There is a blissful state of consciousness that teeters between waking and sleeping — that sweet spot that exists just before you drift off into a deep slumber, where your body feels warm, your limbs relax and you let go of any sense of worry.
Of all the skills I have to share, if I could give only one to people the world over, then it would be the ability to reach that place of deep relaxation at will.
Being able to remove tension from your own mind and body can have a profound impact on your ability to enjoy life.
If only that was something we all learned to do in childhood, I feel our collective mental health would be much better for it.
Daydreaming — an instinctive and natural form of self-hypnosis — is good for our brains. When we let ourselves slip into a daydream, we enter an alpha brainwave state
Instead, we are conditioned to associate letting our thoughts wander with being lazy and unproductive. Children are chastised for daydreaming in class; an adult who zones out in a work setting is seen as slacking.
But, actually, daydreaming — an instinctive and natural form of self-hypnosis — is good for our brains. When we let ourselves slip into a daydream, we enter an alpha brainwave state; the same alpha patterns created when you go into a hypnotic trance.
As well as these electrical changes, when we switch off, our brain and body chemistry alter by releasing hormones to counter the cortisone created by feelings of stress.
This goes on to improve alertness and creativity, and gives our problem-solving skills a boost.
Paul McKenna explains the different methods in which you can achieve this optimum state of daydreaming
When we allow ourselves a pause in concentration — even if it’s only for a few minutes — and let our bodies truly relax, our thinking becomes sharper and, crucially, we feel better within ourselves.
That’s why I make a point of daydreaming twice a day. I might sit and watch the sky, or settle in a quiet room and meditate.
First try systematic relaxation . . .
Please read through this exercise before you do it and do not attempt it while driving or operating machinery. Only complete it when it is safe and appropriate to do so.
Use your most comfortable, tired, drowsy voice to say each of the following to yourself as you follow the instructions below. Pause to notice your feelings once you have completed it. If you wish, you can repeat it.
Dr Paul McKenna has devised methods to help us relax
You will be able to return to full, waking consciousness, refreshed and alert as soon as you are ready.
Firstly, I would like you to close your eyes and take a deep breath, letting go of any stress as you exhale.
Now tell yourself the following mantras:
- Now I relax my eyes.
- Now I relax my jaw.
- Now I relax my tongue.
- Now I relax my shoulders.
- Now I relax my arms.
- Now I relax my hands.
- Now I relax my chest.
- Now I relax my stomach.
- Now I relax my thighs.
- Now I relax my calves.
- Now I relax my feet.
- Now I relax my mind.
There is a concept known as ‘Busyholism’, which is where people feel the need to work all the time, often because they are addicted to the buzz they get from chemicals produced as a stress response.
When they feel their focus slipping, they force themselves to override their mental tiredness and work even harder.
If you relate to that, then the idea of daydreaming may seem to be a waste of time. But, actually, denying yourself those moments of mental relaxation is a false economy. Allowing your consciousness to ebb and flow throughout the day can result in you achieving more of what you strive for in life.
Most people are aware of the Circadian Rhythm, which is our sleep -and-wake cycle. But science has discovered a second cycle called the Ultradian Rhythm, which is just as important. ‘Ultradian’ means ‘many times a day’, which is the key to understanding it.
This is a natural cycle of rest and alertness that occurs roughly every 90 minutes — tapping into it can give you a restorative break.
The late Dr Ernest Rossi, a pioneer in mind and body healing, believed that this rise and fall in our levels of consciousness holds the key to our wellbeing. If we override each 90- minute cycle instead of taking a break (often by swigging an espresso and forcing ourselves to concentrate), it puts our bodies under high levels of stress.
One of the problems of modern life is that we don’t recognise the value of our Ultradian Rhythm.
There are times, of course, such as when you are driving, when you must override it. But if it’s safe to do so, once or twice a day, when you find yourself daydreaming, try to go with it.
Allow your thoughts to slow down and relax into the soft feeling as your muscles untense. Soon, a mini trance-like state develops; you may even slide into a power nap. Just let your mind wander.
I have every confidence you will come out of this reverie thinking clearly and feeling re-invigorated.
Lots of famous people in history have harnessed their Ultradian Rhythm. During World War II, Winston Churchill swore by his afternoon power nap.
He wrote in his memoirs: ‘Nature had not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without the refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.’
…Then the three, two, one technique
Once you have mastered that simple, systematic relaxation, let’s try a more advanced selfhypnosis technique, called the Three, Two, One Technique.
