Permission to use granted by Bruno Vincent

“The best way to protect yourself from unwanted influences in life is awareness,” says Paul McKenna. Photo: Bruno Vincent

The British hypnotist, who became the author of several self-improvement books, answered questions on the popular social media site, Reddit, Wednesday evening. Here’s what Paul McKenna had to say.

The full thread from Paul McKenna’s Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread is here, but if you just want the top 10 questions he answered and his responses, have a look below.

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QUESTION #1 from jabberwocky2000: Are people hypnotized by TV and other technology in a way that alters your opinions/actions without your knowledge?

Paul McKenna: When it comes to being hypnotized against your will, hypnosis is not the most effective way to get people to do something they don’t want to do. Sales people, politicians, and cult leaders all use very similar structures of language and patterns of influence, particularly two excellent books that explain some of these principles of social influence. Influence: Science and Practice by my friend Caildini, and the Age of Propaganda.

I’d also recommend Chomsky’s amazing work, Manufacturing Consent. Whilst it’s a good book, I thought the DVD was even better.

In conclusion, this will definitely give you an interesting grounding in social influence. Hypnotic language, which is the language of persuasion and influence, has similar structures in hypnosis, politics, and religious leaders. For that, I would recommend The Structure of Magic and Patterns of Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, MD.

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QUESTION #2 from jabberwocky2000: How can you find out if you have been hypnotized/brain washed and how to get rid of it?

Paul McKenna: The best way to protect yourself from unwanted influences in life is awareness. So when you know the tricks that advertisers, cult leaders, politicians and religious leaders use in order to get you to do what’s in their best interest and not necessarily yours is to study how they do it. Personally I think influence should be taught in school, primarily as a set of social-psychological understandings and also as a means of communications skills because not all influences are malevolent. In fact, I consider myself an agent of influence, I use the same techniques that any other influencer would use, although my work is not to make you buy more soap powder, or get you to vote for my political party. It’s to make positive, easy changes in your life that generate from your unique value system.

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QUESTION #3 from Frnk235: I’ve seen on YouTube guys applying hypnosis by walking up to someone and saying “sleep”. Is it possible?

Paul McKenna: It is if you’ve hypnotized the person previously, or if you’re at a hypnosis show, where the expectation of the people attending is that they’re going to see someone hypnotized or be hypnotized themselves. So in those contexts, yes, but apart from that it’s not possible to just snap your fingers.

But it is possible to hypnotize people without them realizing. When I first started doing it myself and my friend Michael Breen used to go out in the evening, we would go out and see who could get complete strangers into a trance without mentioning hypnosis. We’d sit in a bar and one of us would tell someone how we’d had a relaxing holiday, and say “just close your eyes and imagine how it feels to be on a beach, with the waves lapping upon the shore, and the sunshine sparkling on the sea like diamonds, and you relax even deeper now…”

I had to use it a few times on my bank manager, and on a few traffic wardens. But I think that’s understandable. And nowadays I mostly use my powers for good.

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– Paul McKenna

QUESTION #4 from doomedtobefat: I bought your book “Hypnotic Gastric band” about a month ago and I listened to it every night, in hope that it would work. It hasn’t worked at all for me. I read so many success stories and hoped that this would be my solution. I suffer from bulimia and have a tendency to just eat and eat and eat. I don’t know when I’m full, it just doesn’t register until it’s to the point where I’m going to throw up.. and then I force myself to because I’m so disgusted with how fat I am and feel guilty with what I have done. I have pretty much memorized the “operation” and can talk myself through the surgery.. and know what you’re going to say on the CD before you say it. It’s just not changed anything for me and it was meant to work from the first session. So my questions:

Does it mean I’m not hypnotizable? I thought I might be as I’m very open to things and wanted it to work so bad. I’m not big enough to qualify for a real gastric band on the NHS.. but I don’t want it to get that far, but not sure they’d even treat me anyway considering in my early teens I was anorexic. I started eating and gaining and it just never stopped, resulting in me being the complete opposite end.. I don’t want to have to resort to those drastic measures again just to get out of this.

Am I doomed to remain fat and unhappy and trapped in this never ending cycle of never being satisfied?

Paul McKenna: OK, firstly, given that you’re bulimic, the hypnotic gastric band is not appropriate for you to use. Whilst there’s no danger, it’s just not going to work for you. You need to address the core issue rather than the symptom. I would highly recommend 2 things: If you’re in the UK, which it sounds like, my new book Freedom From Emotional Eating will help. However, the top therapist when it comes to eating disorders is John Arroyo. He’s based in Bristol. If you can, I’d really recommend you get to see him. Thank you for being so candid, I wish you the best of luck.

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QUESTION #5 from Todaytomorrowforever: Have you seen the episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit relating to hypnosis? What are your thoughts?

Paul McKenna: I haven’t seen it, but I assume that they are claiming that stage hypnosis is really a branch of social influence. Funny enough, I used to appear on talk shows many years ago with my friend Dr. Graham Wagstaff from Liverpool University, and his take is there is no such thing as hypnosis, there is just social influence. And so we would start the show, and the interviewer would say Dr Wagstaff says that hypnosis does not exist, it’s just social compliance, and it would annoy them greatly when I would say that I agreed with him.

