A neighborhood friend of mine, when I was teenager, owned a friendly junkyard dog of no discernable pedigree named Butch. One of us discovered that Butch’s tail connected to his demeanor. Lift his tail and he held his head a little higher, his ears perked up and he would get all happy. Push his tail down between his legs and his ears would droop, his head would lower and he would mope about for a while. Try this with your own dog and you may see a similar response. Let us know what you discovered by posting a comment below. A change in posture—tail position—was all that was required to evoke an apparent emotional shift in Butch. A similar story told by Lee Pascoe in her book The Magic of Make Believe reminded me of my own experience. But what has that got to do with self hypnosis?
The connection is indirect but very important as it has to do with one of the powerful forms of autosuggestion—anticipatory role behavior, which is sometimes utilized in direct suggestions during self-hypnosis.
Anticipatory role behavior is acting or role playing in the present—that’s the behavior part—in ways as you would expect, believe or predict for a particular future circumstance in which you expect or wish to find yourself—the anticipatory part.
In his book Mind Over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations author Chris Berdik describes how players of the on-line role-playing game World of Warcraft who have “taller and better looking avatars bested the shorter, uglier ones even though appearance confers no actual functional advantages” to one over the other.
Berdik goes on to explain how researchers also discovered that wearing better looking avatars “gave college students the confidence to contact more attractive potential dates” in real life. This was an unintended consequence of role-playing but illustrates the power and subtle influence that role playing exerts. What about those with short ugly avatars? They were more inclined to misrepresent their height—claiming to be taller than they actually are.
Something as seemingly benign as role playing an on-line fantasy game can lead to altered behavior in real life. Wouldn’t it be beneficial and desirable to learn how to role play in a way that brings about intentional change?
To do so requires some planning:
First imagine yourself as if you have already arrived at the situation you are anticipating. See yourself doing things as you want to be doing them in the future, or responding to situations in ways in which you want. See how your life has changed and how circumstances have changed around you. At this stage you are engineering or architecting how you want things to be in the future and it pays to write all of this down.
Determine what things you need to do, or how you would need to act in the present in anticipation of that future circumstance. While acting or role playing you might take on new physical characteristics, such as: changes in hairstyle, manners of walk, talk and wardrobe; or emotional traits, such as: calmness, cheerfulness or happiness; or mental attitude, such as: patience, acceptance, openness or curiosity—to name just a few. And these things should be written down as well.
Commence role playing according to your plan from the present moment right up to that future event or circumstance. When that future circumstance arrives you will no longer be role playing, but rather, giving the appropriate real-time response for the situation.
This approach works for many, but not all circumstances—as you might imagine. So use the technique when it is appropriate to do so.
Here is a personal example of ARB in action (without self hypnosis):
My goal was to find myself making easier contact with group leaders and department heads to learn about project activities and opportunities within the large technology company where I worked.
I imagined myself interacting with them in a high visibility venue where there was a high concentration of group leaders and department heads at one time. I envisioned myself networking, doing introductions and being introduced—making contacts and learning about projects and project plans. While doing that visualization it occurred to me that business attire was a good predictor of an employee’s rank in the organization. Senior execs wore 3-piece suits, department heads wore blazers or sports jackets and tie, group leaders wore business casual with ties, the rest of us dressed in business casual—no ties.
So I took on a new physical characteristic by putting on a tie, and began taking lunch in the cafeteria at the same time most of the other managers did. That’s all it took to elevate myself up one notch in the eyes of those around me. It worked. Soon I was making significant peer to peer contact with others in the company.
Why does anticipatory role behavior (without self hypnosis) work? By changing the way in which you think, look and/or act the external circumstances and people surrounding you adjust and evolve to include, or possibly to exclude, the new behavior(s). You may gain new friends or lose old friends, or make stronger or looser connections to existing friends. You may be drawn to other activities or locations. Some would say that what you put out comes back to you; that it’s a law of attraction. But in any case the behaviors which you project out to the world ultimately change your environment. People around you will change in response to that. And when people change, events change. It is our relationship and interactions with the people around us that create the greatest opportunities for change in our personal ecosystem and environment.
Anticipatory role behavior is something which can be acted out in your imagination during self-hypnosis to good effect because it is very suited for direct suggestion. To do so imagine yourself as if you have already arrived at the situation you are anticipating; see the desired end result. See yourself doing things as you want to be doing them in the future, or intentionally responding to situations in desirable ways. See how your life has changed in full color, with sounds, smells—all the touchy-feely full sensory-channel information your imagination can conjure up.
Always plan your direct suggestions and imagery, as I have taught in Mastering the Art of Self Hypnosis, before going into self-hypnosis. Improvising during self-hypnosis can get you haphazard results.
Why does anticipatory role behavior (with self hypnosis) work? Because the subconscious always operates in the “now” and it is very goal directed. When presented with images for things that are not a part of the “now”, the subconscious understands them to be part of a goal that is to be accomplished. Once the subconscious accepts those ideas it will do everything in its power to accomplish the goal. It will exert its own influence to begin changing events through behavior modifications.
Always track your results and monitor where you are headed. Make adjustments with self-hypnosis to maintain proper course. Never leave your subconscious unattended.