In 1956, a famous paper was published by psychologist George Miller on with the subject of short term memory. Miller made the claim that the conscious human mind can only keep track of seven pieces of new information at once, plus or minus two either side. So, some people will only remember five, some people will remember up to nine.
This tells us a lot about how our unconscious works. If the conscious mind can only handle a maximum of nine commands at once, how do we remember to breathe, walk, blink and swallow at the same time? How do we remember the skills we’ve already learnt like driving, speaking, running, tying our shoes, etc?
The concept of ‘Seven, Plus or Minus 2’ is solid, and one of which we see every day if we look hard enough. When someone hands out their phone number, don’t they always break it down into separate chunks so it doesn’t confuse the other person? When we memorize a shopping list, how often do we forget “the one thing” we actually went shopping for because we brought ten other things?
It happens all the time. We forget older information in favor of new information because our brains are only wired to handle a maximum amount of new data in a short space of time. We can’t remember every little thing we’re told – and luckily for us, this is something which we hypnotists can use to our advantage.
Hypnotists use this idea to guide a person into a trance because of the weakened state of the conscious brain. If the hypnotist feeds a person so much information, or asks them to act out more tasks than they can consciously process, the person’s unconscious will open up to look for a way out.
What the hypnotist will do is overload the conscious mind until it tires itself out. Milton Erickson was a master at this. Think about how often we ‘zone out’ when new information is coming at us from every angle. What’s happening is we are letting ourselves fall into a trance state because we’re giving our conscious mind a break from the stress and noise, and our unconscious mind is taking control.
We should think of the unconscious brain as a digital recorder which never turns off. It records everything we see, hear and do and uses this information to make us who we are. When the conscious brain is in a state of stress, the unconscious needs to jump in to ensure our primal instinct – survival.
It’s what we call a confusion technique. Confusion is a tool we use to grab a person’s attention and hold it for as long as we need. Whenever you see someone in a confused state, they are always on high alert – a state which is perfect for inducing a hypnotic trance. A person is also way more suggestible than normal because they’re scrambling to make sense of something. The brain is trying to find reason in a sea of turmoil, and they will accept any information as long as it gives them release!
We love to use confusion techniques in stage hypnosis. It is a great way to send that critical conscious mind on a vacation and open up the unconscious.