“Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”
-Tony Robbins

John Koenig worked on Madison Avenue, writing ad copy for some of the biggest brands of the day.  His encore career has been that of hypnotist, and John has brought the wisdom of years spent crafting language to influence people over to his work as a hypnotist.  One of the ways he does that is through his “possibilities process,” which is a wonderful way of getting people to ask better questions of themselves so that they can come to new understandings.  That’s what we talk about in this interview.

Because I’m human, I catch myself doing the very things that we discuss in this interview that I know I shouldn’t be doing.  Every now and then I’ll ask myself, “Why is it so hard for me to lose weight?” or “What the hell is my problem?”  Developing the awareness of when we ask these unhelpful questions, and replacing them with questions that will actually move us forward, is an important skill.

If you’d like to learn more about John, or connect with him:

Client services.

Hypnotist training.

Nicholas Spohn is a cool dude.  He was briefly a professional mixed martial arts fighter, built a successful real estate business, and now uses hypnotism, neuro-linguistic programming, and other modalities to help people create positive changes in their lives.

When Nicholas was visiting my home awhile back, I was telling him about my frustrations with my weight, and how doubly frustrating it is to know hypnotism, yet not use if for weight loss.  He asked me if I had tried the Dickens process, and then explained why he thought it was such a powerful experience to have.  In this interview, we re-visit that conversation and go deeper on the topic.

The important takeaway from this interview that will benefit almost everyone is the reminder that human beings are generally more focused on avoiding pain than getting pleasure.  If you struggle with your weight, this may seem counterintuitive to you, since you get a lot of pleasure from food, but if you can shift your thinking to see that you’re using the pleasure of food to avoid the pain of _____, then you’ll have a better understanding of your own situation.  What pain is it that you are really avoiding?  And if you used the Dickens process, how could you envision much greater pains that have come from, are coming from, or will come from the way you use food?  When you skyrocket that pain response, you might be able to break out of the comfort of using food the way your currently do.

Nicholas’ Facebook.

Nicholas’ Instagram.

In my last entry, I discussed the clarity I had attained around how my life model just wasn’t working for me, and in that realization I came to understand that nothing outside of myself was going to fix things.  I was going to have to go even further within my sense of self and craft a new way of living.  My thoughts must change, my behaviors must be different, and in order to make this happen I have to have a fundamentally different energy.

Up until this point in my life, I thought about energy as something that we give and receive, and I still do think that, but without making a conscious decision, I was more focused on the energy outside of myself and less focused on the energy inside myself.  I kept consuming various sources of energy (food, media, relationships) and letting the frequency of those sources carry me through the day.  It was sort of like trying to be a curator, putting together an awesome collection of works for a gallery.  If I could just get the right pieces together…

Nope.

I have left that behind, now.  For the past four or five weeks, I have been focused only on what I can do to generate the energy that I want to have.  That’s the difference between being a creator and a consumer.

I started with meditation.  The research is clear at this point that there are numerous benefits to meditating, but I kept avoiding it because it wasn’t something I could just consume. I actually had to sit my ass down and do it.  Now I do.  Many people who promote meditation start their day with it, but I have found that for me it’s a great help when I end my day by meditating.  I do twenty minutes of meditation right before I go to bed, and I fall asleep faster and sleep better because of it.  And since there are important links between one’s quality of sleep and weight loss or weight gain, meditating is not only a mental practice, but a practical element of my weight loss efforts.

I stopped playing video games.  I love video games.  Modern video games are incredible entertainment.  They are also a HUGE time suck.  My favorite video game of all time is “Skyrim.” I logged over a thousand hours on that game.  Let that sink in.  That’s just one game, and I spent more hours on that game than I spent on classroom and study hours for my Master’s degree.  What could you do with a thousand hours?  If I took all the hours I’ve spent playing video games and used them on one other endeavor, I could be an accomplished piano player, or furniture maker, or be the best hypnotist in the world.  It’s classic opportunity cost (remember high school enconomics?).

I read more.  As an English major in college, I spent a lot of time reading what my professors assigned me, and it sort of burned me out on reading.  It’s a tragic irony, because the whole reason I declared as an English major was because I loved reading so much!  In fact, I didn’t read a single work of fiction for the first four years after I graduated from college.  It was the Harry Potter books that helped me find joy in reading again, but twenty-five years after college I still don’t read fiction like I did before I went to college.  The main point is that I know that I’m happier when I read for the joy of it, and so I consume less Netflix and more books.  I believe there is a difference in how we consume books.  When I read, I create the story in my mind. I see the scenes, hear the voices, so it’s not strictly consumption, but rather a creative process.  Reading more has been a good thing for my personal energy.

I use sound to tune myself.  Each of us is consciousness in a physical form.  We are energy in the form of matter, vibrating at various frequencies.  Sound vibrations have a variety of effects on human beings, the effect depending mostly on the frequency of the sound.  Low frequency sound, sometimes called infrasound, can create nausea, dizziness, and headache.  Some researchers are suggesting that high frequency sounds, sounds that we can’t even consciously perceive, could also have negative health effects on people.

