Can You Be Hypnotized Into Wanting to Work Out?
Can You Be Hypnotized Into Wanting to Work Out?
We tried it.
JUL 28, 2015
When we learned that a single hypnosis session turned an unmotivated Olivia Munn into a bona fide gym rat, we weren't just intrigued—we wanted to know how we could sign up. After years of battling the snooze button and using every excuse in the book to avoid a workout, getting put into a trance sounded like the world's easiest way to silence our inner lazy.
But is that actually how it works? Not quite, says Alexandra Janelli, New York City-based hypnotherapist and anxiety specialist. First of all, it's not just about tackling the fact that a patient is unmotivated to go the gym, but why. "There's so much lying underneath the presenting issue," she says. "There's the conscious mind, and that's logic, reason, willpower, and active reasoning. I call it the excuse-maker," she explains. "That's 10 percent of the mind, and we use it for 90 percent of the day. Then there's the subconscious mind—no logic, reason, or willpower, but purely reactive and behavioral. Everything that goes through your conscious mind happens as a result of association from your subconscious mind, even if you rationalize it. But hypnosis bypasses and quiets that conscious part of the mind, and makes positive associations for the subconscious." And unlike the "hypnosis" you've likely viewed at some point as a form of entertainment (you know, the kind where a magician-like figure snaps his fingers and gets his subject to bark like a dog without their recollection), hypnotherapy in a clinical setting is within the patient's control. "I can't make anyone do anything they don't want to do," Janelli says. Instead, she guides the patient into a state of deep relaxation, gently addressing issues that are brought up during a prior talk therapy session, and offering suggestions that the subconscious mind can either accept or reject.
But again, we had to experience it for ourselves, so three curious ELLE.com editors with varying histories of gym evasion booked three separate sessions with Janelli to test Munn's strategy. Here, our honest accounts.
"I didn't come into the hypnosis process with any preconceived notions. The idea of having 90 minutes to reflect and relax seemed in and of itself a worthwhile pursuit. And honestly, my fitness—which for so long has been integral to my sense of self worth—has fallen to the wayside. Any hack or shortcut back to the gym sounded like a great idea to me. Sitting with Alexandra was just the respite I had anticipated: She has a calming voice, a really comfy chair, and a quiet, sun-dappled room in which to coax out my subconscious. And though I was hardly clucking like a chicken after being led through some guided meditation, I was able to speak freely and honestly about what had been holding me back from logging my morning workouts. Sleep, it seems, has become something of an avoidance technique for me. It's not that I am unwilling to work out but rather that I am less and less willing to confront a frustratingly long To Do list. We worked on isolating a wake-up time—I visualized a clock reading 6:30 a.m.—as an opportunity to achieve. While in a trance-like, but by no means out-of-body, state I articulated how I feel after a workout: light, focused, capable, and kind. The next morning, at 6:30 a.m., I woke up and worked out. I did it again the next day. But while it seems to have worked in the short-term, I slept through my spin class this morning. So I'm not so sure how much of the effectiveness was imagined as opposed to ingrained. I'm going back for more."
"I'm not sure what I expected hypnosis to feel like… a lot of 'you're feeling veeerry sleeeeeepy' while someone waved a pocket watch in front of my face, maybe? Well, it was a lot less hokey than that, but I did feel very sleepy. The hypnotic state, Alexandra explained to me, is the state between being awake and sleep. That just-before-you-fall-asleep calm when you're drifting off…that's it, you've done it! The fact that I was actually extraordinarily tired and jetlagged when I met her would only help things, she reassured me. Also, she promised she would wake me up if I actually did doze off in her super comfortable chair.
Before she put me in a hypnotic state, Alexandra asked me a lot of questions—not just about working out, but how I feel before I go to work out, and why I want to work out (which I answered using a lot of words like 'should' and 'have to'). She also asked about my day-to-day stress, outlook, and other habits. After we talked for a bit, and I felt like I word-vomited enough of my stress at her, Alexandra told me to lie back, relax, and we started the hypnosis. She told me there was no wrong way to do this, no wrong way to feel, and if I felt sleepy, that was a good thing. She told me to envision a place where I felt calm and then repeated some phrases back to me that I had used when we chatted—'You don't have to do anything' and other positive reinforcements. Did it work? Well, I don't know if it was the placebo effect or I am a hypnosis wunderkind, but I left that sleepy state—and her office—feeling much calmer and, oddly, empowered. I had a cheesy desire to throw my fist in the arm and say, 'I CAN DO IT!' I felt more in control and, two days later, when a friend asked if I wanted to join her for a Flywheel class, I DID want to go. Will this stick? I'm not sure. I don't know if it was the hypnosis or a much-needed attitude adjustment (is that the same thing?), but the session did serve as a reminder that I can embrace the 'I do what I want' attitude, instead of feeling the burden or guilt of the 'I shoulds' or 'I have tos.'"
"My issue isn't that I hate working out. I actually love it when I do make it to class, the operative word being 'when.' For some reason I can't recall or internalize those endorphins when it counts, aka at 7:30 at night when I want to just go home and watch Netflix rather than go for a run or head to barre or yoga—and then, I go into this spiral of shaming myself for not wanting to go. With this in mind, Alexandra and I tried to focus on the reasons why I do like working out, and we decided that my magic word was 'strength:' It's about associating the gym with feeling fit, healthy, and treating my body with respect after years of crash dieting and being miserable on the treadmill. After going over all this in our talk session, I leaned back in a very comfortable chair and closed my eyes as we did some visualization exercises to help me feel relaxed—the most relaxed that I've felt in ages, actually. I was half-conscious the entire time, but I realized that even my very loud inner skeptic was unusually silent as she quietly suggested how I could change my perspective on a few things in my life, and reiterating the positive things where I could train my focus. I left feeling totally calm and at peace with myself, which as a notorious self-critic, is saying a lot. When I hit the gym the next day, I felt stronger than ever, leading to one of the best workouts I've had in a long time. Even more notable: When I didn't make it to class on Monday thanks to a sleepless night beforehand, I didn't beat myself up about it, but felt just as strong for being in tune with what my body needed in that moment: shut eye!"