Readers who pre-ordered my new book, Win Bigly, already got a copy of the bonus chapter that I offered with the pre-order. Now that the book is out, I thought I would include it here for the rest of you. The context is that I’m a trained hypnotist and people often ask me about the topic, so I thought I would answer the most common questions about it. This chapter is in the book, but publishing it here makes it easier to share.
For me, the biggest impact from learning hypnosis was recognizing that people are not rational creatures. We’re creatures who act irrationally and then rationalize our choices after the fact, at least for any decision involving emotion. Once you embrace this concept, the world is far easier to understand. But there are a number of other practical benefits to adding this skill to your talent stack. I’ll tell you a few below.
The Making of a Hypnotist
Hypnosis is a special form of persuasion, generally involving one hypnotist guiding one patient (or subject) toward some sort of personal improvement. You don’t need to be a trained hypnotist to be persuasive, but understanding what hypnosis can and cannot do is extraordinarily valuable. It can change your entire worldview. That’s what happened to me when I trained to be hypnotist. I once believed people use facts and reason to make decisions. When I disagreed with people, I assumed it was because I had different facts or better reasons.
That was an illusion.
The reality one learns while practicing hypnosis is that we make our decisions first – for irrational reasons – and we rationalize them later as having something to do with facts and reason. If you believe humans are fundamentally rational, you will have a hard time learning to be a hypnotist because hypnotists rely on our irrational brain wiring to persuade. The most effective politicians do the same. In this chapter, I’ll give you some background on hypnosis to show you how easily the human mind can be rewired by a skilled operator. This background will help you understand Trump’s election victory, and it might explain a lot of other mysteries in your personal and professional life.
I’ve been interested in hypnosis since I was a child. My family doctor was a hypnotist, and he hypnotized my mother to eliminate her pain when she gave birth to my sister. My mother said that although she was hypnotized – or so she claimed – she was conscious of the entire birth process and felt no discomfort. And that was without pain meds, at least according to my mom.
In hindsight, it’s not clear how much of that story was true. One of the things I’ve learned as a lifelong student of persuasion is that false memories are common. And sometimes adults don’t tell the truth. My mother was a straight shooter, so I doubt she made up the story. But I can’t be sure she remembered everything accurately, such as whether or not someone actually gave her pain meds and she forgot that part.
In any event, I bought into my mother’s story, and I vowed to someday learn this thing called hypnosis. I hoped that learning hypnosis would imbue me with some sort of superpower.
It turns out I was right.
When I was in my mid-twenties, living in San Francisco, I signed up for an evening class at the Clement School of Hypnosis. (It no longer exists.) And by “school” I mean there were about ten students learning from one professional hypnotist. If I recall, we met twice a week for about ten weeks, or something along those lines. The instructor hypnotized the class a number of times so we could experience hypnosis from the receiving side. After he taught us enough technique, we practiced on each other and – for homework – we hypnotized willing strangers and reported back on our progress.
I know you want me to teach you how to be a hypnotist. But you can’t learn it from a book. Some skills require a lot of in-person practice, and this is one of them. Part of the process of learning hypnosis involves building confidence in your skills until your subjects can sense it by your demeanor. That confidence is a key ingredient to making hypnosis work. You can build up to that confidence in a class setting, over time, in a way that I doubt anyone can get from a book. If you try a method from a book, and it doesn’t work on the first try, you’ll probably dismiss the book as a scam and stop trying. Learning hypnosis from a book might be possible, but I’ve never heard of anyone pulling it off.
Persuasion Tip 1:
Display confidence (either real or faked) to improve your persuasion. You have to believe yourself, or at least appear as if you do, in order to get anyone else to believe.
Hypnosis is largely an observational skill. Half of the process involves looking for micro-changes in the subject so you can determine whether or not the approach you are using is getting the effect you want. You can’t get good at an observational skill without lots of practice. A subject under hypnosis has a distinctive look that I doubt I could describe in words, and I’m good at describing things in words. But the look of a hypnotized subject is unmistakable once you have seen it often enough. You can’t get that sort of experience from a book. You have to observe a lot of people under hypnosis to recognize it.
