Self-hypnosis — how to do it

woman listening to Dr. Henderson's recorded hypnotic induction talk.

Applications of self-hypnosis

  • Overcoming shyness, stage fright, and social fears.
  • Weight loss and permanent eating self-control.
  • Substance abuse; quitting smoking; drug use.
  • Sports performance.
  • Concentration and memory improvement.
  • Social skill development.
  • Subliminal communication skills.
  • Persuasion abilities.
  • Stress management.
  • Creativity.
  • Problem solving.
  • Anything that depends on your own efforts.

Self-hypnosis, suggestion formulation and application (especially during hypnosis), and ideomotor questioning are the core competencies of my approach to mental asset management.

The purpose of this article is to show you how to develop a state of self-hypnosis. Not only will you learn how to develop a hypnotic state, you will also learn how to deepen your trance state, how to accelerate the induction process itself, and how to measure the depth of your hypnotic trance.

By the way, my use of the word “trance” does not in itself have any implication about the depth of hypnosis. It is simply a convenient shorthand term for referring to the mental condition that is established with the practice of hypnotic induction techniques — including self-hypnosis.

A trance in this context can be so light that you are not even aware that anything has changed. At the other extreme, sometimes people do enter into a stuporous or dazed state in hypnosis but that seldom happens with self-hypnosis. What you are more likely to find is that your self-hypnotic state is more akin to daydreaming than anything else.

But let me be as clear as possible about the effects of self-hypnosis. Even when you are unaware that your conscious state has undergone a change during the induction, you have still increased your suggestibility. So do not practice the induction procedure when you are subject to any kind of external information. That could include a TV or talk radio station on in the background, or practicing while any other source of information is running. Avoid this kind of thing so you won’t put yourself into suggestions, even implied suggestions, from another source unless you know that that is absolutely what you want to do.

Listening to music is okay as long as there are no lyrics. And it should be soothing as opposed to firing you up.

Self-hypnosis is a skill that comes from practice

Self-hypnosis beginners will find it difficult to gauge their own progress. The beginning, developing symptoms of hypnosis are subtle and gradual, and it requires a good awareness of self and self-functioning to be able to recognize these symptoms. It is as if our life experiences cause us to form calluses that make us less sensitive to our inner experiences. With time and practice, these calluses go away and make us more sensitive and responsive to our inner environment. But until this begins to happen, it is often necessary to practice hypnosis and apply suggestions on faith.

If you don’t experience anything recognizably different when you first start, give yourself a few weeks to practice before giving up. I guarantee that you will not be able to practice for long without noticing some positive differences. Especially if your suggestions are reasonably well formed.

The best time of day to practice is that time of day in which you feel at your best. Later, when you have become more skilled with hypnosis, you can use it to perk up the more sluggish part of your day. But until then you will make better progress if you practice at a time of day when you feel sharp and alert.

Practicing self-hypnosis is difficult if you are tired or sleepy. It is not supposed to be practice at going to sleep.

Avoid practicing within an hour after eating, and don’t try to make yourself more susceptible with drugs. Getting drunk or high to practice will not help. In fact, it will get in the way.

If you take prescription drugs, continue to follow your doctor’s advice. While drugs will not particularly help you in the development of hypnosis, most prescription drugs will not hinder you, either.

A notable exception is any drug in the amphetamine category. Any of these stimulants will make hypnosis difficult for you, probably even impossible. If you are taking amphetamines, especially for weight control, ask your physician to reconsider the advisability of your taking them. The long-term effectiveness of amphetamines for weight control has proved to be of questionable benefit. Many medical researchers and practitioners have even advocated the abolishment of such drugs for weight control and they are under such tight control that few physicians prescribe them for that any more.

Some people find that practicing hypnosis gives them energy and stamina, leaving them alert and ready to “get with it.” Others experience a pleasantly lethargic, relaxed condition following hypnosis. The way hypnosis affects you is an important consideration in determining when you will practice. If it energizes you, don’t practice just before trying to go to sleep at night. If it leaves you feeling nicely limp and mellow, don’t practice just before going to work or doing anything that requires you to be fully alert.

