If you’ve delved into self-improvement culture more than superficially, you’ve probably encountered some form of auto-hypnosis or auto-suggestion. In fact, a great number of people who are into the self-improvement movement are ardent believers in auto-suggestion or the power of affirmations.
If you have a social media friend who likes self-improvement culture, affirmation Internet memes appear in their updates. You might have seen such affirmations or mantras as, “I enjoy doing the things that keep order, harmony, and balance in my life.” Or, “I feel strong, capable, and full of life today.”
The most common form of the practice is simple enough. When you’re alone, close your eyes and speak the affirmation or mantra. You are to emotionalize and visualize it. If you find yourself facing a difficult situation, perhaps public speaking, you mentally picture the situation working out successfully. Then, when you actually make the speech, the event will supposedly come off without a hitch as you deliver it in a calm, confident manner.
Another way of using the affirmation technique is commonly found in self-help books. The authors usually recommend writing in a notebook your most urgent goals. You are to close your eyes, breathe deeply and visualize the goals as if they have already taken place. You vocalize the goals and imagine positive emotions to associate with the goals. Then, hopefully, you will carry on with your day and happily achieve the goals.
The man responsible for popularizing this method was the French pharmacist Émile Coué. His most famous affirmation has been reiterated time and again by many other self-improvement gurus. “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” His writings became quite popular in the U.S. in the 1920s.
Coué tested his idea on his pharmacy customers when they picked up their prescriptions. He claimed that if he told them the prescribed medicine was very effective, that the patients would heal more quickly. If Coué, was indifferent or made slightly negative comments about the drugs, the patients healed more slowly.
Coué refined his findings then began to work with his patients to enhance their self-image (self-esteem). He named his technique “The Law of Concentrated Attention”. The process required a person to concentrate on an idea and repeatedly visualize a successful outcome over and over. This is the idea behind the “Every day, in every way…” mantra or affirmation.
The pharmacist learned hypnosis from Ambroise-Auguste Liebault then founded the Lorraine Society of Applied Psychology in 1913. Coué’s book Self-mastery through Conscious Autosuggestion was an instant hit in Europe and the United States in the early 1920s. Readers were won over to the practice of auto-suggestion as a way to solve problems and to cure negative thinking.
If you want to experience auto-suggestion or auto-hypnosis, go to YouTube and type “autohypnosis” into the search bar. A lengthy list of videos will appear on your screen. Try out a few to understand the technique.
In the past, I’ve written a few scripts to record my own auto-hypnosis sessions onto audio-cassette for personal use. They put me in a good mood, but I find the exclusive use of them to be ineffective. The best use of affirmations is to use them as morale-building tools in conjunction to actual physical practice of whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish.
For a couple of years, I was lazy and believed that repeating the affirmations over and over again would solve my problems. That does not work. For instance, when quitting cigarettes, I played affirmation tapes at home and in the car. The consciousand subconscious techniques were ineffective alone. Only when I consulted my physician and did the hard work of withdrawing from nicotine addiction was I able to permanently stop smoking.
When I felt tempted to smoke, I played one of the auto-hypnosis tapes. In the end, I had to stop listening to the tapes, because they made me more conscious of my desire to smoke. In effect, the affirmations tended to reinforce my
cigarette habit, not cure it. The biggest pitfall with auto-suggestion is that the mind comes to believe the problem is already solved. In that case, any motivation factor greatly diminishes.
My own personal experience taught me to be skeptical of the Émile Coué method. In my case, auto-hypnosis and self-esteem building became a crutch. I fell prey to the temptation to substitute mantras in place of actual positive action in the solution of problem solving.
Perhaps there is a subtle effect of auto-suggestion but I cannot prove it. I do know that using relaxation techniques and auto-hypnosis tapes help me get to sleep more quickly at night. Is it because I have told myself over and over that they are effective for this use?