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Who’s driving the bus?

By on September 23, 2014

In this blog post we will be talking about what drives you, and what drives your hypnosis clients. We don’t mean the passions, interests or fascinations that run through a person’s life over weeks and months and years. Rather we are talking about what drives a person in the moment. How do they know that it is time to act confidently, or fearfully, compassionately or angrily?

We are talking about what NLP calls ‘states’. A state is everything about you in the moment, your physiology, thoughts, emotions and everything else that makes you, well… you.


Your hypnosis client walks into your office in a bad state. They have to give a presentation to their boss and they are afraid. Their fear leads them to feel frustrated as they try to prepare, and they are angry at themselves for their fear and frustration.

Each of these feelings is a state. The fear is a state around giving the presentation. The frustration is a state around preparing the presentation. The fear feeds the frustration and the frustration feeds the fear. The anger is a state about the other states, in NLP terms this is a called a ‘meta-state’, a state about a state. These states combine into one giant mess of a state for the client!

You lead them into a nice relaxing trance and offer suggestions for confidence and creativity. They leave your office feelings on top of the moon.

Later that week they call you. They felt good for a couple of days, then the fear returned, the frustration returned as they reviewed their presentation. And they felt even more angry at themselves for not being able to maintain the confidence and creativity you had given them.

How to respond:

Our states are temporary phenomena. In fact research shows that left to themselves, a state will last no more than 90 seconds. To feel the same way for longer than 90 seconds, you have to ‘throw logs on the fire’. You have to make pictures, and tell yourself things, to support and renew that state.

For hypnotic change work, it is not sufficient to lead your client into a good state, or even a great state. You have to attach that state to the context, to the contextual triggers. So you have to attach their sate of confidence and creativity to the place where they will give the presentation, maybe to the door of the conference room, or to the face of their boss, or to both these things. The more places you can attach the positive states in the context, the more likely it is that the positive state will be there when they need it.

NLP theory and neuroscience:

We do not have only one personality, always the same in all situations. On the contrary, our brain and body adapt to the needs of each situation. These changes are controlled by the unconscious mind. Lets consider an example:

You are walking down a dark street in a bad part of town. You hear glass breaking behind you, and you feel your heart begin to beat faster, and your stomach begins to knot… What is happening is your body is preparing you for a ‘fight or flight’ response. Your heart is beating faster due to a release of adrenaline, to pump oxygenated blood to your muscles. Your belly starts to knot because blood is being diverted from your stomach to your large muscle groups such as your legs, in case you need to run. All these responses are unconscious.

This unconscious response arises from the time we had to be prepared to run from lethal predators. But these responses still trigger in response to perceived threats. Unfortunately these perceived threats can include giving a presentation to your saber-toothed boss!

In contrast when you arrive home in the evening you may find your body relaxing. Fight or flight replaced by ‘rest and digest’. Of course it you start thinking about that presentation again, fight or flight returns…

By starting to take control over your own states, you begin to drive your own bus. You can ask yourself the question, “What is your optimal state for giving presentations?”

Coaching Application:

Understanding that your hypnosis client’s state is what drives their feelings, and their behaviors is the fundamental key to successful change work. Once you understand this, change work becomes not just about creating positive states in your clients in your office, but also about attaching these positive states to the context in which they will be needed.

So generate that positive state in your client, and then ask your client to imagine the context in which they will need it. Then repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Until every time they imagine that context, they feel those positive resourceful feelings.

So once again the hypnotic steps are:

  1. Ask your client about the problem
  2. Identify the context in which the problem takes place
  3. Identify the specific triggers in the context that previously cause the client to feel bad
  4. Lead the client into the positive state they want to feel instead
  5. As they are in this positive state, ask them to see the trigger
  6. Notice how their response is different now.
  7. Repeat to condition the change

Other applications:

The above pattern is fundamental to any change work involving negative anchors, or ‘semantic responses’ as we say in Humanistic Neuro Linguistic Psychology (“HNLP”). Examples of where this pattern is not only useful but vital would include and situation where the client feels something they don’t want to feel, such as:

  • Giving a presentation in front of an audience
  • Interacting with an individual who makes them feel afraid or angry or otherwise unresourceful
  • Specific fears of things, people, animals and so on (but fears that do not rise to the level of phobias)
  • Procrastination when faced with a specific task (such as doing their taxes)
  • Powerlessness in the face of a memory

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