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hard case smoker

The hard case smoker

Last weekend I had the kind of client we all dread. The hard case smoker: Someone who didn't believe that he could give up, ever. He had tried everything. He was only coming to hypnosis because it was the last thing on the list of all the things he had tried that didn’t work. Now he wanted to be able to  show that he done everything possible and nobody could get him to stop smoking.

He started smoking at 15. As a teenager, he was rebellious and resentful at home. He didn’t get on with his dad. He reckoned that as the youngest child his parents had expended all their energies on the older kids and he was of no interest to them. Smoking started when he joined the rugby team. He loved being part of the team, of feeling he belonged and was part of a group. He left home and joined the army. The Army made him feel included, somebody, a tough guy, always loved the camaraderie, the inclusiveness.

He later returned home and from the moment his father picked him up from the airport they began to reconcile. As time went on they became closer, and then his father got throat cancer and died suddenly. He was devastated by this. It was in 1982 but he still feels it keenly.

He is scared of dying and convinced that he cannot stop smoking and that the smoking will kill him, but he is powerless to stop.

Finding a metaphor for the hard case smoker

 I ask my clients a question to establish their feelings about smoking. I say what comes to mind when I say ‘You will never have another cigarette as long as you live’?  When I asked him what he felt he said "dubious".

I asked what smoking looked like and he said a group: him and all the group smoking. Then I decided to develop this and got him to describe the feeling he got with the group. He said the feeling was of being at peace, happy, not wanting it to end. I asked what colour that feeling was and he said red, and square. I asked if he was inside that square. He said, Yes, with all the group. Then I asked if he could drop his cigarettes and get everyone else do that too. He said he could. What has changed? He said nothing.

So I developed that in metaphor. I got him to imagine that they all dropped all the tobacco and lighters and stuff and there was everything on the floor, ash, ashtrays, cigs etc. I asked if he could sweep it up and throw it out of the red square. He said no. So I used incrementalism and got him to put one shovel-full out and if that was OK. He said that would be OK. And then another shovel, and then more shovels, and then all the group were helping and cheering on and he was a leader and the most popular guy in the red square. He eventually cleared out all the smoking stuff and still had all his friends with him in the red square room.

Anchoring the hard case smoker

What was particularly interested about this process is that he had gone into trance with no induction. I notice that when I get a client to focus on a feeling, and follow that feeling they normally go into trance. As long as I do nothing to break the spell, they will stay in trace and not even notice. In NLP this is called revivification. NLP asks the client to think about a memory and get into the memory so as to anchor the feeling. Then when you fire the anchor the client goes into the feeling, in effect goes into trance. This method just starts with the feeling. 

To finish the session I  got this client to go on a journey where he met his dad. His father released him from the smoking and told him that he could live a long and healthy life. I finished off with my standard stop smoking direct suggestions.

It remains to be seen if this client has in fact stopped for ever, but at the end of the session he said ‘It is weird, but I feel different. When I left that square room it had changed color!’


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Negative Suggestions

Negative Suggestions in Hypnosis

Negative Suggestions are not not good

I was talking to a student recently who was going through her hypnosis training. She was very concerned about not saying 'not'. I told her to relax and just speak normally to clients. There is a huge amount of nonsense talked about not using negative suggestions in hypnosis.

I don't think it matters if you use negative suggestions or not. Some trainers tell their students that if they tell the client to 'stop smoking' all the mind does is to hear the word 'smoking' and not the word 'stop' and it puts the idea of smoking into the client's mind.

Do not think of an elephant

The evidence for this is always the NLP example: 'Do not think of an elephant'. The point is that of course the image of an elephant comes to mind. NLP teaches that the mind does not notice the word 'Not' and only acts on the thing that comes after the 'not'. The theory is that a negative suggestion emphasizes the thing mentioned.

But if that was true, then the word 'not' would apply to 'think' rather than 'elephant'. If the 'not' was operating as NLP theory says, you would stop thinking. Of course that doesn't happen. The sentence 'Do not think of an elephant' gets parsed as a whole unit.

Even as it being said, the language processing part of your brain is trying to make sense of the whole unit of speech.  In fact while the stream of words is being heard, processing is continuously redefining the sense of the sentence. Think of the times when you have only realized what somebody said long after they had said it.

The sentence is evaluated as a unit. That is why you get confused by long rambling sentences. After the sentence has been evaluated, the core idea of the sentence is what remains. The actually words are largely ignored. The 'elephant' comes to mind because your mind is waiting to hear what comes next about that elephant. The image of the elephant stays in your mind because your mind is waiting to hear if you are going to feed it or shoot it.

