THE PRACTICE OF AUTOSUGGESTION
Autosuggestion And The Child
How To Deal With Pain
The General Formula
Thought And The Will
Thought And The Will
If we can get the Unconscious to accept an idea, realisation follows
automatically. The only difficulty which confronts us in the practice
of Induced Autosuggestion is to ensure acceptation, and that is a
difficulty which no method prior to that of Emile Coue has
Every idea which enters the mind is charged, to a greater or less
extent, with emotion. This emotional charge may be imperceptible, as
with ideas to which we are indifferent, or it may be very great, as
when the idea is closely related to our personal interests. All the
ideas we are likely to make the subjects of Induced Autosuggestion are
of the latter class, since they refer to health, energy, success or
some goal equally dear to our hearts. The greater the degree of
emotion accompanying an idea, the more potent is the autosuggestion
resulting from it. Thus a moment of violent fright may give rise to
effects which last a lifetime. This emotional factor also plays a
large part in securing acceptation.
So far as one can see, the acceptation or rejection of an idea by the
Unconscious depends on the associations with which it is connected.
Thus, an idea is accepted when it evokes similar ideas charged with
emotion of the same quality. It is rejected when it is associated with
contrary ideas, which are, therefore, contrary in their emotional
charge. In the latter case, the original idea is neutralised by its
associations, somewhat in the same way as an acid is neutralised by an
alkali. An example will serve to make this clearer.
You are on a cross-channel boat on a roughish passage. You go up to a
sailor and say to him in a sympathetic tone: "My dear fellow, you're
looking very ill. Aren't you going to be sea-sick?" According to his
temperament he either laughs at your "joke" or expresses a pardonable
irritation. But he does not become sick because the associations
called up are contrary ones. Sea-sickness is associated in his mind
with his own immunity from it, and therefore evokes not fear but
self-confidence. Pursuing your somewhat inhumane experiment you
approach a timid-looking passenger. "My dear sir, how ill you look! I
feel sure you are going to be sea-sick. Let me help you down below."
He turns pale. The word "sea-sickness" associates itself with his own
fears and forebodings. He accepts your aid down to his berth and there
the pernicious autosuggestion is realised. In the first case the idea
was refused, because it was overwhelmed by a contrary association; in
the second the Unconscious accepted it, since it was reinforced by
similar ideas from within.
But supposing to a sick mind, permeated with thoughts of disease, a
thought of health is presented. How can we avoid the malassociation
which tends to neutralise it?
We can think of the Unconscious as a tide which ebbs and flows. In
sleep it seems to submerge the conscious altogether, while at our
moments of full wakefulness, when the attention and will are both at
work, the tide is at its lowest ebb. Between these two extremes are
any number of intermediary levels. When we are drowsy, dreamy, lulled
into a gentle reverie by music or by a picture or a poem, the
Unconscious tide is high; the more wakeful and alert we become the
lower it sinks. This submersion of the conscious mind is called by
Baudouin the "Outcropping of the Subconscious." The highest degree of
outcropping, compatible with the conscious direction of our thoughts,
occurs just before we fall asleep and just after we wake.
It is fairly obvious that the greater the outcropping the more
accessible these dynamic strata of the mind become, and the easier it
is to implant there any idea we wish to realise.
As the Unconscious tide rises the active levels of the mind are
overflowed; thought is released from its task of serving our conscious
aims in the real world of matter, and moves among the more primal
wishes and desires which people the Unconscious, like a diver walking
the strange world beneath the sea. But the laws by which thought is
governed on this sub-surface level are not those of our ordinary waking
consciousness. During outcropping association by contraries does not
seem readily to take place. Thus the mal-association, which
neutralised the desired idea and so prevented acceptation, no longer
presents itself. We all know what happens during a "day-dream" or
"brown-study," when the Unconscious tide is high. A succession of
bright images glides smoothly through the mind. The original thought
spins itself on and on; no obstacles seem to stop it, no questions of
probability arise; we are cut off from the actual conditions of life
and live in a world where all things are possible. These day-dreams
cause very potent autosuggestions, and one should take care that they
are wholesome and innocent; but the important point is that on this
level of consciousness association seems to operate by similarity, and
emotion is comparatively intense. These conditions are highly
favourable to acceptation.
If, on getting into bed at night, we assume a comfortable posture,
relax our muscles and close our eyes, we fall naturally into a stage of
semi-consciousness akin to that of day-dreaming. If now we introduce
into the mind any desired idea, it is freed from the inhibiting
associations of daily life, associates itself by similarity, and
attracts emotion of the same quality as its own charge. The
Unconscious is thus caused to accept it, and inevitably it is turned
into an autosuggestion. Every time we repeat this process the
associative power of the idea is increased, its emotional value grows
greater, and the autosuggestion resulting from it is more powerful. By
this means we can induce the Unconscious to accept an idea, the normal
associations of which are contrary and unfavourable. The person with a
disease-soaked mind can gradually implant ideas of health, filling his
Unconscious daily with healing thoughts. The instrument we use is
Thought, and the condition essential to success is that the conscious
mind shall be lulled to rest.
