Since the day we were born, we have continuously been learning new skills: how to move, how to speak, read, write, count… All throughout our life, even as adults, we learn and develop new skills in order to adapt to new situations and environments and to grow as humans on a personal and professional level. These learnings enable us to adapt to life’s circumstances but also to remember what strategy worked or didn’t work, what memory was or wasn’t pleasant. By associating a feeling with a situation, our brain is constantly compiling data, taking inventory of memories and structuring thought patterns so we can survive and have our fundamental needs met. Our different experiences shape our personality and make us unique human beings. We are who we are or who we think we are because of the imprint our past experiences left on our brain, these are called engrams. What we think of the world, what we think of others, what we think of ourselves, the way we perceive reality, the way we act or react to situations is a direct consequence of our past experiences.
All we think, feel or desire is a result of 100 billion neurons constantly restructuring their connections according to our needs in order for us to adapt and survive. New neural connections are constantly created when needed and old ones are destroyed when they no longer are of any use. Our brain has indeed the ability to restructure by modifying its neural connections. Neuroplasticity is the mechanism used by the brain to codify our experiences. Our past imprinted experiences lay the foundation for our future behaviours. Neuroscience reveals that each new learning or experience modifies our nervous system, by creating a new neural pathway. If two neurons are activated at the same time, they connect to each other and strengthen their connection through their synapses. This increases the probability they will activate and connect again in the future. This was highlighted by Hebb according to whom neurons that “fire together wire together. This means the more you run a neural circuit in your brain, the stronger that circuit becomes. Each time you repeat an action, the activated neural circuit strengthens, and if there is a strong emotion associated to this action, the activated neural circuit strengthens even more. In the same way, when you stop doing something, the corresponding neurons are less and less activated, and the neural circuit weakens until it totally disappears. It is as if this idea was almost erased from your brain.
Since the end of the nineteenth century, scientists have been highlighting the idea of neuroplasticity and that the brain is not a rigid structure, frozen in time, but rather a flexible, adaptable and plastic organ. Moreover, behaviorists revealed with the famous Pavlov’s dog experiment, that an individual can develop new reflexes when two stimuli are associated. This Pavlovian conditioning proves that the brain has the ability to learn, change and adapt. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to build new neural connections and therefore relearn something that was forgotten or develop a new skill. The brain is changing, with each thought, each sensation, each experience. The brain is continuously transforming, reorganizing, and restructuring itself. It is a tremendously plastic and adaptive organ.
Hypnosis, a powerful tool to induce new behaviours
When possible, the brain always uses the same neural pathways, the ones that are deeply anchored and known by heart. The brain operates in such a way that an action is not favoured because it is considered ‘good’ but rather because it is a deep-seated and well-established habit and our brain doesn’t need to make any effort to get there, it just knows perfectly the path.
However, hypnosis can short-circuit the most used neural pathways and strengthen the ones that were set aside. The brain areas that are activated in a hypnotic state are similar to the ones that are activated in a real life’s situations. Hypnosis can activate a new neural pathway just by inducing a person to imagine a new situation, because several cortical areas are no longer overcontrolling the mind. In a hypnotic state, the brain reacts as if the situation was happening for real. There is no difference between what is actually lived and what is only imagined as long as it is emotionally deeply felt. This is how hypnosis can truly stimulate neuroplasticity and quickly induce new behaviours.
No matter how old you are you can change old habits and implement new ones. By repeating a new action, either in real life or in your imagination, the brain builds and strengthens new neural pathways, through which messages will travel and transmit faster and faster. With enough repetition, these new behaviours or thought patterns become automatic.
Neural pathways strengthen when fired up by intense emotions and hypnosis has actually the power to induce strong emotions and a deep sense of wellbeing. In a hypnotic state, the subconscious mind can associate a new behaviour with a pleasant feeling. By perceiving things differently, the brain can therefore be reprogrammed to think and act differently.
Each new experience, whether real of imagined, creates a new neural pathway, that will be strengthened when the action is repeated and associated with a strong emotion. If our sense of normality is defined by the sum of our experiences, we can change our sense of normality by having new experiences, which means that, at any given moment, we can rewire new ways of perceiving things, new thought patterns, new habits, new behaviours and therefore redesign our life.