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I Got Hypnotized to Convince Myself to Go to the Gym. Here's How It Worked.

Pro athletes, Hollywood stars, and fitness buffs everywhere have started turning back to history’s oldest brain hack—hypnosis—for some good old-fashioned motivation. But can a temporary trancelike state really change our habits?
Christopher Griffith

Roger Clemens clucking like a chicken.

Of all the many pop culture references that exist for hypnosis, that’s the one that keeps popping into my head. It’s from a scene in The Simpsons, the softball episode, in which Mr. Burns has his team of professional ringers hypnotized to improve their performance. But thanks to an inept hypnotist, Roger Clemens ends up clucking like a chicken.

Of course, I know that won’t happen to me. 

I know because my hypnotist, sitting across the room from my criminally comfortable Barcalounger, says it won’t. 

“Hypnosis is nothing more than a deep state of relaxation with an acute focus,” says Alexandra Janelli, a hypnotherapist who owns and operates Theta Spring Hypnosis in New York City and who specializes in helping high achievers—Academy Award–nominated actors, top-level business executives—manage stress and anxiety. She assures me that, rather than some sort of trance in which you’re under the hypnotist’s control, the hypnotic state is actually more of an intense form of focus. “It’s when you stop actively listening and you just hear,” she says.

It’s in that state that you become more susceptible to suggestion—that is, more capable of behavior outside your normal comfort zone. Which is actually the whole point of hypnosis therapy. Of course, I’m not anywhere near that state myself. At least not yet. Instead, my mind keeps drifting, first to Roger Clemens, then to the smell of the office, which reminds me of the beauty section at Whole Foods—a bit of lavender, a bit of sage, a general earthiness I can’t quite put my finger on. 

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When my mind veers too far, I try to reel it back in and focus on Janelli’s crisp yet soft voice. She’s guiding me through a series of relaxation techniques, the first of which involves visualizing a physical location, one where I can feel calm and happy. I choose a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean in southern France on a perfect summer day. She then tells me to concentrate on the details of the location. Is it day or night? What’s the temperature? What are the smells? If I walk around, what does the ground feel like? What does it sound like? The point of it all is to dislodge me from any thoughts of the future or the past and to instead root me squarely in the present. From there, it’s more relaxation. She has me focus on my arms, my legs, my neck, my back. Each time I do, she tells me to release any tension located there. To liquefy those muscles. Given my preternatural gift for avoiding relaxation at any cost, I worry it won’t work. Surely this is a fool’s errand. But then something clicks. It’s when she tells me to visualize a warm golden ball enveloping me. Suddenly my mind stops drifting, and I can feel the tension in my neck and shoulders dissolve. 

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“Can you feel what your eyes are doing?” 

I can’t. 

“That’s how I can tell you’re in a hypnotic state,” Janelli says. “Your eyes start ping-ponging back and forth.” 

And that’s exactly what they are doing, as if I’m watching a very fast tennis match behind my eyelids. Turns out I’m hypnotized. And if you’re wondering what brought me here to begin with, the answer’s quite simple: fitness. 

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