Systems which hitherto have tried to make use of autosuggestion have
failed to secure reliable results because they did not place their
reliance on Thought, but tried to compel the Unconscious to accept an
idea by exercising the Will. Obviously, such attempts are doomed to
failure. By using the will we automatically wake ourselves up,
suppress the encroaching tide of the Unconscious, and thereby destroy
the condition by which alone we can succeed.
It is worth our while to note more closely how this happens. A
sufferer, whose mind is filled with thoughts of ill-health, sits down
to compel himself to accept a good suggestion. He calls up a thought
of health and makes an effort of the will to impress it on the
Unconscious. This effort restores him to full wakefulness and so
evokes the customary association--disease. Consequently, he finds
himself contemplating the exact opposite of what he desired. He
summons his will again and recalls the healthful thought, but since he
is now wider awake than ever, association is even more rapid and
powerful than before. The disease-thought is now in full possession of
his mind and all the efforts of his will fail to dislodge it. Indeed
the harder he struggles the more fully the evil thought possesses him.
This gives us a glimpse of the new and startling discovery to which
Coue's uniform success is due; namely, that when the will is in
conflict with an idea, the idea invariably gains the day. This is
true, of course, not only of Induced Autosuggestion, but also of the
spontaneous suggestions which occur in daily life. A few examples will
make this clear.
Most of us know how, when we have some difficult duty to perform, a
chance word of discouragement will dwell in the mind, eating away our
self-confidence and attuning our minds to failure. All the efforts of
our will fail to throw it off; indeed, the more we struggle against it
the more we become obsessed with it.
Very similar to this is the state of mind of the person suffering from
stage-fright. He is obsessed with ideas of failure and all the efforts
of his will are powerless to overcome them. Indeed, it is the state of
effort and tension which makes his discomfiture so complete.
Sport offers many examples of the working of this law.
A tennis-player is engaged to play in an important match. He wishes,
of course, to win, but fears that he will lose. Even before the day of
the game his fears begin to realise themselves. He is nervy and "out
of sorts." In fact, the Unconscious is creating the conditions best
suited to realise the thought in his mind--failure. When the game
begins his skill seems to have deserted him. He summons the resources
of his will and tries to compel himself to play well, straining every
nerve to recapture the old dexterity. But all his efforts only make
him play worse and worse. The harder he tries the more signally he
fails. The energy he calls up obeys not his will but the idea in his
mind, not the desire to win but the dominant thought of failure.
The fatal attraction of the bunker for the nervous golfer is due to the
same cause. With his mind's eye he sees his ball alighting in the most
unfavourable spot. He may use any club he likes, he may make a long
drive or a short; as long as the thought of the bunker dominates his
mind, the ball will inevitably find its way into it. The more he calls
on his will to help him, the worse his plight is likely to be. Success
is not gained by effort but by right thinking. The champion golfer or
tennis-player is not a person of herculean frame and immense
will-power. His whole life has been dominated by the thought of
success in the game at which he excels.
Young persons sitting for an examination sometimes undergo this painful
experience. On reading through their papers they find that all their
knowledge has suddenly deserted them. Their mind is an appalling blank
and not one relevant thought can they recall. The more they grit their
teeth and summon the powers of the will, the further the desired ideas
flee. But when they have left the examination-room and the tension
relaxes, the ideas they were seeking flow tantalisingly back into the
mind. Their forgetfulness was due to thoughts of failure previously
nourished in the mind. The application of the will only made the
disaster more complete.
This explains the baffling experience of the drug-taker, the drunkard,
the victim of some vicious craving. His mind is obsessed by the desire
for satisfaction. The efforts of the will to restrain it only make it
more overmastering. Repeated failures convince him at length that he
is powerless to control himself, and this idea, operating as an
autosuggestion, increases his impotence. So in despair, he abandons
himself to his obsession, and his life ends in wreckage.
We can now see, not only that the Will is incapable of vanquishing a
thought, but that as fast as the Will brings up its big guns, Thought
captures them and turns them against it.
This truth, which Baudouin calls the Law of Reversed Effort, is thus
stated by Coue:
"When the Imagination and the Will are in conflict the Imagination
invariably gains the day."
"In the conflict between the Will and the Imagination, the force of
the Imagination is in direct ratio to the square of the Will."
The mathematical terms are used, of course, only metaphorically.
