every count, you’re becoming more relaxed. Focus on your breathing and how relaxed your body is becoming. Stay in this relaxed state for a couple of minutes.

4. In this relaxed state, calmly and confidently state your positive suggestion to yourself, either out loud or quietly in your mind. Repeat it a few times, feeling the suggestion wash over your mind and body. You can also add in visual imagery that represents your goals.

5. Tell yourself that you’re becoming aware of your surroundings, and at the count of five, open your eyes and stretch your body6. Repeat this technique as often as you can and notice how you reach a deeper level of relaxation each time. If you find that you don’t relax as much as you would like, be patient with yourself.