One of the big issues when you’re a hypnotist is working with people who want to be hypnotized but try to sabotage your attempts to hypnotize them. Luckily, this is easy to work around: All you have to do is hypnotize them in a way that they can’t notice what you’re doing.
So how do you hypnotize someone secretly? The key to making it work is doing things that most people won’t realize lead to hypnosis. This includes hypnotic techniques such as storytelling and covert fractionation, along with hypnotic inductions that non-hypnotists don’t tend to know about. In this article, we’ll cover each of these.
What is covert hypnosis?
In hypnosis, hypnotizing someone without their knowledge is referred to as covert hypnosis. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, there is nothing black-ops or nefarious about it.
In our modern world, covert hypnosis is around us all the time. It’s embedded in advertising, TV shows, movies, books, presentations, training courses, and just about any form of communication you can imagine.
Most of the time, it’s used for good. By and large, we don’t mind that the creators of the latest blockbuster movie thoroughly embedded it with covert hypnosis because we enjoy the results.
It’s the same with advertising: So long as the product being advertised solves a problem for us, we’re generally perfectly happy for the advertisers to tell us about it.
You see, despite the impression that many people have of hypnosis being about mind control, it’s really about efficient communication.
What’s needed to hypnotize someone without them knowing?
So what do we need in order to hypnotize someone secretly?
First, we need to know what kind of result we’re going for. If we don’t know this, we really have no way to measure success. As with overt hypnosis, the result can be anything from a simple trance state through to mind-blowing transformations in record time.
It can even be just playing around to see what happens.
Then we need a means to get them into hypnosis.
If you’re starting out, it’s useful to learn several different techniques and then switch between them at will.
Ultimately, when you become an expert, you’ll find that you don’t use techniques at all.
When we want to hypnotize someone secretly at the expert level, what we really need to do is understand a few simple principles about how human minds operate.
It’s important to appreciate that we often can’t directly ask someone about covert hypnosis.
But we can ask them about their experiences and their results.
When we ask them about their results in the right way, the act of trying to answer our questions can magnify those results and lock them in more tightly.
Let’s go over each of these steps in detail.
Covert hypnosis techniques
So we begin with a few simple covert hypnosis techniques. Rather than thinking of these as The Way to hypnotize someone secretly, instead think of them as training wheels to get you started.
There’s a reason that salespeople of all kinds ask lots of questions designed to make you say yes.
Really, really effective.
To create an agreement frame, all you have to do is make statements that someone can agree with.
This is extremely easy to do. For example, when you say their name, that’s the start of an agreement frame because it’s largely impossible to disagree with your own name.
If you’d like to know more about agreement frames, you might enjoy my article How to Use Agreement to Build Rapport Even If You’re an Introvert and Hate Small Talk.
Ultimately, anything you can do to agree with your subject will move them closer to hypnosis.
One of the simplest ways to begin with hypnotizing someone without their knowledge is to learn to use language patterns. There are hundreds of these, and each of them has a small effect on the mind.
It’s possible to stack several language patterns in a single sentence, and when you do, the effects can be cumulative.
The usual approach when starting out with language patterns is to find a list of them, and then over time embed them into your everyday language.
When you do this, what tends to happen is that everything you say becomes more hypnotic.
You’ll already be using virtually all of these language patterns.
And when you start using them with intent, their effects rapidly multiply.
Rather than giving you a list here, I’ll probably write about this later.
For now though, we’ll go through just one: Tag questions.
A tag question is a question we add onto the end of a statement to garner agreement.
That makes sense, right?
You’re starting to see how easy this is now, aren’t you?
As an exercise, start adding tag questions into your day-to-day language where it makes sense to do so and notice how people respond.
There is such a thing as asking too many tag questions, so noticing how people respond is crucial.
When you do this, you’ll quickly discover where this level is for you.
Shifting focus and attention
If you want to hypnotize someone in record time without them having a clue that you’ve done anything at all, one of the quickest ways is by moving their attention around.
When we do this right, their conscious mind quickly becomes overloaded, and they go into hypnosis.
So how do we do that secretly?
In regular overt hypnosis, we use a technology known as fractionation, which is just a flashy name for rote learning.
We hypnotize our subject, then bring them out, and repeat. Each time we hypnotize them, they get better at being hypnotized, so they can return to hypnosis more quickly and more deeply.
Now just about every hypnotist knows about fractionation. It’s one of those skills that’s essential if we want our subjects to experience deep trance.
But fractionation does not have to be as blatant as repeatedly hypnotizing someone.
What we’re really doing with hypnosis is managing our subjects’ states.
This means that we can fractionate any experience they might have.
