Subconscious inquiry with ideomotor questioning

The subconscious part of the mind is far more powerful and influential than consciousness (the part we think we think with). Yet most people know little about it. Access this part of the mind with ideomotor questioning.

The subconscious mind controls more of our lives than most people realize. Dreams, unbidden thoughts, overpowering mental impulses, and irresistible temptations are examples of subconscious processes over which we seemingly have little conscious control. They are evidence of the fact that what we ordinarily think of as our mind is divided into two domains: conscious and subconscious. (See figure 1.)

conscious-subconscious mind graphic
Figure 1. Model of the human mind with its major divisions of conscious and subconscious (or unconscious; same thing). This graphic representation makes it look as if the conscious mind is larger than the subconscious. It is not. It is conservatively estimated that 90 percent or more of human mentation is at the subconscious level.

It has often been said that the human mind is one of the greatest, most mysterious entities in the known universe. It is simultaneously dangerous and protective, stupid and brilliant, evil and saintly, guilty and innocent, worldly and naïve.

The human organ of thought is so mysterious and often contradictory because of the unconscious part. The subconscious mind.

Anything as important to you as your subconscious mind deserves knowing. This is a perversely reflexive statement because it says that one part of your mind deserves to be known about by another part. The “another part” is of course your conscious mind, that part of the mind you think you think with. But unfortunately consciously directed communicationThere are of course subtle (sometimes) forms of communication like dreams, and for the less fortunate, delusions and hallucinations. between the conscious and subconscious parts of the mind is generally not possible.

There are, however, indirect or mediated methods of communication at our disposal. One of the easier is ideomotor questioning. Ideomotor questioning is a technique that allows the subconscious mind to answer questions asked by the conscious mind. These techniques belong in the broader category of autoquestioning, which is a catchall term for all the methods one can use to extract information from the subconscious mind.

Some of the methods of ideomotor questioning are

  • The Chevreul pendulum, which will be covered a little later in this article.
  • Automatic writing.
  • The Ouija Board.
  • The finger response method.

Ideomotor questioning can be interesting and fun, sometimes exciting, even exhilarating at times. It is not always easy, but it almost always yields valuable information about oneself.

Probing around in the mind, sometimes uncovering long-buried stuff, seems at first thought that it might be dangerous. The fact is, it very well could be if the questioning were being done by someone else. That is, someone who was not qualified. Even those who are supposedly qualified, like therapists and counselors, often do damage.

Ideomotor questioning is intended to be a form of autoquestioning. Please take note of the auto, which means acting or directed from within. In other words it is something you do yourself. It should be done in solitude, with no other input from external sources, such as another person or with a television on in the background.

Ideomotor questioning should be conducted by yourself; it should be for yourself, not anyone else; and it should be solely about yourself. I can’t make it much clearer than that. As long as you follow this admonition you will be in no danger of hurting or harming yourself with ideomotor questioning.

Your mind has its own safety valves that prevent you from learning anything about yourself that you are not prepared to deal with. In fact, the subconscious mind generally tends to be overly protective and is more likely to err on the side of being too conservative.

None of this, though, means that you will never make yourself uncomfortable with ideomotor questioning. That does sometimes happen. But you will not be in any danger of serious damage and you will probably be better off for it in the long run.

Chevreul Pendulum

It was Anton Chevreul, in the eighteenth century, who first discovered how to use a pendulum to magnify ideomotor movements. The pendulum itself has no power of its own. It is simply a tool that magnifies natural body movements, which are in turn the result of subconscious thought processes of the person holding the pendulum. The movement is called ideomotion.

To make a pendulum, tie an 8 or 10 inch piece of thread to a ring or hardware washer. (See figure 2.) Hold the other end of the thread between your thumb and index finger. Sit at a table and rest your elbow on it with the pendulum suspended over the table. The bob of the pendulum should be roughly an inch or so from the surfaceIt really doesn’t make any difference. You just need to be able to tell which way the pendulum is swinging..

arm and hand holding Chevreul pendulum
Figure 2. Chevreul pendulum in use while engaged in ideomotor questioning.

