Suggestion & Auto-Suggestion
by William Walker Atkinson
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In his book "Suggestion and Auto-Suggestion" once again, Atkinson draws from his very deep well of knowledge on the power of thought and how it can be used to make our lives happier and more satisfying. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to change their patterns of thinking to attain a more dynamic life.
PART 1. SUGGESTION.
1. What is Suggestion?
2. Suggestion of Authority
3. Suggestion of Habit and Repetition
4. Suggestion of Imitation
5. Instances of Suggestion
6. Suggestion in Business
7. Suggestion and Character
8. Suggestion in Childhood
9. Suggestion and Health
10. Masked Suggestion
11. Suggestive Therapeutics
12. Mental Cause and Cure
13. Therapeutic Suggestion
14. Suggestive Treatments
15. “The New Method”
PART 3. AUTO-SUGGESTION.
18. Auto-Suggestive Methods
19. Character Building
20. Health, Happiness and Prosperity
WHAT IS SUGGESTION?
While the majority of thinking people know what is meant by the word “suggestion,” in its modern psychological sense, yet very few of them are able to give even a fairly good definition of the term. And this difficulty is not confined to the general public, for even the writers on the subject of Suggestion seem to experience the same trouble in defining the term, and many of them have seemingly given up the task in despair; for they have plunged right into the middle of the subject, leaving the reader to learn what Suggestion is by what it does. But, notwithstanding this difficulty, we think it well to begin our consideration of the subject by at least an attempt to define the term, and to give a preliminary explanation of its scientific meaning.
The word “suggestion” is derived from the Latin word “suggestus,” which has for its base the word “suggero,” meaning: “To carry under.” Its original use was in the sense of a “placing under” or deft insinuation of a thought, idea, or impression, under the observant and watchful care of the attention, and into the “inner consciousness” of the individual. The word, as generally used, indicates the use of a hint or other indirect form of calling a matter to the attention of another. But beyond this use, there has arisen a secondary, and more subtle employment of the word, i. e. in the sense of a sly, guarded insinuation of an idea, in such a way that the hearer would fail to understand that he was receiving a hint, but would be apt to think that the idea arose in his own mind, from the workings of his own mentality. The word “insinuation” gives one the nearest idea of this form of suggestion. The word “insinuate” means: “To introduce anything gently, or by slow degrees; to instill artfully; to hint guardedly or indirectly; to intimate;”—the main idea of the term being “to creep in.” And, indeed many suggestions (in the scientific sense of the term) are so insinuated into the mind.
But among psychologists, the word began to take on a new meaning, i. e. that of the introduction of anything into the mind of the other, in an indirect and non-argument manner. One of the dictionaries defines this sense of the term as follows: “To introduce indirectly into the mind or thoughts.” And, later, psychologists began to use the term in a still broader sense, i. e. that of the impression upon the mind by the agency of other objects, such as gesture, signs, words, speech, physical sensations, environment, etc. And this use was extended later, to meet the requirements of the adherents of telepathy, who employed it in the sense of the “insinuation of ideas by telepathic means,” the term “mental suggestion” generally being used to distinguish this particular form of suggestion.
The comparatively recent interest in, and discoveries regarding the great subconscious area of mind, caused a new interest to attach to the use of suggestion, for the majority of the writers held that this subconscious region of the mind was particularly amenable to suggestion, and that to this part of the mind all suggestions were really directed and aimed. The “insinuation” was held to be the artful introduction of the thought into this region of mentality. Many theories were advanced to account for the phenomena of the subconscious in its phase of the suggestible-mind, and the discussion still rages. But, no matter what theory may triumph in the end, the fact of the existence of the subconscious region of mind has been firmly established. While the theorists are disputing about names and generalities, a great army of investigators are uncovering new principles of application, and new facts of phenomena regarding this wonderful part of the mind. While the theorists are disputing about the ‘‘Why,’’ the investigators are finding out much about the “How.” The subject has now reached the stage where it may be divested from mysticism or “super-naturalness,” and studied from a purely scientific position. Sub-consciousness without Suggestion would be like “Hamlet” without the Prince. The two subjects are bound closely together, and it is difficult to consider one except in connection with the other.
