Is Hypnosis Permanent? Or Does Hypnosis Wear Off?

The other day I was sipping on my coffee, when someone asked me whether hypnosis can be permanent.

So can hypnosis be permanent? Hypnosis is nothing more than an efficient form of learning. Which means that the short answer is that the effects of hypnosis definitely can be permanent. The slightly longer answer is that as with everything else we’ve ever learnt, the possibility exists that at some point in the future we’ll learn something different in it’s place. Or just forget.

After people have been convinced that hypnosis is real, and that yes, pretty much everyone can be hypnotized, the next thing they’ll often wonder is just how quickly hypnosis might wear off.

Read more: Is Hypnosis Real?

Generally speaking there are a handful of concerns here.

What is hypnosis?

People have a tendency to assume that hypnosis is some form of mind control. Ironically, this misconception comes about because of their programming by popular culture, which is a form of mind control in itself.

Hypnosis is not mind control.

When we guide someone into hypnosis, we’re guiding them into a state in which they can more readily access other possibilities. Essentially, we help people to get out of their own way.

When hypnosis is done properly, the hypnotist doesn’t really do anything at all other than point and say Hey! What’s that giant thing over there that you weren’t looking at?

This is about as far from the common definition of mind control as it’s possible to be.

Read more: How does Hypnosis work?

Because hypnosis itself is a state of enhanced learning, it tends to wear off as soon as the subject moves their interest elsewhere.

Depending on how deep they were inside the hypnotic state, this can be anywhere from as soon as they open their eyes, to a few hours later.

As with all other states that humans experience, it’s not really possible to continue experiencing the state of hypnosis for longer than about 90 seconds unless we actively do something to keep it going.

And by we, I mean the person who has been hypnotized. Not the hypnotist.

If the hypnotic subject doesn’t actively do something to keep the hypnosis going, the state tends to end a few minutes after the hypnotist stops speaking.

Hopefully it’s clear from this that we don’t end up with hypnotized zombies running around the place.

What does permanent mean in the context of hypnosis?

So if hypnosis is nothing more than a state in which we can learn more efficiently, what does permanent hypnosis mean?

Certainly the state itself cannot be permanent unless the hypnotic subject deliberately goes to great lengths to make it so.

And as far as I know, with the possible exception of a tiny handful of dedicated monks who spend their lives meditating in isolation, no-one has ever done this.

But what about the effects of hypnosis?

When we say that we’ve learnt something new, what we really mean is that on some level we’ve integrated that new thing into our understanding of the world.

That integration tends to remain until something better comes along, or we forget and go back to our old way of thinking.

As an example, suppose that we use a specific hypnotic process to reduce our anxiety.

When we do this, the change can be localized to specific times, places, people and events, or it can be more general.

Our human minds are quite good at spotting patterns.

If we help someone to feel relaxed when they talk to the cashier at the supermarket where they previously felt anxious, they can feel comfortable in that specific situation. But their brain might not have enough information to generalize it out to other situations.

The same is true if we help them to feel relaxed not only when talking to the cashier, but also when answering a question in class where they previously have felt anxious.

They’ll feel relaxed in both situations, but still might not generalize it out to others.

When we help them to feel relaxed in 100 different situations, something interesting happens. Almost everyone will generalize that out and simply become more relaxed in all appropriate situations.

Somewhere in between, their brain had enough examples to figure out the pattern and apply it universally.

Now, even if the hypnotist knows what the underlying pattern is, we’re usually far better off to give the subject some examples and let them reach the conclusion on their own.

When someone comes up with a solution themselves, they tend to value it a lot more.

They also tend to believe it, because it’s their own idea.

So as a rule, it’s much easier to make a change highly specific, and then to have the subject generalize it out, than it is to try to build a generalized pattern to begin with.

Once we’ve made that generalization, we’re going to continue to have it until one of three things happens.

First, if we come up with something even better, we’re usually going to start using that. This is a desirable outcome.