On a piece of paper prepare a pendulum direction diagram. (See figure 3.) Draw a large X and an overlapping plus sign (+) and circular arrows underneath.

chart of pendulum directions
Figure 3. Chevreul Pendulum Direction Diagram showing the preferred directions of movement. (Click here to download a free printable version.)

The idea is to identify six discrete, easily distinguishable directions of swing for the pendulum. As to what each direction of swing will mean, you are going to let your subconscious mind assign answers to five of these directions. The sixth direction will remain unassigned as a sort of escape hatch for the subconscious if none of the assigned answers fit the question you’ve asked. The usual convention is to designate that direction with an asterisk (*).

You can of course choose whichever answers you want but experience has shown the following six choices to be the most practical and easiest to work with:

  • YES (often, but not always, the vertical direction)
  • NO (often, but not always, the horizontal direction)
  • MAYBE (indicates you are on the right track but need to winnow down with further questions — questions that are too broad or general tend to elicit this answer)
  • DON’T WANT TO ANSWER (could be for many reasons; okay to pursue with similar, reworded questions)
  • REPHRASE THE QUESTION (usually represented by “Huh” or “?”)
  • ESCAPE HATCH (usually represented by “*” or just blank)

Figure 4 depicts a typical, hand drawn answer diagram. The answers written for the various directions were those chosen by the subconscious for a particular questioning session. These are not necessarily the direction answers your subconscious will choose. Subconsciously chosen answer directions can change from one questioning session to the next.

rough pencil drawing of pendulum answer directions
Figure 4. Rough pencil drawing of pendulum answer directions. “DWA” is “Don’t want to answer.” “*” is the escape direction. “?” is “Rephrase the question.”

To engage in questioning, hold the pendulum suspended over the center of the answer sheet. Keep your eyes open and on the pendulum.

Establish answer directions at the beginning of every session. Sometimes they will be different from the previous session’s directions. With the pendulum suspended over the answer sheet ask yourself which direction will indicate “yes.”

Don’t try to make the pendulum move, and don’t try to keep it from moving. Just keep thinking “yes” and looking at the pendulum. Pretty soon it will begin to move. Sometimes it starts one way and changes to another, but within a short time you will have a distinguishable direction of swing which will indicate a subconscious “yes.”

Now do the same thing to identify the directions of swing for “no,” “maybe,” “don’t want to answer,” and “rephrase the question.” Each one of these requires its own distinct direction. If you get a duplicated direction, such as the same direction of swing for both “yes” and “maybe,” have a little talk with yourself. Questioning with the pendulum will only work if you get distinct, easily discernible directions of swing for each answer.

The sixth and remaining direction (whatever it might be in a given session) is left blank as an escape hatch. If you ever get that direction in response to a question, it usually means none of the other directions will appropriately answer the question. This should not happen very often. If it does happen frequently, that is an indication that you are not putting enough thought into the formulation of your questions.

Either that or you are trying to get information your subconscious believes to be too dangerous for you to deal with right now. Keep in mind that the subconscious is not noted for its wisdom in any waking sense. It has only limited logical abilities so sometimes its decisions are not good ones from a conscious perspective.

Once you have established your answer directions you are ready to get down to questioning.

Interrogation Strategies

Use of the Chevreul pendulum works best with questions that elicit a binary decision. This usually means questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This eliminates dumb, overly broad questions like, “What’s my problem, and what will fix it?” That’s the kind of question you might have asked your mother when you were six, but it is too late for that now. Nothing really works that way in adult life. “There’s no free lunch” should ring a bell here.

The ability to come up with the right questions is a skill that can only be developed through practice. You might have been practicing that skill already and are good at questioning. Most people have not and are not.

Coming up with the right questions can be taxing. There are a couple of reasons for this. On the one hand, this kind of questioning will depend heavily upon inductive logic. If you grew up in the U.S. educational system you are probably not much good at inductive reasoning. That is, unless you, say, have an advanced degree in philosophyEven that might not be helpful. Having taught formal logic at the university level I can assure you that being a whiz at analyzing the properties of propositions and deductive reasoning by abstraction is not particularly helpful. So don’t run out and buy a book on logic because that’s not likely to help much..

