There’s a great story about Milton Erickson, the most famous medical hypnotist of all time, in the book The Power of the Mind to Heal, by Joan and Miroslav Borysenko. As an adolescent, polio left Milton paralyzed. “One day Erickson’s parents left him alone, strapped into a chair. Bored and wishing that he could get to the window, he began to fantasize about walking over to it. As he used his imagination, muscles that had been paralyzed began to twitch. Before long, Erickson had learned to use his imagination to coordinate groups of muscles and rehabilitate himself!”
“The art of using the power of our minds to heal,” they say, “comes through the ability to notice when we are stuck in an unproductive mindset – to become aware of the mental movies that are limiting our creativity – and to make new choices. The two keys to inner healing are awareness and choice. With these keys, we can learn to awaken from the unconscious trance of life into a much more creative reality.”
Decades ago I was addicted to cigarettes, smoking 1-1/2 packs on a good day. Like most smokers, I had a love-hate relationship with cigarettes. I knew they were bad for my health, but I loved that I could count on them to be there for me at any moment no matter what. They were much more reliable than people.
A friend of mine quit smoking by going to a hypnotist. I decided to give it a try. Previously I had quit on my own for six months but deluded myself into thinking I could have “just one.” From that experience, I knew with certainty that smoking in moderation was not an option for me.
Because of my extreme anxiety, I arrived at my appointment 30 minutes early, sat in the car, and chain-smoked. I was so worked up that I felt there was no way hypnosis could help me.
In the office, I lay back in a recliner chair wearing a pair of headsets. The hypnotist talked into a microphone that made it sound like he was talking inside my head. He spoke of the hazards of smoking, which I knew. He spoke of the benefits of quitting, which I knew. He went through this sequence twice. He said that with each passing day it would get easier and more comfortable being a non-smoker. He sent me home with an audio tape of his words. I left his office and have never had a cigarette since. That was almost 30 years ago.
People have reservations about being hypnotized, because they fear being made to do something they don’t really want to do. Although I was in a deeply relaxed and receptive state, I was fully aware of everything that was going on around me. If something hadn’t felt right, I could have easily sat up and walked out. Nothing could have happened to me against my will or without me knowing.
I wish I could say that hypnosis made it easy, like coming to with amnesia and forgetting that I’d ever been a smoker. But it wasn’t like that. It did give me greater confidence in my ability to do what I already wanted to do. And it did get easier with each passing day. But the choice was always mine: Will I give in to an old negative habit or will I remain committed to my value of leading a healthy life?
I’m grateful I had developed enough self-love to stay the course.