The other day, I was talking to my hypnotherapist about how hypnotherapy helps smokers stop smoking. It’s fascinating, really. All the hypnotherapist or NLP practitioner does is associate smoking with pain and associate not smoking with pleasure. There are other things to tack on too – self-esteem, etc. – but the majority of it is simply changing the mental associations. I was fascinated. Could it really be that easy?
It was during this talk that he noticed something that I just accepted as a fact of life: he began to scratch on a piece of paper and I visibly cringed and contorted. See, I have mild autism as well as something called synesthesia, which means that I associate two separate neurological pathways. In my case, the sound and feeling of fingernails on paper and chalk on a chalkboard (even fingers on chalk) made me feel pain in my teeth. Terrible stuff.
So, being a good hypnotherapist and NLP Practitioner, he asked me a few questions about how I had mapped the painful sensation. He asked questions about its location, size, shape, and appearance. He then had me imagine something more pleasant, and added pleasant sounds and memories alongside it. He then had me cover the painful experience with the more positive one, as if replacing a file.
Voila, no more painful association.
To test, he scratched on a piece of paper. I actually laughed! He had me think of chalk on a chalkboard. Again, no pain. Now it wasn’t a pleasant sound, but it didn’t cause me any pain. It was magical and took less than 15 minutes.
Using Pain and Pleasure for Results
Humans are wired to continue to do what causes us pleasure, and avoid what causes us pain. It’s that simple. If we are continuing in a bad habit, such as overeating, or smoking, or even abusive relationships, we are doing it because the pain we associate with stopping the activity/relationship are worse than the pain we associate with continuing the activity.
Pain and Pleasure and Getting Fit
This morning I thought about the pain and pleasure principle while buying groceries. I caught myself thinking about how good all the rich food will taste, and how nice it will be to finally lose the last fifteen pounds. I thought about how much better I always feel mentally when I eat a ketogenic diet, and how much faster and clearer I will be able to think. And then it struck me – I was associating my diet and exercise routine with pleasure, and associating NOT eating in my new way with pain.
Could this be what keeps people from staying on diets? I mean, if you associate dieting with pain/restriction and eating “normally” as pleasure, how can you mentally stick with a program for long? Or if you associate working out with pain, and sitting still as pleasure, you’ll never feel the motivation to work out. You have to switch the associations in your brain in order to get the results you want. It’s fundamental.
Next week, I’ll post about how to use self-hypnosis to achieve your weight loss goals.