How your environment influences you
You know you are affected by what's around you, but did you realise how much?
People's suggestibility can be powerfully influenced by the environment in which they find themselves, and you can use environmental triggers - and 'triggers' can, of course, include your own words - to seed suggestions which are later taken up by the person listening to you.
The key idea here is that hypnotic suggestibility happens all the time. And it is often the case that the source of a 'suggestion' is actually not a hypnotist, as such, but the environment itself. For example, research has shown that a subtle background aroma of cleaning liquid in the air influences people to be perceptibly cleaner and tidier than they would otherwise be. Another fascinating piece of research reported in the journal Science in October 2008 involved hot and cold cups of coffee. Students were asked to hold a cup of coffee in their hands for a few seconds before reading an information pack about a hypothetical person and then assessing this person's 'character'. The students who had held a hot cup of coffee were significantly more likely to describe the hypothetical individual as 'warm and friendly' than the students who had held an iced coffee. Just the immediate environment of their hands had seeded their unconscious minds, and, although they all read the very same information about the imaginary individual, their responses were largely in accord with the environmental 'suggestion'. (1)
Again students who were exposed to environmental triggers which seeded the pattern for 'old' and 'frail', such as sitting in an office with a professor surrounded by pictures of very old people and with words like gray, infirm, weak, old, slow, tired both being used by the professor and subliminally scattered on posters and leaflets, tended to walk out of the office at a much slower rate than when they arrived. Students unconsciously exposed to patterns of youth, vitality, energy and strength will walk out of the office more quickly than when they arrived. (2)
People will behave more competitively if there's a briefcase in sight - or even if there is a picture of a briefcase in a picture on the wall. And this happens even when people have no conscious memory of having seen the briefcase afterwards. Again, people are or more cooperative when they glimpse words like dependable and support - all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it. (3)
So the environment we find ourselves in has a highly hypnotic effect on us. Years ago I used to see many of my hypnotherapy clients at my home. I was struck by how many of my clients reported they always felt like smiling upon leaving after a session. Only after some months did I notice that my little son had stuck a tiny smiley sticker on the door to my clinic room. It was visible, but was so small that it would have been hardly noticeable to people leaving the room.
We pay taller men higher salaries, men find women dressed in red more attractive and, in turn, women will find a man more attractive if he has other women smiling at him. Even a photo of a man's face is deemed more attractive if it's surrounded by other pictures of smiling women. (4) Environmental triggers seed behavior and response in people to a much greater extent than we realize. But a vital point to remember here is that words form a very important part of our environment.
Think how you'd feel if you went out for the evening with someone who peppered (which for you means 'seeded') their conversation with words like: down, depressed, pointless, hurt, painful, despair, stupid, bad, tired, fed up, sad, nauseous, sick, ill, disappointed and so forth. This person would have effectively built up an 'environment of words' around you, to which you might begin to respond just as surely as you might to the smell of disinfectant or relaxing background music.
So, when you use language, think of yourself as literally building an environment for someone else to inhabit and respond to. Surgeons who use words like pain, hurt, wound, agony, blood, uncontrolled, and so on are unwittingly building a negative environment for their unfortunate patient to inhabit, and seeding ideas and responses. This is not to say that we should always avoid unpleasant words, but just be very aware of how you construct what we might call 'linguistic environments' - and therefore expectation - with the words that we use. For example, I prefer to use the word 'healing' when talking about what the body and mind do when someone stops smoking, rather than the word 'withdrawal', which seeds quite another expectation.
How many terrified flyers are consciously aware of all the frightening words and style of language you are exposed to when you go to an airport, for example? As soon as you arrive, you are looking for the word 'Terminal' - a word which regularly triggers associations of death. Next, you wait in the 'final departure' lounge for your 'final call'. No wonder some flying phobics have a sense of foreboding at airports!
Old folks' homes can be wonderful institutions in many ways, but if the environmental pattern is one of being surrounded by infirmity, then the hypnotically debilitating effect of such a place may be greater than people may realize.
And why are we all so susceptible to environmental suggestion? Well, we need to be! Keeping us safe is a major part of the role of the unconscious mind. It needs to be able to do this very speedily in case we need to make quick decisions. So it does something called 'thin slicing'. This means it will take one small element of reality and generalize it, and from that it will determine what behavior to adopt. Appearances may be deceptive, of course, so developing the ability not to do this on occasion gives us the power to get beyond the limitations of this mechanism.
