Virtually all successful methods of bringing about lasting personal change have revolved around one idea - to actively re-write the internal instruction set that determines behaviour. In short, to replace subconscious 'junk' directives that result in limitation, unhappiness, bad habits and dysfunction of any other kind, with new 'positive' directives that reflect and support positive conscious desires.

The concept is simple - change the 'program' to change the outcome, i.e., the pattern of our lives.

As we have seen in earlier articles*, the subconscious mind is powerful enough to ensure that you fail, no matter how much you consciously want a thing, or a situation, or some change in yourself, if it's internal directives conflict with your conscious desires. The most burning conscious wish is no match at all for an opposing subconscious directive, even when this directive arises from faulty or even laughable 'beliefs' embedded deeply below conscious awareness in the subconscious mind.

((( *see note at end of article )))

But the subconscious mind is NOT actively hostile to your conscious desires – it simply ignores them because they have not yet been presented in a way it recognises!

So your task is in theory relatively straightforward:

1. Identify an area of your life where you would like to change. This can be anything from acquiring more money, through losing weight, to stopping an unwanted habit such as smoking,

2. Formulate this desire in a way the subconscious can understand unambiguously,

3. Communicate this information to the subconscious in a form it will pay attention to and incorporate in its directives, WITHOUT simulatneously communicating any conflicting messages or giving rise to resistance.

A simple enough idea, but how in practice can it be achieved?

Upgrading Your Brain's 'Software'

Over the years many methods of 'reprogramming' the subconscious have been evolved – ‘positive thinking’, repeating affirmations, visalization, self-hypnosis, subliminal suggestion, and methods such as psycho-analysis and NLP, which make use of language and symbolism to try to access and influence the subconscious instruction set.

However, most of these methods require a ‘practitioner’ or ‘therapist’ who must be present to facilitate and manage a session, or alternatively they require a great deal of introspection and work on the part of the subject. As a result, many of these techniques are not practical in an everyday context – they either cost too much because another person has to be involved, or they are too complicated and take too much of the time that busy people cannot spare.

What is really needed is an effective, repeatable system for bringing about personal change that is within the financial reach of most people, which can be delivered to anyone who wishes to make use of it, and which does not demand enormous amounts of time or effort.  In practice, the only two methods which at present meet these criteria are:

* Self-hypnosis. Most commonly involving induction of a hypnotic state, usually by means of spoken 'guided meditations' intended to relax the body, and followed by suggestions delivered at clearly audible levels.
* Subliminal suggestion. Normally involving the presentation of spoken affirmations delivered in some way that is not clearly perceived by the conscious mind, but which are intended to be understood and processed subconsciously.

Both are ideal candidates for the production of relatively inexpensive audio recordings which can be used at home at any convenient time. As a result, both of these methods have been employed in a vast and growing range of commercial audio recordings supplied on tapes, CDs and more recently in MP3 format. They have been promoted for relaxation, meditation, stress reduction, weight loss, increasing confidence and self esteem, pain management, improved sleep, super learning, enhanced creativity and intuition, and even more esoteric goals such as body change, remote viewing, telepathy, out-of-body experience and lucid dreaming.

Each of these methods has its merits and can be effective if properly delivered. However, most products available also have serious limitations, which have until recently prevented these techniques fully living up to their potential.

Unfortunately, until the results of some very recent research became available, even the very best products were compromised by a lack of information on subconscious mental functioning, and by some widely accepted (but incorrect) assumptions that have frequently crippled their effectiveness. 

The Problem With Many 'Self-Hypnosis' Recordings

Hypnotherapy was accepted by the American Medical Society as a legitimate therapeutic technique in the late '50s, and since this time a great deal of research has confirmed its effectiveness. Clinical and experimental evidence indicates that repeated 'one on one' hypnosis sessions conducted by competent professional hypnotherapists can bring about success rates of up to 90% for smoking cessation, alcoholism, overweight, phobias, depression, anxiety and many other problems which have their roots in 'faulty programming'.

Multiple, individualized and tailored hypnosis sessions are therefore one of the most effective methods available for bringing about desirable changes in a relatively short time. But of course, such personalised therapy is not available to everyone, not least because of the cost, which could amount to hundreds of dollars for the five or six sessions that are necessary to bring about relatively permanent changes. There is also the sheer inconvenience of having to keep a whole series of appointments, possibly miles away from where you live and work.

Of course, there are literally thousands of recordings on the market that promise all the benefits of personal hypnotherapy without the inconvenience and cost. Nearly all use some variation of the classic 'progressive muscle relaxation' method combined with guided imagery, followed by a list of affirmations relating to the subject of the recording. The spoken words may often be accompanied by relaxing music or natural sounds, or a combination of both.