I found it easy to get volunteers for hypnosis by saying I was enrolled in a hypnosis class. I doubt I could have recruited volunteers so easily by saying I was reading a book about hypnosis. The class gave me some credibility with strangers, and a hypnotist-in-training needs a lot of strangers to practice on. One of the things we learned in class is that hypnotizing friends and family doesn’t work well because you have too much history and baggage to overcome. People close to you will have trouble getting into the mindset that you suddenly have a magical new skill. Strangers are more likely to grant you the assumption of credibility, even if you are only a student of hypnosis. And you need the credibility for the hypnosis to work.
Persuasion Tip 2:
Persuasion is strongest when the messenger is credible.
One of the most confusing things about hypnosis is that the things you think it can do, it probably can’t. But the things you didn’t know it could do – such as predicting presidential outcomes – are mind-boggling.
I spoke to a number of other trained persuaders during the election. The following observation is purely anecdotal, but I don’t recall any trained persuaders thinking Clinton was a lock to win. Most predicted an outright Trump win, or at least a surprisingly close race.
You’ve probably heard of people using hypnosis to lose weight, or to stop smoking cigarettes. Hypnosis works for those methods about as well as other non-medical methods – and by that I mean it usually doesn’t work. People who go on diets usually fail no matter what method they use. People who try to stop smoking also fail more often than not. Hypnosis gets you about the same poor result as other non-medical methods.
The reason hypnosis is not a powerful tool for losing weight and quitting smoking is almost humorously simple: You don’t want to eat less and you don’t want to stop smoking. Smokers and overeaters like both of those things. That’s the whole problem. If people didn’t enjoy eating and smoking, they wouldn’t be doing those things. And hypnosis is only good for getting you what you do want. If any part of your mind doesn’t fully embrace the change you want, hypnosis might be the wrong tool.
But hypnosis can work well in situations where the subject has no objection to modifying an old behavior. For example, let’s say you want to overcome a specific type of fear. In those cases, the subject has zero desire to keep the fear. The fear provides no pleasure or other benefit. Hypnosis can work well in those situations. But you are still fighting against some sort of irrational wiring in the subject’s mind, so success is not guaranteed with hypnosis. Every brain is different, and every hypnotist is different.
The best situation for hypnosis is when there is no precondition to overcome. Preconditions in this context might include an irrational fear, a love of eating junk food, or an addiction to smoking. Those cases are hard because some part of your mind wants to keep the old behavior.
But sometimes you are working toward a change that has no precondition to overcome, and that’s the best situation. For example, if you were already a well-adjusted person and you wanted to learn how to relax more effectively, hypnosis would be a great tool. In this case, there is no objection to relaxing – the person just doesn’t have the tools to do it well. Hypnosis can provide the right tools.
It might also surprise you that a hypnotist can sometimes induce massive orgasms in a willing subject just by choosing the right words in a private setting. But that won’t work unless the hypnotist and the subject have some sort of chemistry and a shared desire for that outcome. I only know this is possible because a coworker asked me about it while I was in hypnosis school. At the time, I didn’t know if such a thing was possible. But I needed the practice, and she volunteered to be my test subject, so I gave it a try. After about one hour of hypnosis and twenty-or-so screaming orgasms – no touching involved – she declared the experiment a success. I later learned that the experiment is repeatable with the right kind of subject. That’s what I mean by “mind-boggling” power. The point of the story is that hypnosis is a powerful tool when it is working in the same direction as people’s existing urges.
You’ll be happy to know that hypnosis can’t make people do things they know to be wrong in their waking state. Or at least there are no credible stories of that happening. That makes sense to anyone who has ever been hypnotized. A hypnotized person is actually conscious and aware, but deeply relaxed. They can open their eyes and walk out the door at any time.
The public has a distorted impression of hypnosis because of movies. In a movie you can hypnotize someone to become an assassin. In real life, that’s not possible. In the movies you often see the hypnotist waving a watch or some other pendant-type object and telling you to stare at it. No trained hypnotist does that in real life. It doesn’t have a purpose.
