Is your willpower failing? I tried hypnotherapy – and it worked almost too well | Deborah Frances-White


A hypnotherapist once explained to me at a dinner party that willpower doesn’t work. I had assumed that it was just mine that was broken. Apparently, it’s because the conscious is such a small part of the brain. Almost everything you know and have experienced has to be stashed downstairs most of the time so that if you’re at the movies, say, you can focus on what Cruella is saying, the taste of the strawberry ice-cream, the second-dateness of the situation – and the kid kicking the back of your seat. There’s no room for more.

We’ve all seen a person riding an obedient elephant, but we know that if the elephant wants to run rogue, there’s not a thing the rider can do about it. People who want to go to the gym have an inner-mental elephant that was going to go anyway. The only way to access this elephantine unconscious is to put your know-it-all rider of a conscious into a trance to shut it up. I decided that lockdown was an ideal time to align my goals with my shoddiest behaviours to see if I could become one of those people who hits their deadlines, while eating mindfully and folding their laundry.

Choosing someone to put you into suspended animation and whisper commands into your ear needs serious consideration. I decided I’d shop internationally, as everything is on Zoom now anyway. I once went to a hypnotherapist in a dirty office above a shop in north London and I looked around and thought: “If what you’re selling works, what the hell are you doing here?” I worry that the British are often a disappointed, slightly unambitious people and I don’t want that seeping in when I’m in a trance state. (I am sure if you’re a British therapist reading this you can diagnose this as my pathology and you’re very good indeed.) I didn’t want some blindly optimistic Californian telling me obviously pretty lies either. It’s hard to be hypnotised when you’re rolling your eyes.

I wanted the upbeat cynicism of the New Yorker. You want ice, you go to the north pole. You want analysis, you go to the Big Neurotic Apple. I found a bright and charming woman online: Sandy Ames – Hypnotherapist. I never refer to her without saying her full name and title and highly suspect she has hypnotised me to do her marketing for her. First, I answered her extensive questionnaire about my origin story, so she could determine my goals and the kind of language that would best seduce my brain into playing ball. Then we got on the call. She talked a lot about alignment, gave me some mental climbing frames and “put me under”. I could hear her soothing, lullaby tones telling me that she was doing this “with my permission”.

One thing I had put on my hypno-Christmas list was to be organised. I told Sandy Ames Hypnotherapist that I had always had a tendency to be chaotic, and wanted bringing my space back to order to be an automatic and meditative act. She did it in one session. In Salem people would have been pointing fingers in her direction. Possibly rightly. I now have a shoe cubby and find myself seeing my trainers on the floor as something that “doesn’t fit my perfect picture”. I never think: “I should tidy up”, but rather, while distracted, will simply find myself accidentally squaring things away. It’s weird, and it has become part of me. All these years my rider loathed tidying up and all I had to do was get my elephant to enjoy putting things away on its own time. I’m almost angry at how easy it is.

Three of my friends have signed up, and we sometimes sigh at our newfound sensible behaviours ruining our fun. “Shall I get you a taxi?” “No,” huffs my friend Jessica, “I’d love a cab, but apparently I feel like walking now because my body wants to move.”

“Do you want pizza?” she asks me. “Apparently not,” I complain. “I’m not hungry, so I don’t feel like it. Bloody hypnotherapy.”

I have a session once a fortnight and when I’m more Black-Mirror-App than human will pull back to once a quarter. In the meantime, I’m figuring out what else can go on autopilot so that I can save my energy for things I actually want to do. Willpower? I hardly know her.



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