The problem with such recordings is very fundamental: most people listening to them simply do not achieve a useful hypnotic state.  A reasonable level of hypnotic 'trance' is absolutely essential if suggestions presented in this way are to reach the subconscious levels of mind and be incorporated within the instruction set.

In a personal hypnotherapy situation, the practitioner establishes just the right conditions and will constantly monitor the feedback from the client. He or she will adjust his or her patter accordingly until the desired hypnotic state has been obtained, and only then will the desired affirmations be introduced.  

But when people listen to recordings, even under ideal conditions, most of the time one of two things happens. Either the listener remains in a normal fully conscious state, or he or she falls asleep! In the first case, spoken affirmations are almost completely ineffective, and in the second case, are much less effective than they would have been in a true hypnotic state. 

Problems With Mass-Market 'Subliminal' Recordings

'Subliminal perception' refers to the ability to perceive and respond to stimuli that are below the 'limen' or threshold of conscious perception. There is now a vast amount of anecdotal evidence and testimonials and a growing body of research evidence that subliminally presented verbal suggestions can and do alter thought patterns and behaviour in those exposed to them, providing certain conditions are met.

But because of the misconceptions and misunderstandings that often guide the production of many commercial ‘subliminal’ recordings, their potential for effecting personal change is often seriously compromised. At best this means that only modest changes are bought about, and often no change is experienced at all.

These are some of the most common problems:

1 - Over-masking

Many designers of subliminal recordings work on the curious assumption that the subconscious mind has the ability to hear and understand speech signals that are hundreds, even thousands of times quieter than the music or nature sounds that mask them, or which have been shifted to very high frequencies, played back at very high speeds, or even played in reverse ('back-masked').

Unfortunately, the scientific research that has been carried out to determine the actual limits at which spoken words can be heard and understood at a subconscious level by any normal listener provides little support for the idea of the existence of literally superhuman abilities of this kind.

Instead what has become clear is that while subconscious perception definitely extends beyond the conscious ability to understand speech masked by other sounds, or distorted by frequency or speed shifts, the limits are only slightly extended relative to normal conscious perception.

While the scientific evidence and the exploits of some 'psychological illusionists' strongly demonstrate that the subconscious mind can perceive and process far more information than the conscious mind, its input is still limited by the physical operation of the senses it uses, in this case the sense of hearing.

Sound is simply a signal transmitted by pressure waves moving through the air, which then vibrates the component parts of the inner ear. If the signal is too weak, or too deeply buried under a much stronger ‘masking’ sound, the ear will just not pick up the vibrations and the signal might as well be entirely absent.

In practice this means that in order to have an effect, subliminal suggestions embedded in recordings must in fact be within the normal range of detection and (at most) only just below the level at which they could normally be consciously understood, or replayed at a speed or pitch which is only just beyond normal perception limits.

The vast majority of 'subliminal' recordings fail to meet this very basic criterion, and are in fact completely undecipherable by the subconscious mind because the speech signals contained in them are too weak, distorted or highly pitched to be heard or understood at any level.

2- Distracting or irritating sound masks

Because, by their nature, commercial recordings are made for a mass market, it can be difficult to choose a ‘sound mask’ (the audio track you hear, as opposed to the ‘subliminal’ track hidden by it) that suits everyone.

Nature sounds such as ocean waves or running water are generally the safest option, but many manufacturers also use ‘ambient music’, classical music or other sound tracks that be immediately irritating or which become so with time and repetition.

If the listener becomes irritated this will immediately reduce the degree of relaxation and create a positive barrier to the suggestions embedded in the recording. And of course there is always the ‘OFF’ button…! Neither of these outcomes is likely to improve the effectiveness of a recording.

3 - Incorrect phrasing of embedded suggestions

Because of widespread confusion over the nature of the subconscious mind, the language used in the ‘subliminal’ suggestions embedded in many commercial recordings is often not appropriate. This issue also effects the potential usefulness of 'hypnosis' recordings, as the same levels of mind are targeted.

In fact the subconscious mind processes information primarily in the form of imagery and symbolism. Spoken language is a tool the conscious mind uses to communicate with other conscious minds, and so reflects the way in which the conscious mind works. For this reason it is not an ideal tool for communicating with the subconscious mind, which has very limited language processing capabilities.

For this reason it is important to limit ‘suggestions’ to short and simple phrases and to avoid ‘qualifying’ words, especially negatives such as no, none, never etc. In addition, because the subconscious mind does not seem to deal with the concept of time in the same way as the conscious mind, the use of tenses other than the present tense (I am, etc.) should be avoided.