By now you are wondering if stage hypnosis is real or just a trick. Stage hypnotists seem to make people do embarrassing things in public, and that would appear to violate what I just said about people not doing things while under hypnosis that they would object to if awake. In the case of stage hypnosis, there is a magic trick involved on top of the hypnosis. The magic trick is that you assume the people on stage think the way you think. If you would be embarrassed doing what you see them doing, you assume they feel the same. But they don’t. In any crowd of a hundred people it is easy to find several who are good subjects for hypnosis and also not easily embarrassed by public displays of silliness. The illusion for the audience is that the subjects on stage are so deeply under the hypnotist’s spell that they are acting against their own self-interest by embarrassing themselves in public. The secret to the illusion is that the only people who will go on stage in that situation are the ones that know they won’t be bothered by the experience.
Further deepening the stage hypnosis illusion is the fact that many of the subjects are introverts and wallflowers in normal life. But keep in mind that many famous performers are introverts in person and yet they have no trouble performing to large crowds. People come in all types. If the stage hypnotist has a large-enough audience, you can be sure there are some people who will be comfortable doing silly things on stage. Yes, the subjects are hypnotized. But that alone wouldn’t be enough to make an unwilling person do embarrassing things in public. The willingness has to be there from the start.
I used a hypnosis technique in the paragraph above that starts with “By now you are wondering…” The hypnosis technique involves demonstrating that I know what you are thinking at the moment you are thinking it. If I guess right, this creates a little bond between the author and the reader because it feels like I know you as well as I might know a friend. It’s like I’m in your head. That type of personal connection makes whatever I write seem more interesting to you because you naturally care more about a friend than a stranger.
Hypnotists use the same method to create a quick connection with the subject. If I tell you what you are thinking at the exact moment you are thinking it, I can create the illusion that our minds are somehow connected. And once connected, and comfortable with the connection, the subject is more likely to let the hypnotist later operate the controls.
In my example above, I know from years of experience that when I start to describe hypnosis it almost always triggers a specific question: “Is stage hypnosis real?” A non-persuader might provide the answer when asked. But as a trained persuader, I take it one step further and tell you directly that I know that question is in your head at the moment that it is. If the question is NOT in your head, you won’t even notice that I said it was. You will see my statement as nothing but an introduction to the point. But if I accurately guess that you have curiosity about stage hypnosis, and I answer your unspoken thought at the moment you have it, we form a mental bond that helps you enjoy my writing more. I use that technique to make my writing more personal and powerful. If my writing style seems different than the norm, that’s one reason why.
Persuasion Tip 3:
Guess what people are thinking – at the very moment they think it – and call it out.
If you are right, the subject bonds to you for being like-minded.
Who can be hypnotized?
I often hear people say they “can’t be hypnotized” because they tried it once and nothing happened. In my experience – which happens to match what I learned in hypnosis class – an experienced hypnotist can hypnotize anyone, so long as the subject is willing. Where the confusion comes in is that only about 20% of the public can experience what hypnotists sometimes call “the phenomena.” The phenomena describes any situation in which the subject experiences a full-blown illusion, such as seeing something that isn’t there, or feeling something that isn’t real. My mother’s experience of feeling no pain during childbirth falls into that category.
But the 80% of the public who can’t experience the phenomena can still get tremendous benefits from hypnosis. If you want to learn how to relax, how to be comfortable in a particular situation, or how to perform better at something, the only requirement is that you are willing to be hypnotized. That’s good enough for most purposes.
Non-hypnotists are often under the impression that the best subjects for hypnosis are gullible, dumb, or somehow weak-minded. We learned in hypnosis class that there is no personality trait that predicts how easily someone can be hypnotized. Anecdotally, smart people seem to be the easiest to hypnotize. My hypnosis instructor said he thought that was the case, based on experience, and I’ve noticed the same thing. If there is a correlation with intelligence, it probably has to do with the fact that smart people are less concerned that the hypnotist will turn them into an assassin or a sex slave because they know that isn’t a real risk. But as a general rule, there is no way to deduce from a person’s intelligence or personality whether that person will be an especially good subject for hypnosis. A trained hypnotist can tell rather quickly how good a subject will be as soon as the process starts, just by watching how the body reacts to suggestions. But there is generally no way to know ahead of time how good a subject will be. And the subjects themselves have no way to know as well, but they usually think they do. That’s an illusion caused by their egos. People who view themselves as strong-willed also imagine they can’t be hypnotized. Submissive personality types often assume they will be good subjects for hypnosis. But those variables are not predictive. They just feel as if they should be.
