Once we’ve realized that hypnosis works and is effective, it’s only natural to ask whether it works on everyone. And if you’re asking that question, you’ve probably got a specific person in mind.
So does hypnosis work on everyone? The short answer is that yes, hypnosis does work on just about everyone. The real question is not whether it works, but how much hypnosis is required to get the change that we’d like to have happen. And that’s something that’s different for each individual. In this article, we’ll go over all of that, and we’ll cover how even though hypnosis works on everyone, sometimes outside constraints might get in the way.
Hypnosis is an efficient form of learning
When we want to understand the effectiveness of hypnosis, it’s important to first appreciate exactly what it is that makes hypnosis work.
So what does make hypnosis work?
Information is stored in chunks inside the mind
In simple terms, the human mind can consciously only track around 7 pieces of information at once.
These pieces of information are represented inside the brain as units of storage known as chunks. A chunk is just a flash word for a representation of something that’s stored inside a brain.
What kinds of things can be represented by chunks?
As you’re reading this, information is constantly flowing into your mind. Everything that you experience moment to moment results in the information store inside your mind being updated.
If you look around you, you can probably see multiple objects. Each of these is represented by many chunks inside your mind. There are other chunks that associate them with each other.
The screen you’re reading this on is a part of some device. That’s at least four chunks already: the specific screen, the abstract concept of screens, the device, and the abstract concept of devices.
In reality, every object you can experience out in the world will be made up of hundreds to billions of distinct pieces of information.
Every level of detail has its own set of chunks.
Your body is represented by a chunk. So is your left hand. And the thumb on your left hand. And the associations between all of them.
Glance around you for a few seconds and notice how many distinct things there are in your immediate environment. There’s a lot before you even get outside of your own body.
And for all of that stuff constantly going on around us, we have only those 7 pieces that we can track.
Now, our brains have a conscious processing facility that allows us to check incoming information for validity. Whenever we experience something new, we check it against the stuff we already know, and decide whether to accept the new information.
This is handy because it allows us do useful things like logic and mathematics.
The environment around us doesn’t try to deceive us very much, so most of the time those 7 conscious awareness chunks are dedicated to whatever we happen to be thinking about in the moment.
How does learning work
As we experience things out in the world, that process of forming new chunks and associating them with each other is known as chunking.
Chunking is the core of our entire learning system.
We associate a concept with another concept, and ideas and understandings form inside our minds.
And we do this constantly.
As we’re doing it, we use those 7 conscious awareness chunks to consciously filter what we’re doing. We try to wrap words around it so that it makes sense to our conscious minds.
This is the process of learning itself.
When we decide that a new concept, idea or understanding fits in with our existing framework of ideas, we allow it in and we learn something new.
Sometimes this involves throwing out some old ideas.
At the same time, our brains constantly chunk information to come up with new simplifications. This happens on two levels.
Automatic unconscious learning
First, we’ve got the unconscious stuff that we do automatically without really noticing ourselves doing it.
We notice that when we turn the knob on a door handle and pull, the door opens.
Or maybe someone shows us.
We abstract this out and create a class of objects inside our mind to represent door opening devices.
Most people never think of it in those terms consciously, but hopefully it’s clear that that’s what we do. This overall unconscious process is the source of new insights that we form.
And because we don’t notice ourselves doing it, it’s largely effortless.
Manual conscious learning
Second, we’ve got the conscious stuff that we do manually. This is the same process as the one I’ve just outlined, only it involves conscious thought. We tend to use this one for solving things like logic problems, and for learning things from others who came before us.
We want to know just how much thrust we’ll need to propel our boat against the wind, so we sit down and work it out. Or maybe we’re wondering how we ran out of money, so we go through our accounts and figure out where it all went.
These conscious reasoning processes feel like work to us, because we have to dedicate significant resources to run them.
Where does hypnosis fit in to learning?
Remember those 7 conscious awareness chunks? We have to use those to drive our conscious thought processes.
Everything else that’s going on at any point in time is handled by our automatic unconscious learning processes.
So anytime we’re simultaneously focusing on enough things to consume all 7 of our conscious awareness chunks, everything else is processed unconsciously.
The information still goes in.
We just don’t get to interfere with it.
And that gap is where hypnosis happens.
Where it gets interesting is that most problems out in the world are better solved by our unconscious learning system.
But by default we try to solve problems consciously.
When we use hypnosis, what we’re doing is consuming all of someone’s conscious awareness chunks. This prevents their conscious mind from interfering with the more efficient and automatic unconscious learning process.
Hypnosis is how we get out of our own way so that we can learn new things.
And hopefully it’s clear from the way that hypnosis happens that so long as someone can learn, they can be hypnotized.
This has some interesting consequences.
People tend to think of hypnosis as this mysterious thing that the hypnotist does to their hypnosis subject. In reality, hypnosis is something that the subject does to themselves. The hypnotist’s job is simply to show them how.
Now learning to consume all of your conscious awareness chunks on demand is something that takes a little effort. For most people, only a few minutes is required.
If you’d like to know more about how we know that hypnosis is real and that pretty much everyone can be hypnotized, you might like to read my article Can Everyone be Hypnotized? Hypnosis is Real.
How to let yourself be hypnotized
Since hypnosis is nothing more than ensuring that our automatic unconscious learning process is not impeded, you might be wondering what’s required to make that happen.
I’ve had people give me all sorts of excuses as to why they think they can’t be hypnotized.
Sometimes they do this when they’re already very clearly in a deep hypnotic trance.
In every case, this belief tends to be driven by just one thing: Fear.
This fear has some interesting consequences.
For example, if we’re terrified that we’ll somehow lose control, we can come to believe that it’s hard to let go.
Here’s the thing though.
