Autosuggestion - The General Formula
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WE saw that an unskilled golfer, who imagines his ball is going to alight in a bunker, unconsciously per-forms just those physical movements needful to realise his idea in the actual. In realising this idea his Unconscious displays ingenuity and skill none the less admirable because opposed to his desire. From this and other examples we concluded that if the mind dwells on the idea of an accomplished fact, a realised state, the Unconscious will produce this state. If this is true of our spontaneous autosuggestions it is equally true of the self-induced ones.
It follows that if we consistently think of happiness we become happy; if we think of health we become healthy; if we think of goodness we become good. Whatever thought we continually think, provided it is reasonable, tends to become an actual condition of our life.
Traditionally we rely too much on the conscious mind. If a man suffers from headaches he searches out, with the help of his physician, their cause; discovers whether they come from his eyes, his digestion or his nerves, and purchases the drugs best suited to repair the fault. If he wishes to improve a bad memory he practises one of the various methods of memory-training. If he is the victim of a pernicious habit he is left to counter it by efforts of the will, which too often exhaust his strength, undermine his self-respect, and only lead him deeper into the mire. How simple in comparison is the method of Induced Autosuggestion! He need merely think the end—a head free from pain, a good memory, a mode of life in which his bad habit has no part, and these states are gradually evolved without his being aware of the operation per-formed by the Unconscious.
But even so, if each individual difficulty required a fresh treatment--one for the headache, one for the memory, one for the bad habit and so on—then the time needful to practise autosuggestion would form a considerable part of our waking life. Happily the researches of the Nancy School have revealed a further simplification. This is obtained by the use of a general formula which sets before the mind the idea of a daily improvement in every respect, mental, physical and moral.
In the original French this formula runs as follows : "Tous les jours, à tous points de vue, je vais de mieux en mieux." The English version which Coué considers most satisfactory is this : " Day by day, in every way, I'm getting better and better" This is very easy to say, the youngest child can understand it, and it possesses a rudimentary rhythm, which exerts a lulling effect on the mind and so aids in calling up the Unconscious. But if you are accustomed to any other version, such as that recommended by the translators of Baudouin, it would be better to continue to use it. Religious minds who wish to associate the formula with God's care and protection might do so after this fashion : " Day by day, in every way, by the help of God, I'm getting better and better." It is possible that the attention of the Unconscious will thus be turned to moral and spiritual improvements to a greater extent than by the ordinary formula.
But this general formula possesses definite advantages other than mere terseness and convenience. The Unconscious, in its character of surveyor over our mental and physical functions, knows far better than the conscious the precise failings and weaknesses which have the greatest need of attention. The general formula supplies it with a fund of healing, strengthening power, and leaves it to apply this at the points where the need is most urgent.
It is a matter of common experience that people's ideals of manhood and womanhood vary considerably. The hardened materialist pictures perfection solely in terms of wealth, the butterfly-woman wants little but physical beauty, charm, and the qualities that attract. The sensitive man is apt to depreciate the powers he possesses and exaggerate those he lacks; while his self-satisfied neighbour can see no good in any virtues but his own. It is quite conceivable that a person left free to determine the nature of his autosuggestions by the light of his conscious desire might use this power to realise a quality not in itself admirable, or even one which, judged by higher standards, appeared pernicious. Even supposing that his choice was good he would be in danger of over-developing a few characteristics to the detriment of others and so destroying the balance of his personality. The use of the general formula guards against this. It saves a man in spite of himself. It avoids the pitfalls into which the conscious mind may lead us by appealing to a more competent authority. Just as we leave the distribution of our bodily food to the choice of the Unconscious, so we may safely leave that of our mental food, our Induced Autosuggestions.
The fear that the universal use of -this formula would have a standardising effect, modifying its users to a uniform pattern, is unfounded. A rigid system of particular suggestions might tend towards such a result, but the general formula leaves every mind free to unfold and develop in the manner most natural to itself. The eternal diversity of men's minds can only be increased by the free impulse thus administered.
