Hitherto supernormal powers have been demonstrated only
in hypnosis. I shall show that they can be aroused also in the waking state.
But since the procedure is very much like hypnosis, some explanation is needed
to dispel the misgivings many persons have of submitting themselves, as they
erroneously think, id the will of
another. It is surprising how many people have a horror of hypnosis. They do
not realize that every day they are the subjects of self-hypnosis, and are also
influenced by the suggestion of others, without being aware of it.
Suggestibility is a characteristic of human beings;
without it social life would be impossible. Everyone
is naturally suggestible. We could never think or do
anything if we were to wait until each reason for our
thoughts or deeds had been
proved. Each of us
believes in things which he cannot demonstrate, but
which he accepts in good faith. It is true that some
people boast that they believe only that which is
demonstrable to their senses, but the senses often
deceive by false perceptions. We are constantly misled, and especially
so when we are in a state of expectancy. Thus even renowned men of science,
trained to mathematical accuracy, have seen under the microscope that for which
they were working, and which, as subsequently proved by others, could not have
Human suggestibility enters into every act of life, colours all our
sensations with the most varied tints, leads our judgment astray, and creates
those continual illusions against which we have so much difficulty in defending
ourselves, even when we exert all the strength of our reason.
We profess to be intelligent human beings; nevertheless, if we were
frankly to examine our conscience, we would find that it is difficult always to
see clearly, and that daily we are the victims of unreasonable suggestion. As
soon as we leave the firm ground of mathematics we experience an incredible
difficulty in resisting suggestion. When we formulate an opinion, or when we
allow ourselves to be persuaded, it is very rare that logic is the only ground.
Our feelings, affection, esteem, the awe and fear which those who are talking
to us inspire, surreptitiously prepare the paths of our understanding, and our
reason is often taken in a trap. Our sensibility intervenes, our feelings and
our secret desires mingle with the cold conception of reason, and, without
being conscious of it, we are led into error. We let ourselves be captivated by
a superficial eloquence, by the charm of language, and we yield at the first
beck of attraction. One person's
optimistic reflection can give us strength; the ill-humour of another
may take away all our enthusiasm and energy.
Men who pride themselves on their power of resisting external influences
are often the most suggestible in every other department of life, except that
in which they resolutely determine to be unlike other people. Hence it is not
uncommon to find genuine scientific men most credulous in departments of
knowledge not their own.
Even the most resolute characters are influenced by suggestion. It only
requires that the suggestion should be made artfully. The idea need only be
introduced discreetly and gradually in order to succeed. By indirect suggestion
the subject has no consciousness that his views are being modified. If a man
tells another that Mr. So-and-so, in whom he has complete confidence, is a
cheat, the suggestion will be resented; but if he gradually raises a doubt in
his friend's mind, the former trust is likely to be shaken. In addition, such
new idea introduced almost unnoticed is likely to lie latent for a period, and
when it does assert itself it will appear to the subject to have originated
We are all open to suggestions, some more than others. Some persons are
disposed to allow themselves very easily to be influenced by others. On the
other band, we meet people who know how to subject Others irresistibly to their
influence, and often abuse their gift, if they are unscrupulous.
A message conveying a sudden joy or a great misfortune may produce
extraordinary effects beyond all the bounds of reason, and the measure of
pleasure we get from life depends more on our suggestibility than on any other
factor. Some people can be happy in conditions where others would be miserable,
and millionaires have been known to commit suicide because of the loss of a
comparatively small portion of their fortune, often merely from fear of loss
and not actual loss. Books are bought because of their suggestive titles;
fashionable clothes are worn because of the suggestion of wealth and
respectability. Certain foods, the habit of open or closed windows, and other
idiosyncrasies and hobbies often create pleasure and comfort, or displeasure
and discomfort, not because of their actual effects, but by suggestion. A mere
suspicion may suffice to set up the greatest agony.
