Here’s What Happened When a Hypnotism Skeptic Tried a Self-Hypnosis App

Photo: Getty Images/Frederic Cirou

"I make myself comfortable, close my eyes, and calmly breathe in...and out."

"Um, what the actual eff is going on?" I wonder before ripping my headphones from my ears. I was deep into my self hypnosis session using the HypnoBox app—a platform for hypnotizing yourself through a variety of programs or "boxes"—but not deep enough to drown out the sights and sounds of Brooklyn. Even as a hypnotism skeptic, I was intrigued upon learning about the platform, because the boxes cover such a broad selection of targeted options like, “Self Worth,” “Nutrition,” and “Lucid Dreams.” Some people even self-hypnotize before workouts. Upon first blush, it seemed that there are few issues you can’t treat by using the app, so I really wanted it to work for me.

Here's how it works: Within those boxes are sessions that send you in and out of a trance while providing "suggestions," which, ideally lead you to react involuntarily as the hypnotist walks you through different instructions and scenarios.

And while many people (at least in my personal life) eye-roll at the potential validity of hypnosis as a real, helpful treatment, in actuality, it's a regularly called upon tool for retraining the brain and focusing on the subconscious. Why does that matter? Well, according to neuroscientists, our subconscious mind accounts for, oh, you know, just about approximately 95 percent of our cognitive functioning. So, yeah, learning to tap into that deep-seated corpus of the psyche offers strong benefits. It was only after learning these background details that I decided I really was game to try out self hypnosis via this new free app.

Here's what happened when I gave the art of self hypnosis (assisted by the app) a shot.

Getting started

I first activated the “Lucid Dreaming” box, because fun, and within that, I settled on a free session for “Better Memory.” I'm currently reading Nora Ephron's I Remember Nothing, and it's a bit concerning that I identify with the "that one movie, you know the one" issue she describes given that I'm in my mid-twenties.

Anyway, the session is about 30 minutes, which also works well, since HypnoBox founder and certified hypnotist Bernhard Tewes recommends starting with a session of 30 to 40 minutes. “Frequency is very important for self-hypnosis,” Tewes tells me, adding that suggestions are anchored in the subconscious with more success when self hypnosis sessions take place regularly.

So how does one hypnotize themselves?

Subconscious brain-training requires blocking out a lot of conscious time—but whether this happens during day or night doesn't matter. “Take the time of the day when it fits for you," Tewes says. "I do a session in the morning to get into the day with a good energy, and one to fall asleep, so I take the suggestions into my dreams.”

Like Tewes, I found the hypnotism practice to be an effective means for lulling me to sleep—too effective, in fact. I was straight-up falling asleep, and when you're sleeping, you can still reap some benefits of hypnotism, but not the optimum amount since your mind isn't conscious and, thus, isn't present. "You also absorb suggestions while you’re sleeping, though it’s not as effective,” Tewes says, suggesting to sit in an upright position that's less likely to result in accidental snoozing.

And so, sitting upright the next night, I explored a few boxes, with "Memory Sharpening" as my primary objective. To induce the trance, the doze-y state of relaxation that allows suggestions to sink in, it’s wise to play the “Induction and Deepening” box first. When I do this, I “slowly climb the ladder,” and in addition to being soothed, I remained very…skeptic. That may be because there's a spectrum when it comes to hypnotizability: Only about 5 to 10 percent of the population are considered "highly hypnotizable," 20 percent are barely hypnotizable, and the rest are mildly to moderately hypnotizable.

Based on my experience, I seem to be in the mild-to-moderate category (I mean, I'm not chugging the Kool-Aid, but I am falling asleep during the sessions). So, I consciously decide to not overthink what's happening and to let the session wash over me. I'm reactive to the suggestions, and I slowly unwind. “Every single noise, every single sound, relaxing me deeply….”

So, did self hypnosis help at all?

Mostly, yes. I can't say that self hypnosis was a successful means of rewiring my brain so much as listening to the suggestions proved to be a new take on the ribbon-on-finger method of remembering. Hearing repeated affirmations about my "big and powerful mind" being so good at memory function did seem to inspire me to be less forgetful. And that was mostly with the little-but-important things, like picking up my dry cleaning or remembering I had prepped my lunch. I felt, if nothing else, self hypnosis encouraged to stop letting simple things fall through the cracks.

As someone who is self-diagnosed as being only mildly to moderately hypnotizable, staying entranced was a challenge. Still, HypnoBox proved to be an enjoyable experience and effective in at least some measure. If you’re trying to work on some aspect of your life (and, really, who isn't?), and you respond well to mindfulness practices like guided meditation, it’s a useful and relatively cost-effective way to do it (the app is free, but Boxes range from $2 to $23), even if it is totally psychosomatic for you. It's all about keeping your mind—conscious or unconscious—open to new things.

That said, noise-canceling headphones are a must.

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