We have previously seen that the Unconscious tide rises to its highest point compatible with conscious thought just before sleep and just after awaking, and that the suggestions formulated then are almost assured acceptation. It is these moments that we select for the repetition of the formula.
But before we pass on to the precise method, a word of warning is necessary. Even the most superficial attempt to analyse intellectually a living act is bound to make it appear complex and difficult. So our consideration of the processes of outcropping and acceptation has inevitably invested them with a false appearance of difficulty. Autosuggestion is above all things easy. Its greatest enemy is effort. The more simple and unforced the manner of its performance the more potently and profoundly it works. This is shown by the fact that its most remarkable results have been secured by children and by simple French peasants.
It is here that Coué's directions for the practice differ considerably from those of Baudouin. Coué insists upon its easiness, Baudouin complicates it. The four chapters devoted by the latter to " relaxation," collection,contention," and concentration," produce in the reader an adverse suggestion of no mean power. They leave the impression that autosuggestion is a perplexing business which only the greatest foresight and supervision can render successful. Nothing could be more calculated to throw the beginner off the track.
We have seen that Autosuggestion is a function of the mind which we spontaneously perform every day of our lives. The more our induced autosuggestions approximate to this spontaneous prototype the more potent they are likely to be. Baudouin warns us against the danger of setting the intellect to do the work of intuition, yet this is precisely what he himself does. A patient trying by his rules to attain out-cropping and implant therein an autosuggestion is so vigilantly attentive to what he is doing that outcrop-ping is rendered almost impossible. These artificial aids are, in Coué's opinion, not only unnecessary but hindersome. Autosuggestion succeeds when Conscious and Unconscious co-operate in the acceptance of an idea. Coué's long practice has shown that we must leave the Unconscious, as senior partner in the concern, to bring about the right conditions in its own way. The fussy attempts of the intellect to dictate the method of processes which lie outside its sphere will only produce conflict, and so condemn our attempt to failure. The directions given here are amply sufficient, if conscientiously applied, to secure the fullest benefits of which the method is capable.
Take a piece of string and tie in it twenty knots. By this means you can count with a minimum expenditure of attention, as a devout Catholic counts his prayers on a rosary. The number twenty has no intrinsic virtue; it is merely adopted as a suitable round number.
On getting into bed close your eyes, relax your muscles and take up a comfortable posture. These are no more than the ordinary preliminaries of slumber. Now repeat twenty times, counting by means of the knots, the general formula: " Day by day, in every way, I'm getting better and better."
The words should be uttered aloud; that is, loud enough to be audible to your own ears. In this way the idea is reinforced by the movements of lips and tongue and by the auditory impressions conveyed through the ear. Say it simply, without effort, like a child absently murmuring a nursery rhyme. Thus you avoid an appeal to the critical faculties of the conscious which would lessen the outcropping. When you have got used to this exercise and can say it quite " unself-consciously," begin to let your voice rise or fall—it does not matter which—on the phrase " in every way." This is perhaps the most important part of the formula, and is thus given a gentle emphasis. But at first do not attempt this accentuation ; it will only needlessly complicate and, by requiring more conscious attention, may introduce effort. Do not try to think of what you are saying. On the contrary, let the mind wander whither it will; if it rests on the formula all the better, if it strays elsewhere do not recall it. As long as your repetition does not come to a full-stop your mind-wandering will be less disturbing than would be the effort to recall your thoughts.
Baudouin differs from Coué as to the manner in which the formula should be repeated. His advice is to say it " piously," with all the words separately stressed. No doubt it has its value when thus spoken, but the attitude of mind to which the word " pious " can be applied is unfortunately not habitual with everyone. The average man in trying to be " pious " might end by being merely artificial. But the child still exists in the most mature of men. The " infantile " mode of repeating the formula puts one in touch with deep levels of the Unconscious where the child-mind still survives. Coué's remarkable successes have been obtained by this means, and Baudouin advances no co-gent reason for changing it.