Moreover, suggestion lies at the foundation of all forms of moral and
religious teaching. It is, in fact, the basis of education. It has been
practised on all of us, sometimes reinforced by the application of more or less
violent bodily stimuli, which helped to impress the suggestion more deeply on
One of the best examples of the effect of suggestion, to the extent of
its becoming an obsession, is that of a person who has fallen in love. It is as
powerful in its mental and bodily effects as hypnotism. The man or woman who
has induced this state of mind exercises a strong fascination over the subject,
in complete blindness to the attractions of all other persons and to the
physical and mental defects of the object of adoration. Men in love sometimes
change the habits of a lifetime, break with their own relations, dismiss their
most faithful servants, ruin themselves financially, give up their club and
smoking, and may even change their politics and religion. Simultaneously with
these mental changes there are certain physical symptoms. In the presence of
the object of infatuation a gentle languor pervades the frame; the respiration
becomes sighing; the blood rushes to the head, causing a flushing of the
countenance. Accompanying this is a great confusion of thought and language,
particularly in young persons, and when very acute there may be loss of
appetite and insomnia. There is usually a disposition to violent palpitation of
the heart and a sensation at times as if the heart had been displaced upwards
into the larynx. Persons in love become highly sensitive to each other's
feelings. The slightest inattention, or a greeting less warm than usual, will
cause serious agitation, worry, and misery, lasting for hours or even days.
They become moody and avoid society. If the neglect continues they grow pale
and thin, morbid thoughts of self-destruction may arise, and sometimes
homicidal impulses at the sight of a rival have been known to occur. On the
other hand, a contact of the hands, and even more so of the lips or cheeks,
though the action last but a second, may excite feelings of exaltation and
happiness of an enduring character. There is no hypnotist who
can produce such complex results all at once as are manifest in a person
who has "fallen in love.
There are certain classes of persons whose intellectual labours are
characterized by suggestibility in a very marked degree. Poets and artists are
the most conspicuous examples.
An artist's power depends on how much of his inner nature he can express
in his pictures or sculpture to impress the observer. His success depends to
some extent on his power to create particular feelings in those who contemplate his
work. It will convey different suggestions to different people, and even
to the same person at different times the message suggested may vary according
to the mood in which he happens to be in. We walk through a city and observe
its buildings. What are they? To some they suggest its much stone and lime,
iron and timber. To others these structures are embodied ideas, they are
permeated with mind, and it is the soul within the material that acts on their
Of all the works of art none acts so powerfully on our emotions as that
of a musical genius. Musical sounds have a mysterious language of their own,
which human beings and even some animals intuitively understand, and to which
they immediately respond. Apart from the ordinary effects of music we have actual
examples in the stirring military band that leads soldiers to fight bravely,
when their hearts are perhaps full of fear, and their thoughts with the loved
ones at home. We have the powerful organ of the
church that moves the man whose belief has perhaps been severely shaken
to pray for forgiveness for his sins. When no preacher could bend his spirit
sacred music resounding in the lofty, dimly illuminated cathedral will carry
his mind to spiritual heights.
When we think of what music contains and what it suggests, we do not
wonder that Plato, the great prophet of the ideal, should have put it so high
as an element of education and as an inspirer of virtue.
What is true of the painter and music-composer is also true of the
writer. Language written or spoken derives its power from what it suggests to
us. What can flatter an author more than to hear that his novel has made men
and women laugh or weep, or was effective in creating good morals or wicked
conduct? After the publication of Goethe's Sorrows of Werther there was
a perfect epidemic of suicides in Germany.
And what is the object of the dramatist and actor but to suggest certain
thoughts and feelings to the audience, and to make them think, laugh, or cry?
And although the transferred emotion may be suppressed and is usually not
lasting, with a few it is sometimes strong enough to prevent their enjoying
supper and sleep that night.