If you were educated under the British system or one similarly patterned, in which inductive thinking is rewarded, you have a better chance of starting out good at this.

It is sometimes said that the primary aim of a good education is to prepare a person to ask the right questions. Whether or not that is true, one thing is certain: Having to figure out the right questions to ask, then seeing what kinds of answers you get from the subconscious, will educate you about yourself.

You probably won’t need to remember anything about deductive or inductive forms of reasoningDeductive logic is reasoning from the general to the specific. Inductive logic is reasoning from the specific to the general. You might say that deduction is the logic of the selfish while induction is the logic of science. Both forms are used in conscious enterprise but only deduction is used at the subconscious level of mentation.. I include this information here mainly so that when you get an answer that seems illogical you won’t have to say, “but that doesn’t make sense!” You’ll know it is because of the logical limitations of the subconscious mind.

And you will encounter logical inconsistencies and surprises that make sense only to the subconscious. There will undoubtedly be times when you want to just walk away from it and forget the whole business. But don’t give up. Stick with it because it is likely that your subconscious is just making sure you pay for the information you want. No one likes to be a pushover.

On the other hand there are times when you should walk away from the pendulum. The subconscious mind always seems to get fatigued, or maybe it just gets balky, after a certain amount of time. That point is reached more quickly in the beginning. Later you can engage in longer questioning sessions.

You’ll know it when you reach a stopping point. The pendulum will not move or every question gets the same ditzy answer. At this point give it a rest.

Some Good Things to Know about Ideomotor Questioning

  • Hardly anyone — with the possible exception of properly trained psychotherapists and philosophers — starts out being good at ideomotor questioning. It takes practice. Trial lawyers are sometimes good too, if they can get past the fact that no one is paying them by the hour to do it.
  • You cannot hurt yourself as long as it is you who formulates the questions and you alone answer them.
  • Your answer directions can change from one session to the next. Always establish them first thing when starting a new session.
  • Write down your questions and answers as you go. (You’ll probably have to learn this the hard way.)
  • Don’t do it in public. People will think you are nuts. If you really are nuts, all the more reason to not do it in public.
  • Ask only those questions to which your subconscious mind could know the answers. Even though your subconscious might answer in ways that make it look like it knows the answers, it does not know:
    • Who is going to win the Kentucky Derby.
    • If your spouse is playing around on you.
    • Anything about the future.
    • Anything about your previous livesI have seen a lot of reincarnation related questioning scripts but nothing conclusive. And when people do get affirmation about having lived a previous life they are never able to provide solid evidence that was not already available to them consciously.. I don’t think it hurts to ask reincarnation questions but I advise you to not count on the answers being true.
    • How to read other people’s mind.
  • Remember that your subconscious mind uses a different kind of logic from that of your conscious mind. Don’t reject subconscious answers just because they don’t make sense.
  • Be prepared to learn things about yourself that surprise you. And not always positive things.
  • Don’t limit yourself to simplistic levels of questioning. You can go as far and get as sophisticated as you want with ideomotor questioning.

Know your issue

The first thing you have to know, of course, is what it is specifically you want to know more about. We’ll refer to this as the issue, the thing you want to learn about. Start with the issue as it manifests itself. That is, the symptoms that it causes, or the problems that come about because of it.

As an example let’s say there is a person at work who annoys you and around whom you inevitably show your annoyance in some way. This makes you look like a jerk to others. You don’t know what it is about him, but whatever it is, you can’t seem to control yourself the way you want to when he’s around. You want to use ideomotor questioning to try to get to the essence of the problem.

First of all, he is not really the problem. It is how you react to him, how you let him affect you, that is the problem. It is what goes on inside of you in response to him that is the real issue.

Define the issue

Common sense would tempt you to think that your problem, whatever it is, should not need much clarification between the conscious you and your subconscious mind. After all, its all the same mind, right?

