There’s an easy and effective way to help people stop habits such as nail biting, smoking and overeating. It involves tailoring your suggestions directly for that client. To explore how this idea works, let’s look at how stage hypnosis works and one of the reasons suggestions given during a stage show can work so well. We’ll also look at how different kinds of suggestions work for different things — and what types of suggestion work for habit control.
When “X” Happens, Do “Y”
The old stage hypnosis cliche’ is that the hypnotist snaps his or her fingers and the subject clucks like a chicken. While I doubt there are many stage hypnotists still doing that old chestnut, the principle holds. It’s a very specific suggestion tied to a very specific response. You never hear a stage hypnotist saying, “Do whatever you want to do, whenever you feel like it.” Both the trigger/cue and behavior suggested are specific. The formula is this…
When X happens (a specific cue, such as the hypnotist snapping their fingers), you do Y (cluck like a chicken). For certain types of situations (including habit control), these clear-cut, simple suggestions work best.
Ericksonian vs Direct Suggestion
In Ericksonian hypnosis, we might work differently. We might say something like, “You have many skills and abilities. And you know how it feels when you do something well. And you can allow those skills and abilities and good feelings to spread into other contexts, go wherever needed. That’s right.” Those general types of suggestion are used to allow a client’s mind to determine what areas to shore up.
But in cases where a client asks for a specific outcome (to stop smoking, for instance), you’re most likely better of following the formula of a specific suggestion tied to a specific response.
What Do You Use For Your Habit Control Cue?
It’s good to use whatever the trigger is for the old behavior as your cue for the hypnotic suggestion. Alternately, use something that happens just before the trigger. Let’s use the example of a smoker who automatically smokes when they answer the phone or drive their car. The “X” part of the suggestion could be “Whenever you answer the phone” or “Whenever you drive a car.”
Sometimes, it’s a good idea to back up in time a little bit before the trigger. The reason is that habits are often tied to a feeling of being compelled. If driving triggers the desire to smoke, it’s better if your suggestion hits them before they have the desire. Depending on the situation, your suggestions might be, “When you put the keys in the ignition” or “When you touch the car door handle.”
It’s a good idea to make sure they don’t have a keyless car in that case!
The idea is that the trigger for the old behavior can be the trigger for the new behavior. The really zones right in to where and when the suggestion needs to go.
What Do You Use For Your New Behavior?
The new behavior can be anything. Some people like to have several options (taking a deep, natural breath, drinking a tall, cool glass of water, exercising, having a specific thought etc.). Make sure some of the behaviors are as easy and immediate as the old behavior. A person can’t get to the gym as easily as they can grab a cigarette.
The new behaviors to suggest to your client should fulfill whatever need the old habit did. If they smoked to relax, make sure their new behavior gives them a wonderful feeling of relaxation. You can have them engage in a new behavior and then link those positive feelings to it.
“As soon as you touch the car door handle, a wonderful feeling of relaxation flows through every cell of your body…”
That’s a big key for habit control — replace the old habit, with a new one — one that contains the positive feelings from the old habit.
Be especially careful with suggestions which might activate when someone is driving (or juggling knives, or disarming bombs, or any potentially dangerous behavior). Make sure the suggestions are realized in a safe way and that the client maintain the attention they need in order to maintain safety.
Put The Old Behavior In The Past
Now, you’re not necessarily going to know every single trigger that someone has for their habit. Smokers can have dozens of situations in which they smoke. So, it’s smart to throw a few general suggestions in too. It’s awkward to word things so that you don’t put the idea of smoking (or other habit) into the suggestion. One way to avoid this pitfall is to put the old behavior in the past tense and give a catch-all suggestion. Make sure the suggestion itself is in present tense.
“Any in any situation where, in the past, you would have smoked, you now take a deep, natural breath and relaxation flows wonderfully into your body. You get a more powerful and pleasing relaxation that you ever would have with that old behavior.”
Getting The Goods
Of course, creating suggestions with this level of precision involves gathering good information about the client and their specific situation. That’s something that a script can’t give you. But it’s not that difficult — you just have to ask a few questions. I have smoking clients fill out a smoking diary over the course of a week. That way, we get the triggers. Weight loss folks get an eating diary too. For other issues, I just ask questions.
“What happens right before you (insert habit here)”? “When do you (insert habit here)”?
Plus, I ask some questions designed to draw out what positive feelings they get from the behavior. For instance, I have smokers fill out a plus/minus chart where they list all the benefits and drawbacks of smoking. The benefits list helps me figure out what benefits I need to include in my suggestions.
Those factors are key, in habit control sessions.
Go get ’em!
PS: If you’d like more comprehensive training on how to formulate hypnotic suggestions and make them more powerful, check out my hypnosis certification course.