When I signed up for hypnosis class I assumed I would only use the skill I learned to perform hypnosis on willing subjects. But it turns out that the biggest benefit of learning hypnosis is what it does to your worldview, and how it influences all of your decisions from that point on. Once you see with your own eyes the power of persuasion, and how easily people can be reprogrammed, it changes everything you do.
For example, if you are familiar with my Dilbert comic strip, you might know that Dilbert has no last name. His boss has no name at all. You don’t know the name of Dilbert’s company or what industry they are in. You also don’t know their location. All of that omission is intentional. It is a trick I learned from hypnosis class. I leave out any details that would cause readers to feel they are different from the characters in the comic. If Dilbert had a last name, it might tell you something about his ancestry. If you knew for sure that Dilbert’s background differed from your own in some big way, it could be an irrational trigger to make you feel less connected. Likewise, if you knew Dilbert’s company was in a specific industry that was different from yours, you might feel less connected. By intentionally omitting those details in the design of the Dilbert comic, I make it easier for people to think Dilbert’s job is just like mine.
Persuasion Tip 4:
If you want the audience to embrace your content, leave out any detail that is both unimportant and would give people a reason to say, “That’s not me.” Design into your content enough blank spaces so people can fill them in with whatever makes them happiest.
An unexpected benefit from learning hypnosis is that I can detect lies with freaky accuracy. Liars usually have “tells,” or clues to signal deception. Some of the tells are in the form of body language and micro facial changes – the same things that a hypnotist learns to detect. Liars also use predictable patterns of language that you can pick up once you know what to look for.
For example, if someone accuses an innocent person of a crime, the accused generally responds by immediately denying the accusation and asking what is wrong with you for even asking. But the first reaction of guilty people, usually, is to ask what evidence you have. They need to know what you know so they can either double-down on the lie or confess. Liars only confess if the evidence against them is airtight.
You can’t make someone love you if the chemistry isn’t there. Hypnosis isn’t that kind of power. But if you have natural chemistry with a person, and simply want things to go as well as possible, a working knowledge of hypnosis is immensely useful.
Here I’m not talking about a formal induction, or putting someone in a so-called trance state. I’m only talking about the knowledge of human nature that you absorb by studying hypnosis. Once you understand people to be irrational 90% of the time you can give up on your old method of using reason and logic to make someone love you. Love, romance, and sex are fundamentally irrational human behaviors and it helps to see them that way.
For example, a man who thinks humans are rational creatures might try to attract a woman by being extra nice. That seems reasonable because people like nice people more than they like mean people. But seduction-wise, niceness is boring, and nice people are a dime-a-dozen. Niceness can only get you so far.
A far better seduction strategy would involve participating in any kind of coed group activities at which you happen to excel. When you display any kind of talent, it triggers other humans to want to mate with you. We’re biologically hardwired to be attracted to anything that helps the gene pool, and talent is a signal for valuable genes. So instead of being nice, focus on being talented, or attractive, or smart, or muscular, or something that suggests you have good genes.
A common misconception is that because nice guys seem to finish last, and jerky guys seem to get the women, being a jerk must have some sort of seduction advantage. It doesn’t. That’s an illusion caused by the fact that people who have OTHER advantages – such as wealth or beauty – have the freedom to act like jerks because they can attract mates no matter what. If you don’t understand what motivates people at a deep level, you might be fooled by your observation that jerks often do well in romance. If being mean were useful to getting sex, you would see ugly people doing it more often with great success. But keep your eyes open and you’ll notice that attractive people can get away with being mean, and ugly people can’t. Attractiveness is the key correlation.