Well, not exactly. This is an example of how common sense is not very reliable when it comes to dealing with the subconscious mind. This is due, for the most part, from the fact that consciously we reason with both deductive and inductive logic, while the subconscious mind reasons almost entirely with deduction. And even that is quite limited because, you see, we humans are creatures more of emotion than logical, rational thinking.

Most people bristle at the accusation of being irrational or when told to “settle down, you’re just being emotional.” Yet that is more often the case than not. In fact it is difficult to catch people being logical. Emotion is what most of us function on most of the time. You might be inclined to argue with that, but this is not the proper place for me to make the case for the primacy of emotion over logic. All I want to do here is steer you away from trying to find logical platforms for your dysfunctions.

This material is taken from Dr. Henderson’s book available from Amazon.

If you know you don’t want to do it, and you know it is difficult for you to not do it, the source of the dysfunction is not logical — it’s emotional. This applies equally to habits, behaviors, thought processes, discipline, anything in fact that falls within the domain of anything that you should be able to control yourself.

So when it comes to defining your issue, you don’t try to come up with logically concise, rigorously derived premises of logical clarity. But you do need to clarify the issue within your own thinking or you will waste a lot time.

Here is an example of what someone who wants to quit smoking might come up with.

Tobacco use — smoking cigarettes, pipe or cigars; dipping snuff; chewing it, etc. — is a behavior and not in and of itself the core of the issue. It is the motivation behind the behavior that you want to explore. You could say the central issue in tobacco use is the overwhelming desire to use tobacco.

Don’t get bogged down in a process of infinite regress; finding that your childhood potty training caused the problem is not likely to be of much help. And never mind that the ultimate etiology goes back to when your mother thought it was cute to blow smoke in your face when you were in the crib.

Do not confuse acts with causes. Buying and carrying cigarettes, putting one in your mouth, lighting it, inhaling the smoke — these are all just epiphenomena, or symptoms, of the desire to smoke. If you just deal with one or even all of the symptoms, no matter how successful your suggestions might be, you are no better off than you would be if you were simply out of cigarettes and couldn’t find a store open. You would still have the craving to smoke. So the real source of the problem that you can identify is the craving to smoke.

The same can be said for weight control. It is the desire to eat, or overeat, or eat the wrong things, that is at the source of the weight problem. Change the desire and everything else is pretty easy. Leave the desire untouched and nothing else works for long.

It is almost always true that desire (motivation, craving, need, whatever you want to call it) is at the root of active dysfunctions. An “active” dysfunction is one that involves something you do. Overeating, smoking, nail chewing, glue sniffing, these are examples of things you do. They require overt behavior on your part.

Passive dysfunctions are ones that involve the absence of something. These are often the so-called mental blocks so often referred to in street level psychobabble. “I don’t know why I’m no good at math. I guess I’ve got a mental block.”

Bad grammar and psychobabble aside, passive dysfunctions very often are mental blocks. They are subconscious constructs that get in the way of learning or performance. Often the purpose of psychotherapy is to uncover the existence of these dysfunctions. But unlike psychotherapy, we don’t need to know how they were formed.

Use Who, Where, When, What and Why

  • Who

Ask questions to determine if there are other people involved in the problem. For example, has someone such as a parent or teacher said something in the past that is now blocking you? Is the dysfunction caused by an experience with someone else? If so, who?

  • Where

Location can sometimes give you insight into the source of a problem. Where were you when it started, or where were you when the triggering event occurred?

  • When

At what time in your life did the problem start? How old were you? The specific date or even time of day that something happened can sometimes help develop insight.

  • What

The “what” is usually the crux of the problem. If you can get to the what of a dysfunction, you will find your well along the path to changing it. If you are using self-hypnosis to deal with the dysfunction, the suggestions will practically compose themselves once you know the what.

  • Why

Remember, the what you are looking for is not the same as a psychotherapeutic why. You may uncover some of the why in your questioning, but that is not particularly what you are after. For example, consider a man I once helped who had trouble dealing with women with long blond hair. This was not just a mild aversion, he really had a pathological problem. He had usually been able to avoid such women, thereby avoiding any confrontation with his problem. But he had just been transferred to a division in his company whose director, his new boss, had long blond hair. He was in trouble.

