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Laws of Suggestion and Rules of the Mind

Laws of suggestion and rules of the mind

Understanding how we can communicate with and engage our mind, enables us to generate accurate suggestions for effective change for us and for our clients.  There are numerous connections between a range of ‘Laws of Suggestion’ and ‘Rules of the Mind’.

Laws of Suggestion are most commonly associated with French pharmacist Emile Coué (1857–1926), who, in his 20’s started working with Ambroise-Auguste Liébault (1823-1904) and helped him at his hypnosis clinic at Nancy.  Although Coué started working with classical inductions, he became interested in ‘conscious autosuggestion’, where the individual uses suggestion and imagination for themselves. There are two positive benefits from him naming this approach as such, it indicates to the client that they will be aware (and not unconscious, or asleep as some myths perpetuate) and that the individual is not controlled by the hypnotist, but voluntarily accepts suggestions. Coué worked from the premise that all suggestion is autosuggestion (self-suggestion) and that when the imagination and the will (or intellect) are in conflict, the imagination will always be stronger.

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Charles Badouin considered Coué’s work and the developments of the Nancy School in depth in his book Suggestion and Autosuggestion (1920). Here it was considered that in a suggestion there re two stages.  Firstly, the proposal and acceptance of a suggestion, and secondly, a transformation in action.

Over time, the Laws of Suggestion have been debated, explored, developed and discussed, yet over 100 years later, they still resonate with the mind of the 21st century human!


The Laws of Suggestion

The Law of Concentrated Attention
When an idea is focused upon, it becomes magnified.  This is so relevant for goal management, ego strengthening and even, more generally, positive change.  You may notice that a fertility client bemoans the fact that ever since they have been trying to conceive, they see pregnant people and babies everywhere.  There are links here with Rules two (what you expect, happens) and four (what we think, we create).


The Law of Auxiliary Emotion
When an idea has powerful emotion, there is more likelihood that the idea will be realised.  Negative ideas and thoughts, such as phobias, are powerful as they tend to have strong emotions, such as fear.  Rule three (imagination over-rides intellect) also has influence here.


The Law of Reversed Effort
The greater the conscious effort that we make, the less the subconscious gets involved (see ‘Rule eight’ conscious effort reduces subconscious engagement). So, if we get stressed over getting a task done, and ‘try’ too hard, our subconscious mind isn’t really stepping in to help. Plus, the more we consciously struggle with a dominant idea, the more powerful it becomes.

Coué considers that when willpower attempts to oppose the imagination it actually strengthens the imagination.  However, by relaxing and not ‘trying’ or consciously struggling, we can accomplish what we want to with ease.  Thus, autosuggestion is used without tension or effort, but simply and with conviction.  Coué thought that effort indicates the potential of resistance (to overcome).  Thus, effort to fall asleep can focus on the risk of staying awake.  This then creates two conflicting focuses… falling asleep and the potential of staying awake.  Other examples include:

  • The more you try to remember a forgotten name, the harder it is, yet when you stop trying, it will often just pop into your mind.
  • With skating, the more you struggle to maintain your balance, and not fall, the less likely that you will maintain your balance
  • The more a stammerer focuses on their speech, to not stammer, the more they tend to stammer. With a distraction, such as music (see the movie ‘The Kings Speech’) the more fluent they become.


Law of Dominant Effect
With this law, the strongest emotion always wins.   If you have a strong fear of failure of something, it will over-ride your (weaker) desire to succeed as your fear will hold you back.  It is a good idea to work with your clients’ negative emotions and limiting beliefs, to challenge them and work towards cultivating stronger, more positive, emotions.


Law of Repeated Effect
This is a key element in habit formation.  With sufficient repetition, the subconscious mind will consider something to be true.  With Coué’s phrase ‘Every day in every way I am getting better and better’ it was important to repeat it at least 20 times each night.  It is not sufficient to simply say it once. Successful programming, or ‘conditioning’ takes time, and repetition.