Preparing to practice the self-hypnosis induction

There are some common-sense preparations you should make before actually starting your hypnosis session. For one thing, try to eliminate the possibility of any interruptions while you are practicing. It is advisable to get your family’s cooperation, or the cooperation of anyone with whom you live, so that they understand what you are doing and won’t disturb you for trivial things while you are trying to practice.

The position in which you practice is not critical, although most people prefer to practice while lying down or lying back in a recliner. When you become more skilled, you can practice hypnosis in virtually any position, but start out as comfortably as possible.

Loosen any tight clothing and remove any distracting jewelry. If you wear contact lenses, remove them while you practice unless they are the kind that don’t bother you when your eyes are closed. Your legs should not be crossed, and your hands and arms should rest comfortably at your side. It is also helpful if there is no one else in the room with you.

The key factors for good practice are comfort and the absence of distractions. A television or radio can be very distracting and won’t help you a bit. Hypnosis requires concentration, a kind of concentration which we don’t normally learn. Most people associate concentration with such things as pursed lips, squinted eyes, and clenched teeth. The kind of concentration you want to develop now is just the opposite. It is a loose kind of focused attention. It is much easier to do, and easier on you, once you get the hang of it. This more desirable kind of concentration will develop naturally as you continue to practice hypnosis, so don’t try to force it.

If you try forcing it, your efforts will get in the way of the development of a good hypnotic state. The secret is to achieve a compromise between trying to make something happen and doing nothing. You can do this by practicing in the prescribed manner and by keeping uppermost in your mind the thought that you are not trying to make anything happen. You will be learning to let self-hypnosis happen.

Four step self-hypnosis induction procedure

The self-hypnotic induction process can be divided into four sequential steps:

  • relaxation
  • countdown or deepening
  • scene visualization
  • termination

Relaxation

The process of relaxation is covered in detail in my article on stress management in the Covid-19 pandemic. In that article you will find a “Quickie Stress Test” (an 18-item written test you can score yourself) and a deep relaxation procedure.

Relaxation is both a preparation for, and a beginning of, hypnosis. You must be relaxed to achieve a positive hypnotic state, and you actually begin to develop hypnosis as you become more and more relaxed. So your self-hypnotic induction begins with the deep relaxation process. You will simply be adding the next three phases to the deep relaxation procedure to turn it into a self-hypnosis induction.

Deepening

The deepening procedure is simply a counting-down which immediately follows the relaxation procedure. You count backward and imagine yourself drifting down toward a pleasant, sleep-like state. You can think of it a developing a mental and physical state similar to sleep, but one in which you continue to be aware. That is, you keep yourself from actually falling asleep.

By the way, at no time during the induction exercise will you need to speak out loud. You may if you want to, but it is not necessary. When counting down, for example, it is sufficient to think the numbers to yourself. If you are using an induction recording, this will all be done for you, but more about the use of recorded inductions later.

Begin your countdown at a relatively high number. The higher the number you start with, the longer you will have in which to achieve self-hypnosis. As a beginner, it is a good idea to start with a number such as one hundred. As you become more skilled you will be able to more quickly develop hypnosis, so later you will be able to start your countdown with lower numbers. The example of an induction talk (or induction “think”) presented here will begin the countdown at twenty. Feel free to vary this starting number in accordance with what works best for you.

While counting down, it is helpful to imagine yourself on an elevator or an escalator, riding down as you count down. You might imagine that each number represents a different floor level and see the numbers lighting up on a panel as you move downward. Your goal is the basement (zero) and to be in a state of self-hypnosis when you get there.

If you don’t like elevators or escalators, you can just imagine yourself floating down. Or, if downward motion does not appeal to you, use horizontal movement. Some people like to imagine a white mist or cloud moving toward them as they count down, imagining that they are gradually being enveloped by the pleasant whiteness. With the aid of your imagination you can make the cloud become more dense as your hypnotic state deepens.

