Coachability and hypnosis

29 May

Got one of those “I’m very strong-minded; maybe some people can be hypnotized but I doubt it would work on me” emails recently. The implication that only weak-minded people can be hypnotized indicates a misunderstanding of what hypnosis is.

The hypnotist’s job is to coach you into a highly focused state of awareness, and then to alter your perceptions of reality. Since hypnosis involves strengthening a person’s ability to focus their own mind, being ‘strong-minded’ is good.

Sometimes hypnotized people can go through things like childbirth, dental work, and even surgery, using their mental abilities to ignore pain and discomfort; I would not call that sort of person weak-willed. Golf Digest magazine says Tiger Woods underwent extensive mental training including hypnosis– would anyone call him weak-minded?

Since the hypnotist operator is really just a coach or a guide helping the client enter hypnosis, a useful way to think about “hypnotizability” would be thinking in terms of “coachability”.

If a person is resistant to following a coach’s simple instructions (such as ‘please count slowly’), this can make things harder. This can happen if a person feels a need to demonstrate that they have the ability to resist the instructions, which of course they can choose to do at any time. But that attitude is not really a sign of having a strong mind, if you think about it…

Richard Feynman, the famous Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist, was very hypnotizable, to the extent that he could be burned by matches without feeling pain. Feynman wrote that he found hypnosis to be “a very interesting experience”. Encyclopedia Britannica says he is “widely regarded as the most brilliant, influential, and iconoclastic figure in his field in the post-World War II era.”

So if some smarty-pants implies that only weak-minded simpletons can be hypnotized, consider Feynman, who was not only an undisputed genius, but a true maverick and fearless free-thinker. And can you think of anyone mentally tougher than Tiger Woods?

PS. It’s great to work with athletes and performers, because they are used to working with coaches, trainers and instructors in order to gain a competitive edge.

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