Law of Subconscious Teleology
Here autosuggestion focuses on the goal and enables the subconscious mind to spontaneously find its own path to achieve that goal.

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The Rules of the Mind

 Rule One:
Thought creates a physical reaction

Everything you think, every emotion, every idea, causes a physical reaction within your body. Every thought or idea generates a response in terms of the release of hormones and neurotransmitters into the brain.  Emotions can have both short-term and longer term effects.  For example, worry affects the stomach; anger stimulates the adrenal glands and releases adrenaline; anxiety affects the pulse rate.  In the same way, a happy thought and smile results in more serotonin (feel good chemical) being released.


Rule Two:
What you expect, happens

What you expect, tends to be realised, whether good or bad. We become what we think about. The brain and nervous system responds to mental images. Whether these images are imagined or real, the nervous system will respond the same way.  If you expect to be ill, you are focusing your mind and body towards that. If you believe that your nerves will stop you performing well, they will.  However, if you believe you will give a confident performance, that is where your mental energy and focus is directed. This is an important rule to consider when we are working with performance issues, and also generally negative or limiting beliefs.  Changing to a more positive mindset will enhance your work.  Coué suggested to “Always think that what you have to do is easy, if possible; If you think it is difficult you will use more effort than you need, thus wasting it”

Self-fulfilling prophecy as a concept has been widely debated and psychological research has investigated this over time.  An early investigation by Rosenthal and Fode (1963) looked at students’ treatment of rats they believed were super intelligent and this subconsciously influenced how they treated them and what the outcomes were.  The same applies to how you interact with people.  Say you are teaching a class.  If you have been told they are of low intelligence and lacking motivation, you will treat them as such, whereas if you had been told they were really bright and highly motivated you would treat them as such.  These different approaches are often unintentional and unconscious.  Rosenthal calls this the ‘expectancy effect’.  Studies range from manipulating flavours (add yellow colour to vanilla pudding and say it is banana pudding) to how students are taught.  If you have ever watched Gordon Ramsey’s series ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ there is usually a blind-folded taste test and highly experienced chefs often fail to identify everyday foods.  You can test the expectancy effect in the same way at home.  Tell a friend that you are going to give them some beef crisps, and give them bacon instead.  They will usually taste them and consider them to be beef, because that is what they are expecting.

The power of belief and expectation is immense. Do you ever hear friends or clients talk of having a ‘bad day’? Peter Bentley, author of ‘Why Sh*t happens: The science of a really bad day, suggests we have the ability to make it a bad day if we believe it to exist.

As well as our behaviour, what we expect can influence our health.  A study by Alia Crum and Ellen Langer [DOWNLOAD PDF] at Harvard University worked with hotel workers and told them that their work (cleaning rooms) is good exercise and meets recommendations for an active lifestyle.  Although their actual behaviour didn’t change (they still did the same work), at the end of 4 weeks those informed showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, and BMI compared to the control group (who were uninformed).


Rule Three:
Your imagination is more powerful than reason or knowledge
Our body doesn’t differentiate between what is real and what is imagined, so our body will produce what our mind believes.  We then go on to behave as though that which is accepted is real, thus reinforcing it.  How often do you, or your clients, imagine the worst, and even perhaps go on and develop that initial thought into a huge negative outcome.  Albert Einstein considered that reason is easily overturned by the imagination. So, if you believe something to be real or true, that is more powerful than the actual truth.  Our imagination can either work for us or against us, yet we often allow it to do the latter.

The imagination can change a perception of reality.  Walking along a scaffold plank that is placed on the floor is easy for most people.  Walking along the same plank 20m up in the air will often alter how someone walks along the plank (if indeed they walk along it at all), as the imagination suggests falling… Thus, reason is easily over-ruled by imagination.  Imagination together with a strong emotion such as fear cannot be changed just with reason.  So, the spider phobic client won’t accept that it is a tiny spider and that there is no logical cause to be fearful.  Imagination is more powerful than willpower.  Your imagination creates emotions, stimulates creativity and innovation, an essential element in expansion and growth.  The power of the imagination is widely quoted:

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts.”
Robert Fulghum

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
Albert Einstein

“Imagination is the beginning of creation.  You imagine what you desire, you focus on what you imagine, and at last you create what you focus.”
George Bernard Shaw.