The use of your imagination during this phase, and during the scene visualization phase that follows, is extremely important. It is unfortunate that our culture has been so disparaging of imagination in adults. While it is true that unbridled imagination can be a problem, this does not justify the disrepute into which imagination has fallen. The constructive, positive use of the childlike (not childish) qualities of imagination can be your most potent tool for change and achievement. Use imagination to your fullest ability, both in the development of hypnosis and in the application of suggestion (covered in a separate article).

If your ability to make pictures in your head seems inadequate or you find it difficult or impossible to see things with your mind’s eye, here is an easy exercise that will help you. Pick a small, simple object, such as the tip of a pencil. Hold the object in front of you and gaze at it for a few moments, noting all the details you can. In the case of a pencil point some of the things you might notice are its colors and general shape, whether the point is rounded or sharp, the grain of the wood where the pencil has been sharpened, and so on.

After closely observing the object for a minute or two, close your eyes and try to re-create it in your mind’s eye. With a few practice sessions you will discover that you are rapidly improving your ability to visualize things. You can move gradually to more complicated objects if you want to further develop this valuable mental ability.

A small percentage of people are what we generally call “literal minded.” They have never used mental images as part of their imagination. If you are such a person and you don’t want to go to the trouble of developing your visual imagination, this need not deter you. You can imagine the sensations of riding down in an elevator without “seeing” it happen.

An alternative tactic might involve “hearing” the numbers being called out as you move downward during the countdown procedure. Or you might be able to visually imagine lightness and darkness, making the intensity of lightness increase as a white mist overtakes you (or have it darken as you go deeper — whatever seems pleasant and relaxing to you). Whatever your abilities and however you do it, the more you can utilize your imagination, the more effective you will be in your use of self-hypnosis and suggestion.

Now, to continue with the countdown instructions, as you proceed to count down, imagine yourself becoming more and more drowsy. You know how it feels to be so drowsy that you can hardly stay awake. Imagine that you are feeling drowsier and drowsier as you continue your countdown. You will find that such feelings and experiences come more easily as you increase your skill. Feelings of lethargic drowsiness are natural when one is deeply relaxed.

But again, the opposite can be true. Some people find their perception and mentation (dream-like thinking) sharpened by deep relaxation.

Scene Visualization

When you have reached zero in your countdown, visualize yourself in some peaceful scene. Do not “see yourself” as if you were standing back, looking at a picture of yourself. Instead, see yourself in the sense that you would experience it if you were actually there.

Your scene visualization can be a place in the mountains on a pleasant spring day, a beach or south sea island, a pleasantly furnished room, or any other place that is peaceful and serene to you. The important characteristics of a scene visualization are tranquility and peace; it should be a place that is relaxing for you, and in which you are alone with no distractions. It is your own personal place in which no cares or worries are allowed.

The scene you imagine does not have to be conventional. One woman I know of liked to imagine herself sitting in a rocking chair in a cornfield in Iowa. An ex-Navy man enjoyed lying on a mattress on a raft floating on the ocean. Your scene can be anything that makes you feel peaceful, serene, and relaxed. The imaginative it is (and the more relaxed it makes you feel), the better.

What follows are a few examples of scene visualizations, presented in detail to give you a feel for properly structured scene visualizations. You may use any of them as presented, if they feel right for you, or you can make any modifications that would improve a particular scene for you.

Or you might want to construct something entirely different. Just keep the basics in mind:

  • Be alone in the scene
  • Keep it peaceful
  • Imagine as much detail as possible

One more thing: Don’t use a remembered scene from past experience if there is anything negative related to it. For example, if you remember a beautiful spot on the beach where you once had a picnic, but where you also got a terrible sunburn, don’t use that scene.

Mountain scene

You are walking along a mountain path. It is a beautiful, warm spring day. You can feel the warmth of the sun shining through the pine trees and smell the scent of pine in the air. You are walking uphill on the path and your legs are getting more and more tired. You think to yourself how nice it would be to lie down and rest.

Eventually you come to your own private place, which is a level clearing in the trees, overlooking a beautiful mountain valley. Your clearing is lush with green grass and shrubs, and there is an abundance of mountain flowers. There is a small, rippling stream flowing through your clearing. Just at the edge of it is a hammock in which you lie down and rest. The gently swaying hammock is very pleasant. You feel serenely peaceful and drowsy as you lie in the hammock, listening to the sound of the stream, the birds singing in the trees. You can smell the scent of pine as you gently sway back and forth in the hammock.

