Does this happen to you?

or Bad Hypnosis

Last Friday, I had to go to the HMO for my annual checkup — no big deal, I’m pretty healthy. However, the doctor looked at my electronic records and said, “You know, you haven’t had a tetanus shot in more than 10 years, and you probably ought to.” It comes with whooping cough and diptheria, and we’re having a whooping cough outbreak here in CA, so you know they’re pushing the vaccine as a method of outbreak control, which is cost control for them.

I’m not one for the new-fangled so-called flu vaccines, but I remembered being given this particular vaccine a couple of times as a kid and agreed. So I got sent down the hall to the injection lady.

The injection lady, trying to make this seem not so bad, said “It’s going to feel like you went bowling after not going bowling for a long time.”


“Well, your arm’s going to be sore and heavy for a couple of days. It’s important to move it around, even if you don’t feel like it.”

I don’t know if it’s state or Federal policy, or if it’s just this HMO, but they actually give you a sheet with all the side effects, and make you sign an informed consent statement. So I read the sheet before I signed the statement and discovered that yes, the most common side effect is a mildly sore arm — 2 in 3 people, in fact. But that means that 1 in 3 people don’t have it.

I couldn’t help myself — I gave her a brief lecture on bad hypnosis. When people come into a medical setting, they’re probably nervous, and that means they are extra suggestible. So her little lecture was helping to create the bad side effect. I explained this and said, “You could say that this is the most common side effect, but you could be one of the people who don’t have it.”

She replied, “Oh, yeah, when I had the shot, I really wasn’t sore at all, except when I slept on that arm. I had to turn over and sleep on my other side, and then it was fine.”

Eureka! SHE didn’t have the reaction, so she could share that fact. 

Watch what you are suggesting, people! We are all in and out of hypnotic trances all the time. In trance, the words you hear bypass all but your most critical faculties. (‘Hypnotic trance’ just means that our brain waves, at least in part of our brains, are running at a lowered frequency to common beta waves, which are 12 – 15 cycles per second).

That means that when you are talking to someone, you may well be making a hypnotic suggestion. It’s just that most of us don’t know we’re doing it, and we’re not trained, so we do it badly. We make all sorts of negative suggestions and commands all the time. The idea is to state things in the positive. (More on this below.)

And listen for all the negative suggestions out there. Medical ads are great for this — they’re suggesting you have some made up syndrome so they can sell you something to fix it. I have a friend who calls them ‘symptom installations’, instead of ads.

The conscious mind does not hear the word “not”. Quick, try not to think of a purple elephant!

What just happened? If you’re like most people, you thought immediately of a purple elephant. Why? Because you have to make a picture of a purple elephant in your mind in order to erase it.

So when you say “Don’t do that!”, we all hear, “Do that!” Which brings me to one of my pet peeves, nicely illustrated by this sign:

“Don’t forget to vote” is tantamount to saying “Please forget to vote”. A much better solution is to say, “Please remember to vote.”

Please remember to listen to my new radio show on Wednesday at 6PM EST, 3 PM PST on ! (Set an alarm or a computer reminder — these work even better than memories.)


Hollis Polk is a personal coach (, who has been helping people create lives they love for 15 years, using neurolinguistic & hypnotherapy techniques, decision science, clairvoyance & the common sense learned in 20+ years of business. She is an NLP Master Practitioner, hypnotherapist & has a BSE in engineering from Princeton & a Harvard MBA. She is also a successful real estate broker, investor & business owner.