Far from being something mysterious, the power of suggestion is often a part of everyday life. For example, let’s say you mistakenly drink a caffeinated beverage close to bedtime, but don’t realize it until the next day. You’re surprised that you slept just fine, despite the fact that you normally stay awake when you (knowingly) drink caffeine that late. People tell me about things like that all the time.
Simply put, a person is “suggestible” if he or she accepts and acts on suggestions by others. Suggestions can range from lies to misunderstandings to incorrect perceptions (like the caffeine example). In other words, your mind, and in some cases, your body, will trick you into believing that something is – or isn’t – true.
In his book, “Predictably Irrational,” psychologist and author John Grohol writes that people taking name brand medication nearly always feel it’s more effective than the equivalent generic version. Yet, by law, generics must be manufactured exactly as the name brand. Other research has found that when consumers pay more for something, it becomes more valuable to them, whether or not it is, in fact, more valuable.
People tell me how they often feel better immediately after going to the doctor. Or that they feel better right after taking the first dose of an antibiotic, even though it could not possibly have an effect so soon. We humans are a suggestible lot.
Researchers warn against confusing “suggestibility” with “susceptibility.” Susceptibility refers to a physical weakness or predisposition, like being susceptible to colds. Though suggestibility is more mental, it could also turn into a weakness. It makes me nervous to know that my mind is capable of creating a “reality” that is in fact out of touch with reality. I guard against this with critical thinking, i.e., standing back and looking objectively at the actual facts.
If you’re in the habit of thinking critically, you would ask yourself questions like: “I slept well last night despite the fact I drank caffeine without knowing it. Is it possible that I’m less susceptible to caffeine than I assumed?” Or: “I just came back from the doctor and I’m feeling better, though I took the first antibiotic pill only ten minutes ago. Is it possible that I wasn’t as sick as I thought I was, or that I was starting to recover anyway?”
Non-critical thinkers don’t ask those sorts of questions. They assume that because it’s difficult to be objective about yourself, it must be impossible. This is fraught with peril because the suggestibility can become naiveté and gullibility. The famous saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute” may be true — but only where critical thinking is ignored, discouraged or outlawed.
Self-esteem – confidence in your mind and in your ability to think critically – can make some people more or less suggestible. People with genuine self-esteem regularly engage in critical thinking. But be careful! Self-esteem minus critical thinking equals nothing more than bluster and arrogance.
Over the years I have encountered many people who have tried hypnotherapy. From what I‘ve seen, its greatest effectiveness appears to involve helping people stop smoking — although only for a limited period of time. I’m always in favor of anything that works or helps, but 30+ years of doing this has convinced me that only a conscious, lasting commitment to behavioral change can enable a person to permanently quit bad habits. If you TRULY want to change, you’ll find a way to do it. In that case, self-suggestion is perhaps the most powerful suggestion of all!
I love this quote from the Greek philosopher Aristotle: “For though we love both the truth and our friends, piety requires to honor the truth first.” In more up-to-date wording, it simply means that self-esteem, objectivity and critical thinking are most important. If you respect your mind and your sense of reality, suggestibility will never be a problem.
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