Thus the Will turns out to be, not the commanding monarch of life, as
many people would have it, but a blind Samson, capable either of
turning the mill or of pulling down the pillars.
Autosuggestion succeeds by avoiding conflict. It replaces wrong
thought by right, literally applying in the sphere of science the
principle enunciated in the New Testament: "Resist not evil, but
overcome evil with good."
This doctrine is in no sense a negation of the will. It simply puts it
in its right place, subordinates it to a higher power. A moment's
reflection will suffice to show that the will cannot be more than the
servant of thought. We are incapable of exercising the will unless the
imagination has first furnished it with a goal. We cannot simply will,
we must will something, and that something exists in our minds as an
idea. The will acts rightly when it is in harmony with the idea in the
But what happens when, in the smooth execution of our idea, we are
confronted with an obstacle? This obstacle may exist outside us, as
did the golfer's bunker, but it must also exist as an idea in our minds
or we should not be aware of it.
As long as we allow this mental image to stay there, the efforts of our
will to overcome it only make it more irresistible. We run our heads
against it like a goat butting a brick wall. Indeed, in this way we
can magnify the smallest difficulty until it becomes insurmountable--we
can make mole-hills into mountains. This is precisely what the
neurasthenic does. The idea of a difficulty dwells unchanged in his
mind, and all his efforts to overcome it only increase its dimensions,
until it overpowers him and he faints in the effort to cross a street.
But as soon as we change the idea our troubles vanish. By means of the
intellect we can substitute for the blank idea of the obstacle that of
the means to overcome it. Immediately, the will is brought into
harmony again with thought, and we go forward to the triumphant
attainment of our end. It may be that the means adopted consist of a
frontal attack, the overcoming of an obstacle by force. But before we
bring this force into play, the mind must have approved it--must have
entertained the idea of its probable success. We must, in fact, have
thought of the obstacle as already smashed down and flattened out by
our attack. Otherwise, we should involve ourselves in the conflict
depicted above, and our force would be exhausted in a futile internal
battle. In a frontal attack against an obstacle we use effort, and
effort, to be effective, must be approved by the reason and preceded,
to some extent, by the idea of success.
Thus, even in our dealings with the outside world, Thought is always
master of the will. How much more so when our action is turned inward!
When practising autosuggestion we are living in the mind, where
thoughts are the only realities. We can meet with no obstacle other
than that of Thought itself. Obviously then, the frontal attack, the
exertion of effort, can never be admissible, for it sets the will and
the thought at once in opposition. The turning of our thoughts from
the mere recognition of an obstacle to the idea of the means to
overcome it, is no longer a preliminary, as in the case of outward
action. In itself it clears away the obstacle. By procuring the right
idea our end is already attained.
In applying effort during the practice of Induced Autosuggestion, we
use in the world of mind an instrument fashioned for use in the world
of matter. It is as if we tried to solve a mathematical problem by
mauling the book with a tin-opener.
For two reasons then, effort must never be allowed to intrude during
the practice of autosuggestion: first because it wakes us up and so
suppresses the tide of the Unconscious, secondly because it causes
conflict between Thought and the will.
One other interesting fact emerges from an examination of the foregoing
examples. In each case we find that the idea which occupied the mind
was of a final state, an accomplished fact. The golfer was thinking of
his ball dropping into the bunker, the tennis-player of his defeat, the
examinee of his failure. In each case the Unconscious realised the
thought in its own way, chose inevitably the means best suited to
arrive at its end--the realisation of the idea. In the case of the
golfer the most delicate physical adjustments were necessary. Stance,
grip and swing all contributed their quota, but these physical
adjustments were performed unconsciously, the conscious mind being
unaware of them. From this we see that we need not suggest the way in
which our aim is to be accomplished. If we fill our minds with the
thought of the desired end, provided that end is possible, the
Unconscious will lead us to it by the easiest, most direct path.
Here we catch a glimpse of the truth behind what is called "luck." We
are told that everything comes to him who waits, and this is literally
true, provided he waits in the right frame of mind. Some men are
notoriously lucky in business; whatever they touch seems to "turn to
gold." The secret of their success lies in the fact that they
confidently expect to succeed. There is no need to go so far as the
writers of the school of "New Thought," and claim that suggestion can
set in motion transcendental laws outside man's own nature. It is
quite clear that the man who expects success, of whatever kind it may
be, will unconsciously take up the right attitude to his environment;
will involuntarily close with fleeting opportunity, and by his inner
fitness command the circumstances without.
Man has often been likened to a ship navigating the seas of life. Of
that ship the engine is the will and Thought is the helm. If we are
being directed out of our true course it is worse than useless to call
for full steam ahead; our only hope lies in changing the direction of
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