The disclosure sequence of the standard therapeutic sessions with this man is fascinating, but only if you are interested in standard approaches to psychotherapy. I am no longer interested in that sort of thing, so I will just jump to the chase, as they say.

Throughout the course of therapy, which had to be fast because he ran a serious risk of being out of work if we didn’t get this thing fixed quickly, I and eventually he returned repeatedly to a childhood event that involved a particularly obnoxious little girl. She had bullied him and even hurt him physically a few times. But she had had short brown hair and she was just not working out as the source for which I was looking. Then one day we broke through and he had the standard-issue emotional, cathartic insight.

It came back to him in a flood of emotion that the bully-girl’s doll had had long blond hair. She used to hit him with that doll. Once she hit him in the mouth so hard it knocked out one of his teeth. It was just a baby tooth that was already loose and on the way out, but it hurt and bled when she struck him. That had been a very traumatic experience for him.

This was a very simple and unusually successful example of depth therapy. The guy was able to deal with his problem following his insight and everyone lived happily ever after. (Well, you know…)

Now here is what I think this client could have done for himself with ideomotor questioning. He would have started from the same point, with the awareness of a problem with women with long blond hair. Ideomotor questioning would have led him to his early childhood experiences and eventually his insight into the doll episode.

But of course he did not have much time to do this because of his work situation.

You can work toward uncovering the why if you want to. You won’t hurt yourself. But keep in mind it may not do you much good. Jabber therapy (usually referred to in polite circles as insight therapy) has never done all that much good except for the therapists who collect a stiff hourly stipend for basically just listening.

Entire forests have been sacrificed to print all the speculation, theory, hypotheses and transcripts of everyone — journalists, therapists, patients, philosophers — involved in reductionist attempts at explaining why people do what they do. For you to attempt to discover why you have a particular dysfunction is not quite as difficult as, say, coming up with a grand theory of human behavior. But it might be more trouble than it is worth.

Having said that and given you fair warning, let me say that trying to come up with the why of a dysfunction can be quite illuminating. Even if you don’t get to the ultimate reason you will learn other things about yourself in the process. But be prepared to spend some time and to experience a good deal of frustration while you attempt to come up with the right questions to get at the real why of a dysfunction.

But for the last time — I promise not to mention it again — you really don’t need the why of a dysfunction in most cases. As long as you know what it is, you can formulate suggestions to change, overcome, modify, or remove it.

Keep a Record

As I’ve already said above, write down your questions and answers.

There are several good reasons for keeping a written record of your ideomotor questioning sessions. For one thing, and perhaps most important, your questions will be much more specific and appropriate if you write them before you ask them. So write down a question before you ask it. You will usually have to write and ask one question at a time anyway because subsequent questions are usually dependent upon the answers to prior questions.

Another reason is to avoid repeating yourself and asking the same questions again. Ideomotor questioning takes enough time without wasting it.

A third reason is for future reference. You will cover a lot of ground in a typical ideomotor questioning session with questions and answers that will be valuable to you later. And believe me you won’t remember them if you don’t write them down.

In addition, keeping a written record of your questioning has a good effect on the subconscious mind. Maybe this is because the additional effort shows you are serious, or maybe it’s because the subconscious mind is a firm believer in the no-free-lunch philosophy. If you are interested, you might conduct a questioning session to find out why your subconscious mind responds better when you keep a written record. But be prepared to ask a lot of questions. The subconscious mind gets pretty shy when it comes to divulging its own dynamics.

charles e. henderson, ph.d.

By Charles E. Henderson, PhD

Charles E. “Chuck” Henderson PhD has had three careers. As a professional woodwind musician he worked with a number of well-known groups and musicians in America and Europe. When CTS ended his musical career he went into sales where for 16 years he broke numerous national sales records. He retired from sales to earn three college degrees (BA, MA, PhD) in communication and psychology. His research and clinical specialty has focused on subliminal communication and he has been a leader in the research and development of self-hypnosis techniques and applications. The author of nine books and numerous articles and audio recordings, he lives with his wife in Madison. Wisconsin.

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