In order to understand the modern psychological use of the word “suggestion”—which is the use that we shall make of the term in this book,—you must make the broad distinction between the ideas accepted by the mind following the employment of logic, reasoning, demonstration, proof, etc., on the one hand; and impressions made upon, or ideas induced in the mind by other methods. The words “Impression” and “Induce” will give you the best idea of the effect of suggestion. When an idea is placed in the mind of a person by Suggestion, it is always placed there by one of the following three general methods:
1. Suggestion by means of impressing the fact upon the mind by firm authoritative statements, repetition, etc., in which the suggestion acts as a die upon the molten wax; or
2. Suggestion by means of inducing the idea in the mind, by indirect insinuation, hint, casual mention, etc., by which the mind is caught off its guard, and the instinctive resistance of the will is escaped; or
3. Suggestion, generally along the lines of association, in which outward appearances, objects, environment, etc., act to both impress and induce the idea into the mind.
Of course there are eases in which several of these three methods are associated or combined, but a careful analysis will show that one or more of the three are always in evidence in any and all cases of Suggestion.
To some, the above statements may seem strange, for to many the arguments of a person are held to be the strongest forms of suggestion, impression and induction. But a little analysis will show that there is far more to Suggestion than argument. In the first place mere argument for argument’s sake is not a strong suggestion. Men may argue for hours, without any special object in view, and after a great flood of words, all the parties thereto will go on their way, unconvinced, unimpressed, and with no new convictions or ideas “induced” in them, unless under the latter classification may be included the frequent “impression” or conviction that the other party to the argument is either densely ignorant, a fool, bigoted, or else an unmitigated bore. The twelfth juror, who complained of the “eleven stubborn” fellow-jurymen, was not especially amenable to the suggestion by argument; although the same man undoubtedly could have been swayed by the employment of a more subtle form of influence. It is true that often argument is necessary to brush away certain objections to certain ideas, but after that is done the real work of Suggestion is performed by the person wishing to make an impression. As a rule Suggestion is not operated by opposing will to will; argument to argument; or logic to logic. On the contrary, it generally operates by insinuating itself under, over, or around the argument, will, or logic; or else by an authoritative statement, repeated as often as possible, without proof, and avoiding argument. And even where proof or argument is employed, it will be found that the Suggestion is in the form of the main statement, and that the argument and proof are merely the “stage-business” of the performance.
In the form of Suggestion, in which Impression is the method employed, the action is generally direct and open. The ‘‘strong men’’ frequently employ this method effectively, carrying it through by sheer force of personality and real or fancied authority. Where Induction is the form employed, the method resembles that of the diplomat, and tact, finesse, and subtle insinuation are the forms of the operation. In this form of Suggestion, which is far more common than is generally imagined, diplomats, women, and others having fine perceptions and instinctive delicacy of mental touch, excel. The lift of an eyebrow; the shrug of a shoulder; the carefully shaded accent—all these are phases of this form of Suggestion. And many little tricks of manner, gesture, etc., are likewise. So common is the use of Suggestion in these times, that an acquaintance with the subject is almost absolutely necessary to every one.
Another form of Suggestion that has sprung into prominence in late years, is that of Therapeutic Suggestion, by which term is meant the employment of Direct Suggestion for the purpose of causing the mind to exert its inherent power to regulate the functions of the body, by means of the involuntary nervous system, etc. Therapeutic Suggestion has reached an important place in the method of combating disease and ill-health, and is now taught in all the principal medical colleges, although until recently regarded by them with disfavor. It also covers and explains many of the various forms of “healing” by various mental and so-called “spiritual” methods, which, under various guises and names, have grown so rapidly in popular favor during the past decade. A portion of this book shall be devoted to this branch of the subject.
Another important branch of the general subject of Suggestion is found in what is known as “Auto-Suggestion,” which is Self-Suggestion, or Suggestion given by oneself, to oneself, according to certain methods and principles, and which method is also in great favor at the present time, under one name or another, and under one theory or another. Auto-Suggestion may be, and is, advantageously employed along therapeutic lines, and many cases of “healing” by many supposed methods, are really the result of the auto-suggestion of the patient, aroused in various ways. Auto-Suggestion is also very advantageously employed in Character Building, and in Self Development. It is found to be the active basis of all the various forms of self improvement along mental lines.
