What does focus of attention mean

Although I am trying to keep things a simple as possible while we are going though this introduction to hypnosis it is always good to remember that the brain is FAR from simple. Already you should be beginning to see that it involves many subsystems; and that these can be interconnected in many ways; and that the systems and their connections vary a lot from person to person.

Now just as you seldom say that "a class of students is paying attention", though you might be able to say that "Dylan and Gwenllian and Sian are paying attention, but Dafydd and Ianto and Angharad are not" (that example is from a Welsh school, of course!), just so it is possible to say that subsystems A and B and C of a person's brain are paying attention to you but subsystems E and F and G are not.

As a non-hypnotic example of this we may consider a private in the army. When the Sergeant shouts "Quick march!" then the private will respond directly without needing to pay any conscious attention. The appropriate part of the auditory system is readily activated by the sergeant's voice and there is a direct connection between the auditory subsystem and the motor subsystem. Activating the part of the brain that registers the words "Quick march!" leads directly to activating the nerves that lead to the movements of legs and arms. There is no need to be particularly conscious of it.

Similarly if you are driving your car close behind another and see its brake lights come on, then there should be a quick and immediate connection between that sight and the action of braking. This should NOT require any conscious thought; no verbalization, not even (if the braking is not severe) an interference with whatever else you were thinking about.

In these cases we may say that the appropriate small subsystems of the private's mind had attention focused on the sergeant; and that appropriate parts of the driver's mind have focused attention on driving conditions. But in both cases there is no conscious attention.

A possibly more extreme case still is provided by the sleeping mother of a small baby who cannot be woken by loud noises or snoring or even shakings, but will wake up instantly at the slightest unusual sound coming from her baby. In the mother there is a part of the auditory system that can be said to have a very tightly focused awareness of the baby, though the rest of the mind is totally switched off and asleep.

You will probably see the relevance of this to hypnosis. There are times when the methods of hypnosis, acting as they do to activate some subsystems and inactivate most others, will reach a point at which one subsystem of the subject's brain is very tightly focussed - strongly responsive - to the voice of the hypnotist, while all others, and that included verbal and conscious thought, may be totally unresponsive and in effect asleep.

The problem with this is that it is hard to know when this has been achieved. Very often it is a matter of relying on "the proof of the pudding is in the eating". IF it turns out that your subject reports little or no awareness of the content of what you said and yet the response from some subsystem is strong then you can assume that that subsystem was in fact attending. If there was NO response as well as little awareness then the most likely reason was that the chosen subsystem was asleep also.

The upshot of this is that when you ask your friend to give an estimate of how focused he or she is on the sound of your voice the resulting answer is at best a rough guide to whether you have a good connection to the system you are aiming at (in the above example it was the sleep centres).

NOTICE. YOU WILL PROBABLY BE FAMILIAR WITH THE IDEA OF "THE SUBCONSCIOUS". WHAT I AM URGING YOU TO DO IS TO GET AWAY FROM ANY IDEA THAT IT IS ONE THING. THAT IS FAR TOO SIMPLE A PICTURE FOR ANYTHING BUT THE SIMPLEST ANALYSIS. THE REALITY IS THAT THERE ARE AN ENORMOUS NUMBER OF PROCESSES GOING ON ALL THE TIME OF WHICH YOU MAY BE MORE OR LESS CONSCIOUS AT ANY GIVEN TIME.

With some of these ideas in mind why not see if you can create a more dramatic "posthypnotic suggestion" by first maintaining a very close rapport with a certain subsystem while simultaneously allowing consciousness to subside as far into sleep as possible, and then make the suggestion. Your aim is to see how easy it is in a particular person to get the attention of just one subsystem alone. To put it another way you will be trying to teach just that one subsystem while everything else is pretty well switched off.

Here is a possible example.

We will aim at getting two fingers on the left hand to cross in response to the cue word "luck". The following is something of an outline: feel free to take more time and add extra suggestions.

Y. "First tense every muscle in your body as hard as you can. Really hard. (Pause.) Arms. (Pause.) Fists. (Pause.) Legs. (Pause.) Feet. (Pause.) Jaws. (Pause.) Everything. (Pause.) Do it until every muscle is exhausted ... really tired. (Repeat this sort of thing until muscles are beginning to shake.) Now you are getting very tired. Soon your muscles will have had enough. (Pause.) When that happens, just let go and enjoy feeling totally relaxed. (Pause and then continue in the same vein for the short time it takes for the friend to let go and relax.)

"That's fine! Now you can just let your body relax, and go to sleep. Totally relax. Deeper and deeper. Sleepier and sleepier. You need think of nothing. Just relax, sleepier and sleepier. (Continue in this vein for a few minutes.)

