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Can Hypnotherapy Improve Athletic Performance?
Get out of your own way and crush your goals with a little help from this powerful form of brain training.
Forget those images of swinging pocket watches and theatrical stage shows. Hypnotherapy has become a widely accepted tool in modern medical and mental health fields, helping to support treatment for a range of issues from pain management to anxiety. But its self-care potential doesn’t end there. In recent years, this practice has evolved into a tool for helping people achieve the things they want in life, rather than simply ridding them of behaviors and thought patterns that they don’t want. From becoming more mindful to reaching fitness goals, you just might find the motivation you need through modern hypnotherapy.
How Hypnotherapy Works
To understand the mechanisms at work with hypnotherapy, you need to first understand your different states of consciousness. Experts say most people spend 90 percent of their lives existing in the conscious mind—that’s where logic, reason, critical thinking and short-term memories occur. For that other 10 percent, you live in the subconscious realm—where instinctual, habit-forming thinking happens and deeper, long-term memories exist. To reach that subconscious part of your mind—crucial to the success of any fitness or wellness plan—you usually have to go through your conscious state. But hypnotherapy bypasses that conscious state, speaking directly to the subconscious where it can introduce positive suggestions about healthy behaviors that you recognize and attempt to implement.
“Hypnosis uses the brain’s natural ability to receive positive suggestions while in that state, making it the ideal time to plant ideas for what you really want,” says clinical hypnosis practitioner Shauna Cummins, author of WishCraft: A Guide for Manifesting a Positive Future. “In hypnosis, we work to bring your best intentions into action.”
You know that familiar feeling you get when you’re about to drift off to sleep but you’re still awake? That’s the mental space that hypnotherapy helps you achieve through a series of guided visualization and relaxation techniques. Working with a hypnotherapist, you will enter a different level of brainwave activity known as the theta/alpha state. “Hypnotherapy offers a guided experience of inducing the theta/alpha brainwave state, which enables an increase in awareness and focus,” says Cummins. “We’re all more receptive to suggestions when in this state of mind, and it’s easier to shift perspective and behavior and influence ourselves positively.”
Just like you train your quads to prep for a 10k run, you can train your brain to think positive thoughts about your ability to PR in a race and to hang tough when it starts to hurt. This is what’s known as neuroplasticity—the ability to reframe thoughts in a way that benefits you—and it can be taught through hypnotherapy. “Through the practice of hypnosis, you can exercise your thought patterns like muscles,” says Cummins. “And when you do that, you can start to have some agency over repeating positive associations and thoughts.”
Here’s the deal: On average, people have somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day. But very few of those thoughts are based on concrete truths, says Cummins. Rather, your thoughts reflect your perceptions of reality—the stories you tell yourself that reaffirm what you’re already feeling. So if you’re in a negative headspace, your thoughts are more likely to be self-sabotaging, sometimes even turning fears into reality.
Fortunately, the opposite is also true. “Just like [world renowned] athletes imagine having the gold medal before they play the game, envisioning what you want to happen is a positive step in the direction of making it happen,” says Cummins. “The brain is a very powerful tool to imagine the future and move us forward, expanding our potential. Hypnosis uses our imagination as a gravitational force towards our best self.”
To gain the most from hypnotherapy, the first step is assessing what you actually hope to get from the practice. Identify a list of what you want to achieve, no matter how big or small. It could be anything from running a PR to increasing your motivation to workout to quitting your sugar habit. Whatever is most important to you right now is a great jumping off point to focus on during hypnotherapy. You can share your goals with your hypnosis practitioner who will use the power of suggestion during hypnotherapy to help you achieve them.
“But the work doesn’t end when you leave the session,” adds Cummins. “There are lots of other everyday techniques and tools out there that can help you reinforce your goals and interrupt the old blocks from achieving them, so that you can learn to motivate, influence and support yourself. The world is chaotic and, of course, we can’t always control what’s going to happen. But, we can get better at believing in ourselves and trusting that we have the ability to move through whatever happens.”
To find a qualified hypnotherapist near you, check out the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, an official organization for therapists who are licensed to practice hypnosis.