There are quite a large number of similar issues that arise when constructing effective subliminal suggestions, but for the moment it is only necessary to recognise that the precise phrasing of subliminal suggestions is of great importance, and that failure to get the phrasing right will render suggestions ineffective, or even cause them to have effects opposite to those intended!

4 - Lack of precision ('One size fits all')

The designer of a subliminal recording has to make a lot of assumptions. He or she obviously cannot know the actual needs of the listener, and so has to guess at the causes of a problem and address these issues instead.  This means that the embedded suggestions are often generalised, and may even miss the mark entirely.

For example, if ‘overweight’ is the problem, many subliminal product manufacturers will work with the assumption (often unfounded) that the actual issue is a lack of ‘self esteem’ which is causing overweight people to over-eat (the reverse is more likely to be true). So there is often a long list of suggestions designed to improve self-esteem, plus perhaps some more dealing with ‘body image’ and ‘social confidence’ and finally perhaps some well-meaning but ineffectual suggestions about eating smaller portions and avoiding fatty foods. Or the designer may harbour simplistic stereotypes, for example that all overweight people got this way because they are 'binge eaters' or 'couch potatoes'. Some overweight people may well be one or both of these, but there are many other possible causes and these will not then be addressed.

So even if suggestions actually reach the subconscious level, they will be ineffective as they will simply be irrelevant. Also, dealing with unrelated issues weakens the central purpose of the suggestions and confuses the issue. The answer is to address the 'symptoms' of any condition rather than try to anticipate exactly what it is that needs changing at the subconscious level. The subconscious mind will know what actually needs to be done to obtain the suggested outcome. It simply doesn’t make the same ‘connections’ that the conscious mind does and it is pointless trying to outguess it.

5 - Unfamiliarity

The purpose of using subliminal suggestions is use repetition to ‘implant’ desirable suggestions at a subconscious level. The intention is of course to displace or over-write the negative and damaging store of ‘self image’ phrases previously acquired at random. But consider for a moment how most of this negative trash got there in the first place: It was put there by the people you have known!

All though your childhood, your parents, relatives, teachers and so on will have said things to you that were highly negative – often with the best of intentions, sometimes out of anger (‘You’re lazy’, ‘It’s simple, why can’t you understand?, ‘Stop that’, ‘Try harder!’, ‘Idiot!’, ‘Stop pestering me!’, ‘Why can’t you be like x?’, ‘You’ll never be a success'). It has been estimated that such negative admonitions outnumber positive loving comments by anything up to 100:1 in an average family.

At the same time you will probably have experienced more negativity from siblings, friends and schoolmates (‘You’re useless’, ‘Pratt!’, ‘Fatty’, ‘You wimp!’, ‘You can’t be in my gang’, ‘x thinks you’re ugly!’, ‘Four-eyes!’, ‘Teacher’s pet!’). Later on, at one time or another you will have probably been criticised by people you work with or for, and by your flatmates, spouse, partner or other adults in your life, and although the effects of such criticism or put-downs will be much less than during formative years, it steadily adds up.

But what do all these ‘inputs’ have in common, apart from the fact they are negative in nature? Simply that they have virtually all been said by people you know. Other people – strangers - may have called you names at one time or another, perhaps while driving or in a crowded pub, but these occasions are rare and in any case who cares what such people say? The opinions you take notice of are those of people you know, and the closer they are to you, the more their negative opinions matter to you, both consciously and subconsciously.

So when the subconscious mind perceives spoken words, it automatically grades the ‘importance’ to you by the familiarity of the voice, and the emotional association you have with the speaker. If the voice is unrecognised, it is assigned a relatively low ‘importance’ status. This means that when you hear a subliminally-presented voice that your subconscious doesn’t recognise – that is completely unfamiliar – saying things ‘at you’ from a recording, it is not surprising that the subconscious mind may fail to pay much attention to the message. As far as the subconscious is concerned you may as well be hearing a monologue on the radio.

Many commercial recordings are made using professional ‘voiceover artists’ or simply the voice of the technician who makes the recording, and this virtually guarantees an ‘unfamiliarity’ problem.

The best ‘commercial’ solution, adopted by some manufacturers is to use voices that are deliberately manipulated in the sound studio to result in a high degree of neutrality, with ‘androgenous’ pitch, as accent-free as possible, and then further processed to result in a ‘whisper’, largely stripped of identifying characteristics. Not a perfect solution, but a pragmatic method of minimising the problem, which unfortunately is only adopted by a tiny minority of manufacturers.

Author's Bio: 

Peter Roe is webmaster of MindWaves UK, home of 'The Subliminal Cookbook' and the unique 'Core Change' 2-part subliminal/hypnotic self help programs. This article is the first of a short series taken from our PDF ebook 'Changing Your Mind' - download a copy free of charge at

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