So it's true to say we respond much more powerfully to our environment than we realize. The very words you yourself use, along with other aspects of your communication, help to create an environment for others. This is why seeding is so powerful.
How can this knowledge help you convince or influence others - other than by scenting the air with cleaning fluid, sticking up smiley faces or handing someone a warm cup of coffee when you want a 'warm' response?
A skilled hypnotic communicator knows how to deliver suggestions indirectly. Why? Well, imagine you have a rebellious teenage son or daughter. You beg, demand, or threaten them to clean their room, to keep the place clean and tidy, but the more directly you appeal to them, the higher their defenses rise. The direct approach just doesn't work, no more than telling a smoker to stop. That faint whiff of cleaning fluid is more likely to get them being cleaner because the seed is unconscious and therefore the environmental suggestion, as it were, meets no automatic conscious resistance.
Now there are many ways to subtly and indirectly seed suggestions in ways which appeal to the unconscious part of the brain - which is, after all, the part that actually gets us feeling better or feeling like behaving more constructively. You can use hypnotic presuppositions to subtly imply a certain outcome without demanding it, for instance, or tell metaphorical stories which have seeded words and patterns within them to help effectively seed the environment for someone.
For example, when I want someone to have a negative hallucination (not see something which is right there), I first seed the general pattern of people not being able to find things that are right in front of them. This is the 'universal example' method. This allows me to plant the idea, without actually stating it, that later, when the client is hypnotized, he won't see the keys in my hand even though I'm holding them up right in front of him. Remember, people are much more likely to respond to a suggestion you are seeding if it fits a general pattern which they can already relate to. People know just what you mean when you talk about not being able to find things even if they are right in front of you - this is a universal pattern and is easy to accept. The whiff of cleaning agent sets a general pattern of cleanliness - which can then be extrapolated by the unconscious mind to determine cleaner behavior for that individual.
So, it's clear that our environment has a profound impact on our psychology and will even influence how quickly we heal. I always recommend that someone grieving the loss of a relationship, perhaps after a divorce, change things in their environment. One woman told me that she only started feeling better again when she finally changed the color of the walls and made other decorative changes after her husband had left her. Fill your environment with things that make you feel good, photos that revive great times or wonderful places you've been to. If you like nature but don't live near it, then put up pictures of natural scenes or people that inspire you. Use scents that make you feel invigorated, or relaxed. One of the quickest ways to lift insomnia, for some people, is to move the bed to a different place in the bedroom and rearrange other parts of it so that it feels different for the person. If someone has spent a hundred anxious and sleepless nights in a room, then the room itself can act as a massive trigger not to sleep - so the trigger needs to be changed sometimes. So think about updating your environment, sometimes putting new things into it and perhaps removing some things that may have been acting as subliminal negative triggers.
- We are all highly susceptible to environmental triggers and these triggers can powerfully seed responses in us.
- Language shapes environment as strongly as smell, taste, touch and sight.
- Suggestions can become much more powerful if seeded with universal patterns that people can relate to easily. For example, talking about the common experience of sitting or lying on a leg and then finding it's gone numb as a way of seeding the suggestion of later developing hypnotic anesthesia.
- It's very important for you to be aware of the triggers in your own environment and, as far as possible, ensure that you surround yourself with items that produce positive associations within you.
- You can watch a short video about seeding and using universal examples taken from the first training module of our Precision Hypnosis online course.
(1) Lawrence E. Williams and John A. Bargh: Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth. Science. 2008 October 24; 322(5901): 606-607.
(2) Bargh JA, Chen M, Burrows L. Automaticity of social behavior: direct effects of trait construct and stereotype-activation on action. Journal of Personal and Social Psychology. 1996 Aug;71(2):230-44.
(3) Aaron C. Kay, S. Christian Wheeler, John A. Bargh and Lee Ross, Material priming: The influence of mundane physical objects on situational construal and competitive behavioral choice. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Volume 95, Issue 1, September 2004, Pages 83-96. Even the Furniture Can Affect Business Attitudes - Press Release from Stanford GSB, October 2004(4) Benedict C Jones, Lisa M DeBruine, Anthony C Little, Robert P Burriss and David R Feinberg, Social transmission of face preferences among humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, March 22, 2007 274:899-903
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