Even in business suggestion plays an important role. A good salesman
will often dispose of goods that the purchaser had no intention of buying—at
any rate, at the price asked. A good buyer often makes
a man part with his goods at a figure which the latter may perhaps
regret after the transaction is completed. A successful salesman must first
gain the customer's attention, then arouse interest and awaken desire, after
which the sale may be easily effected.
The art of advertising depends mainly on its power of suggestion. The
advertiser may make a simple, bold assertion, and repeat it daily, thus
suggesting by its repetition that the statement is true; he may endeavour to
catch the sceptic, the man or woman who craves for reason, and may supply it.
In politics, as in daily life, people follow a leader, sometimes against
their real interests and convictions. Think of the extraordinary influence of a
strong personality like Napoleon, Bismarck, or, say, Gladstone. We have no
modern statesman to exercise such a power over his followers, unless it be
Mussolini. But if there is no leader in that sense, party leaders have still
the same power of acting by suggestion. They give each other bad names in the
hope that the voter may be influenced by them. A few cleverly chosen words may
suggest a political truth or untruth to a mass of people who do not stop to
ascertain their motive or reason, but follow like a flock of sheep.
The power of the Press to produce a desired body of public opinion,
merely by the endless repetition of certain carefully chosen phrases, was well
illustrated before and during the Great War.
The voter as he reads his newspaper may adopt by suggestion the words
which are made habitual by
repetition every morning, conveying not only political opinions, but
whole trains of political arguments.
The tactics of election politics also depend on the principle of
suggestion. The candidate is advised to "show himself" continually,
to distribute his portrait periodically, to give away prizes, to "say a
few words" at the end of other people's speeches—all under circumstances
which offer little or no opportunity for the formation of a reasoned opinion of
his merits, but many opportunities for the rise of a purely instinctive
affection amongst those present by mere suggestion. (Graham Wallas, Human
Nature in Politics?)
Just as in the Middle Ages there arose epidemics of hysteria, so it sometimes
happens that a whole country has lost its political judgment by some powerful
suggestion that blows like a wind of folly over the land. The French Revolution
is an example.
History, and more particularly the history of civilization, affords
striking instances of the mighty effects of suggestion. Whether we are dealing
with social, religious, or political events, or with artistic tendencies and
currents of scientific thought, the suggestibility of crowds throws light on
It is feeling, not reason, that sways large gatherings of people. Mobs
will commit acts that no member of them would think of perpetrating
individually. These whirlpools of emotional excitement are created by the
constantly repeated suggestions of those participating in them.
That is how "enthusiasm" is infectious; that is why a
theatrical performance is enjoyed more when the house is filled " to
capacity" than when half empty.
Suggestion is the cause of the movements and actions of crowds. A word
or cry may seize a whole mass of people in its suggestive grasp, so that it is
carried away to acts of destruction like a wild and frantic herd. A voice in a
dense crowd will not attract attention; but let this crowd stand still and be
quiet, that same voice may influence the people. It is an illustration of the
same law, which will be explained later, when we deal with the Methods of
Hypnotism and with Thought-transference.
That a suggestion may be successful, the receiver must be in a passive,
relaxed state. If the receiver is active a suggestion gets no hold upon him,
his brain being too much occupied with its own ideas. So also the excited crowd
will sweep away the individual, but a passive crowd may be moved by a single
voice. One voice speaks and a thousand men and women, gathered promiscuously
and knowing nothing of each other, cease to be individuals. They are blended
for the time being into a common consciousness, which laughs and cries, exults
or despairs as one.
Just as a hypnotized person does not stop to inquire whether the
suggestion has a basis of fact, but acts upon it at once, so a passive crowd
can be moved suddenly. Let a person in a theatre call out "Fire!" and
the audience will not stop to see whether the
place is actually burning, but, the feeling of self-preservation being
at once aroused, will rush for the doors.