Beach scene

You are walking barefoot on the beach and you can feel the warm, dry sand between your toes as you walk. You are alone on this stretch of beach which is your own private place. You can feel the warmth of the sun on your skin and smell the fresh sea air. Walking in the sand is pleasant, but your legs, ankles, and feet are tiring. Eventually you lie down in the warm sand (or you can have a hammock or cot in the trees a few yards back from the edge of the beach). As you lie there soaking up the warmth and feeling drowsy, you are aware of the sound of the ocean and an occasional seagull.

Cloud scene

You are lying on the slope of a hill in a pleasant countryside. It is a beautiful spring day. The grass is green, and you can feel the warmth of the sun and smell the clean country air. There are beautiful, billowy white clouds floating lazily overhead. One of the smaller clouds separates itself from the others and gently settles on the ground next to you. You are gently and comfortably scooped up and gently float upward. You have no cares or worries — you are completely at peace — as you gently float along on the could.

These are just a few ideas of how you can construct your scene visualization. You will probably have ideas for your own, visualizations that particularly appeal to you. Use the following criteria in making up your visualization:

  • You are safe and unthreatened.
  • You are alone, but pleasantly so; not lonely.
  • The scene is easy for you to imagine and it feels natural for you to be in it.
  • Work in as many of the naturally occurring perceptual stimuli you can — sights, sounds, smells, feelings like warmth or the breeze on your skin or the sway of a hammock — anything that should be there and that is pleasant to you.

It is during your scene visualization, once you are well into it, that you apply suggestions.

Termination

The fourth and final phase of an induction procedure is the termination. A termination process is necessary to mark the end of the hypnotic state, when you tell yourself to become alert again and return to your normal, waking state. You could, of course, just get up and walk away when you are finished with your self-hypnosis session. But it is much better to have a familiar termination procedure ends your state of heightened suggestibility.

The easiest and most effective form of termination procedure is to count slowly to three, giving yourself termination suggestions between the numbers. This process will become clear to you as you read the full induction script given below.

Hypnotic Induction Script

You can either think your way through the following script or you can record it and listen to your recording for hypnotic induction. If you think your way through it you will have to become very familiar with the whole script because you probably cannot read yourself into a hypnotic state. You don’t have to memorize it word for word, but you will want to master some of the phrasing and know the sequence of major points. And change each “you” in the script to “I.”

You could also have someone else read the script to you, but this seldom proves satisfactory. Hetero-hypnosis (where one person hypnotizes another) requires quite a bit of practice to get the timing, phrasing, and intonation right, even with a script. This same problem arises when beginners record their own voices reading the script. One of the best ways is for you to become thoroughly familiar with the script and think your way through it.

The very best way to learn is to listen to a recorded induction by a trained and certified professional (like a psychologist) made in a professional recording studio BECAUSE DAMN IT IS IRRITATING TO TRY TO LISTEN TO AN AMATEURISHLY MADE AND WORDED RECORDING.

Speaking of professionally done recorded inductions, I know where you can get one of the best. And for nothing, no strings attached. It’s mine, and I’m willing to give it to you. Like I said, FREE!

Go here to learn more about it and download it if you like. Oh, and did I mention that it will

COST YOU NOTHING?

[Sorry for yelling here, but I get tired of having to answer the question, “What’s the catch?” There is no catch. I just like being generous. The closest thing to a catch is that you have to have an email address where the link to the talk is sent.]

Some sort of background sound is helpful block out distracting sounds. The static that you get when a radio is tuned between stations (unless your radio has a static suppressor), or the sound of a television tuned to a “blank” or unused channel, are very similar to what we call “white noise. And, of course, there are white noise generators. If you happen to have one, use it. Otherwise, make do with the radio or TV static, but don’t turn it up too high. You will find that you quickly learn to ignore the static sound, forgetting that it is even there.

The induction script that follows begins at a point immediately after your deep relaxation exercise. [As mentioned above, you can find that in my stress management article.]

