Sometimes I am asked, “what is the difference between meditation and self-hypnosis?”
The best way to answer that question is by comparing two examples.
Let’s use John for our first example.
John is an over achiever. He is goal-oriented and always puts the mission first… even at the expense of relationships with his co-workers.
John is not stupid, though. He knows it’s important to get along with others at work. He also knows that his focus on meeting his goals sometimes comes across as arrogance, or like he doesn’t really care about other’s opinions or feelings.
John wants to change the way he comes across to others, but still wants to meet his goals. He realizes that he won’t be promoted unless he can do both.
So, John visits a hypnotherapist and tells her his story. They talk about his goals and she recommends that he learn to hypnotize himself so that he can work to change the way he views achievement and relationships with others.
The hypnotherapist teaches John how to hypnotize himself and guides him through the first session.
When John gets home that night he decides to try it out. He begins by relaxing as much as he can on his couch. He closes his eyes and begins to breathe slowly and deeply, counting each breath.
As he breathes slowly and deeply, he lets himself notice his muscles relaxing. After about ten slow, deep breaths he feels very relaxed… almost as if he is floating over the couch.
John then imagines a warm glow above his head, and begins watching the glow move into and through his body… first the crown, then temple… eyes… chin… and down the neck… to the shoulders and back…
The glow continues to each major part of the body until it’s flowing everywhere.
Now John is in a deep trance and can go to work.
John begins talking to his subconscious mind. He states that he knows that he is very good at his job and can achieve any goal… and that he can do so while making the people around him feel good. He knows that he can recognize the importance of working with people to achieve goals, and that he is great at team building!
He affirms these strengths over and over again, and imagines himself achieving his goals and sharing the victories with his co-workers.
After realizing that he can both achieve his goals while building strong relationships at work he allows himself to slowly come out of his trance, feeling totally energized and feeling very confident.
As John repeats this self-hypnosis exercise and affirmations each day he notices that his performance at work and his relationships with his co-workers steadily improve.
He finds it easy and fun to ask questions and opinions, and accept help from his co-workers. And they love working with him and helping him. Most go out of their way to help John achieve his goals.
His boss notices the changes and John gets that promotion!
Now let’s talk about Jane…
Jane is a good performer at work, just like John. She has also just been promoted. But Jane, unlike John, has never really had a problem building relationships at work. In fact, she has always solved problems and achieved her goals through building teamwork.
The problem now is that Jane’s new assignment is confidential, so she can’t really ask for others for opinions or help… she has to do it alone.
Jane has all of the experience and the skills she needs to do her new job very well. Her boss knows this, which is why he gave her the assignment. But Jane needs to build her confidence and unlock those resources.
She speaks to one of her mentors, someone she respects and often goes to for advice. She can’t ask her mentor for advice on the specific job because she can’t tell anybody what she is doing. But she does explain that she will be without her team for the first time, and that she is very nervous.
Her mentor suggests that she meditate daily on the problem and let the answers she needs come to her.
Jane knows how to meditate. She does it regularly to relax after a tough workout, or when she has had a long day at work.
When she gets back to her office she shuts the door and hangs a “Meeting in Progress” sign outside.
She sits in her comfortable leather chair, closes her eyes, and begins breathing slowly and deeply… in through the nose, and out through the mouth… until she feels herself relax.
Jane begins to count her breaths. She notices that as she is breathing thoughts and worries begin to flood her mind… what if she can’t do what she needs to, what if her friends and colleagues think she is being a snob because she can’t talk to them about her new assignment… what if… what if…
But as these thoughts rush into her mind, Jane simply lets them pass. She does not judge them, or dwell on them… she just watches them drift through her mind like passing clouds until they disappear…
She continues to focus on her breathing until she feels like she is floating on air. She knows she is in a deep trance.
She does not worry about the thoughts that continue to float through her mind. Her subconscious is aware of them and will provide the answers to her worries and problems.
After meditating for about 15 minutes, Jane slowly opens her eyes feeling more confident than ever. She knows that she has built lasting relationships and trust at work, and that her co-workers will know she is not ignoring them, but just focusing on an important job.
She also realizes that while she has built strong relationships and teams, that she has given at least as many answers as she has received when working on tough projects… and she is ready for this one…
So what’s the difference?
Both self-hypnosis and meditation can be used to unlock the resources of the subconscious mind.
Both rely on trance to allow the conscious you, and the subconscious you, to speak to each other.
Both are very powerful for finding answers and resources you do not know you have.
Both can be used for relaxation, confidence building, improving performance at work, at sports, or anywhere else for that matter.
In my opinion, the only difference between self-hypnosis and meditation is in the “packaging.” Meditation is most often associated with religion, or the martial arts, or some other metaphysical or mystical thing. Although meditation is used by priests, monks, martial artists and the like, it is really very practical and is also used by many who have no interest in those things.
When we think of self-hypnosis we normally do not think of monks or priests. Usually we think of people staring into spinning wheels or flashing lights. And these sorts of tools are very useful for inducing trance… but not necessary.
The reality is that both self-hypnosis and meditation are very similar in practice, both are very practical, and both are almost identical in their results.
Both use trance to unlock subconscious resources and open channels of communication between the conscious and subconscious minds.
So what’s the difference, then?
So I guess I am saying that in my opinion… there really isn’t much of a “technical” difference at all. But, there is a difference in practice.
When we make use of self-hypnosis or meditation we are most often in what is known as the Alpha state, which refers to a specific range of frequencies our brain waves are in. The Alpha state is the first state between sleep and wakefulness, and is where our subconscious minds become most accessible. In common terms, when we are in an Alpha state we are in a trance.
When we are in a deep trance we may even enter into the Theta state, which is the state following Alpha that places us closer to deep sleep. Theta is really a “twighlight” period, where we are not fully asleep, but not fully awake. This is where daydreams generally occur.
But if I were to try and the distinguish the two I suppose I would say that self-hypnosis is more active and goal oriented. When we make use of self-hypnosis we are generally doing so with a specific purpose and plan. We are actively seeking to communicate something to or learn something from our subconscious mind. The communication is often two way communication.
In meditation we are often seeking to let go of our conscious mind. A common goal of meditation is to attempt to clear the mind of conscious thought and live “in the moment.” In doing so we learn to accept our circumstances more easily and reduce stress in our lives. The result is that we may often see our situation from different perspectives as we let go of judgment and bias. By letting the things that color our perceptions go we can address our problems or challenges with more creativity and perspective. The aspect of “letting go” and accepting implies that the communication between the conscious mind and unconscious mind is “one-way,” with minimal inputs from the conscious mind.
So which one is best?
Both self-hypnosis and meditation are equally powerful methods of accessing the subconscious mind. Generally, I use self-hypnosis when I am seeking to accomplish something specific, such as changing a bad habit, achieving a specific goal, etc.
Meditation for me is a regular practice intended to teach myself perspective, how to live in the moment, and how to reduce stress in my life.
I recommend that my clients make use of both of these powerful tools for releasing the power of the subconscious mind.