And because of the way that language works, we can do this with simple words.
To the untrained eye, a phone and the phone might appear to be largely similar. In terms of mental states, they are quite different. A phone is fairly general, whereas the phone is a lot more specific.
This means that our minds are necessarily slightly more open when we think about a phone as compared to the phone.
To get you started with multi-dimensional fractionation, I encourage you to start thinking about the size and scope of individual words in every sentence that you construct.
When we do this, what happens is we start to see opportunities to shape our subjects’ reality.
And because most of them have no clue that such things are even possible…
Everything we do starts to become even more hypnotic.
It takes a while to thoroughly embed language patterns into our communication habits.
And it takes longer still to fully grasp multi-dimensional fractionation and start to use it effectively.
But there’s one tool that just about all of us have at our immediate disposal: Storytelling.
Now you might think that you’re not much of a storyteller.
And the truth is that it doesn’t matter.
Storytelling can be incredibly complex.
But it can also be extremely simple.
And here’s the thing that most people don’t know about storytelling: Effective storytelling is hypnosis.
All you need to start using it is an appreciation of the basic structure of a story.
Now you could go and look up Joseph Campbell and learn every detail about storytelling, but there’s really no need.
Decide on a hero. Make them relatable somehow. Set the scene in a way that your audience can appreciate. Allow your hero to encounter a problem and overcome it.
As I mentioned, there’s lots more complexity you can throw in.
Start off simple, and add more things as you go.
We all implicitly know how to tell stories. It’s how our brains process the ongoing story of our lives. All we have to do is allow ourselves to step inside the story inside our mind, and let it out.
Stories are fantastic when you want to hypnotize someone secretly. But sometimes, we want to do a proper hypnotic induction and have it still be mostly covert.
There are a few ways to do this. To hypnotize someone with a formal hypnotic induction without them knowing, what you have to do is choose an induction that most people won’t identify as hypnosis.
Now this won’t necessarily be truly covert, because as soon as you point out something’s going on, they’ll know. Naturally, you can simply not point it out to them if you so choose.
When I want to formally hypnotize someone and have it happen before they think I’ve started, I tend to use what’s known as a non-awareness induction.
In non-awareness inductions, we move the subject’s attention to places where it wasn’t. After a few steps, they’ll be in a fairly deep state of hypnosis. And most of the time, they have no clue how they got there.
How to use non-awareness to hypnotize someone secretly
So what are the steps in a non-awareness induction?
Step 1: Start moving their attention
When I am doing this particular induction, I’ll usually start off by making a statement about how we’re mostly unaware of what’s going on around us and inside us. Then I’ll back it up with some examples.
This might look something like: You know what I think is one of the coolest things about the human mind? We have all this stuff going on around us, and even inside us, all the time. And yet you’re able to place your attention on any of those things that you might choose. For example, you can notice the pressure on the sole of your right foot as it’s pressing into the ground. But you probably weren’t aware of it until I mentioned it just now.
You can choose anything at all that they can observe for this part. I like to go with noticing sensations in various parts of their body since there are lots of sensations that we just don’t pay attention to most of the time. Which means that I’m likely to be right when I mention that they probably weren’t aware of it.
Placing their attention on their own sensations also has the effect of starting to move their attention inwards.
Step 2: Feedback
Next, you want to make sure that their attention has actually moved. The easiest way I know to do this is to simply ask them questions about it.
Here’s what that looks like: So as the sole of that right foot’s pressing into the ground now, were you paying attention to that before that moment?
Most of the time, they’ll say no, and they will usually be starting to look a bit trancey by this point.
I typically move their attention around a few sensations until I can see that they have a nice, solid trance state going on.
When you’re doing this, the important thing to be aware of is that we can only keep our focus on between 5 and 9 things at once. The act of paying attention to each sensation consumes several of our conscious awareness chunks, so by the time you’ve moved them through noticing somewhere between 3 and 7 sensations, they’re usually pretty far gone.
If you’d like to know more about how this works, you might like to check out my article How Does Human Memory Work With Hypnosis.
Step 3: Move them deeper into the experience
Naturally, whenever we guide someone into an experience, we want to be able to intensify that experience for them.
The way I do this is by asking them questions about it.
It doesn’t matter too much what these questions are. We just want their attention to go further inside what they’re experiencing.
For example: So coming back to that right foot now, what usually happens at this point is that people find it starts to become difficult to move those toes. It’s almost like they’re completely stuck now. How hard can you press those toes on that right foot onto the ground?
Step 4: Run through the process multiple times
It’s important to note that this is not a sequential process. While I do tend to follow the steps in order for the first iteration, what usually happens is that I end up jumping between them randomly to some extent on subsequent iterations.