"Now I just want to talk to the fingers on your left hand. And then only to the index finger and the middle finger. They are going to feel particularly relaxed, and very good. Nothing else matters. Your mind can get sleepier and sleepier, more and more blank. But that index finger is going to start to float gently up into the air. (Pause.) Very gently. (Pause.) Very gently into the air."

You can expect the finger to float within a minute or two with most people, so keep on for that length of time. The moment you see the slightest movement you say:

"There, it is starting to float. It will now continue to float upwards. Gently and easily. While you can just relax deeper and deeper, sleepier and sleepier. It is floating nice and easy. Sooo comfortable... soooo peaceful." (Continue until the finger has moved significantly.)

"Now it is going to float down again. Just feel it. It is now just floating down again. It is just like a balloon that can float up and down in the slightest breeze. A beautiful small balloon. (Pause.) Coming down now. (Pause.) That's right. Down and down. (Pause.) And as it does so you feel yourself getting more and more sleepy, deeper and deeper. There, it has just come down to earth. But now it is starting to float up again.. gently... easily... up and up... While all the time you are sinking into a deeper and deeper peace, sleepier and sleepier."

"Now this time the finger next to it is joining in, and starting to float up too. (Pause.) They are floating up together. Gently... easily... up into the air together. while all the time you are feeling more and more relaxed, sleepier and sleepier."

"Now that the fingers are freely floating they will each go their separate way for a while. They will move apart. Slowly, easily comfortably. They will just move apart. Feel them moving. Like very slowly moving balloons. While all the time you are feeling more and more relaxed, sleepier and sleepier."

You should then simply continue on these lines making suggestions of movements to the fingers so that they move up or down, together or apart, in any pattern that you suggest; except crossing. While at the same time you are suggesting sleep and relaxation to the mind. You could, if you chose, start to use some sort of visualisation such as the trip on the boat that we met in an earlier chapter to take the mind further into a relaxed and distant state. Your goal is, in effect, to train the fingers (or rather the mental subsystem that controls them) to attend to your instructions while the remainder of the friend's mind is getting as sleepy or distant as you can manage. You have a constant measure of how well the finger system is attending because you can see them move. You have less of an idea of how the rest of the person's brain is functioning, but you should at least see a total absence of any small movements of body or face, including the absence of the swallowing reflex. But you will be able to ask at the end for a subjective assessment of how much conscious attention was paid to the words regarding the fingers.

Finally, when you feel as satisfied as you can be that the fingers are paying attention while the rest of the mind is drifting or asleep you come to the key suggestion.

"Your fingers will now just rest peacefully, doing nothing, feeling good. These two fingers are used for many things. But they have one special thing that they do together and that is to cross to give good luck. So in future whenever I talk about luck they will cross, easily and naturally, and you will feel good. In future, whenever I talk about luck they will cross, easily and naturally, and you will feel good. In future, whenever I talk about luck they will cross, easily and naturally, and you will feel good."

"You can still feel wonderfully relaxed and sleepy. Deeper and deeper. Your fingers will now float gently down to earth and sleep for a while. Down and down. Sleepier and sleepier. And all the time you can feel wonderfully relaxed."

This can be continued for a while and then say, "That's fine. Now you can come back to normal, feeling very refreshed, as if you have had a wonderful, long, deep sleep. More and more awake now. More and more alert. Open your eyes now. Wide awake and alert. Feeling fine!"

Then, of course, you wait some minutes into a conversation before bringing the word "luck" into it and discover if it has any effect. What you might hope for is that the response will happen without the friend being aware of it at all, or have any recollection of it having been suggested. And you will probably feel that this is something like what you expect hypnosis to do.

In that case you will have shown clearly that it is possible for one subsystem of the mind to remember something while another has no recollection of it. There are plenty of cases in the annals of hypnosis of this happening.

But if you think about it you may well find examples in your own experience of a very similar phenomenon. The commonest might be the case in which, on meeting a person for the second time you can clearly picture where you first met them (visual recall) but be unable to remember their name (no verbal recall). Or you might ask yourself which shoe you put on first. There is usually no recall of this fact at a conscious or conceptual level. There is more often a visual recall: you can picture what happens. But most often the memory is only at a muscular or motor level: you can remember mainly by doing it or feeling what it is like to do it. In these simple examples you see that a part of the brain has remembered something that another part has not.

In the above example of implanting a posthypnotic suggestion, assuming that things have gone as planned (and they will with at least some of the people you try with) you can say that you have shown that it is possible for one subsystem of the mind to pay attention and to learn without the conscious mind being attentive at all. Or you can say that you have established a close rapport between yourself and one subsystem of another. Or you can say that you have simply trained the fingers to respond to your voice in a way not unlike the way you might train a dog. Or you can say that you have implanted a posthypnotic suggestion.

Power Of Hypnosis

Power Of Hypnosis

Hypnosis is something most people see as being some kind of new age mumbo jumbo, but it's actually been scientifically to be effective in many people. Learn more within this guide.

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