The Power of Suggestion

Suggestions have a big influence over our lives. Tell anyone something convincingly enough and they’ll accept what you say. Tell them over and over again and sooner or later they’ll start to believe you.

Unfortunately it’s often the suggestions of others that we allow to control us. For instance:

  • Advertisers use them to persuade us to buy their products. Promotional suggestions are often recalled years after they ceased to be used.
  • Politicians use them too with catchy phrases (whether or not they’re true) as we’ve recently seen with the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum.
  • Parents use them all the time. Young children tend to believe everything their parents say. E.g. when a young child gets hurt and Mum ‘kisses it better’ it does feel better, even though there’s no logical reason why it should.
  • Placebos – pills and potions with no active ingredients – can cure illnesses for no other reason than the patient believes they can. Placebos were once treated as a bit of a joke – as if the patient were ‘fooled’ into getting well -but now they’re taken very seriously indeed.
  • Suggestions don’t necessarily have to be direct: parents who receive a letter from school about head lice in their child’s class often feel itchy!
  • Nor do suggestions have to be verbal. Non-verbals (gestures, facial expressions and so on) can be even more powerful, and verbal suggestions backed up by visual, taste, tactile or olfactory stimuli can be extremely compelling.
  • Some hospital radio stations do not play certain records because of the effect they could have on patient recovery. For example, ‘My Way’ (‘And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain’), ’ ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’,  ‘I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight’ and ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ contain some unhelpful suggestions!

You’ve used suggestion many times, and it has also been used on you. You can learn to make good use of this vital tool to:

  • help internalise your goals.
  • replace negative attitudes and beliefs with positive ones.
  • relax and combat stress.
  • cultivate better relationships with yourself and others.
  • change unwanted habits and personality traits.
  • build confidence in yourself and your abilities.

… and for many other purposes.

Suggestion, Affirmations and the Law of Attraction

Affirmations are simply suggestions made to ourselves – statements that represent how we are or how we want our lives to be. They help bring into effect the great Universal Law of Attraction:

Whatever your mind dwells upon, with feeling, you attract into your life.

Think about it – do you know anyone who is always talking about their illnesses and who is always ill? Or anyone who is always running themselves down, and who consequently never achieves very much?

Affirmations are powerful tools that use the power of structured repetition. One of the best known was formulated by Emil Coué in the 1920’s: ‘Every day in every way, I’m getting better and better.’ He helped many people to heal themselves using this simple phrase. Try it for yourself!

Properly phrased affirmations make a big impact on your unconscious, but be aware you must observe certain rules, otherwise they may backfire.

The following rules apply to affirmations. They’re even more effective when used in conjunction with deep relaxation (this is called ‘autosuggestion’) – but slightly different rules apply.

Personalise your affirmations

Affirmations which attempt to change other people are totally ineffective. Repeating ‘Jim loves me’ does not work, because only Jim can make this choices. But you can affirm ‘I am attracting a wonderful person into my life who has… (all the qualities you’re looking for)’ You may not win Jim over, but you will find someone to your liking.

A simple way to personalise your affirmations is to use the first person pronoun, ‘I’. For example:

  • I accept, love and approve of myself.
  • Every day, I am becoming more calm, peaceful and relaxed.
  • I am whole, perfect, strong, powerful, loving, peaceful and happy.
  • I am a positive person. I think, act and talk positively at all times.

Another way to personalise – and strengthen – your affirmations – is to use the ‘first, second and third person’ technique. Let’s suppose you want to be a calmer and more confident person. Add your first name and affirm:

  • I, Chris, am a calm and confident person.
  • You, Chris, are a calm and confident person.
  • Chris is a calm and confident person.

Use positive words and phrases

It’s important to always use words and phrases that express what you want, not what you don’t want. Otherwise you might inadvertently end up with the opposite of what you intended.

The unconscious often overlooks a negation if it occurs in the middle of a sentence. If you affirm, ‘I will not fail’, only the word ‘fail’ registers. It’s far better to affirm, ‘I am a success’.

I recently heard a woman telling how she stuck little notices all over her house one morning reminding her not to forget her son’s team’s football kit for the match that afternoon. The notes said, ‘Don’t forget the kit’. Guess what happened!

Make your affirmations credible

This is one of the biggest secrets for using self-suggestion. The purpose of self-suggestion is to impress your unconscious with empowering beliefs which reflect the way you want to be. This is why some writers recommend stating all your affirmations in the present tense, i.e. beginning your affirmations with ‘I am’, ‘I can’, ‘I have’, ‘I do’ etc.

The problem, though, is that an affirmation which totally contradicts your current belief system alerts a mechanism in the brain known as the Reticular Activating System (or ‘Critical Censor’). It can assert itself in many ways, such as an uncomfortable feeling in the chest or solar plexus or a quiet but persistent voice in your head saying, ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ This is your old programming and conditioning trying to reassert itself.