Second, if we’re not in the situation very often, it’s possible that enough time will elapse that we’ll forget we’re supposed to relax before the situation happens. This is an undesirable outcome. The good news is that hypnotists are trained in ways to specifically prevent this from happening.

And third, if we encounter a situation that’s so intense it fires up our anxiety again, it can feed back into the entire system. This can result in weird things happening like we’ve been comfortable talking to the cashier for months, then someone yells at us and suddenly we feel anxious talking to the cashier again even though she had nothing to do with it.

Ultimately the fix for all of these is the same: If we have a solution that’s been working and it stops, we just have to reapply the solution, taking into account the new information.

In the context of the effects of hypnosis, it makes sense to define permanent as meaning until something better comes along, or we forget.

How does memory work?

So if part of being permanent is that we don’t forget, how exactly does memory work?

Our brains are essentially vast neural networks that store the ongoing story of our lives in approximately a quadrillion connections. Everything that ever happens to us is encoded in these connections in one form or another.

With a few tiny exceptions.

If we have a stroke, it can disrupt the process of storing memories.

If we hit our heads, we can get similar effects.

There are a few other things.

By and large though, everything we ever experience is encoded in our brain.

Because of the way that neural networks work, if we experience a part of something, the entire associated memory pattern will fire up again.

For example, right now I’m sitting at my computer typing about how memory works, and the pattern matching in my brain is dimly recalling a time when I explained this by talking about how I can see my phone and my drink bottle. And how these are now associated with my laptop and the content I’m creating.

Read more: How Does Hypnosis Work?

It’s the same with everything else we ever experience.

In our previous example of feeling anxious talking to the cashier at the supermarket, that’s an association in our memory. We’ve felt anxious before, so when we experience the cashier, it fires up the anxiety pattern.

The fix is to simply install a new pattern.

Or put another way, a new memory.

book cover Artful Hypnotic Anchoring

And since everything we do creates new memories, this is remarkably easy to do when we take the right approach.

In hypnosis we refer to this association process as anchoring. If you’d like to know more about that, my book Artful Hypnotic Anchoring covers it in detail.

So how do we forget things?

We forget things when one of two things happens.

First, if we don’t access a memory often enough, the neural connections slowly degrade over time as other information links in to it, and we forget. As an analogy, think of drawing something in the sand. If there’s no wind, it will stay there for a long time. If there’s a lot of wind, or the ocean washes in, our drawing will quickly degrade.

With memory, this degradation only tends to happen when stuff we’re experiencing matches our memory in some way. When nothing that we experience matches our memory, its neural pathways don’t light up, so nothing interferes with it.

The practical end result of this is that the more unique an experience is, the more resilient our memory of it will be.

And second, if we intentionally connect something else to an old memory, we can redirect the recall process, which leads to the same result: we forget to do the original thing we didn’t want to do.

In a sense, this is how all therapy works. We connect the thing that happens right before the undesirable stuff to something different. And then let nature take its course.

Anchors and post-hypnotic triggers

Now the interesting thing about remaking the associations inside someone’s mind is that if they notice what’s going on, they can consciously interfere with the process and mess it up.

This is how human beings prevent broken information from going into our minds. We have a tendency to fact-check whatever we’re paying attention to, and then to assume that everything we’ve stored in our brain is correct.

It’s a shortcut, and so long as we’re good at fact-checking and the information in our brains doesn’t change once it’s there, it’s a good heuristic.

There are two tiny flaws with this approach.

First, we’re not that good at fact-checking. The part of our mind that does the fact-checking is very limited, and so we can only check a tiny amount of the stuff that’s going on at any point in time. This is not an issue unless the environment tries to deceive us. The exploitation of this gap in our fact-checking is how hypnotists manage to slide information into our minds.

The second tiny flaw is that the information inside our minds is far from static. In fact, every time we access a memory, it changes in some small way. Over time, the stuff we think is true can begin to diverge from measurable reality.

So by and large it’s a decent heuristic, but it does have some flaws.

As I mentioned earlier, hypnotists refer to the associations inside a mind as anchors.