All of the above forms of Suggestion will be touched upon under the chapters devoted to them in this book, with further explanation and details. The purpose of this introductory chapter is merely to give you a general idea of what Suggestion is, and its several forms.
SUGGESTION OF AUTHORITY.
In the preceding chapter we called your attention to the fact that Suggestions are accepted by persons when given by one or more of three general methods. These three methods, you will remember, are: (1) Suggestion by impression, as by authoritative statements, etc.; (2) Suggestion by inducing the idea in the mind, by insinuation, hint, and other indirect means; and (3) Suggestion along the lines of association of outward objects, etc., which act both by impressing and inducing the idea in the receptive mind of the person so suggested to.
But these three classes of suggestion may be considered as being caused by the suggestion reaching the individual along several different lines, or channels. For convenience we may divide these channels of suggestion into five classes, viz:
1. The Suggestion of Authority;
2. The Suggestion of Association;
3. The Suggestion of Habit;
4. The Suggestion of Repetition;
5. The Suggestion of Imitation.
In order that you may be able to distinguish the difference between these different phases of Suggestion, we shall call your attention to the details observable in each, briefly and concisely, that we may hasten on to the general subject of the book.
1. The Suggestion of Authority: This form of suggestion manifests along both the lines of impression and induction, respectively. That is to say, Suggestion by Authority manifests both in the positive authoritative statements directed to the point; and also by the spoken or written statements made by those who speak or write with an air of authority. It is a peculiarity of the human mind that it is inclined to listen with respect and credence to the words, written or spoken, of persons who assume the air of authority and knowledge. The same person who will weigh carefully every proposition of those, whom he considers to be his equals, or inferiors, will accept the statements of those whom he considers to possess authority or knowledge exceeding his own, without more than a casual questioning, and sometimes without any questioning or doubt whatsoever. Let some person posing as an authority, or occupying a position of command, calmly state a fallacy with an air of wisdom and conviction, without any “ifs” or “buts,” and many otherwise careful people will accept the suggestion without question; and unless they are afterward forced to analyze it by the light of reason, they will let this seed idea find lodgment in their minds, to blossom and bear fruit thereafter. The explanation is that in such cases the person suspends the critical attention which is usually interposed by the attentive will, and allows the idea to enter his mental castle unchallenged, thereafter to dwell at home there, and to influence other ideas in the future. It is like a man assuming a lordly air and marching past the watchman at the gate of the mental fortress, where the ordinary visitor is challenged and severely scrutinized; his credentials examined; and the mark of approval placed upon him before he may enter.
The acceptance of such suggestions is akin to a person bolting a particle of food, instead of masticating it. As a rule we bolt many a bit of mental provender, owing to its stamp of real or pretended authority. And many persons understanding this phase of suggestion, take advantage of it, and ‘‘use it in their business” accordingly. The confidence-man, as well as the shrewd politician and the seller of neatly printed gold mines, imposes himself upon the public by means of an air of authority, or by what is known in the parlance of the busy streets, as “putting up a good front.” Some men are all “front,” and have nothing behind their authoritative air—but that authoritative air provides them with a living. As Bulwer-Lytton makes one of his characters say: “Whenever you are about to utter something astonishingly false, always begin with, ‘It is an acknowledged fact,’ etc.’’ Many a false statement has been accepted when prefaced with a “I assert without fear of contradiction,” etc. Or, “It is generally conceded by the best authorities, that,” etc. Or, “The best sources of information agree,” etc. Often there is this variation: “As you probably know, sir,” etc. But in many cases there is not even this preface—the statement is made with a “Thus saith the Lord” manner, and is accepted because of the tone and manner accompanying it. As a rule these authoritative suggestions are not accompanied by argument or logical proof—they are thrust at you as self-evident truths. Or, if argument there be, it is generally but a few specious comparisons of bits of sophistry, offered to quiet the mental conscience of the person. Many authoritative suggestions are crystallized into epigrammatic axiomic phrases, which are accepted as true because of their ‘‘patness,’’ and apparent smartness, without analysis on the part of those to whom they are offered. Political catch-words and current explanations belong to this class. Many a phrase is accepted by the public because it ‘‘sounds good,’’ without any regard to the truth stated in it.