Yes, you can say there is no such thing as hypnosis, or communication is some form of hypnosis, it’s kind of a pointless debate really because the important question is what can you do with it. And rather than arguing if it’s a particular state or not, which is useful from an academic point of view, I like to think of myself as a field operator and all I’m concerned with is what you can achieve with it, and not how you can explain it.

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QUESTION #6 from kenny92123: Is it possible to become relaxed in the build up to college presentations in front of a large group, if you have a fear of speaking in front of a large audience? I have a habit of stuttering through the first few sentences, but then speaking fine after. Have you any tips to change my state of mind so I can speak fluently from the start?

Paul McKenna: First of all, there’s a phobia download app for fear of public speaking I just released, although I would recommend the Confidence Audio Programme app which you can find on iTunes which have a specific section for improving public speaking. Even the most professional orator occasionally gets nervous or makes a mistake. Sometimes this vulnerability and authenticity is a nice thing to share with people because it shows we’re human. In fact, when it comes to confidence and public speaking, I tend not to like those people who are very pushy and over the top, because I always suspect they are very un-confident deep-down. So don’t worry if you’re a little nervous, public speaking is now the biggest phobia in the western world, more so than death.

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QUESTION #7 from HomemadeBonerSoup: What is the most drastic case you have worked with and how did it turn out? (For example, you say “pretty much any psychological disorder,” have you worked with any Schizophrenics?)

Paul McKenna: Of course. The most drastic, in terms of outcome, was the ‘hysterical blindness’ case who had not seen anything in 8 years. It took me more than a year, but eventually he saw his wife’s face. And now, although he cannot see perfectly because it’s believed there is neurological damage, you can see this remarkable case on YouTube:

Even though I say I can cure most psychological problems, that does not mean I can cure everyone. My friend the late Dr. Roger Callahan said “anyone who has 100% success rate does not have enough clients.”

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QUESTION #8 from Marshi77: Can you give some daily habits to improve my life in general? How to set goals and how to remain motivated towards achieving them? And thank you, your book Change Your Life in 7 Days has been very helpful in changing my life.

Paul McKenna: I think it’s real simple. You have to know what it is you want, be very clear about your outcomes. What will you see, what do you hear, what do you feel. You might want to categorize what kind of outcomes you want in life. Personal, health, financial, professional / career, spiritual, that sort of thing. I would imagine what it would be like once you’ve achieved your goal. Ask yourself how did I get to this place, what steps did i take that needed to take place for this to occur, so back-engineer it. And then imagine as you move forward, those events taking place (what will you see, what will you hear, and how you will feel). It’s very important to focus on what it is you DO want, versus what you don’t want.

So many people tell me what they don’t want, and they forget to focus on what it is they DO want. They will say: “I don’t want to be overweight,” rather than focusing on being slim and healthy. The unconscious mind does not process the negation, so if I say “don’t think of elephants” you have to think of it to not think of it. And one of the principles of my work is that you get more of what you focus on in life. My friend Michael Neill the world’s leading life coach says if you tell a lamppost your plans every day, they’re just more likely to question.

So decide what it is you want, and get your mind to show you how you’re going to get there.
And the other thing is definitely get the help of others who have done what it is you want to do, or are experts in helping others achieve their goals.

And take steps every day to move you closer to your goals.

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QUESTION #9 from nare469: What really inspired you to work towards helping others? Any particular incident?

Paul McKenna: I had a very unhappy educational experience at Catholic school, and I saw immense cruelty which gave me a taste for compassion.

I was fortunate enough to meet and be taught by Richard Bandler the co-creator of NLP and who might be the greatest hypnotist on the planet. And Richard continues to inspire me. I never cease to be amazed at how creative he is at helping people solve their problems, and seeing his relentless genius mind in action is something I would highly recommend to everybody. Other inspirations for me have been Dr. Ronald Ruden, the creator of Havening, the most exciting psycho-sensory therapy in the world. Anyone suffering from trauma or post-traumatic stress should see this. It does in minutes what used to take me months. And Genpo Roshi, he’s a Zen master who has created a fast track for you to glimpse the Semadi Satori experience of enlightenment in minutes of meditation rather than in decades through a process called “Big Mind.”

But also I get inspiration every time anytime I am able to help someone, and I see some transformation take place. In fact, any positive feedback reminds me why I took up this job, which is not without pressure from time-to-time.

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QUESTION #10 from WellBeeFile: Do you think hypnotism should be considered alternative medicine and therefore covered by health insurance plans?

Paul McKenna: Yes, absolutely. Hypnosis was once considered akin to witchcraft, and now it’s used by millions of practitioners, doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists all over the world. Once upon a time, psychology was a fringe practice, and now it’s incorporated within medicine. So hypnosis should absolutely be covered. In fact, the insurance companies are beginning to be more favorable towards these types of procedures than talking therapies such as psychoanalysis.

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