Post-hypnotic triggers

There’s a specific form of anchor known as a post-hypnotic trigger, which is a memory we set up while our subject is in hypnosis to remind them to do something later.

If you’ve seen a hypnosis stage show, you’ve almost certainly seen these before.

The hypnotist will hypnotize someone, and then tell them that every time they hear the hypnotist say the word Hypnosis, the subject will jump up and yell Hypnosis is fake! Or something very similar.

In this case, the hypnotist saying the word Hypnosis is a post-hypnotic trigger.

book cover Artful Hypnotic Anchoring

Post-hypnotic triggers are far more useful than simple tricks in stage shows.

Coming back to our anxiety example, we might find something that only happens at the checkout in the supermarket and use that as a post-hypnotic trigger to cause our subject to feel relaxed rather than anxious. If we’re more skilled, we might even identify the starting sensation of anxiety and use that as a post-hypnotic trigger for relaxation.

If we can find a way to make the post-hypnotic trigger self-reinforcing, it can even grow more powerful over time.

And if that trigger is unique, it’s unlikely that anything is going to interfere with it and cause it to degrade over time.

What can cause the effects of hypnosis to change?

So given how memory and post-hypnotic triggers work, what kinds of things can cause the effects of hypnosis to change?

There’s just a tiny handful.

First, the hypnosis subject is always in control. At any point in time, they can choose to simply do something different. In the case of our person who jumps up and yells Hypnosis is fake, all they have to do is notice that they’re doing it, and then choose to do something different.

In the case of our person who feels relaxed when they’re talking to the cashier, they can intentionally choose to feel anxious.

But here’s the thing: If they don’t deliberately and intentionally choose to do something different at some point, they’ll probably just keep right on doing it.

Now usually if something is in their interests, they’re not going to deliberately mess it up after they get over the initial change. This is why hypnotists will often inhibit someone’s memory of a change for a few hours afterwards. It gives the change a chance to settle in.

And if something is against the subject’s interests, such as only talking like a cat all the time, they’re going to notice and consciously choose to stop doing it.

This has an important corollary.

The more the hypnosis subject perceives the effects of hypnosis to be beneficial for them, the more likely they are to continue doing it.

Do the effects of hypnosis wear off?

So we know that the hypnotic state itself ends very quickly after a session. And we know roughly how to make someone forget something.

But what about the effects of hypnosis? How long do they last?

To some extent, this depends on the nature of the effects.

And it depends on the skill of the subject at manifesting those effects.

If the effects of hypnosis are something that’s only for entertainment, such as hypnotizing someone to talk like a cat, they’re usually going to wear off pretty much as soon as the subject has something more interesting to do.

On the other hand, if the hypnotist has set up a unique post-hypnotic trigger, it can potentially last for a lifetime. Especially if only good things happen when that trigger is fired.

So it comes down to this: The effects of hypnosis can be permanent. But they’ll usually only be permanent if the hypnosis subject derives some benefit from them.

How to intentionally control how long hypnosis lasts

So what do you do if you’re a hypnosis subject and you want to guarantee that a hypnotist isn’t doing something nasty to you?

Well, the first thing is that if they are, usually you’ll notice and just take care of it yourself.

There are lots of ways to do this, and ultimately what it comes down to is that the more control you have over your own mind, the more easily you can notice such things happening and change them when they go in ways you don’t want them to.

The Self-Hypnosis Formula book cover

How long this takes depends on your level of skill.

If you’d like to get good at controlling states of hypnosis within your own mind, self-hypnosis is the quickest way I know of to do that.

To that end, I’ve put together a short book, The Self-Hypnosis Formula. In it, I cover exactly how to hypnotize yourself with a simple 7-step process that anyone can follow.

Then we go into how to cause specific changes to happen.

Regardless of whether you’re concerned that the effects of hypnosis might be permanent, or they might not last at all, one thing is true: When you know how to hypnotize yourself, you’re in control. You get to choose exactly how permanent those changes are.

So if that sounds like something of interest to you, I’d like to invite you to check out The Self-Hypnosis Formula, available in both paperback and eBook.

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