Go through the deep relaxation procedure, then begin the induction procedure. Further deepening of the relaxation will be achieved with the blanket method with which the script opens.

After you have used the tensing-releasing method of deep relaxation for five or six weeks, the induction as presented in the script will be all you have to do because it starts with the blanket method of deep relaxation.

Script
  We’ll start with an imaginary blanket. Every part of your body that is covered by the blanket will completely relax. Just imagine that your muscles are unable to be tense if they are covered by the blanket. You should be in a comfortable position.  Imagine the blanket moving over your toes, arches, and ankles. The blanket is now covering your feet. Keep your concentration on the blanket. Other thoughts and sounds are unimportant and do not distract you.
  As you imagine it, the blanket is becoming more and more real to you. You may even notice a sensation of warmth every place that the blanket covers you. With the blanket covering your toes, arches, and ankles, you can imagine all of those muscles becoming very relaxed. All tension is flowing out.
   Now the blanket is continuing to move up slowly, gradually, moving up to your waist. All of the muscles in your lower abdomen and hips are relaxing. The muscles in your legs are becoming limp and loose, all the way down to your toes.
  Imagine that your body is like a rubber band; all tight and tense when it is wound up, but limp and loose when it is unwound. You are unwinding, becoming limp and loose.
  Just listen to my voice and ignore everything else. You are becoming more and more relaxed, and beginning to feel sleepy. If they are not already closed, your eyelids are getting heavier and heavier. Soon you’ll be so relaxed, you’ll be unable to keep your eyes open.
  Now the blanket is moving up over your stomach, over your chest, up to your shoulders. There are a great many muscles in your shoulders, chest, and stomach. Imagine all of the muscles in those areas becoming limp and loose. They’re covered by the blanket, so they are relaxing. All tension is going away.
  Now the relaxation is spreading outward, from the shoulders into your arms. Your arms are becoming more and more relaxed as the tension flows down and out of your body. Your hands and fingers are becoming limp and completely relaxed.
  If your eyes are not already closed, they soon will be. Your eyelids become so heavy, it feels as if they are made of lead. You can imagine them made of lead…very heavy, so hard to keep open. As you deepen your relaxation, they’ll continue to get heavier and heavier. They eventually get so heavy you can’t hold them open any longer.
  Now the muscles and tendons in your neck are relaxing. This is an important area, so pay particular attention to the back of your neck. All of the muscles are getting so relaxed that your neck is limp and rubbery. All of the tendons and muscles are becoming more and more limp. From the back of your head, down to the back of your shoulders, all tension is flowing out of your neck.
  Now the relaxation is spreading into your mouth and jaw muscles. You may notice a temporary increase in saliva as you relax your mouth muscles. Don’t let it bother you…it’s temporary and will go away shortly. Go ahead and swallow if you need to. The muscles in your jaw and mouth are becoming more and more relaxed. The relaxation is spreading into your cheeks and forehead. All of your facial muscles are becoming limp and loose. As the muscles continue to relax, your eyelids are becoming very heavy. If they have not already closed, don’t fight it any more.
  Let your eyes close, and slip deeper into relaxation. Don’t try to make anything happen, just let it happen. Now that your eyes are closed, your eyelids feel so heavy that it would be practically impossible to open your eyes again without tensing up. Just imagine yourself very limp and floppy. With every breath, you’re drifting deeper and deeper into relaxation.
  Now I’m going to count backwards from twenty. As I count down, let yourself drift down pleasantly. Imagine yourself riding down on an elevator or an escalator, or just floating down through clouds like a feather. As I continue to count downward, imagine yourself drifting down with each count. You are drifting into a sleep-like state. By the time I reach zero, you’ll be in a very pleasant, sleep-like state. It’ll be like sleep in some ways, but different in others. You’ll hear my voice and you’ll understand my instructions.
  You can rouse yourself any time you want to, or need to, but unless you need to awaken for something, you’ll drift deeper into relaxation and follow my instructions.
