(Epistemic status: Endorsed af; trying to develop broader uses for this phenomena)
As some of you may know, I am a mediocre hypnotist. A couple months ago, I decided to practice my fundamentals with some basic trance techniques. I refined my induction, I figured out more of the flow of suggestion while the subject was in trance, and I practiced various axes of mental manipulation. The first session for each of my practice subjects was simple – I would install a trigger to bring them into trance, and a trigger to bring them out of trance (an awakener). Often, the approach I would take is compressing the induction into a mental object that can be accessed with the trance trigger word, and then I’d compress the awakener they were about to experience into a mental object that can be accessed – almost a future memory. From there I would wake the subject up.
There is a phenomenon I have noticed as of late – most people when they are out and about, or even with friends, will be extremely intent on their phones. It’s sometimes difficult for them to even hear you, so focused they are on their devices that all other stimuli is filtered out. This can also happen when someone is at home, on their computer, or perhaps playing a video game on a console. I call this phenomena “screen trance.” My model of hypnosis and trance is that of a focus hijack – you are effectively monopolizing someone’s focus on the sound of your voice when you are hypnotizing them. The thing with the pocket watch is another way of achieving a trance because it hijacks the person’s focus to that object. A common test for hypnotic susceptibility is also a focus hijack – you effectively have someone focus on their index fingers after having them arrange them in a position that naturally draws the tips towards each other. The subject focuses on this and you talk them through the process, seeing if they resist drawing their fingers together or if they accelerate the process as you tell them this is happening. The thing all these different approaches have in common is that intent focus on what is being used to hypnotize them. I propose that phones and computers do the same thing – and that this is an actionable framing.
To go back to my story about my practice of hypnosis fundamentals, an interesting thing happened during this time period. One of my subjects, being quite precocious and interested in how this sort of thing worked, used an awakener trigger without being in trance. They were surprised to note that for about 20-30 seconds, they had a spike of energy, alertness, awareness of their surroundings. This was extremely interesting to me, so I tried a couple experiments and noticed that if I used an awakener on a subject who was using their phone, they would be confused for a moment and sometimes task switch to something they had been putting off. The screen trance just completely broke long enough to prevent the device from inhibiting goal accomplishment.
The thing I wonder is if it’s possible to create a process for this that doesn’t strictly require an awakener trigger being installed. I feel like in some ways, some self help things follow this pattern – asking you to count for 30 seconds before getting out of bed or changing your task, to mentally prepare. My suggestion is to do a similar thing to oneself. When you notice that your focus on your screens is getting in the way of your goals, do a 5 count.
5 – I notice that this is not what I want to do, I feel drowsy.
4 – I feel my attention opening, I can see the things around me
3 – my eyes are opening, I’m looking around, I will stretch
2 – I feel more awake, I can get up from my current position
1 – I can move, feeling awake, refreshed, and able to do what I want to do
0 – I am awake, aware, and not in trance.
It might need to be tweaked for different neurotypes – hypnosis is often individual and this sort of anti-hypnosis is the same way. Still, if you do find yourself spending too much time mindlessly scrolling tumblr or playing too many video games, it might be worth a shot.
Discussion Questions – Have you ever been hypnotized? If so, does it feel anything like screen trance? Have you ever noticed a sense of drowsiness when you have gotten up from staring at your computer for awhile? If you decide to try the awakener I’ve provided, how well did it work?