How to negotiate with your unconscious mind - and win
As you will have seen elsewhere on my site, hypnotherapy is very much about using your unconscious mind and the strength you have there. But sometimes it can feel as if your unconscious is working against you.
You might be keen to quit smoking, or be friends with every spider you see (well, OK, that one could be a stretch, but you know what I’m getting at). But down in the back of your mind, where you may not even be aware of it, there could be a part of you that has other ideas.
Your unconscious mind has a number of roles, one of which is to keep you safe. In order to do this, it creates anxiety and fear around situations that are – or could be – dangerous. The problem is that the unconscious mind is emotional rather than logical. So it can’t always judge the level of threat correctly.
This is where the spider problem can arise. Here in the UK spiders are generally harmless, but if you had an experience in the past that associated them with bad feelings, your unconscious mind loses sight of the actual amount of risk you are in and will try to keep you away. (If you want to know more about how spider phobias develop read my blog about how hypnotherapy could have helped Miss Muffett HERE.)
The closer you come the higher your anxiety gets, until it's so bad you run away, and your unconscious mind thinks ‘Yay! Now we’re safe!’ and next time it will do the same again.
Change – even good change - can be scary, so your unconscious mind treats it like a dangerous situation. While you might have had enough of smoking, your unconscious might believe that quitting would be really difficult and stressful, or worry about how you would feel if you failed. To protect you from that, it stops you even trying, or sabotages your attempts and sends you back to the cigs.
This isn’t the only reason people struggle with change, of course, but if you find yourself stuck and unable to create any positive change in your life, this could be what’s happening.
Now imagine – what if all the strength of mind that goes into preventing you quitting was working for you instead of against you? Wouldn’t life be easier? You’d make every change effortlessly, with ease and enthusiasm. Everything could just flow. What you need to do to achieve this is to negotiate successfully with your unconscious mind.
How to negotiate successfully with your unconscious mind:
- Remember your unconscious mind works with feelings, imagination and memories, not logic.
It sends its messages as physical sensations, like butterflies in your tummy when you are anxious. However, just because you’re receiving a message doesn't mean you have to act on it. You have choices. Think of the sensation as a suggestion and you can decide if it’s a good one to listen to or not.
- Tap into your unconscious mind.
Your unconscious mind is active when you are doing activities automatically or in a trance or daydream state. So, if you have a question like ‘why is it difficult for me to quit smoking?’, write that at the top of a piece of paper. Then start brainstorming answers. Just write them down as they occur to you whether they seem right or not. Imagine your hand is writing them by itself with no input from your logical self, almost like doodling. You might feel silly at first, but let the creative part of your brain take over and keep writing words on the paper. Most of what you write will be irrelevant or something you know already but keep going until new ideas start to come out. Avoid giving up too soon because your intuition will tell you when you discover something important or something that will help you make the changes more easily.
- Make friends with your unconscious mind.
It’s trying to be helpful even if the way it has chosen to do that isn’t working out for you Suppose you find it hard to save money. There is a reason for that, a part of you that either believes having money is bad, or that having little money is good. Using meditational techniques can be useful. Clear your mind as much as possible, and relax your body. Ask yourself questions and listen to the answers. Sometimes it helps to imagine having ‘another you’ to ask, a kind of ‘wise advisor’ version of yourself who has all the answers. Once you have them, negotiate a compromise. Maybe your unconscious believes that having too much money is selfish or greedy. You could ask if giving some of your increased earnings to charity would be acceptable.
- Enlist the help of a hypnotherapist.
In hypnosis, your unconscious mind is much more accessible than usual, and it’s possible that information you didn’t know you had can be reached. This might include what is holding you back, and also what you can do about it. Properly worded hypnotic suggestions can also help the unconscious mind see new ways forward so that change is possible.
- Remember that your unconscious mind might be behind the mental blocks you’re experiencing, but it’s not to blame.
It’s trying in the only way it knows to keep you safe. Unfortunately, it can’t do much logic and may have faulty data or information taken out of context from your past experiences. For example, just because one dog growls at you doesn’t mean they all will, but your unconscious mind may not realise this.
It’s important to know how to skillfully negotiate with your subconscious.
If you are experiencing a disagreement between what you know (in your logical mind) and what you feel (in your emotional, unconscious mind) what you feel nearly always wins. The trick to resolving the disagreement is to get what you know and what you feel working together because fighting with yourself is the biggest obstacle of all.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.