  Starting down now…twenty…nineteen…eighteen…seventeen…sixteen…fifteen…fourteen…thirteen…twelve…eleven…ten…half-way down, floating deeper and getting sleepier and sleepier with each count…nine…eight…seven…six…five…feeling so sleepy…four…three…sleepier and sleepier…two…one…zero. Sleep and relax. Sleep and relax. Drift deeper and deeper into relaxation and sleep with each word that I speak and with each breath you take.
  Now you’re going to a very pleasant and a very special place. You’re walking along a path in the woods. It’s a beautiful spring day in the mountains. You’re alone and feeling very peaceful, walking along the path. You can see the sun shining through the trees. You can smell the clean, mountain air.
  You’re walking slightly uphill, and your legs are beginning to get tired. It’s very pleasant walking through the trees in the forest, but your legs and feet are beginning to get very tired. You’re going to your own special place, and you’re looking forward to getting there so you can lie down and rest.
  Your legs and feet are becoming very tired. They feel so heavy. It would be so nice to lie down and rest. Now you are coming to your own special, private place. It is a small clearing by a pleasant stream. There is a hammock stretched between two trees, and you lie down in the hammock.
  It feels so good to lie down and rest. The hammock is gently swaying … just enough to be pleasant. You can hear the sounds of the stream, of the birds in the trees. You can smell the scent of pine in the fresh, clean, mountain air. You feel so serene and calm. No cares or worries, just a pleasant awareness of yourself in your own private place.
  As you lie in the hammock, gently swaying back and forth…back and forth…you feel very positive about life. Life has a way of always working out, and you feel very good about that. You know that every day you are becoming more and more relaxed, secure in the conviction that things will work out the way you want them to.
  You are developing stronger and stronger feelings of well-being…feelings of well-being that stay with you throughout your day. You are sleeping better and better at night, because more and more you look forward to each new day. The inner forces of your mind are tuning in to health and happiness. You are being led to the accomplishment of your goals by the power of your mind. Even without consciously thinking about it, you are moving closer and closer to the accomplishment of your goals…closer and closer…closer and closer.
  You know that all things are possible, and that you can be anything you want to be. The power of your inner mind can direct you to the accomplishment of your goals. You are being led to those accomplishments by the power of your inner mind. You know that all things are possible, and that you can be anything that you want to be…anything that you want to be…
  In a moment when you hear me say ‘direct yourself,’ I am going to be silent for a few minutes so you can think positively about all the good things you want to be and do. As you think about these things, you are directing your inner mind to help you achieve them. Vividly picture yourself being the way you want most to be…doing the things you want most to do…make your visualization as vivid and detailed as you possibly can. When you again hear my voice, after this self-directing period, it will not disturb your relaxation. Ready now . . . direct yourself.
  (This self-directing period is the time for suggestion application. It should typically last about five minutes, but longer periods are perfectly acceptable.)
  Now listen to my voice…listen to my voice and remain relaxed. All of the instructions that I have given you, and all of the directions that you have given yourself, will be effective because you want them to be. Positive changes are taking place in your life, and you are directing those changes. Each time you practice deep relaxation and self-hypnosis you are getting better and better at it…better and better each time you practice. You will never have a problem of slipping into hypnosis accidentally. You can relax whenever you want to, but only when you want to, and when you intend to. When you awaken, you will feel relaxed and happy with no unpleasant side effects.
  Now, as I count to three, you will slowly, gradually, pleasantly awaken. You will return to your normal, waking state, except for the positive directions and instructions that will remain effective. Now, starting up, one…becoming more alert…two, getting ready to wake up…three, open your eyes, wake up, and return to your waking state.
End of Script