How do you get round this?

Firstly, consider affirmations as a tool for change rather than statements of absolute truth. Think of them as planting seeds. You won’t see the results immediately, but have faith in the technique, and you will.

Another way is to choose your wording carefully so the suggestion will bypass the Critical Censor. This is how:

  • Put all weaknesses and limitations in the past tense.
  • Affirm your willingness to change.
  • Affirm that you are making good progress towards your goal, and this continue.
  • Affirm your determination to do whatever you can to improve.

A useful form of wording is:

‘I used to be… but all that is changing. Now I am becoming more and more… ‘

For example, if you’re shy, affirm: ‘I used to be shy, but all that is changing. I am becoming more assertive every day. I know I can and I will continue to improve.’

More examples:

  • I used to believe that I was weak, but all that is changing, and I am now becoming stronger and stronger each day.
  • I used to be negative, but that attitude is now behind me. Nowadays I think, talk and act positively at all times.
  • I used to be judgemental, but that is now changing. Every day, I am becoming more open and accepting of myself and others.

Say your self-suggestions as if you really mean them

The Law of Attraction is widely misunderstood. Just wishing or hoping – even believing – are not enough. You must invest some energy into the conditions you wish to create. In other words, you must do something.

As a first step, invest some emotional energy into the affirmations themselves. Say them out loud, enthusiastically. Mean what you say. A thought alone has little power, but when expressed with genuine feeling, it has real impact. Emphasise your words with passion, a strong tone of voice, movement and firm intent.

For maximum impact, also:

  • Write them out every day – this reinforces them in your unconscious.
  • Look at yourself in the mirror as you speak them.
  • Jot them down in your diary, list them on cards, programme them into your mobile phone, carry them with you and read throughout the day.
  • Record them onto a recording device and listen frequently.
  • Write them on sticky labels and place them anywhere you routinely look.
  • If your goal is something tangible, carry a reminder of it with you and affirm that it is yours every time you look at it.
  • You can increase the effectiveness of your affirmations by adding, ‘This, or something better, I accept for myself, for my greatest good and the greatest good of all’.

Keep at it

The unconscious loves repetition. The more you use self-suggestion, the more effective it is.

It takes about a month to change an old thinking pattern, so don’t give up. Affirm whenever you can, wherever you are, especially during those times when the mind is naturally most receptive. Last thing at night is a good time – give it something uplifting to work on while you are asleep. Another good time is first thing in the morning. If you can find a few moments during the day to relax and unwind – terrific!

 

© David Lawrence Preston, 23.11.2018

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Encouraging News on Placebos

In one of the most encouraging articles I’ve read for a long time[1], 97% of a sample of 783 UK family doctors reported in a study carried out by the Universities of Oxford and Southampton that they had given a placebo to at least one of their patients. Some said they do so on a regular basis. Half had told their patients that the remedies had helped other patients, without specifically telling them they were prescribing a placebo.

This is a huge step forward towards general recognition of the role of the mind in health, ill-health and healing, and acceptance of the potential of informational remedies. Apparently even the UK Royal College of General Practitioners now acknowledges that there is a place for placebos in medicine.

A co-author of the study, Dr Jeremy Howick, was quoted as saying, ‘This is not about doctors deceiving patients,’ (which is how Big Pharma has often characterised the use of placebos) but that ‘doctors clearly believe that placebos can help patients’.

Evenso, the BBC report still refers to ‘sham’ treatments’ and ‘unproven treatments’ as if the author, Michelle Roberts, is still not really convinced.  She writes that three quarters of doctors claimed to offer ‘unproven treatments’ such as complementary therapies on a daily or weekly basis, and even refers to ‘fake’ acupuncture (which has been used successfully for over five thousand years)  in such terms. She misses the point – in most cases it is not the medicine that brings about healing, but the patient’s own healing abilities restoring equilibrium and removing the resistance to full health.

Research shows that placebos are most effective a relieving subjective conditions such as pain, and their effect is based on cultivating the patient’s expectations of a cure. Hence the size, colour and packaging of placebos all play a role, as does the presentation and manner of the practitioner who prescribes them.

There are still those who consider the use of placebos as ‘fooling’ patients by giving them ‘useless’ pills and potions, even if they help bring about a cure. Some consider them dangerous because they deny the patient ‘effective’ treatment (by which they mean bio-chemical intervention), and others that they damage to doctor-patient relationship. Others claim that some ‘placebo’ treatments, such as prescribing vitamin supplements, are not inert, in that taking too much of some vitamins is harmful.

Then there are those who dismiss phenomena such as ‘spontaneous remission’ as pure chance and unworthy of investigation when in fact they could throw invaluable light on the healing process.

