And why would a hypnotist be writing about Moth Week? Well, a lot of people have a fear or a phobia. Some people are afraid of spiders, or snakes. Some people are afraid of close spaces, and some have an aversion to certain foods. My phobia was moths.
Like many fears and phobias, it didn’t make rational sense. Moths can’t actually hurt me, and to the best of my knowledge I have never been attacked by moths. They just freaked me out. I didn’t want them to touch me. I would avoid them whenever possible, and leave the room if I saw one inside, and not return until someone killed it and I had seen proof of its carcass.
I really, really, really didn’t like moths.
Deciding to Change
I was beginning to learn about how hypnosis is used to help people overcome fears, and realizing that sometimes the best way for me to learn something is to experience it. I shared my moth phobia with fellow hypnotist John Burchell.
I explained how I felt when I thought about being around moths, how I felt like things were crawling on me, and how I would tense up the muscles in my shoulders and neck. Sometimes the feeling could get so intense that I would feel almost panicky. As I was telling John about these feelings, I began to experience the sensations, even feeling my muscles tense up.
John asked if I wanted to get rid of those feelings. I thought about it for a moment. I had managed to cope with it for many years, and it wasn’t high on my list of things I wanted to work on, but I could certainly live without being afraid of moths. “Sure,” I said.
As we sat on a bench in Kilowatt Park in Hartford, John took me through a technique called a Swish. The Swish uses neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) to dissociate from the negative thinking, isolate the unwanted feelings, reframe the experience to something more positive, and reassign a more positive reaction.
NLP is a psychological school of thought that was developed in the 1970’s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. Grinder had a background in linguistics and Bandler worked in mathematics. They looked at the way very successful people did things and began breaking down the patterns of behavior into practices that could be replicated. NLP is a way of using our perceptions, our communication skills, and our ability to change how we think to effect massive and positive changes in our lives, and sometimes the lives of others.
Setting up The Swish
The first thing you need to do is figure out which behavior you would like to change. It could be a dietary change, it could be a fear, it could be anything. The key is to focus on one issue at a time.
Next, we’ll figure out what kind of cues trigger your automatic behaviors. If it’s a dietary change you are looking for, think about what is going through your mind the moment before you reach for the cake. Whatever thought that is, that’s your cue. For me, it was seeing a moth, or thinking about being near them.
After doing this step, clear your mind and do something else for a couple of minutes. Recite a rhyme a few times, do some multiplication tables, remember what you had for breakfast all last week. We call this “breaking state.” It helps to transition you from one step to the next without getting hung up on any particular feeling or thought.
Now figure out what your desired behavior would be. If you want to workout, that would be going to the gym. If you’re in school, that could mean turning the TV off and studying. In my case, I wanted to feel indifferent towards moths. I just wanted to not care either way. Think about what your best behavior would be in that situation.
Once you have done this, use your imagination to create a vivid picture in your mind that represents you at your best moment, It could be you leaving the gym feeling refreshed. It could be you receiving your degree. Whatever it is, really bring it to life and associate your most positive emotions with it.
Some people have trouble creating pictures or images in your mind. If that’s you, then use your imagination to think about your desired outcome. Make your thinking specific and real - almost as though you are experiencing that success right now, seeing it through your own eyes, hearing the sounds around you in your own ears, and feeling those positive sensations in your own body. Really step in to that successful, positive feeling.
And now we’ve reached the moment of truth, because it’s Swish time!
Start by imagining a really big movie screen in your mind. Make it really big, like one of those IMAX screens that is several stories high. Project your negative cue onto that screen. Make it nice and big.
Maybe you see yourself on that screen feeling awful as you keep eating long after you’re full. Maybe you see yourself procrastinating, yelling at traffic, or going to unlock the door when the porch light has drawn a whole flock of moths to fly around your head. As you create this image on the screen, you’ll begin to feel those negative feelings as well.
Now take a tiny mental snapshot of your new positive self and put it in the corner. Use that idea of exactly who you’d like to be instead, how you’d like to feel. Make it nice and small like a postage stamp.
Put that little image of the you you want to be in the bottom corner of the screen. Imagine putting your finger on it and dragging it in a big circle across the screen. It gets bigger and bigger as you swish it around that old negative image, until that new positive you completely fills the screen.
As you look at the huge image of your new self, fully enjoy the great emotions that you’re feeling. Revel in them. Then, break state and think of something else for a moment.
We want to make sure that this change is embedded in your mind, so repeat the last step at least 10 more times. Take a moment to enjoy the good feelings each time. By the time you are done, you will have difficulty even imagining the old version of you.
You have successfully turned a negative cue into a positive one, and now you know how you can apply it to any undesired behaviors. Enjoy the new you!
It Seems Too Easy
John ran me through this exercise about a dozen times. We repeated the pattern until I had trouble remembering the negative feelings I used to associate with moths. The whole process took less time than our lunch break.
I was impressed at how difficult it was to remember the negative feelings, at how easy it was to use the process, and how versatile the method was in all the things it could help change. But I was still a little skeptical. (yes, even me.) The whole thing seemed much to easy. There were no offensive moths in our vicinity, and I wondered how this change would show itself in my everyday life.
It wasn't until several days later, when I arrived home after dark and stood under the porch light to unlock my front door. I unlocked the door and stepped inside - and I froze.
I wasn’t apprehensive about unlocking the door. I didn’t try to rush to keep from encountering the moths gathered under the light. I didn’t notice them at all! I almost didn’t believe it. I opened the door to see if they were really any moths there at all. There were dozens bopping around the porch light, going about their moth business. And I felt completely indifferent to them. I started to wonder how many other moths I hadn’t noticed in the last week.
My reaction to the moths had changed so completely that it didn’t even occur to me that I had been afraid of them before. The 15 minute process John shared with me during a lunch break had created the indifference I was looking for. I tried to remember what it felt like to be afraid of moths, and though I could remember that I had been afraid of them before, I couldn’t remember what it felt like.
And even now, three years later, I am entirely indifferent to the little winged things that used to send me running from a room. All as a result of the Swish.
The Role of Hypnosis
Hypnosis, to me, is a specific set of tools designed to help people use their own sills, abilities, and resources more effectively to take back control of the parts of their lives that they felt were out of control before.
There are a lot of ways that hypnosis can be used, and not all of hypnosis involves the traditional trance state. Most techniques we utilize can be done in or out of a hypnotic state, and they all create real and lasting change.∎