This is the first in a series of articles on the use of hypnosis in enhancing athletic performances.
As a certified hypnotherapist it is always interesting to engage in discussions about hypnosis and to listen to what people believe about it. Non-athletes and athletes alike have many preconceived notions about hypnosis and what it can or cannot do for you. So let’s start with some basic information.
What is hypnosis? (This is always a good place to start.)
It has been described in many ways. Though some may relate it to being sleep-like this is not quite accurate. You are aware of noises in the background for instance. You are alert yet it may be more like being in a daydream. It is like being completely lost in a good book or movie. It is total involvement to the degree that everything other than the experience at hand is of focus. Another way is to look at it as your conscious mind (the logic-judging mind) being put aside so your subconscious can be open to experience things without or certainly with far less judgment.
Though you may go to a hypnotherapist it is generally accepted that all hypnosis is really self-hypnosis. You allow this to occur to yourself. It is not done unto you.
What isn’t hypnosis?
Hypnosis is not some wild trance that you will do crazy things. Stage hypnotists are a whole category unto themselves. Just know, hypnotherapists are not stage hypnotists. You will also not do anything under hypnosis that you would not otherwise do (i.e. against your system of morals and values).
How does hypnosis work?
The fact is that no one really knows for sure. Our brains are more complicated than we can understand. There are many theories but no definitive answers. Therefore, though this is a valid question I won’t detail theories here. Suffice it to say it works on our subconscious minds regardless of the mechanism.
Here are some points to know however. Remember that most of what we do in any given day is on automatic pilot. We don’t “think” about it. We do it subconsciously – from things we do to reactions we have. This is mostly a good thing, we don’t want to think about every move we need to make all day long. Unfortunately, that also means there are many things we do that we don’t really intend doing or reacting to that are on that same subconscious level. That is the stuff that can hamper our performance in many venues including sports. Hypnosis is a technique that gets through to that subconscious mind to allow us to make changes more easily.
Can you be hypnotized?
This is always a debate. You cannot be hypnotized if you don’t want to. You can if you allow yourself to. Some of the research on hypnosis indicates about 15% of people are highly responsive to hypnosis while 10% are difficult or impossible to hypnotize. Everyone else lies somewhere between. It is widely reported that children as well as anyone who easily get lost in fantasies are much easier to hypnotize. The bottom-line is that the great majority of people can be hypnotized. And the bottom-line is that most of us have already been in a hypnotic state at some time of our lives.
The key element is your attitude going in to hypnosis. Keeping an open mind is critical. If you don’t believe in it or that it will help you, you’re probably going to be right.
There are many myths about hypnosis. Here are a few relevant to our discussion:
You will do anything the hypnotherapists wants while you are under hypnosis. This is completely false. Your values and morals will rule your behavior.
You can be hypnotized even if you don’t want to. Completely false – this requires cooperation from the individual.
You won’t remember anything after hypnosis. Again, false – you are in an aware state during hypnosis.
Hypnosis will make me a great athlete. Sorry, it can’t make you something you aren’t.
Who can you go to?
There may be states that require certification of some kind or state registration of some kind but most states have no criteria established. That means buyer beware. Credentials vary greatly. But you should look for someone who has had specific training and is certified in hypnosis. Even this is difficult to rely upon since some “certified” hypnotherapists may have attended a two-day online course and have no experience whatsoever. On the same line – it does not have to be a licensed counselor or psychotherapist (most of whom don’t use hypnosis and are not certified in it) though it may be. I recommend looking for recommendations from people who have been a client of the hypnotherapist.
You of course can learn how to do this on your own for the cost of a book or CD. There are many books & CDs out there on self-hypnosis though I have not found any single one that stands out. Some are better than others in detailing exactly how to do it.
How much does it cost?
Typically a session will cost $100-250. Like everything else in life, the fee does not represent effectiveness. But before you balk at that, understand that you may need only one session! Some therapists will offer package deals like three sessions for $250 or some such thing. Unless you have very in depth problems or are one of those more difficult-to-hypnotize individuals you shouldn’t need dozens of sessions.
How can you use hypnosis to improve your running?
Hypnosis can help you optimize your running performances by eliminating mental barriers such as: stress, anxiety, panic attacks, competitiveness, breaking through various mental barriers, intimidation from running with certain competitors, dealing with adversity in training and racing, belief in your capabilities, pushing limits, performing as well in races as you have in practice, committing to your training program, being consistent with your training (i.e. removing excuses).
An Important Note:
While pain management has been found to be one important use of hypnosis, we never want to think of this as “ignoring” pain or “not feeling” pain in athletic activities. This can be deadly. Pain is a signal to our brain that our bodies are under duress. Some pain, as we all know, is OK. It’s tolerable within limits. (I prefer to call this “discomfort” instead of pain.) We also need to learn the difference between “good” pain (pushing limits) and “bad” pain (injury and body harm). Hypnosis can help athletes deal with the discomforts of their sport. But you do not want to ignore what your body is telling you!