What Is A Pattern Interrupt? (Hypnosis and NLP)

A pattern interrupt is an event that causes the disruption of a habitual pattern that someone is running. Pattern interrupts are powerful, because they induce a momentary shock into the subject’s system, which temporarily consumes their critical faculty. This provides a gateway for injecting hypnotic suggestions, including those to induce trance.

You might be wondering just what kind of event will work here, so let’s start with an example.

These days most of us learn how to tie shoelaces when we are small children.

Over the course of our lives, we typically tie our shoelaces so many times that by the time we’re teenagers it is a fully formed habit.

When we want to tie our shoelaces, we don’t have to think about it at all. We just notice that our shoes are untied, and the tie-shoelaces habit runs.

And every so often, someone or something will interrupt us while we’re tying our shoelaces.

This is a simple pattern interrupt, and if you’ve had it happen to you, you’ve probably noticed that continuing on with the task at that point involves quite a bit of thought. Most of the time it’s a lot easier to simply start again.

That’s the power of habits: They are simple (or even complex) processes that we can run on autopilot.

And when a habitual pattern is interrupted, we have essentially 2 choices: We can either think our way through finishing the pattern, or we can start again.

Naturally, more complex habits will be comprised of many smaller habits and we can usually just go back to the start of the current step.

The bottom line is that our brains like to conserve resources whenever possible, and thinking our way through a habitual pattern requires a lot of resources.

For most people, most of the time we just start again.

Hypnotic Patterns Are Habits

In hypnosis and NLP, we refer to habits that we’re going to interrupt as patterns.

The tying shoelaces example is just one of countless habits that we all use in our day-to-day lives.

When we take a moment to sit back and think through a day, it rapidly becomes apparent that almost everything we do is some kind of habitual process. Studies have indicated that as much as 95% of what we think, say, and do is driven by habit. And if you think about how human minds work, this makes perfect sense. It would make more sense if it were even closer to 100%.

We don’t usually notice most of our habitual behaviors, because most of them are so automated that they involve close to zero conscious thought.

That’s what they’re for.

How To Use Pattern Interrupts

To use a pattern interrupt, notice any habit your subject is performing, then disrupt it in some way. As you disrupt their habit, make a hypnotic suggestion.

Think back to our example of tying shoelaces.

We’re happily tying our shoelaces, and then someone asks us a question. This is enough to disrupt the tying process. We’re momentarily thrown off kilter, and even though we know what we’re doing, it takes us a few moments to figure out exactly where we are in the process and how to proceed.

That moment of confusion is what we’re after as hypnotists.

The act of disrupting someone’s habit causes a moment of confusion. Their mental resources have to deal with the interruption, then get back to the task at hand. This effectively moves their critical faculty out of the way, leaving them open to hypnotic suggestions.

As you might imagine, timing is everything. The disruption might last for less than a second, so it’s important that the suggestion is short and pithy.

If you can make your suggestion a single word, so much the better.

Usually the process looks something like:

  1. Use a pattern interrupt to disrupt some habitual process.
  2. Immediately give a hypnotic suggestion, such as SLEEP.
  3. Without pausing, continue on into a hypnotic deepener.
  4. Once your subject is in hypnosis, proceed as you would with any regular hypnosis session. Make some positive suggestions or set up some hypnotic triggers, and bring them out again.

Examples Of Pattern Interrupts

Since our lives are filled with unconscious habits that drive everything we do, there are near limitless examples of pattern interrupts.

Handshake interrupt Or Handshake Induction

This one comes from Ericksonian hypnosis.

In the handshake induction, we reach out to shake someone’s hand, then do something else entirely. This momentarily disrupts what they expected to happen, giving us the opportunity to induce hypnosis.

Here are the steps for the Ericksonian Handshake Induction:

  1. Reach out to shake someone’s hand as a part of a normal greeting.
  2. Abruptly pull their hand down, being careful not to injure them.
  3. Say the word SLEEP.
  4. Continue on into any hypnotic deepener you like.

Naturally you can add in many more things. For example, you can increase your chances of success by layering in multiple pattern interrupts. Ask them a confusing question right as you reach for their hand, then pull down as they attempt to answer. Allow yourself to be filled with a sense of wonder and joy right before you reach for their hand, then pull down just as they’re wondering what’s up.

The possibilities are endless.

Ignore The Content

Quite often people will say stuff that we disagree with.

And disturbingly frequently, this can lead to some form of disagreement or argument.

Here’s the thing though.

With a tiny reframe, we can come to see what they are saying as an opportunity.

Rather than reacting to what they say, acknowledge them but ignore the content of what they say.

This one is surprisingly powerful.

They will feel some form of validation because you’ve taken the time to acknowledge them. And they will feel momentary confusion because you’ve gone in a different direction.

At that point, proceed in whichever direction you choose.

This may seem rude, but the reality is that it’s probably less problematic than having an argument with someone. Within a few sentences they will have completely forgotten anyway, especially if you are working on building agreement and rapport.

With a bit of practice, you can even use it to segue back into your beliefs around the disagreement and state your position in such a way that they believe it’s their own.

Tell A Joke

The reason that jokes work is that the punchline is somewhat unexpected.

This is another example of a pattern interrupt.

Add just about any statement as your audience reacts, and that statement will typically go directly into their unconscious minds.

For bonus points, relate the statement back to the content of the joke.

Use Pattern Interrupts On Yourself

To use a pattern interrupt on yourself, intentionally choose to do something different, then actually do it. This disrupts your normal course of action and leads to increased creativity.

All of us get stuck in a rut from time to time.

Other times we just need a break.

When I’m writing and I get stuck, I’ve found that there are two things that will break me out of it.

First, I can just start writing about anything. Once I’ve started, it’s easy to continue. After a short time, I switch to what I was intending to write about and the momentum keeps me going.

And second, I can go off and do something completely different for a time, such as going for a walk along the beach.

Both of these are pattern interrupts.

Now sometimes the situation is such that I cannot go out for a walk and for whatever reason I have trouble getting started. Maybe there’s torrential rain, or it’s late at night.

On those occasions, I typically use self-hypnosis to intentionally change the patterns.

To change your habits with self-hypnosis, hypnotize yourself, then walk through the habit in your mind. Once you have a sense of how you do the habit, visualize yourself doing something different. Repeat at least 3 times.

In this case, the new behavior is the pattern interrupt.

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