The only way we can resist going into hypnosis is by somehow not allowing all of our conscious awareness chunks to be used.
And the only way we can inhibit our usage of our own conscious awareness chunks is by using those same conscious awareness chunks to attempt to do it.
We can either let go, and drift comfortably and peacefully down into hypnosis.
Or we can resist with all our might, and drift deeper into hypnosis more quickly.
Yep. The act of trying to resist hypnosis causes the hypnosis to work better. Everything that we can do to resist hypnosis is something that leads to hypnosis by itself.
Our experience will be different though.
When we let go, it’s likely that our experience of hypnosis will be a blissful trance state where we feel totally at peace.
When we resist, it’s likely that our experience of hypnosis will be that we think we’re not being hypnotized.
Either way, we’re still hypnotized for one simple reason: We don’t possess the resources to not be.
Now I don’t know about you, but I much prefer those hypnotic states where I’m feeling at peace. If you’re like me and prefer being at peace over being stressed out, you might like to read my article on exactly How to Have an Amazing Experience of Hypnosis.
How to hypnotize difficult subjects
When you’re a hypnotist faced with a difficult subject who is insisting that they can’t be hypnotized, even though they want to be, it can be frustrating.
That is, unless you adopt one simple point of view.
Think back to the previous section. Everything they can do to try to resist hypnosis is going to lead to hypnosis.
The issue for the hypnotist is generally one of feeling like we’ve somehow not done our job properly.
The solution for this is simple: Layer in stuff for their conscious mind to track and claim to be resisting, and then do the actual hypnosis on a whole other level.
If that sounds like something you’d like to be able to do, you might like to read my article on How to Hypnotize Resistant Subjects.
Does stage hypnosis work on everyone?
So everyone can be hypnotized, but that’s not quite the same thing as hypnosis working on everyone.
What we’re really interested in is the kind of results that we can get.
In short: Can everyone be made to cluck like a chicken?
And the answer is yes and no.
When we hypnotize someone, we’re essentially decreasing their conscious inhibitions.
As with everything, people exist in a wide range of states. Some people want to be the center of attention so much that all that’s needed to make them cluck like a chicken is asking them to do it.
Hypnosis is not the only way to decrease someone’s conscious inhibitions, so let’s consider an analogy.
It’s well known that when we consume alcohol, our inhibitions go down.
Most people won’t cluck like a chicken in their day to day life without a reasonable amount of incentive. You can be quite sure that if you go up to the typical person in the street with a million dollars in hand and tell them that they can have it if they cluck like a chicken, they will. The benefits outweigh any potential consequences so much that their regular inhibitions fly out the window.
When you get them drunk, it becomes even easier. Their inhibitions are significantly decreased, so they’ll probably cluck like a chicken if it seems in the moment like it might be fun.
Now some people will pass out from the alcohol before they get to that point. But not many.
And while hypnosis is a totally different process, the end result is the same.
So that’s the first part of the puzzle.
The more someone can justify doing something in the context they’re in, the more likely they are to do it.
The second part of it comes down to the skill of the hypnotist.
If the hypnotist intentionally selects volunteers who don’t want to be on stage, and who hate being the center of attention, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to get them to do anything.
Now a skilled hypnotist can probably guide them there anyway.
It’s not particularly difficult to help most people to get out of their own way so that they can have some fun.
The issue with a stage show is that there’s an audience watching. And the show is only an hour or two long.
And if it takes 2 hours to get someone to the point where they can happily perform on stage, that’s not much of a show.
So while most hypnotists could probably get most subjects to perform in a stage hypnosis show given enough time, the in-built time constraints prevent that from happening.
Does hypnotherapy work on everyone?
With hypnotherapy, we use hypnosis to help our hypnosis subject get out of their own way so that they can solve their problems.
As you might imagine, some problems are bigger than others.
For example, the process to help someone to quit smoking is extremely well understood, and consequently has a very high success rate. Depending on the hypnotherapist and the underlying causes, it can take anywhere from 1 to 8 sessions.
Most smokers will quit after the first session with most hypnotherapists.
But because of the way smoking works, it’s prudent to have them come back at least one or two more times while their brain repairs the nicotine damage.
With smoking cessation, it’s easy to justify the cost of those sessions, because cigarettes are an expensive ongoing cost. Essentially, the small investment in the quit smoking program more than pays for itself in terms of no longer having to buy cigarettes.
Other problems are more complex. And some of them delve into areas that are tightly regulated in some countries.
As an example, hypnosis has been known to be effective at treating trauma. However in many countries, regulations prevent it from being used for that other than by someone who is specifically licensed to work with it. Given the consequences if things go wrong, this is a good thing.
With hypnotherapy, the main constraint is whether the customer believes in the process enough to continue coming for the number of sessions that are required.
This is a bit like building a house. If you insist on only buying materials for one room, the entire house won’t get built. That’s not the builder’s fault, and it’s certainly not evidence that building a house doesn’t work.
Similarly, if you have a problem that’s known to typically require 12 sessions of hypnotherapy to work through, and you’re only willing to show up for 2 of those sessions, hypnotherapy won’t help much. As with all things, you have to be willing to see the process through to completion.
So does hypnosis work on everyone?
All available evidence suggests two things.
First, everyone can be hypnotized. But some of us need more work to get there on demand than others.
And second, hypnosis does work on just about everyone. But once again, some of us need more to get there than others. And sometimes other constraints prevent that from happening.
In a stage show, the constraint might be that the show just isn’t long enough, or the process isn’t entertaining enough for the audience.
In hypnotherapy, the constraint might be that getting results for a particular problem is going to require 10 sessions, and the customer is either not patient enough, or can’t afford it.
If you’d like to know more about getting started with hypnosis, you might like to read my article How to Hypnotize Someone Easily next.