Check this out if you would like to hear what my recorded induction talk sounds like. Recorded Induction Talk. (You can download it for your own use if you like.)

Hypnotic trance depth

Measurement of the depth of a hypnotic trance presents several problems. There is really no standard of measurement, just as there is no uniform way of directly measuring something like love or desire or any other internal feeling state. We might say that one person wants something more or less than another person, but it would be difficult to describe the actual difference between wanting something a lot more and wanting something just a little more.

In the same sense, we can say that one hypnotic trance is deeper than another, but we run into trouble when we try to give some objective measurement to the difference between the two trances. Many attempts have been made to do this by devising scales of hypnotic depth in which the more easily achieved phenomena indicate a lighter state of hypnosis, and increasingly deeper states are indicated by the ability of the hypnotized person to evince more and more difficult phenomena. (Three well-known attempts at such scaling are the Davis-Husband Scale of Hypnotic Sus­eptibility, the LeCron-Bordeaux Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility, and the Burgess Tests of Depth of Trance.)

(Definitions of terms used in the Depth Scale follow below.)


Self-hypnosis Trance Depth Scale

Light Trance:

02 — Eye Closure, feeling that it would be too difficult to open eyes. Automatic movements possible.
03 — Consciousness almost normal; some floating in and out of consciousness.
04 — Slower and deeper breathing; slower pulse.

Medium Trance:

05 — Strong lassitude (unwilling to move, speak, think or act).
06 — Partial feeling of detachment.
07 — Recognition of hypnotic trance; difficult to describe but definitely felt.
08 — Glove anesthesia possible.
09 — Rigidity of limbs possible with direct suggestion.

Deep Trance:

10 — Illusions of touch possible.
11 — Illusions of taste possible.
12 — Illusions of smell possible.
13 — Fantasies and daydreams become more vivid.
14 — Partial post-hypnotic amnesia may occur.
15 — Ability to open eyes without affecting hypnotic trance state.
16 — Fixed stare when eyes are open; pupillary dilation.
17 — Positive auditory and visual hallucinations possible.
18 — Limited age-regression possible.
19 — Negative auditory and visual hallucinations possible.

Plenary Trance:

20 — Stuporous condition in which all voluntary activity is inhibited. Rare in self-hypnosis.


This scale of hypnotic depth was originally developed with the aid of college students in a self-hypnosis course I was teaching. Especially constructed for self-hypnosis, it is not particularly satisfactory for use in hetero-hypnotic research or practice. The divisions between the various trance depths are somewhat arbitrary and are intended to serve only as a general guideline.

Bear in mind that no scale will be completely accurate for any one person. The symptoms of various hypnotic depths can sometimes be radically different from one person to the next. For example, I have placed eye closure, that point at which it is just too much effort to keep the eyes open, at the beginning of the light trance state. Almost all scales devised so far place eye closure in this approximate position, yet I have seen several cases where very deep hypnotic states were developed without any eye closure at all. So if you find that your experience does not conform to the scale presented above, don’t let it alarm you.

Self-hypnosis depth scale definitions

Automatic movements are body movements that are the result of suggestion, and for which no conscious effort is required. Interestingly, such movements are usually not felt; the hypnotic subject has to see them to know they are happening. If, while in the hypnotic state, you were to repeatedly imagine your right hand floating effortlessly into the air, it would eventually begin to rise without any conscious effort on your part. This would be automatic movement. You can probably do itPlease keep in mind that a self-hypnotic suggestion might be very easy for one person and extremely difficult — or even impossible — for another. Individual differences in hypnotic manifestation wander all over the map and should not be taken as a superior or inferior hypnotic ability. People are just different., but it usually takes five to ten minutes of suggestion to achieve it (and it can sometimes take longer).

Glove anesthesia refers to the removal of all pain sensations in the area of your hand that would be covered by a glove. This anesthesia (or, more correctly, analgesia) can then be transferred to any other part of the body by merely touching it with the “anesthetized” hand.

Post-hypnotic amnesia is the inability (it can be partial or total) to remember what occurred during the hypnotic trance. Sometimes this occurs spontaneously, but it is usually the product of suggestion. It is this phenomenon of post-hypnotic amnesia, by the way, that sometimes leaves a hypnotic subject feeling like, “nothing really happened.” In fact they did not really lose all consciousness, they just can’t remember what went on during the hypnotic session. It is not an uncommon human characteristic to believe that something unremembered did not happen.

Positive hallucination is the condition in which something is believed present when it is not really there. A positive auditory hallucination, for example, would entail hearing a bell (if that were the suggested stimulus) when there was in fact no such sound.