The exception to this rule is something called “negging” in the language of so-called pickup artists. The idea is to say something subversively negative (negging) to a woman – but not too negative – to make her less confident. For example, the man might walk up to the woman and ask “Did you just get your hair done?” Notice that it isn’t a compliment and it isn’t an insult. But the woman will register it as a criticism because there was no compliment appended to the question. The normal structure of that question would be “Did you do something with your hair today? It looks great.” When you put the compliment in the question, you’re using the “nice” strategy that won’t get you far. When you leave out the compliment and ask if the hair is different today it suggests that perhaps you are not crazy about it. That unspoken put-down causes some women (not all, obviously) to reframe their situation as a confident male talking to a woman with some unspoken defect. That creates the illusion – or at least the possibility – that the man is a higher social rank. The perceived difference in social rank – illusion though it is – triggers attraction in the woman in this example because we are biologically wired to believe that people of higher rank probably have some sort of genetic advantage that got them there. And we want to mate with those people to pass those genes to the kids.
Personally, I have never used negging to attract a woman. By the time I learned of the concept I was already rich and successful, so I had enough perceived status that I didn’t need any tricks. You can reach your own conclusions about the ethics of negging. I’m only including it here for education and completeness.
After taking the hypnosis class, I became interested in the broader field of persuasion in the normal world. By then I was working at a large bank that encouraged employees to take a variety of in-house classes. I took classes in negotiating, selling, marketing, listening skills, business writing, leadership, public speaking, and more. When you communicate, you are usually trying to persuade, even if you don’t see it that way. You might be trying to make someone laugh, convince someone to buy, cause someone to fall in love, or to stay in love. You might be trying to convey talent or knowledge to a professional contact. At minimum, most communication involves trying to influence people’s opinion of you, even if the content of your message is neutral. So persuasion and communication overlap quite a bit. If you learn only the tools of communication – the rules of grammar for example – and you don’t learn persuasion, your writing will be weak or, worse, you will make an enormous persuasion mistake and not know it.
A good example of an enormous persuasion mistake happened during the Republican primary debate on September 16, 2015 in Simi Valley, CA. Candidate Carly Fiorina tried to cut through the crowded field by graphically describing an alleged video of an abortion that went wrong. (I’m intentionally not describing it here. You’ll see why.) When I watched Fiorina’s bold move to capture the nation’s attention on a key topic for the Republican base, I publicly predicted that she had “self-immolated.” I called it the worst persuasion move you are likely to see in any realm. CNN’s poll put Fiorina at 15% during the week of the debate. As I predicted, she dropped to 4% one month later and was soon out of the race.
If you are not a student of persuasion, you might think Fiorina’s strategy was bold and clever. It guaranteed free attention from both the mainstream media and social media. And it positioned her as the strongest voice on a key election topic. It was unforgettable, and it matched the emotions of the Republican base. All of that sounds good.
But here’s what she got wrong. And this is more wrongness than anything you are likely to see in any realm of life, much less politics: Fiorina paired her brand with a dead baby.
I knew voters wouldn’t want to think about Fiorina’s horrible story of a dead baby for one second longer than they needed to. I doubt anyone consciously interpreted the situation as I describe it. But humans don’t make political decisions for rational reasons anyway. The Persuasion Filter
says Fiorina lost support because she polluted her brand beyond redemption by associating it with the most horrible image one could ever imagine, on live television. If you asked the voters that abandoned Fiorina to give reasons for their switch, they would probably tell you – and they would believe it to be true – that they switched candidates for rational reasons. But according to the Persuasion Filter, they would be rationalizing their irrational decisions without knowing it.
Finding a Hypnosis School
By now some of you are wondering how you can find a hypnosis school of your own. (See how I anticipated your question, or at least some people’s question?) Unfortunately, I can’t help you on this question because I only have experience with one hypnosis school and it no longer exists. If you find a hypnosis school locally, be sure to ask for references from past students. But be skeptical of the references for two reasons:
1. The school will only connect you with students they know will say good things.
2. A good hypnotist could give students the impression they got more value than they did.
But don’t worry too much about that second point. You wouldn’t want to learn hypnosis from an instructor who couldn’t persuade his own class to give him good reviews.
For more from Win Bigly, you can order it here.