Our character acts on us as a constant suggestion. Every man, of
necessity, sees other men and Nature itself through the prism of his own
individuality. Thus the pessimist is convinced deeply that evil is everywhere,
when it is, in fact, within himself. Hence the value of having an ideal, some
aspiration, whereby to oppose the suggestiveness of inherent characteristics
and attractive temptations, and to shape our conduct with the voluntarily
It is a peculiarity of the subconscious mind that it is highly amenable
to suggestion. It receives suggestions not only from external sources,
but from the conscious mind itself, and it gives suggestions not only
from our past experiences, but from the experiences transmitted from our
forefathers. Looked at in this light, heredity may be regarded as a mass of
potent suggestions transmitted from our ancestors. We do not inherit
qualities ready-made, such as virtues and vices ; we only get from our parents
more or less well-constituted brains, capable of reacting more or less promptly
and accurately to the various stimuli which cause their activity. Suppose,
for instance, an infant to be born with a predominant tendency to the feeling
of fear; that feeling, as reason develops, will become intellectualized; and,
if no counteracting tendency is present, it will form the ruling idea for his
guidance, it will act as a potent suggestion, and his characteristic will be circumspection.
And so all our deep-seated feelings and instincts can become
intellectual qualities, which we think we make for ourselves, whereas in
reality they are hereditary suggestions to determine our conduct.
Children are almost purely subjective; and no one needs to be told how
completely a suggestion, true or false, will take control of their minds. Their
good manners are easily destroyed by bad company, and their minds can be
corrupted by what they see, hear, and read.
Looked at in this manner it will be seen that we are a mass of suggestions—suggestions
from within and suggestions from without. One can overcome the other, but it
may be laid down at once that external suggestions act on us more readily when
they are in harmony with our internal ones—that is, when they are in harmony
with those auto-suggestions which conform with our natural character. When the
subconscious mind is confronted by two opposing suggestions the hereditary
auto-suggestion and a suggestion from another person, the stronger necessarily
prevails. Thus a man with settled moral principles will successfully resist the
suggestions of crime and immorality; for his moral principles constitute
auto-suggestions, the strength of which is proportionate to that of his moral
Suggestion in the widest sense can be direct or indirect, but direct
persuasion is not usually regarded as suggestion. As Professor Bechterev has
cleverly said: "Suggestion enters into the understanding by
the back stairs, while logical persuasion knocks at the front
door." Suggestion, in this more restricted sense, is a process of
communication of an idea to the subconscious mind in an unobtrusive manner,
carrying conviction, when consciously there is no inclination to accept it, and
logically there are no adequate grounds for its acceptance.
The expression "suggestion" betokens nothing more than an idea
selected by ourselves and prominently held before the mind, or conveyed from
outside sources and accepted by us because more or less in harmony with our own
ideas and dispositions and prevailing moods, and forming the initial point of
further process of thought, or leading to action in accordance with the object
of the idea.
All persons are more or less amenable to suggestion, not merely in
hypnosis, but in the ordinary waking condition. Examples have been given of
this universal susceptibility. Other illustrations are: gaping involuntarily,
even against one's strenuous attempts to avoid it, on seeing another yawn;
beating time unconsciously on hearing the measured throb of martial music;
becoming wildly excited for no other reason than that one's companions are
panic-stricken; and, contrariwise, having one's fears allayed by the tranquil
demeanour of associates in a terrible emergency. With many people the mere
statement that they are blushing is enough to produce a flow of blood to the
face; the repeated assurance that they are warm or cold will tend to make them
feel warmer or colder; the mention
or the sight of certain little insects seldom fails to make the skin
By far the greater number of pleasures and of pains comes from
suggestion, and not from the direct action of the stimuli upon the senses.
Suggestibility is increased in illness, in fatigue, and periods of mental
tension—in all states, in short, that tend to obscure or divert the reasoning
function. These are conditions of emotional susceptibility; the emotions become
more acute, and the emotions dazzle, they do not enlighten, the understanding.
One sees more clearly in fair weather than in storm. In periods of depression we
are especially open to unhappy suggestions, and in periods of success to all
that is hopeful and promising.