These instructions no doubt fall somewhat short of our ideal of a thought entirely occupying the mind. But they are sufficient for a beginning. The sovereign rule is to make no effort, and if this is observed you will intuitively fall into the right attitude. This process of Unconscious adaptation may be hastened by a simple suggestion before beginning. Say to your-self, " I shall repeat the formula in such a manner as to secure its maximum effect." This will bring about the required conditions much more effectively than any conscious exercise of thought.
On waking in the morning, before you rise, repeat the formula in exactly the same manner.
Its regular repetition is the foundation stone of the Nancy method and should never be neglected. In times of health it may be regarded as an envoy going before to clear the path of whatever evils may lurk in the future. But we must look on it chiefly as an educator, as a means of leavening the mass of adverse spontaneous suggestions which clog the Unconscious and rob our lives of their true significance.
Say it with faith. When you have said it your conscious. part of the process is completed. Leave the Unconscious to do its work undisturbed. Do not be anxious about it, continually scanning yourself for signs of improvement. The farmer does not turn over the clods every morning to see if his seed is sprouting. Once sown it is left till the green blade appears. So it should be with suggestion. Sow the seed, and be sure the Unconscious powers of the mind will bring it to fruition, and all the sooner if your conscious ego is content to let it rest.
Say it with faith! You can only rob Induced Auto-suggestion of its power in one way—by believing that it is powerless. If you believe this it becomes ipso facto powerless for you. The greater your faith the more radical and the more rapid will be your results; though if you have only sufficient faith to repeat the formula twenty times night and morning the results will soon give you in your own person the proof you desire, and facts and faith will go on mutually augmenting each other.
Faith reposes on reason and must have Its grounds. What grounds can we adduce for faith in Induced Autosuggestion? The examples of cures already cited are outside your experience and you may be tempted to pooh-pooh them. The experiment of Chevreul's pendulum, however, will show in a simple manner the power possessed by a thought to transform itself into an action.
Take a piece of white paper and draw on it a circle of about five inches' radius. Draw two diameters A B and C D at right angles to each other and intersecting at O. The more distinctly the lines stand out the better—they should be thickly drawn in black ink. Now take a lead pencil or a light ruler and tie to one end a piece of cotton about eight inches long; to the lower end of the cotton fasten a heavy metal button, of the sort used on a soldier's tunic. Place the paper on a table so that the diameter A B seems to be horizontal and C D to be vertical, thus stand upright before the table with your miniature fishing-rod held firmly in both hands and the button suspended above the point O. Take care not to press the elbows nervously against the sides.
Look at the line A B, think of it, follow it with your eyes from side to side. Presently the button will begin to swing along the line you are thinking of. The more your mind dwells easily upon the idea of the line the greater this swing becomes. Your efforts to try to hold the pendulum still, by bringing into action the law of reversed effort, only make its oscillations more pronounced.
Now fix your eyes on the line C D. The button will gradually change the direction of its movement, taking up that of C D. When you have allowed it to swing thus for a few moments transfer your attention to the circle, follow the circumference round and round with your eyes. Once more the swinging button will follow you, adopting either a clock-wise or a counter clock-wise direction according to your thought. After a little practice you should produce a circular swing with a diameter of at least eight inches; but your success will be directly proportional to the exclusiveness of your thought and to your efforts to hold the pencil still.
Lastly think of the point O. Gradually the radius of the swing will diminish until the button comes to rest.
Is it necessary to point out how these movements are caused? Your thought of the line, passing into the Unconscious, is there realised, so that without knowing it you execute with your hands the imperceptible movements which set the button in motion. The Unconscious automatically realises your thought through the nerves and muscles of your arms and hands. What is this but Induced Autosuggestion?
The first time you perform this little experiment it is best to be alone. This enables you to approach it quite objectively.