The purpose of asking hypnotic, trance-inducing questions is to put the person in a position of accessing useful and meaningful information. It just so happens that such questions are hypnotic, even though any kind of hypnotic trance is not the intent of asking such provocative questions. Asking a question can put a person into a hypnotic-like trance state. You can tell they are in a trance because their eyes will move around as they access the information required to answer the question. As they access that information, they are in a trance state. A trance state is generally highly focused, though relaxed. Even as you read these words, you are in somewhat of a trance as you are probably (and hopefully) unawares of your surroundings. You are focused on the translation and interpretation of these symbols called letters and words into meanings. When a person is accessing internal information they are often not aware of their external surroundings. A good question will require a person to focus their attention on their internal landscape to gather the information. During this time, they will be mildly, or in some cases extremely, unaware of their external environment and very likely in a hypnotic-like trance state.
For example, the question “where would you like to go to dinner tonight” is really not provocative and does not require any kind of depth to access the information. The question “How would you describe your first dinner date” does require some remembering; while actually remembering and gathering that information, a person will be focused in a hypnotic trance-like state.
Asking any question necessarily directs a person’s mind in a particular direction; as such, any question is a suggestion, in the hypnotic use of that term. Hypnotic suggestions are simply words which automatically conjure up images. For example, when I ask “can you imagine yourself sitting on the back of a white winged horse flying through the sky” you must necessarily entertain that image in your mind to understand it at all. That question directed your mind to a particular image. I can ask the question “do you think it might rain today?” on a perfectly clear day but still the mind of the listener will be taken to the image of a rainy day. That’s how suggestion works. It takes the mind in a particular direction. In a like fashion, the mind does not imagine negatives so the statement “don’t forget to lock the door” only conjures up images of forgetting to lock the door. A much better suggestive statement would be “remember to lock the doors.”
This information can become practical when dealing with others because it is a way of directing their attention to a topic you want. For example, let’s say you are dealing with an employee who has made a mistake in work. Rather than focus on the mistake, you can ask “what would it look like if you did it correctly?” That question requires the person to access a mental image of something which actually did not happen, but could have – and should have. The question leads the mind to a mental image of correct action which is a much better reinforcement that rehashing the mistake. If a teenager is being oppositional, a parent can ask “let me ask you this, what would need to happen for you to be more cooperative?” This question requires the teenager to access images of cooperative behavior to convey to the parent what might be needed for that behavior to occur. This is much better than “stop being oppositional” because, again, the mind does not visualize negatives. The word “stop” cannot be visualized but “being oppositional” certainly can be.
There are two general formats for asking these kinds of penetrating, trance-inducing questions. Both formats rely heavily on the single, simple word “if.” I like to refer to “if” as “Imagination Fascination” because using “if” requires the mind to imagine something– and hopefully become quite fascinated in that imagination, which is a trance state. The first question begins with “what would happen if” and the second question begins with “what prevents (behavior or action) from happening. The second question does not use “if” directly, but the need to become fascinated with an imagination is still necessary. If a person says they can’t do something (or won’t do something), a good question to ask is “what prevents you from doing that?” Or, you could ask “what would happen if you did do it?” Both questions require a high degree of internal focus to answer, which is often why it’s a difficult question to answer. More often that not “I don’t know” is the response. In such cases you can say “take a guess.” Whatever comes up out of that guess arises from their internal machinations and is useful information.
These two formats: “what would happen if…….” and “what prevents……” are hypnotic trance inducing questions and it may take a person a several minutes to respond adequately. You can tell if they are processing the information by observing their eyes. Our eyes tend to move up left, down right or across left or right…when we are accessing internal experience. A person’s eyes can actually reveal a whole strategy of thinking simply by responding to one question. For example, when asking a person who wants to stop smoking “what prevents you from quitting” you may be able to observe their eyes move up right then down left, then up left then up right and then to the right center and then again up right….There can be a lot of movement as the person accesses internal mental states necessary to answer that question.
Eye movements tend to correlate to different sensory channels. Up right tends to be visual constructions, i.e., imaginations. Up left tends to be remembered visual experiences, i.e., memories. Down right is generally feelings and down left is generally internal dialogue. Centered and over to the right is generally constructed (imagined) auditory and centered over to the right is generally remembered auditory. Straight on centered is generally visual constructed or remembered. It often takes some calibration to find out what any particular persons eye movements represent. You can ask a simple question like “do you remember what you had for lunch last week” and you’ll find out what eye movements represent remembered. Then you can ask “what will you be doing next Friday night” and you can then observe eye movements for constructed or imagined experience.
When you ask a person these kinds of suggestive questions, you are leading them; you are a leader. Take some time to observe people’s eyes as they think about answers to questions; then practice asking these hypnotic trance-inducing questions. You’ll find them effective tools for gathering meaningful information and directing a person’s attention to content rich regions of their mind.
Ken Fields is a nationally certified licensed mental health counselor with over 25 years of experience in working with individuals, couples, families and groups. He has been a family therapist, a crisis intervention counselor, has taught at university and has been an administrator in a human service agency. He has taught public classes in stress and anger management, mediation, communication and negotiation, self image psychology, motivation, goal setting and crisis prevention. Mr. Fields now offers online communication coaching and counseling at http://www.openmindcounseling.com
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