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Rule Four:
What we think create
What we think about is what we create and opposing ideas cannot be held at the same time without causing conflict.  The mind can only respond to what you think about and prefers thoughts to be focused on the same outcome; It prefers to move in the direction of its dominant thoughts.  When two thoughts are in opposition, this can cause stress e.g. having to act out of character can cause stress within the body.  However, a dominant emotion can outweigh a weaker one.  The technique of ‘anchoring’ creates a ‘resource store’ of a positive emotion, so when someone is perhaps fearful of giving a presentation, they can use their ‘confidence’ anchor (formed by connecting many experiences of confidence) to over-ride the fear that they are feeling.


Rule Five:
Ideas remain until replaced
When the subconscious mind accepts an idea, it remains until it is replaced by another idea; the longer the idea remains, the more opposition there is to replacing it with a new idea.  When an idea has become subconsciously accepted, the more an idea is acted upon, the stronger and more fixed that thinking becomes and the more a fixed way of behaving is established.  To change the behaviour, it is necessary to change the thoughts and ideas.  Thus, a mental habit can become a physical habit.  For example, thinking you have to have a cigarette or a drink when you are feeling stressed.  Hypnosis can visit the experiences that created the thoughts that led to the unwanted mental and physical responses and change this pattern.


 Rule Six:
Emotions can have physical consequences

An emotionally induced symptom tends to cause organic change if persisted in long enough.  The function of a part of the body can be disrupted by the nervous system’s reaction to an idea held in the unconscious mind.  Thus, chronic stress or worry can lead to a ‘nervous’ stomach.


Rule Seven:
Suggestions lead to greater acceptance

Each suggestion acted upon allows for greater acceptance of following suggestions.  Each suggestion acted upon creates less opposition to successive suggestions.  Once a habit is formed it is easier to follow and more difficult to break.  The classic ‘yes set’ at the start of an induction sets the behavioural response.  Giving suggestions that a person wants, such as feeling good, and relaxing, sets a behavioural response for future suggestions which may be less easy.


Rule Eight:
Conscious effort reduces subconscious engagement

The greater the conscious effort, the less the subconscious response.  This may seem familiar when you read of ‘The Law of Reversed Effect’.  The harder you actively try to do something, the more difficult it is to do, and the greater your conscious effort, the less your subconscious response.  Thus, the less the conscious effort, the more that the subconscious can and will respond.  The subconscious acts automatically when conscious effort is let go of.  Subconscious learned behaviours, such as nail biting, can be repressed by will power or conscious effort.  However, when then conscious effort stops (you think of other things), the automatic behaviour usually returns.  For example, the more effort you make to remember someone’s name, the less accessible it is.  Yet, when you become distracted by other things, the name is more likely to just emerge.


Further reading

Coué, E. (1922) Self-Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion

Coué, E. (1923) How to Practice Suggestion and Autosuggestion

Hock, R. (1998) Forty Studies that Changed Psychology: Explorations into the History of Psychological Research. Prentice Hall (Pages 92-100)

Rosenthal, R. (1994) Interpersonal expectancy effects: A 30-year perspective. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 3, 176-179.

Rosenthal, R., and Fode, K. (1963) The effect of experimenter bias on the performance of the albino rat. Behavioral Science, 8, 183-189.

Rosenthal, R., and Jacobson, L. (1963) Teachers’ expectancies: Determinants of pupils’ IQ gains. Psychological Reports, 19, 115-118.


We hope this blog has been helpful, but if you have any more questions on the Laws of Suggestion or Rules of the Mind (or anything else for that matter) do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!

– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks
(HypnoTC Director)

Dr Kate Beaven-Marks HypnoTC the Hypnotherapy Training Company

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