Do not think of an elephant is oversimplified

The NLP view on negative suggestions is very simplistic. It does not reflect how the mind actually processes words. A moment's thought will show that if that was true, all hypnotherapists would be out of business. Because all you would have to say is something like 'Don't lose weight' and the client would give up overeating, or say 'Do not eat healthy' and the obesity epidemic would be over. Or how about 'Don't stop smoking' to have all the world give up smoking instantly?

The whole negative suggestions theory about 'Never say Not' is overdone in my opinion.

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NLP Word Weaving

NLP Word Weaving a Waste of Breath?

NLP Word Weaving is something NLP people are very proud of. I was talking to some newly made hypnotists who had just finished a course in NLP and hypnosis. They were all excited about their new skills. They were looking forward to a sparkling career as an international hypnosis superstar.

I didn't have the heart to disillusion them so I let them rave on. The reality is that most full time hypnotists see fewer than six clients a week. 90% of graduates from NLP and Hypnotherapy schools never actually use what they paid so much money to acquire.

NLP Word Weaving in practice

However they were asking me about one aspect that was worrying them both. They didn't feel confident about applying the 'NLP word weaving' part of NLP. They had spent a long time admiring how others had crafted indirect suggestions and language patterns. It seemed to them that there were people who could produce endless streams of it on any subject. They were told this was the way to influence the client's subconscious with effortless mastery.

I had had to tell them that as far as I was concerned, all that effort on NLP Word Weaving was a waste of time and breath. There certainly are endless elegant ways of talking around a subject. There are many ways of structuring suggestions so that that the client doesn't notice. But there is absolutely no evidence that it actually works any better than a straight forward suggestion.

In fact there is evidence  to the opposite. It is so subtle that many clients miss the point. So I had to tell them that they had nothing to worry about. I am not sure if they were more relieved or disappointed.

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NLP anchoring

Does NLP Anchoring work?

NLP Anchoring

I have recently had an exchange of emails about NLP Anchoring.

I’m interested in receiving an NLP anchor, but first need some evidence that others are using one. Can you give me the names of 3 to 6 well known folks who are using an NLP anchor?

I am told I can create a unique touch, e.g. touch my left thumb against the upper most crease of my left index finger and associate that touch to a time when I was very productive, and/or feeling very successful, and/or feeling very confident. That touch is called an "anchor".  I can access that anchor whenever I want to feel those feelings, again. But if it's so successful, who is using it whose name I would recognize?

Does NLP anchoring work?

My reply was:

You are quite right to be skeptical. Your question should be, "If it is so successful, why isn't everyone using it?"
NLP is a collection of techniques and ideas from many other disciplines wrapped up in a load of marketing. In my opinion, the parts of NLP that work are all taken from somewhere else, the parts that are original are interesting, but not particularly useful in therapy.

If all we had to do was to pinch our skin and think of a time we were successful then the whole world would be doing it. Everyone would be blissfully happy all the time. Doctors' offices would be empty. It doesn't happen.

Scientific tests have shown that anchoring does make the person feel better for a short time, but it is a placebo. The feeling wears off in minutes. There are no studies that show that it works except as self delusion. It is promoted heavily to gullible people in order to sell NLP courses and NLP 'treatments'. As far as I know, no one in the world has ever made it work for them on an enduring basis.

What about not calling it an "anchor" to recall and re-live and re-experience a certain state (feeling) but use it as a memory recall button? Take the onus off of re-creating a past state, but simply use it as a memory jogger when those states were experienced? Not unlike looking at an award certificate or a trophy. Simply associate certain memories with a specific stimulus, (a word, sound, image, or in this case a unique touch) ?

What about using the behavior science behind classical conditioning ( (also Pavlovian or respondent conditioning, Pavlovian reinforcement) which is a form of associative learning? Can you create a powerful memory jogging tool?

From me:

I know what you are getting at, but sadly, it doesn't work. Or at least it can not be summoned consciously.

Accessing past states

We can all access past states when exposed to the right stimuli. Everyone remembers being transported back in time when you hear a song you haven't heard for a long time. However these are the result of unconscious associations. These are in fact the basis of most psychological problems.

When you consciously and deliberately recall a state you weaken it. Take your example of looking at a trophy. The first time you look at the trophy you get the memory/feeling/state strong and clear. However, the act of looking at it occurs in a certain environment, and that gets mixed in with the original feelings of the trophy. Sometimes you will be looking at the trophy while you are angry, sometimes when you are feeling bad because your team lost. The down feelings will now be mixed with the original feelings. The more often you look at it, the more diluted it gets. Over time the association fades. It is inevitable.

There is no way round this.

Much of hypnotherapy work is centered on trying to find hidden associations and remove them.  What you are after, it seems to me, would be achieved by altering your unconscious programming, your core beliefs about yourself, your capabilities and world around you. Simple anchoring won't do it.

There is no magic bullet in this business.

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