We are routinely taught from an early age that being suggestible is something to grow out of as we become adults.
In some ways this is an essential protective mechanism in a culture which often prioritises adversarial relationships. Competition is embedded in the everyday language and situations we find ourselves in such as business, sports, and even the world of dating. We need to compete to survive and thrive the system may be telling us daily.
Our culture does not perhaps pride itself quite so much on exploitative and usurious relationships – but nonetheless definitely promotes them as a necessary evil.
Against this background it is hardly surprising that most of us regard being suggestible as a weakness. You may be “taken advantage of”, or “be a pawn.” It can be seen as a threat to be suggestible, a sign of lack of character or weakness.
And yet the facts tell a very different story – that suggestibility is our friend and ally. How else do we learn, if we do not allowed trusted teachers, mentors, and advisers to plant new seeds in our minds?
The orientation response is sometimes politely referred to as the “what the heck?” moment. This occurs when we are confronted by experience or incoming data which makes no sense in terms of the patterns that we are currently using to interpret what is happening in our world.
When the orientation response occurs it actually flips the brain into a state of increased suggestibility while it does a super-fast search for a new sense-making pattern, including reviewing any pattern suggestions from outside.
This phenomenon is routinely exploited by stage and street hypnotists, the advertising industry and manipulative politicians. Long ago they learned the technique of presenting something that makes the audience do a double take and then punching their sales message into the momentarily more suggestible state.
So is not hard to see why we are often well advised to be cautious about being too suggestible, we are surrounded by exploitative uses of our suggestibility superpower.. Though we should bear in mind that the orientation response is so quick and so automatic we may very often not even notice that we have temporarily been made more suggestible.
Additionally it is not only the orientation response that increases suggestibility. Naturally occurring states include: daydream, mind-wander, staring absently at the TV and that borderline state between sleeping and waking. We are also more suggestible during the REM phase of our sleep.
Most importantly, here’s the thing. It is our ability to drop into a state of suggestibility that allows us to learn and to reframe current and previous experience in light of new information and/or new sense-making patterns. It is a key factor in our developmental ability to change ourselves and learn to adapt and thrive with new information in new environments.
We rightly regard children and young people as needing some protection and guidance about what influences mould their thinking. During this phase of life we are ultra-suggestible much of the time in order to learn the massive amount of material that we need to function in the world.
As we grow older we often come to regard suggestibility as a liability and do everything we can to minimise it. That’s a big problem if we need to learn to see things in many different ways in order to be able to find solutions to complex problems.
There is a great need for us to do rediscover ways of being appropriately and creatively suggestible. You might note this in the recent trend towards play and creativity in business skills required to build our future within a world of evermore complex challenges.
New learning and creativity are some examples of how powerful and effective receptivity can be. Active deep listening is another. Such receptivity rarely occurs naturally without conscious development and training. The benefits are well evidenced in many fields including psychology, conflict resolution and anywhere that real human connection is a benefit.
To learn you have to be suggestible.
To be suggestible you have to be relaxed.
If the primitive brain, centred around the amygdala, is on constant high alert for any potential threats it will be almost impossible to learn anything. This also applies to studying. If you are in a state of constant anxiety or stress, you can read an entire book from cover to cover and take absolutely nothing in. So being able to consciously and deliberately create states of relaxed receptivity is a great skill to develop.
It’s not that hard, unless you are convinced at one level or another that any time spent relaxing is either dangerous or wasted.
You could just sit down, relax and do some easy steady breathing from your abdomen. Counting 4 in and 6 out. That will soon make you quite relaxed and probably more open.
Or you can treat yourself to this free 6 minute Liminal Coaching recording (much more fun).