This involves closing your eyes and describing three things you see, hear and feel — either in the real world or in your imagination.
The reasoning behind it is that the more that you describe your internal world, the more it alters your state from the experience of the external one.
You are going to observe three things you can see, hear and feel, then two things and finally one thing. At any point, when you feel like closing your eyes, you describe the things internally that you can see, hear and feel.
For example, while your eyes were open, you might say: ‘Now I am aware that I can see the ceiling.’ ‘Now I am aware that I can see a lamp.’ ‘Now I am aware that I can see a chair.’
‘Now I am aware that I hear traffic outside.’ ‘Now I am aware that I hear the wind blowing.’
‘Now I am aware that I hear someone walking.’ ‘Now I am aware that I feel the chair supporting me.’ ‘Now I am aware that I feel my breath.’ ‘Now I am aware that I feel my eyelids blinking.’
You then notice two things and then one. Remember, when you feel the urge to close your eyes, you then describe your internal images, sounds and feelings. This could be things like:
‘Now I am aware that I see a beach.’ ‘Now I am aware that I see the ocean.’ ‘Now I am aware that I hear the ocean.’
‘Now I am aware that I hear people laughing.’
‘Now I am aware that I feel the sun on my body.’ ‘Now I am aware that I feel the ocean lapping my feet.’
Finally, you would describe one thing you see, one thing you hear and one thing you feel.
Even though this is a simple process, if you lose your place and can’t remember if it’s visual or auditory next, that’s perfectly fine, just keep describing your internal awareness, what you can see, hear and feel.
It doesn’t matter, because the more you describe your internal world, the richer it becomes and the deeper the trance experience will become. You may well notice your internal dialogue shuts off or you fall asleep, and that’s fine, too.
Remember, the process is simply this:
- Three things you see.
- Three things you hear.
- Three things you feel.
- Two things you see.
- Two things you hear.
- Two things you feel.
- One thing you see.
- One thing you hear.
- One thing you feel.
Albert Einstein, one of the most creative thinkers, had a genius way of managing his breaks. He would hold a spoon and when he dropped it and it clunked as it hit the floor, he’d wake up. Artist Salvador Dali took micro-naps to boost creativity. It is said that he, too, would sit in a chair holding a big key pressed between his thumb and his forefinger, which, when he relaxed, would drop with a clang and wake him up.
Instead of holding an old key or spoon, you might just set an alarm for 20 minutes’ time.
Recently, a team of sleep researchers at the Paris Brain Institute asked 103 volunteers to complete a series of maths problems. They were asked to undertake a version of Dali’s method, by holding a plastic bottle in their fingertips.
They discovered that those who took mini naps and reached sleep onset, where they were in the zone between being awake and asleep, were nearly three times more likely to solve maths problems than those who didn’t. That ‘in between’ phase was like a creative trigger which led to eureka moments.
For me, if I am working, writing or teaching, I know that 90 minutes is the optimal amount of time before I get diminishing returns, and so I’ll try to take a break.
But that’s not always possible. And so, a couple of times a day, I allow myself to daydream so that I can still tap into my Ultradian Rhythm even on the days where ‘busyness’ forces me to override it.
The great thing about daydreaming is how it takes you into a trancelike, hypnotic state.
Today, in the final part of my series on tackling anxiety, I am going to teach you the art of selfhypnosis, which will allow you to reach this point of blissfully deep relaxation at will.
Learning this skill can be lifechanging — with practice, you can become the master of your mind. Many people have the misconception that hypnosis is the same as sleep, but it’s not.
Sleep is where you are unconscious — you go through different stages and you dream. Hypnosis is much more like daydreaming for the majority of people. Commonly, people lose awareness of time, they stop focusing on things going on in the external world and they start focusing on things in their internal world. They usually feel profoundly relaxed.
If I have a creative problem, I will often do self-hypnosis to help me unlock whatever is blocking the free flow of my thoughts.
Some people do a form of it by going to bed and asking themselves about a problem before ‘sleeping on it’ — sometimes this works and they wake the next morning with a solution. But the self-hypnosis methods I’m going to teach you now take a more direct approach.
Let’s start with the simplest self-hypnosis technique, which is Systematic Relaxation. It’s so easy to learn, yet it really is super effective.
People sometimes ask me: ‘What is the difference between meditation and hypnosis?’ The main one is that with hypnosis you usually have a specific intent. The intent with this exercise is to install a deep sense of relaxation in the body and mind.