But in the longer term there is much more at stake here than whether placebos are unethical or ineffective, or whether this person or that person gets better and stays well. Our view of mind-body and informational medicine is related to our understanding of what human beings actually are and how we function. This is the greater prize.

©David Lawrence Preston, 18.10.2018

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[1] BBC website 21st March 2013, also widely reported on radio and TV.

Placebos – the Best Medicine

It is well known that pills and potions with no active ingredients can be just as effective as pharmaceutical/chemical medicines. Sometimes they are more effective, depending on how they are administered. They can cure illnesses for no other reason than the patient trusts the doctor and believes they can.  Despite the research evidence, placebos are still treated as a bit of a joke, as if patients are ‘fooled’ into getting well.

Of course, the pharmaceutical industry hates them – where’s the profit in simple, unbranded sugar pill? Or the credit? So the medical establishment – bankrolled by big pharma – considers them unethical. They say that giving patients pills with no active ingredients while pretending they are something else is deliberate deception. They dismiss them as useless and – worse – dishonest. Of course whether they are dishonest is a moot point, but useless they most certainly aren’t.

Placebos utilise the power of suggestion. Suggestion is a major influence on all our lives. Advertisers and politicians know this perfectly well, of course, and so do parents. When you were a child, did your mother ever ‘kiss it better’ when you hurt yourself? And it did feel better, didn’t it, even though there was no logical reason why it should? Doctors’ waiting rooms, white coats, stethoscopes and prescription pads are all loaded with suggestion. So are crystals, incenses, relaxation CDs, coloured lights and massage oils.

Research has shown over and over again that the effectiveness of placebos can be enhanced by skilfully enhancing their suggestive power. The colour of the pill, its name and packaging, the practitioner’s manner, the layout of the consulting room and waiting room, the language used and so on can all be manipulated to increase its healing power.

We may congratulate ourselves that this is a recent discovery, but it’s actually as old as our ability to smelt iron and build pyramids. We’ve always known that there’s a close connection between body and mind. Anxious thoughts can give rise to headaches, an upset stomach and so on. We tremble with fear and feel excitement at the sight of a lover.

So why did the Western medical establishment ignore the mind-body connection for so long? Put simply, you can’t see thoughts and you can’t measure their progress through the body. Then in the nineteen seventies and eighties, mainstream scientists  discovered the physical processes by which thoughts and emotions manifested as physical changes in the body.

Today, most doctors have made the connection. They understand that many illnesses have a psycho-somatic component, but there’s still much work to be done before it is fully understood, and we’re a long way off finding effective treatments for many psycho-somatic conditions.

It’s all a matter of belief. Most treatments only get optimum results if the patient believes in them. On the other hand, some beliefs are toxic. People who believe that illness is a sign of failure on their part, a punishment for wrongdoings and errors they have made heal slowly, if at all. And research shows that those who believe their illness is related to something that happened in a past life heal the slowest of all.

I used to know a lady who read palms, tarot cards and a crystal ball. Her readings were widely known in the area for their accuracy. I asked her what she actually saw in the crystal ball. She said nothing at all – it was just a ‘prop’ to add a touch of mystique to the proceedings. Smiling, she told me, ‘The information comes to me directly, as thought-impressions, words, mental images and sometimes physical sensations. The crystal ball is just there to impress the clients and make them feel they’re getting their money’s worth.’

I know some complementary practitioners who get excellent results with their clients by intuition. They quickly sense where the problem lies by observing and asking questions, and whatever tools and techniques they use – crystals, reiki, flower essences and so on, even homeopathy – are less important than whether the client thinks they work.

Some very sophisticated appliances – including computerised scanning devices with impressive graphics that utilise the language of energetic medicine and quantum physics – are little more than random number generators. Readings are hit and miss, cannot be verified nor replicated. Some of the ‘remedies’ connected to these devices have no demonstrable effect yet are sold at great expense; they are nothing but placebos. Sure, some clients get well, and that can’t be a bad thing, but many feel no benefit. It all depends on the confidence projected by the practitioner’s ‘performance’ (for this is what it is). If the client is unwilling to suspend disbelief, they get little or no benefit while paying through the nose for the experience.

However, just because there are some sharp operators in the market does not mean that we should dismiss placebos in general. The fact that they can work tells us something very important about illness and recovery. It actually tells us more about the way humans heal than any number of double-blind trials. They are the proof that, given the right circumstances, the belief in our ability to heal and that healing is taking place is all that is necessary.

Rather than polluting our bodies with chemicals and suffering their nasty side effects, wouldn’t it be better for the medical profession to investigate placebos more fully, and find better ways of using them? A medical version of the crystal ball – one that helps people to get well without causing them harm – would surely be a major advance!

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 18.5.2018

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