This helps to consume their conscious awareness chunks, and to reinforce what’s happening.
When you get good at this, the entire process can happen in seconds.
How to use multi-dimensional fractionation to hypnotize someone secretly
The non-awareness induction is awesome, and it’s my go-to induction whenever I want to do a formal hypnosis session.
The thing about it is that people will generally know that something has happened. And depending on our purpose in hypnotizing someone secretly, we may not want that.
It turns out that it’s possible to be a lot more covert.
The way we do this is by manipulating the focus states of their mind with multi-dimensional fractionation.
Earlier I mentioned that there is a huge difference between a phone and the phone. We can go well beyond the effects of simple usage of articles like a and the.
The scope here is vast.
And if you want to be truly covert when you hypnotize someone secretly, it’s important that you still sound like you.
So rather than me giving you a list of words, you’ll have to think through what words you already use on a day-to-day basis.
If you don’t know what these are, record a few conversations that you have where you’re speaking normally. Naturally, if your local laws require you to get consent from the other person before recording, make sure you do that first.
Then, listen to these conversations and write down exactly what you say word-for-word.
Make a list of all the words you use.
Most of us have only a tiny handful of words we use on a day-to-day basis.
Once you’ve got your list, for each word on the list think about where it moves someone’s mind.
What you’ll find is that some words are conceptually much bigger than others.
Some words are simultaneously big and small.
Others move people through space and time.
There are lots of effects. But not unmanageably so.
You don’t have to do them all at once.
I find that it’s easiest to start with pronouns, adverbs, adjectives and demonstrative pronouns.
Let me give you an example to demonstrate how it works.
I’ll take apart that sentence, word by word.
Let – This opens the listener’s mind a little, and also helps them to feel like they’ve agreed with me.
me – This is quite small, but also quite big. Me is very specific. It’s nearby.
give – Who doesn’t want to be given stuff? It’s also quite broad – I’ve not yet specified what will be given.
you – Now we’re narrowing down further. We’re probably also creating more agreement.
an – The word an represents one out of many. It’s quite broad.
example – And we’ve narrowed them down again by specifying what we’re giving them. Since example itself is very broad, we’ve immediately opened them up again.
As you can see, in just 6 words we’ve fractionated their level of openness 3 or 4 times.
And that’s just one dimension. At the same time we’re also moving them through their representation of people, and through inter-personal distance.
Every sentence we construct has these properties.
When you take the time to understand how your words move minds beyond just the simple meaning, you can start to use your language strategically.
As I mentioned, the scope here is vast. I’ve been learning about and using this stuff for years, and I still figure out new things every day.
To get you started, think about the differences between I, you and we.
Then start to shape your language with the intention of modifying someone’s focus, and notice what happens.
And then repeat. A lot.
I like to use a metric of assuming that each piece of multi-dimensional fractionation will move someone about 1% of the way into hypnosis. It’s not true of course, but it gives an idea of scale.
How to use stories to hypnotize someone without them knowing
Earlier I talked about the basic structure of a story: Hero. Relateable. Familiar scene. Problem. Overcome.
And I mentioned that stories can be a lot more complex than this.
When you’re hypnotizing someone secretly by telling them stories, quite often you want to hide some change inside the story itself.
There are a few ways to do this.
Here we’ll go over just two.
The Zeigarnik effect
Many years ago, Bluma Zeigarnik noticed an interesting effect when she was talking to a waiter at her local restaurant: They could easily recall all details of an order while it was in progress, but as soon as it was delivered to the diner, they would forget all about it.
Being a psychologist, she investigated.
And what she found is incredibly useful when we want to hide things in stories.
In simple terms, the Zeigarnik effect occurs when some task we are performing is interrupted. It enables that task to remain forefront in our minds so that we can come back to it.
With a little thought, it’s easy to see that this effect confers a massive survival advantage: Without it, we’d never be able to complete more than the simplest tasks because we’d forget all about anything complex as soon as it was interrupted.
Since we know that humans complete complex tasks, we know that the Zeigarnik effect is real. Take this article as an example. While I’ve been writing it, I’ve gotten up from my desk to make multiple cups of coffee, I’ve engaged in conversation with friends and relatives, I’ve hypnotized a couple of people, I’ve talked to customers, and I’ve even done some web site traffic analysis. I’ve probably done other things that I’ve forgotten about as well.
So how do we exploit this in storytelling?
There are a couple of ways.
How to use cliffhangers to keep someone coming back
Have you ever noticed that quite often a TV show will end with some major problem facing the heroes?