It would not be so bad if it were merely the acceptance of the suggestion of authority in itself. But that is only the beginning of the trouble, for the suggested idea once admitted to the mind without question takes up its abode there and colors all subsequent thought of the individual. Many of us have experienced periods in our life, when, some new idea attracting us, we found it necessary to take mental stock of our other ideas on the subject. In such cases the majority of us have found that our minds have been filled with all sorts of mental rubbish, without any basis in actual truth, which have been acquired in the past merely from the acceptance of the suggestions of authority. We are like the man of whom Josh Billings once said: “He knows more that ain’t so, than any other man a livin’ ” We advise you to be a little less hospitable to these authoritative statements in the future. Be a little bit more your own authority. If you find it easier to accept a strong statement of this kind, at the time, do so with the mental reservation of “accepted subject to future examination, with privilege of rejection.” And above everything else in this line, be sure of the “authority” of your stator of facts—examine his credentials.
2. The Suggestion of Association: This form of Suggestion is one of the most common phases. It is found on all sides, and at all times. The mental law of association makes it very easy for us to associate certain things with certain other things, and we will find that when one of the things is recalled it will bring with, it its associated impressions. For example to many persons the odor of certain flowers recalls the memory and feelings of funerals, cemeteries and death. This because at some time the person has perceived the identical odor when associated with the scenes of a funeral. The faint odor of mignonette will carry the mind back over the years to some tender episode of the earlier days, and before we know it we are indulging in sentimental reminiscences and thoughts of “it might have been” and all the rest of it. The sound of some old melody will bring back the feelings, sad or joyful, of time long since past. We know of a case in which the individual has a chain of melodies reaching back for many years, each, particular one being connected with some particular period of his life. When he wishes to live over the past, he begins humming, and thus travels from youth to middle-age, or the reverse, by the sound of the various melodies.
But there are many other forms of suggestion by association. We are apt to associate a well-dressed man, of commanding carriage, traveling in an expensive automobile, as a man of wealth and influence. And, accordingly when some adventurer of the “ J. Rufus Wallingford” type travels our way, clad in sumptuous apparel, with the air of an Astorbilt, and a $10,000 (hired) automobile, we hasten to place our money and valuables in his keeping, and esteem ourselves honored by having been accorded the privilege. The actor, orator, preacher and politician use the suggestion of association upon us by the employment of tones vibrant with feeling and emotion, which are associated in our minds with the actual feeling and emotion—and lo! we are weeping or laughing; smiling or frowning; filled with approval or condemnation, as the case may be. The speaker pulls the associative strings of suggestion, and we dance accordingly.
We find that many of our prejudices, favorable or unfavorable, are the result of associations of past experiences. If we have had an unpleasant business experience with a man with a peculiar expression or color of hair, we find it hard to overcome a prejudice against others of similar personal appearance, in after years. Sometimes a name will carry associations with it. We once knew a man who would absolutely refuse to have business dealings with any one named ‘‘M— —,’’ because he had once been badly worsted and cheated in a real estate deal by a man of that name. Many names are associated with persons who had borne them in the past, and, as ridiculous as it may seem, we find it difficult to overcome the prejudice. The majority of people have experiences of this kind.
How many of our readers do not feel an antipathy for some particular article of food, because of some unpleasant experience with that article in the past? Personally, when the writer was a boy, his father wishing to break him of the habit of eating too heartily of “cream-puffs,” once offered to pay for all that the boy could eat at one time. Boy-like, the offer was accepted, and the result was disastrous—for years after he could not look at a cream-puff without feeling sad and reminiscent. And the memory of what he once found in a hotel mince-pie caused an associated suggestion that held its grip with the passage of the years.
How many of our ideas are the result of associated suggestion, we can tell only when we begin to take occasional mental stock. Many of our ideas, feelings, prejudices, likes and dislikes, are the result of this form of suggestion, rather than of anything really attaching to them alone. The moral is that we should watch carefully the company that our mental images are keeping, and avoid unpleasant mental attachments.
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