The power suggestion has over us depends largely on the attention we pay
to it. Many a patient would recover more quickly if he did not increase his
painful sensations by dwelling on them and constantly send anxious thought
currents to the diseased organ. Half the ills of mankind may be described as
mental ills, and even the organic ills are considerably aggravated by our
apprehensions and fears regarding them. We cannot always help our thoughts, but
we need not dwell on them. It is our own thought direction which is
instrumental in causing misery, disease, and trouble of all sorts.
We are constantly suggesting to ourselves. Such suggestion originating
within the individual we call auto-suggestion. It may be either a
suggestion from the
conscious self to the subconscious self—a self-imposed narrowing of the
field of consciousness to one idea by holding a given thought in the mental
focus to the exclusion of all other thoughts, so that antagonistic psychic
combinations do not come into play, as, for instance, when concentrating before
going to sleep on the one thought to rise the next morning punctually at seven
o'clock; or it may be a suggestion arising from the subconsciousness, owing to
hereditary ancestral tendencies or acquired experiences, and dictating to the
consciousness, such as the fear suggested to many people when they sleep in a
remotely situated, empty house.
All self-suggestions we deliberately make to ourselves, if to be
successful, should be made when in an absolutely tranquil state. If the mind is
centred so that no external impression rouses it, and there is no activity and
no conflict of other faculties, the suggested idea will reach the subconscious
and work itself out. The last thing before going to sleep is a good time for
auto-suggestion, for there is a certain emptiness of mind and suspension of the
mental faculties. When a person seeks repose in sleep he has recourse to
darkness and silence, shuts his eyes to cut off all visual impressions,
stretches himself out comfortably in order to relax his muscles completely,
covers himself over to protect himself from cold or other sensations, and tries
to dismiss from his mind all disturbing thoughts; in short, he isolates himself
where nothing can distract his senses or excite his
mind. In so doing he releases all that attention which had been
employed previously in producing different sensations, movements, and ideas,
and is in a fit condition to focus on the desired object, which then makes the
required impression on his brain.
The first suggestion should be an easy one, such as to wake at a
definite time. Most people can do that readily. Having succeeded in this, we
can then add other suggestions. For example, the depressed man may wish to wake
up cheerful, singing, or whistling, not knowing the reason why; the worrying
man may pray to wake free from apprehension, or that he will have forgotten
certain harassing events of the past; and any task that ought to be attended
to, but has been neglected, can be willed to be carried out at a definite time,
even with the right inspiration if we have hitherto lacked the proper decision.
The suggestions should be as brief as possible and be dismissed as soon
as made. Suggestions should not be repeated in parrot fashion, as was done in
Coue's method, for repetition fatigues the particular brain centres and lessens
the efficiency of the suggestion. Coue's repetition of the formula, "Day
by day, in every way, I am getting better and better," was applicable
chiefly to the large number of self-hypnotized people who persuaded themselves
that they never would be any better. Having given the order to the subconscious,
we should not think any more about it, but should switch off on to some
pleasant subject of contemplation. The order is given and dismissed
from consciousness until it is realized. It is precisely this
unawareness of the process which distinguishes suggestion from an ordinary act
of volition, from one wherein the subject realizes his idea through conscious
effort and while uninterruptedly supervising the work of performance. It is
just like the process of remembering a name when all voluntary effort has
failed. If one switches off to another subject, the name may flash into
consciousness some time later, though no further attempt has been made to
recall it. It is the same as when we decide to sleep over a difficulty, when
the right decision may be arrived at in the morning.
