Jack Harley, Therapeutic Neuroscience at Oxford University
reviewed by Dr Michael Yapko
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Jack Harley, Therapeutic Neuroscience at Oxford University
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Self Hypnosis: What It Is & How to Do It


Have you ever found yourself deeply engrossed in a book? Or so caught up in a film that time seemed to pass effortlessly? If so, you may have experienced a routine form of hypnosis, what many practitioners refer to as the “everyday trance.”

Hypnosis is a normal state that we enter many times during the day, each time we get really focused on something that we’re concentrating on. The ability to focus yourself at will is an invaluable skill to have and is the foundation for a practice of self-hypnosis. This article explains how to perform ‘self-hypnosis’ and describes some of the benefits of this technique.

What is self hypnosis?

Self-hypnosis involves becoming highly focused and absorbed in the experience while giving yourself positive suggestions about ways to reach your goals. Self-hypnosis is an individual practice, unlike when you are working with a therapist. It can be a most empowering practice as you learn to have better control of your thoughts and reactions while enjoying the physical and emotional benefits of the relaxation that is typical of self-hypnosis techniques.

What can a person accomplish with self hypnosis?

What can humans accomplish if they’re in the “right” frame of mind? When people are focused and motivated to accomplish a goal, and most effectively use their abilities, they are at the peak of their personal power. To use that power to learn new skills more easily, perform athletic feats, be more creative, tolerate pain, and face the unknown with greater confidence, are just a few of the infinite examples of the value of self-hypnosis. Self-hypnosis is a means of learning to focus yourself, motivate yourself, be more self-aware, and make the best use of your innate skills. If you think about it, when you see other people do amazing things, they’re usually intensely focused on what they’re doing and what they’re trying to accomplish. Self-hypnosis is all about developing and using your focus in a goal-directed fashion.

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Is self-hypnosis the same as meditation?

Self-hypnosis is very similar to meditation in that both involve entering a calm and relaxed state main difference is that when people practice self-hypnosis, they tend to have a specific goal in mind, something that will improve them and their quality of life in some way. In a typical meditation practice there is no particular goal, just an easy acceptance of wherever the mind goes without judgment or intention. Both meditation and self-hypnosis have the potential to promote physical and mental health in parallel ways, thus highlighting the merits of learning to develop and use focus meaningfully.

How to hypnotize yourself

Below are commonly employed steps to perform self-hypnosis. Hypnosis is perfectly safe, and you will be in control the whole time. After all, it is your experience. To end the hypnosis session at any time simply count to five and instruct yourself to re-alert. We'll discuss each of these steps in more detail.

  1. Find a comfortable place to relax and get comfortable
  2. Relax using a hypnotic induction like progressive muscle relaxation
  3. Introduce a suggestion
  4. Return to your usual level of alertness

1. Find a comfortable place

First, make sure you feel physically comfortable as this will help you relax. Sit in a soft chair with your legs and feet uncrossed. You may also lie down although this method may lead you to simply fall sleep. Loosen any tight clothing and avoid eating large meals so you don’t feel bloated and uncomfortable. Ensure you will not be interrupted for 20-30 minutes during the hypnosis.

2. Relax using a hypnotic induction

Enter the hypnotic state with a common technique known as progressive muscle relaxation. With this, focus awareness upon any tension stored in parts of the body, and release tension sequentially. Begin with your hands and arms, then move down to your back, shoulders and neck, then stomach and chest and legs and feet. Visualise the tension dissolving or evaporating away, or slowly tense then relax the muscles. The feeling of deep, pleasant, comfortable relaxation is an excellent starting point to begin self-hypnosis.

3. Introduce a suggestion

In the focused and relaxed state of hypnosis, you can pay deeper and fuller attention to the suggestions you want to give yourself for self-improvement. These can be simple but clear statements you offer yourself about what you might do differently, or how you might react differently in some challenging situation, or how you might come to think differently about yourself or some circumstance. These ‘post-hypnotic suggestions’ (meaning suggestions that can take effect after your self-hypnosis session is finished) can help you achieve your goals. Some common examples of goals addressed in self-hypnosis include:

This is a short list, but suggestions can focus on any area of your life in which you hope to initiate a mental shift. Examples of post-hypnotic suggestions in the form of affirmations, a common self-hypnosis approach, include:

  • I accept myself for who I am
  • I eat three healthy meals per day
  • I am confident and assertive when speaking to others
  • I feel calm, confident and relaxed
  • I find it easy to stop smoking.

4. Return to your usual level of alertness

After providing the suggestions, you can become more alert & aware by counting to five while telling yourself you are becoming aware of your surroundings. At the count of five, you can open your eyes and stretch out your arms and legs and go on with your day.

Tips for hypnotic suggestions  

When making suggestions during self-hypnosis in step 3, follow these tips:

  • Say it with conviction: Imagine the words being said gently but with conviction and ensure the tone is reassuring, confident and positive.
  • Phrase suggestions in the present tense: The suggestion, ‘I am confident’ will be more effective than, ‘I will be confident’ as the word ‘am’ is in the present tense and is more certain.
  • Make suggestions positive: For example, ‘I am at peace’ is better than ‘I am not stressed’ ; talk to yourself about what you do want, not what you don’t want.
  • Make suggestions realistic: Avoid over-ambitious suggestions such as, ‘I will lose a lot of weight quickly’. Instead focus on smaller and more specific goals such as, ‘I will eat more vegetables, and exercise more’.
  • Repeat the suggestions: State the suggestions many times during the hypnosis. Repetition of an idea can help drive home the point.

