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Confidence Tricks - The Scotsman

Everyone likes the idea of bounding out of bed every morning and kissing the alarm clock for welcoming you to a new day, but for most, actually trying to achieve that state of bliss is far from appealing. It's easier to trudge along in a fog of low self-esteem rather than risk embarrassing yourself on a self-help course. Yes, we all want to be more confident and assertive, but if it means acting like a loon in front of a group of strangers then, gulp, no thanks.

For years I felt that way too, but then something in me snapped. Why did I sniff contemptuously at confidence-building courses while there were days when I felt so wobbly that the only place to be was under the duvet? I decided to launch myself into a series of self-esteem workshops before self-doubt got the better of me.

WORKSHOP 1 - SELF-HYPNOSIS

Fighting back images of swinging pocket watches or humiliating cabaret shows where dazed dupes blithely munch raw onions, I enrolled on a weekend course. According to Mark Tyrrell, the organiser, "Self-hypnosis brings confidence and calm where normally you feel anxious." During a trance your subconscious mind is free from the critical voice we all have inside us, and more open to suggestion, making it an ideal state for tackling anxiety and phobias. It sounded promising, especially when he added: "You can't get stuck in a hypnotic state and become a mindless automaton. Hypnosis is a natural phenomenon - we do it every day."

To prove it, the first exercise for our group was to think up times when we find ourselves day-dreaming, which is a trance-like state. Among the suggestions were ironing, commuting and bell-ringing. Alan, the brave soul who suggested the last activity, was immediately picked by Mark to become his first hypnosis candidate. As Alan tried to relax in a deckchair in front of the class, Mark's demeanour changed dramatically. Where previously he had been reassuringly light-hearted, he suddenly became intensely focused.

"Your eyelids are heavy... You're energised and calm..." Mark whispered. ""The sounds around you allow you to relax deeper and deeper." Amazingly, Alan appeared to slip into a trance, and Mark invited Alan's subconscious to raise his arm. It wasn't a stunt, Mark insisted, just a demonstration of how amenable to suggestion the subconscious is.

After he brought Alan round, Mark's colleague Jill Wootton put the whole group in a trance and I definitely felt myself becoming hypnotised. It felt like I was ambling around a dream. I was still aware of my surroundings, but everything was very distant. Afterwards, I was incredibly calm and uplifted, and anything seemed possible.

As the weekend progressed we were taught different self-hypnosis exercises to alter our mood, including combatting phobias and breaking out of destructive patterns.

Jill illustrated the last technique, known as scrambling, with a story about how she cured a client who chewed through 12 biros a day at work. I admitted that my own bugbear was procrastinating before making important phonecalls, and this time it was my turn to try out the deckchair. Being scrutinised by 25 beady classmates didn't encourage me to drift off into a trance, and at the time I wasn't sure how effective her session was. A month later, though, I realised my usual trick of finding a million reasons not to pick up the phone had gone. The workshop as a whole turned out to be similar to this - at the time you're busy fretting over your stomach rumbling or looking at Mark's curly hair, but all the time your subconscious is beavering away, examining new attitudes and jettisoning old habits. The weekend left me a convert to self-hypnosis. Weeks later I only need to recall the phrase 'clarity and lightness' to be soothed. No more hiding under the duvet for me.

Uncommon Knowledge (01273 557799, www.uncommon-knowledge.co.uk)

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