A negative hallucination is the inability to perceive something that really is there. A negative auditory hallucination would involve not hearing a bell (if so suggested) when there really was a bell ringing.

How to measure your self-hypnotic trance depth

Depth of trance is almost always a matter of interest and concern to the beginner. It is true that increased trance depth increases suggestibility, and therefore the rapidity with which suggestions are effective. But it is also true that suggestion is effective without any hypnosis at all. Waking suggestions – suggestions applied while in a normal waking state – also work when properly applied. If this were not true there would be a lot less advertising in the world.

Regular practice and the correct application of suggestion should be of more concern to you than the depth of trance you achieve. You will be able to develop greater depth as you continue to practice, but you do not have to reach any particular level before suggestion is effective. So keep your attention focused on regular practice and proper technique, avoiding too much concern about the depth of your hypnotic trance.

As you continue to practice, you will find that some days are better than others. If you have one of those days when you are not doing as well with your self-hypnosis as you have been, it does not mean that anything is broken. Nor does it mean that you have lost your touch. Such ups and downs are natural with any skill, including self-hypnosis.

Having said all of this I know that you want to know how deep you can go into self-hypnosis. I would too, so I can’t blame you for being curious.

There are several ways you can measure your depth. The methods presented here are for your own self-comparison. They will not be valid for, say, comparing your own hypnotic depth with that of someone else. The methods are quite subjective. It will probably take some practice for you to become comfortable with them. Once you are comfortable with them you will find them quite reliable for comparing your depth on one day to that on another. They mostly require the use of a little imagination, and all are done in the hypnotic state.

The reason these kinds of measurement methods are possible, and that they have good internal validityMeaning a depth that you measure today at, say, five, will be pretty much the same depth the next time you get a five., is because the subconscious mind knows the depth of hypnosis. The trick is to bring that information up in a way that your conscious mind can interpret.

One of the most popular methods of self-measurement is the stick and pointer technique. Based on the numerical values presented in Self-hypnosis Trance Depth Scale above, an imaginary stick is equally marked from one to 20. This will be your depth scale. When you are at the point in your hypnosis practice that you want to measure your depth, picture in your mind this stick in a vertical position with a floating pointer that can go up or down and point anywhere on the stick.

self-hypnosis depth of scale

Graduated scale with floating pointer for determining depth of hypnotic trance. After the “deepening” stage of your induction practice, visualize the gauge at left and imagine the arrow floating up and down for a few seconds, then coming to rest by a number that represents your current — at that moment — depth of hypnosis. Remember, this is your subjective, subconscious designation. Your 3 might be another person’s 7, and so on.

You can use this depth determination method during your self-hypnosis practice; you can also use it when not actually practicing the self-hypnosis induction. Just close your eyes and think, what level did I achieve in my last induction practice?

It is helpful to “see” the pointer being very springy at first, bouncing up and down before it finally comes to rest at the appropriate number on the stick. In the graphic above the pointer has stopped at 6, indicating the beginning of a medium depth of hypnosis. That is just an example.

Regularly practice this method of measurement and you will soon convince yourself of its reliability. As mentioned earlier, don’t be dismayed when you find that achievable depth varies from day to day. Your self-hypnosis will still be effective, even in the very lightest states.

There are several methodological variations that utilize the basic concept represented in the yardstick method. One variation is to see a gauge similar in concept to the gas gauge in your automobile. The idea and application are the same as with the yardstick; only the format is different.

It is worth repeating that the actual depth of hypnosis is not as important as regular and correct practice. One of the major objectives in using self-hypnosis is the increase in suggestibility that it develops. For optimum results in your program of suggestion application, it is desirable to develop a recognizable state of hypnosis. You are doing this when you know, during hypnosis, that something is different. This “something” may be any of the symptoms mentioned earlier, or it might be a feeling or experience that is uniquely your own.

Some final points:

  • Don’t try to force any special symptoms of hypnosis on yourself.
  • Try not to let yourself be influenced by Hollywood’s versions of hypnosis that you may have seen on television or in movies.
  • Don’t try to force anything to happen.
  • Practice, be patient, and let things happen naturally.
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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