First, though, you need to introduce to your brain the idea that you’re about to hypnotise yourself. You’ll probably find you need to do the following exercise the first few times you try selfhypnosis while you adapt.
After all, anxious people don’t like the idea of being out of control — these preparations offer reassurance that even in a deeply relaxed state you will still be able to keep yourself safe.
The five primary stages of self-hypnosis are:
1. Make yourself comfortable (remove contact lenses, loosen your belt, go to the loo, etc.).
…Finally, get nesting
The final self-hypnosis technique uses visualisation. Called Nested Images, this is my ‘go to’ method if I struggle to get back to sleep when I’ve woken up in the middle of the night.
This gets you to connect with a ‘feelgood’ picture inside your mind’s eye and then amplifies it over and over again so you boost positive feelings exponentially.
Remember, by thinking or imagining anything, you affect your state of being. So, if you think about going to the dentist, you remember there is a bit of discomfort involved, so you will automatically tense up and enter a state of anxiety.
But if you recall a time when you were on holiday, or imagine what it would be like to be on a beach and you see, hear and feel all the things associated with that, you change your ‘state’ to one of relaxation.
So, if I feel a bit worried, I close my eyes and relax, I imagine how I would look if I were twice as relaxed as I am right now.
I make a picture of myself in my mind’s eye as vividly as possible and I float into that picture, seeing through the eyes of my more relaxed self, hearing my internal dialogue and feeling the greater relaxation.
Then I do it again and again.
By the third or fourth time, I feel terrific. This has a cumulative effect — each time, you are stacking your feelings of relaxation and the feelings grow tremendously until you are completely blissed out.
The final self-hypnosis technique uses visualisation. Called Nested Images
NESTED IMAGES TECHNIQUE
1. Imagine how you would look if you were twice as relaxed as you are right now.
2. Visualise floating into that more relaxed ‘you’. See through the eyes of your more relaxed self, hear how it sounds and feel how it feels.
3. From this place, imagine how you would look if you were twice as relaxed again as you are right now.
4. Imagine floating into that more relaxed you. See through those eyes, hear how it sounds, and feel how it feels to be twice as relaxed.
5. From this place, imagine again how you would look if you were twice as relaxed once again as you are right now.
6. Imagine floating into that more relaxed you. See with the eyes of your more relaxed self, hear the sounds, feel how it feels to be twice as calm.
2. Establish the intent for the trance — e.g. relaxation, energy regeneration, problem solving.
3. Set a time limit for your trance and ensure you’re not disturbed.
4. Prepare a safety net with a safety statement (see below).
5. Begin your chosen selfhypnosis technique.
Your ‘safety net’ statement is important in order to set clear boundaries of what you wish to accomplish in trance. You can use this one as a template and personalise it for your own intentions.
I am going to go into a trance for the next 20 minutes. During this time I am going to ‘X’ in order to ‘Y’ (e.g. I am going to relax in order to feel less anxious).
If during that time, anything should call into question my continuing wellbeing, or if for any reason I need to, I will return to normal waking consciousness with all the resources I need to effectively deal with the situation. At the end of my 20-minute trance, I will awaken having accomplished my task with a sense of refreshment.
Remember, you are always ultimately in control of your experience. Going into a trance and coming out are as natural as sleeping and waking.
I’ve shared three different selfhypnosis techniques with you here. I suggest you try them all and see which works best for you. You may plump for one, or decide to learn them all and use them as the mood takes you.
You have the tools to create more calm and happiness in your life — the instant anxiety fixes and longerterm techniques that I shared with you over the weekend. And now, three methods to allow you to hypnotise yourself into a restorative state of deep relaxation.
Doing these techniques once is great. But the more you practise, the better you will get, meaning you’ll be able to tap into the fantastic feelings to help you to achieve whenever you need them.
Remember, anxiety is simply a human protection mechanism that has got out of hand.
Now, having read this series, you have the psychological tools you need in order to get the evervigilant security guard in your brain back under your control.
So, welcome to your new life. One in which your mind is no longer consumed with survival thoughts; where, instead, you have plenty of mental bandwidth available for the good stuff, such as confidence, happiness and joy.
From now on, let those be your new, default emotional settings.
- Extracted from Freedom From Anxiety by Paul McKenna, to be published on January 5 by Welbeck, £14.99. To order a copy for £13.49 go to mailshop.co.uk/ books or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £20. Promotional price valid until January 7, 2023.
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