Suggestion is greatly helped by picturing the expected condition—the
condition one wishes to bring about, so that the subconscious may realize
physically the visualized thought-picture. Thus, in a case of stage-fright, we
may imagine ourselves beforehand facing the audience and addressing it in the
right bodily attitude, full of courage and determination. When we later
actually face the people we are familiar with the aspect and less likely to
Mental discipline is very helpful, for our dominating thoughts determine
our dominating actions. Whatever we intend to do, we should be prepared in
thought for it. Whatever we would not do, we must look to it that we do not
entertain the type of thought that will give birth to the act. If we do not
will our own thoughts, the brain will manufacture thoughts which
are not of our choosing. It should be a rule to have a time for
everything and to keep to it as much as is humanly possible. Even the
suggestions should be associated with definite times, for instance, "I
shall remember at four o'clock to do so and so." Wishes associated with
definite times are much more likely to be realized than when expressed vaguely.
Mental discipline includes emotional discipline. We should choose a time
for auto-suggestion when we are free from disturbing emotions. Many a man goes
in for memory training to become mentally efficient, when it would be much more
to the purpose if he learned emotional control in order to acquire the power of
concentration. Uncertainty, anxiety, worry, and fear hinder intellectual work;
but we can do an enormous amount of it when, instead of these feelings, the
mind is filled with calmness, assurance, courage, and confidence. Many a
student who knows his work well, when facing the examiner is so anxious about
the result or so full of fear that he cannot remember the simplest thing, yet
on leaving the examination room he remembers all again and could answer every
question perfectly. Another student does not care anything about the examiner
or the result of the examination, and may not have learnt half as much, yet,
being free from emotion, he is able to command the little knowledge he does
possess and make the most of it, and he passes successfully.
Auto-suggestion is greatly facilitated by the right emotional condition.
Many persons who feel the need
of such help find it difficult to produce that mood which would make
suggestion effective. Let such persons read a stimulating book, or go to a play
which is elevating, or let them in any other way evoke those favourable
emotions which will give energy to their ideas. Thus reinforced they will find
that their suggestions will have greater vigour and certainty of realization.
If a thought can in an instant of time dilate or contract a
blood-vessel; if it can increase or decrease the secretion of a gland; if it
can hasten or retard the action of the heart; if it can turn the hair grey in a
single night; if it can force tears from the eyes; if it can in an instant
produce great bodily weakness; if it can produce insomnia—we need not be
surprised that the suggestion of thought can produce similar effects and
influence the bodily functions for good. What mind can cause mind can cure.
After all, it is Nature that heals, the doctor only facilitates the process.
For instance, the surgeon does not mend a broken leg; he only puts it into the
posture and the condition which enables Nature to mend it. Surgical direction
is necessary, but the patient's thoughts can accelerate as well as retard the
process. Of course, faith goes a long way. Often it is not the medicine which
cures, but faith in the physician who prescribed it. That is why a doctor may
be able to cure one person of a disorder or disease and be powerless with
another suffering from the very same trouble.
Some men have the power of exciting belief in others, whether we call it
personal magnetism or by any other name. It is a gift. Some people inspire
hope, induce faith, and bestow comfort. A gentle hand and a gentle voice have
often done wonders, even in the case of the unskilled. The alleged cures
performed through the agency of sacred relics, at holy shrines, at Lourdes, and
other wonder-working centres, are wrought almost wholly among a certain type of
people, who are ready to accept the particular belief with all the energy of
If ignorant and superstitious people can be cured quickly because they
are credulous, if cures of all kinds and among all classes depend on the faith
or confidence put into the remedial means, is there not some deeper law which
governs all cases, by the discovery of which the intelligent can be cured as
quickly as the superstitious?
Every healer, whether a qualified physician or a layman, consciously or
unconsciously uses suggestion in some form; but this does not always suffice.
Similarly, many people willing to use auto-suggestion are unsuccessful. Often
the latter have got into the habit of contrary self-hypnotization and cannot
suggest to themselves against the prevalent groove of thoughts. All such people
require the assistance of one skilled in the practice of suggestion and
psychotherapy, and some special form of procedure to impress them.
Of course, suggestion and suggestibility are not
real causes. They are simply the means to designate facts themselves, of
which we must seek the causes. For this purpose we must understand, first of
all, the nature of consciousness and subconsciousness.