Can Hypnosis Help You Drop Bad Habits? I Tried It.

Woman at a therapy appointment

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Of the many bad habits I have—and there are a lot of them—the one currently hindering my life is procrastination. I like to procrastinate; I’ve been really good at it and have never been punished for it. My best papers in school were those I pulled all-nighters on. The tests I aced were those I crammed for the night before. When it comes to creative writing, my bursts of inspiration usually happen right before something is due. I was probably just very lucky back then. Now, that luck has run out, and my procrastination just doesn’t cut it anymore.

I’ve spoken with many friends and coworkers about hypnosis therapy. What is it? Can someone really control your mind? Can it help you drop a bad habit? I’ve always thought that because I am way too into my own head that it would be hard for someone to penetrate my mind and change the way I think or behave. But I’m also a very curious person and wanted to try it anyway. I visited board-certified hypnotist John Mongiovi at his New York office, to test it out, though not really knowing what to expect.

Read on for more about hypnosis and how it worked for me.

What Is Hypnosis?

According to Mongiovi, the most basic definition of hypnosis is, "a state of deep physical relaxation and mental absorption or mental focus." 

His office—spacious and comfortable, with high ceilings, a sofa, and an armchair—reminds me of my therapist’s office. Mongiovi explains that, while hypnosis can be similar to a therapy session, it’s definitely not the same. “We’re not here to analyze you. We’re here to figure out the best key to changing the behavior pattern, the thought pattern, not analysis, necessarily,” he says. 

A behavior pattern that interferes with your life is how Mongiovi defines a bad habit. “There are both behavior habits and thinking patterns—negative thinking patterns. You’re addressing both,” he says. He tells me to think about someone who smokes. The person who smokes is likely dealing with some sort of stress, and he or she is looking at the cigarette as something to look forward to when going through something difficult. Here, you can’t just address the nicotine addiction. You have to address the thinking side of it, too.

Benefits of Hypnosis

• Can address bad habits (such as smoking, sleepwalking, etc.)

• Relaxing

• Can aid in managing trauma and pain

As mentioned above, hypnosis can help people break certain behavioral habits, such as smoking or insomnia. But it also has a number of other benefits. A 2015 study found that hypnotherapy can improve deep sleep by as much as 80 percent and helped a full 76 percent of patients decrease the severity of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Hypnotherapy has also been used to effectively treat anxiety and stress disorders, particularly those associated with medical procedures.

What to Expect During a Hypnosis Session

After Mongiovi lays it all out for me, he explains how my session with him is going to go. One session is usually two hours long, and it's usually one and done; he says it’s unusual to see someone multiple times for the same problem. You spend an hour with him, during which time you can ask any questions about hypnosis and talk about the issue you want to address. During that time, he will try to understand the person’s communication style and the particular way that they are dealing with their problem. “It’s part you getting comfortable with me and hypnosis and part me trying to understand what is going on,” he says. The hypnosis portion of the session can last from 45 minutes to an hour.

Hypnosis, he reassures me, is nothing to be scared of. “The misconception is that you go to sleep or that you go unconscious. People are afraid to lose control; they don’t want to go unconscious and they don’t want to be unaware of what’s going on,” he says.

He explains that he cannot make me do something that I would not normally do. He says it's the same with stage hypnotism, which is what most of us associate with when we think of being hypnotized. “You cannot give a suggestion to someone that is against his or her moral fiber or belief system," he says. "If you were to tell someone to do something that had nothing to do with the reason [they were] here, even in the deepest states of hypnosis, that itself would alert them and sort of jar them out of the trance.”

When I ask about hallucinations, he says he does not have the power to conjure up little green monsters to chase me. “All hypnosis, in a way, is self-hypnosis," he says. "You go into hypnosis and the hypnotist gives you suggestions. The basic idea is that the suggestions are influencing your unconscious (the power of suggestion is absolutely real as observed by the placebo effect). There is another aspect to hypnotism that is virtually productive: your unconscious mind during that whole time is doing its own work." 

We start talking about my bad habit, which I tell him is procrastination. I explain that even with the very neat, organized, to-do list I make every morning when I get into work, I end up looking at the newest articles on the New York Times or New York magazine or checking to see if I gained a follower on Instagram in between writing articles.

"Why do you do that?" he asks.

"Whenever I get writer's block, I read articles to see if that will inspire me to start writing something," I say. 

"So you're not procrastinating because you don't want to do it. You're trying to find inspiration," he says. 

"Yes," I reply. I somehow go on a too-long tangent about why I wanted to be a writer. That turns into a discussion about my frustration with people not taking beauty seriously and how I hope to write my dream profile that will hopefully prove to everyone that beauty is more than a superficial topic meant to sell lipsticks. At the end of it all, he asks me this question: "Are you really trying to find inspiration or are you not confident in your own writing because of all the pressure you put on yourself?"

He lets me sit on that thought before telling me it's time for the hypnosis part. He tells me that I will lay down on the couch with my eyes closed. He will pull up a chair closer to me and just talk to me. I must remain very silent and every once in a while, he will check to see if I have fallen asleep by asking me to wiggle a finger. In the event I fall asleep, he will gently tap me to wake me up. I lay down, close my eyes, and clear my mind, listening to the phrases of encouragement and instructions he repeats over a nature soundtrack playing in the background. The hour really does go by fast. 

"I don't know what exactly I feel, but I do feel different," I tell him when it's over. He says he gets that a lot from his clients. I leave his office feeling enlightened. 

The Final Takeaway

Now every time I catch myself wanting to check out an article on the New York Times or check my Instagram feed to see what people are up to when I’m writing, I take a moment of pause and can actually hear his voice in my head telling me to stay focused. Sometimes I ignore it because, hey, nobody's perfect and I love to read, but now I’m a little bit more aware when I’m getting off track. 




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