Using imagery and action in self-hypnosis

Adding imagery to the post-hypnotic suggestions can improve the hypnosis. You may also engage your sense of taste, touch and smell. For example, to help overcome anxiety you could imagine:

  • Sitting in a place that brings you feelings of calm, such as beach on a warm day
  • Seeing a hot air balloon and placing your worries into the basket, watching them float away
  • Clearing an overgrown path of brambles, and feeling stronger, more in control as you go.

Adding in action steps – what you’ll actually do differently to improve things – is also very helpful to successful self-hypnosis.

Self-hypnosis or in-person hypnotherapy?

There are many advantages to self-hypnosis. It is entirely portable and with practice you may be able to quickly bring yourself to a state of focused relaxation very quickly.
It can, however, be challenging to learn, especially the ability to relax and focus the mind while giving oneself instructions. For this reason, many people choose to use in-person hypnotherapy.

Hypnotherapy is simply the act of applying hypnosis as a therapeutic, such as to relieve pain, anxiety or sleeplessness. A trained hypnotherapist will take you through a similar process to the above, giving you positive suggestions to help improve your specific concern.

A third option is to use hypnotherapy apps. These apps combine the best of both worlds - they are lower in cost than in-person hypnotherapy, can be done on demand (anywhere, anytime), but are created by real hypnotherapists and based on real clinical studies.

Self-hypnosis in medicine

There are remarkable examples that showcase how effective self-hypnosis can be. Take the documented case of Victor Rausch (1980), a dental surgeon who was experienced with hypnotic procedures. When required surgery to remove his gallbladder, Rausch used self-hypnosis as his only anaesthesia.

More recently, science has shown training in self-hypnosis may help patients overcome a range of clinical conditions. These include:

Tips for improving self-hypnosis

  • Have a goal in mind: Before starting self-hypnosis ensure to have a goal in mind, such as lowering stress. This will ensure each session is focused and productive.  
  • Schedule time for self-hypnosis: The hardest part of self-hypnosis can be getting started. It may work best to set aside a time each day for self-hypnosis and write it in your schedule. Self-hypnosis can be performed during the day, or at night before you sleep.
  • Keep up the practice: Like riding a bike, it takes time to learn self-hypnosis. With practice and instruction, you will learn to more quickly enter a state of trance. You will also learn a broader range of hypnotic suggestions to improve the outcome.
  • Use a mobile app: Mobile apps such as Evia (for hot flashes) and Nerva (for IBS) can be a great way to get the best of both self-hypnosis and hypnosis with a hypnotherapist.

The Wrap Up

Self-hypnosis is a powerful tool to improve your mind. It is a highly safe technique that can bring increased self-esteem and confidence, assertiveness, and relaxation. Self-hypnosis can also be used during difficult times to help improve symptoms of medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, pain and headaches.

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Our Sources

Mindset Health only uses high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed research, to support our articles. We work with experts to ensure our content is helpful, accurate and trustworthy.

1. Fromm, E., Brown, D.P., Hurt, S.W., Oberlander, J.Z., Boxer, A.M. and Pfeifer, G., 1981. The phenomena and characteristics of self-hypnosis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 29(3), pp.189-246. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00207148108409158

2. Yeates, L.B., 2016. Emile Coue and his method (II): hypnotism, suggestion, ego-strengthening, and autosuggestion. Australian Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy & Hypnosis, 38(1), pp.28-54. http://unsworks.unsw.edu.au/fapi/datastream/unsworks:47760/bin73f48d52-f4cb-443f-a9c2-a5c23331c372?view=true

3. Soskis, D.A., Orne, E.C., Orne, M.T. and Dinges, D.F., 1989. Self-hypnosis and meditation for stress management: a brief communication. International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 37(4), pp.285-289. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00207148908414483

4. Rausch, V., 1980. Cholecystectomy with self-hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 22(3), pp.124-129. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00029157.1980.10403216

5. Ashton Jr, R.C., Whitworth, G.C., Seldomridge, J.A., Shapiro, P.A., Michler, R.E., Smith, C.R., Rose, E.A., Fisher, S. and Oz, M.C., 1995. The effects of self-hypnosis on quality of life following coronary artery bypass surgery: preliminary results of a prospective, randomized trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 1(3), pp.285-290. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.1995.1.285

6. Liossi, C., White, P. and Hatira, P., 2006. Randomized clinical trial of local anesthetic versus a combination of local anesthetic with self-hypnosis in the management of pediatric procedure-related pain. Health Psychology, 25(3), p.307. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-05891-007

7. Jensen, M.P., Barber, J., Romano, J.M., Molton, I.R., Raichle, K.A., Osborne, T.L., Engel, J.M., Stoelb, B.L., Kraft, G.H. and Patterson, D.R., 2009. A comparison of self-hypnosis versus progressive muscle relaxation in patients with multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. Intl. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 57(2), pp.198-221. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00207140802665476

8. Anbar, R.D., 2001. Self-hypnosis for the treatment of functional abdominal pain in childhood. Clinical Pediatrics, 40(8), pp.447-451. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/000992280104000804

9. Spinhoven, P., Linssen, A.C.G., Van Dyck, R. and Zitman, F.G., 1992. Autogenic training and self-hypnosis in the control of tension headache. General Hospital Psychiatry, 14(6), pp.408-415. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science /article/abs/pii/016383439290008X

10. Kohen, D.P. and Zajac, R., 2007. Self-hypnosis training for headaches in children and adolescents. The Journal of pediatrics, 150(6), pp.635-639. https://europepmc.org/article/med/17517250

11. Anbar, R.D., 2001. Self-hypnosis for management of chronic dyspnea in pediatric patients. Pediatrics, 107(2), pp.e21-e21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11158495

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