When storytellers do this, it causes people to come back for more. It also has the side-effect of causing people to discuss it with their friends, relatives and colleagues, and fuels speculation. All of this is good for marketing.
The task completion system inside our brains constantly pings us saying Hey! Get back to that thing and finish it!
Everyone notices the cliffhangers at the end of the show.
But what a lot of people don’t notice is the mini-cliffhangers scattered throughout the show.
Whenever you want to be able to bring someone’s attention back to something easily, give them a cliffhanger.
It doesn’t have to be anything major.
Just some task or some component of the story that causes them to wonder.
Maybe one of your characters is frustrated. Or confused.
It can be anything at all, so long as there is uncertainty in what happens next.
Tell the story up to that mini-cliffhanger point, then switch tracks to another story before the issue is resolved.
How to use story loops to hypnotize someone secretly
Since we know that a completed task may be forgotten quickly, if we tell a complete story inside another story, there’s a tendency for us to not recall the inside story so well.
Build in a few layers of story and it becomes almost impossible for most people to track what’s going on.
This means that if we encode some kind of message in the inside story, it can be effectively hidden from someone’s conscious awareness, while simultaneously having the desired unconscious effect.
A story does not have to be complex. It can be anything from a few words to entire books.
So how do we embed a message?
There are lots of stories that have underlying lessons that they teach. We usually refer to this as the moral of the story. These morals are often found in children’s stories, presumably because parents want to convey those principles to their children.
They’re also found in stories in every culture.
If you’re unfamiliar with them, a quick search on your favorite search engine will find numerous examples.
Take apart those stories and notice how lessons are embedded in them.
Then do the same with whatever change it is that you’d like to have happen for your hypnosis subject, and make that the innermost story.
Once you get good at this, you’ll find that you can tell stories that cause hypnotic effects with ease.
Underlying principles for covert hypnosis
So far we’ve covered some basic techniques for hypnotizing someone secretly.
All of these techniques have an underlying pattern.
When we appreciate the nature of the underlying principles and have a few simple tools, hypnosis becomes almost effortless.
So what are these underlying principles?
Principle 1: Focus on your subject’s state
When most people talk, they are focused on the meaning of the words. In hypnosis, we want to do something slightly different.
Rather than focusing on the meaning of the words, instead pay attention to the states that your subject’s mind is going through.
Notice what’s going on between the words.
And the effects that all of it has on their mind.
Principle 2: Demonstrate rather than tell
Our brains have evolved to process the ongoing story of our lives.
An implication of this is that it is usually far easier for someone to extrapolate from several stories than it is to understand an abstract idea.
So whenever you want to convey information, your subject will recall and embody that information far more easily if it is encoded in a story of some kind.
This is that old seeing is believing thing.
But there’s a slight problem: Most people are resistant to change. Even when they can see it in front of their eyes.
Principle 3: Hide things from your subject’s conscious mind
The way that this resistance manifests tends to be in the subject making up excuses as to why they shouldn’t do the thing they’d like to have happen.
This is a conscious process rather than an unconscious one.
To work around it, use the Zeigarnik effect and nested story loops to hide the underlying lesson several story loops down where it is difficult for their conscious mind to access.
Principle 4: Anchor states you’d like to reuse
In a lot of ways, hypnosis is all about managing your subject’s states.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to easily get someone back into a state after they’ve accessed it a couple of times?
As it turns out, there is such a way!
In hypnosis, there is a technology known as anchoring.
Anchoring is nothing more than setting up a cue to remind our subject to do something on demand.
To do this, we create an anchor and attach it to the thing we’d like them to do. Anchors work unconsciously, so it’s very difficult for most people to interfere with them.
If you’ve been through some hypnosis trainings, you’ve almost certainly encountered simple anchors. It’s common to anchor things like the word SLEEP to sending the subject into deep hypnosis.
You’ll also see them in use in stage shows where the hypnotist will do something like have the subject jump up and yell Hypnosis is fake! every time the hypnotist says the word hypnosis.
But anchors can be a lot more complex than that.
And when our subject doesn’t even know that we’ve installed the anchor…
You can see where this is going, right?
Anchoring is a huge topic. Books could easily be written about it. So I have.
If you’d like to know all about how to become exquisite at installing and using anchors, you might like to check out my book Artful Hypnotic Anchoring.
In it, we go over how to create anchors, how to make them persist over time, and how to use them. And I give a number of worked examples designed to make it easy to see exactly how it works.
I’ve designed the entire book to take someone from not knowing what an anchor is, to being able to install and use them as quickly as possible.
So if that sounds like something you’d like to have happen, check out Artful Hypnotic Anchoring now.