Throughout my day, I use music to help me maintain the energetic state that I desire.  When I’m working at my desk, I play new age music and symphony music.  It helps me stay centered and peaceful.  When I feel my energy getting low, I put on pop music that gets me more emotionally fired up.  My heart rate goes up, I breathe faster, and I sing along.  When I go to bed at night, I play solfeggio frequencies (disclaimer: I do not play them because I believe the claims about what solfeggio frequencies can do, but simply because I like the way they sound).

My only concern, for the past month or so, has been to give my attention to how I want to feel inside, and how I can make choices that shape that inner state to one that is peaceful, loving, and connected.  I’ll focus on connection more in my next entry.

After my New Year’s confession, I took some time away from blogging and interviewing and the mechanics of the project, and I got focused on myself.  I realized that when I first started “The Fat Hypnotist” project my heart was in the right place, but my implementation was all wrong.

I initially approached the project as a way to find a solution to a problem.  Sensible, right?  But in doing this, I focused too much on the problem, and my efforts were driven by an intellectual, analytical approach.  That would be great if obesity was an intellectual problem, a simple matter of learning about calories and nutrition and exercise options, but obesity, for most people, is an emotional problem, and I wasn’t diving deeper into my emotions.  Using my brain wasn’t getting me where I wanted to be; it was time to connect, through my heart, to this life challenge.

I spent a lot of hours reflecting on my life, and thinking about all the different factors that could have contributed to my difficulties with food and weight.  More importantly, I spent a lot of time thinking about the emotional themes that came up over and over again.  What kept coming up weren’t actually emotional themes, but behavioral themes.

The first theme is that of comfort.  I consume a lot of things in order to comfort myself.  Food and drink are the primary things that provide comfort for me.  But the reality is that they don’t really comfort me; they just give me pleasure, and the pleasure never lasts, so I have to keep consuming and consuming in order to keep the pleasure going, but it never lasts.  It’s a terrible model.

The second theme is avoidance.  When I get stressed, or disappointed, or have any kind of mental state that makes me feel unworthy, I find activities to do that allow me to focus my attention on something else entirely.  Netflix, social media, video games, and other such distractions allow me to withdraw from my real world experience and dissociate from myself into another world, another story, another experience.  But those experiences are always transient; they can’t last forever.  And when they do end, not only am I faced with the same unresolved feelings and thoughts that I had before I engaged in the avoidance activity, but I now also have the new negative feelings that I just spent a lot of time being unproductive, not doing things of greater value, like building my business, or keeping my home in good shape, or exercising.

Both themes involve consumption.  In one, I consume physical matter, in the other, I consume mental material.  In both cases, I’m firing off neurotransmitters in my brain that make me feel good temporarily, but that will not last forever and eventually put me right back where I was, feeling lousy again.  This is a pattern that I’ve been in for over twenty years.

It’s just not working.

The consumer-based world we live in is one which consistently sends the message that if we have the right things, we will be happy.  If you have a good job, and a good home, and the right clothes, and a cool mobile phone, and, and, and… then you’ll be happy.  And it just isn’t true.  While there are many things that can bring me pleasure, there is nothing outside of myself that can make me happy.  This means that if I wish to be truly happy and healthy, I must reject the model of living that I have worked within for my entire adult life.  And that is sort of terrifying to think about doing.

Human beings love certainty.  We have a deep desire to know that our lives work in a certain way, and that we can continue to count on them working that way, and having that certainty makes us feel safe.  For all these years, I’ve been prioritizing the certainty that I got from consuming the things I consumed over the other things I wanted to have and experience in my life.  I’ve done it for so long, that the repercussions of my behavior now threaten that very certainty.  I don’t have certain health anymore.  I don’t trust my body like I used to in terms of physical activities.  I’m not able to maintain the energy it takes to be productive at a high level, day after day.  It’s imperative, at this point in my life, that I discard my old life model and develop a new one.

I am not saying that I’m going to give up all of my personal belongings and go live like a monk, and I’m not saying that’s what you have to do, either.  I don’t think it’s an issue of having stuff or not having stuff.  It’s an issue of what belief system you’re actively participating in, whether you realize it consciously or not. 

My new life model must be one in which I am completely devoted to the belief that happiness will only come from within myself.  Happiness is a product of how I think and behave.  So whereas before I was thinking and behaving in relation to my understanding of things outside of me (job, relationships, belongings) I must now focus completely on things inside of me (thoughts and feelings).  So the main shift is moving away from choices to consume things that will make me feel better and instead CREATE thoughts, feelings, and experiences that will bring me joy.

Creator instead of consumer.

I hate failing.

I can’t stand failure.  Well, that’s not entirely true. I can stand it just fine, when it’s other folks who are failing.  I can be encouraging and remind people that failing is part of the learning process, and I genuinely mean it when I say it.  I truly understand and believe that failure is a vital part of how human beings learn and grow.  I recognize the value of failure.

And yet I loathe it when it happens to me.

It’s because, for me, success and failure are about validating that I am who I think I am, that I’m capable of doing whatever I believe I can do, and that in being able to do those things, I must possess qualities that I value, like intelligence, creativity, and good judgment.  When I succeed, I feel worthy, and when I fail, I feel unworthy.

Have you read Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset?” If not, you really should.  Dweck’s research examines the way that our upbringing, specifically the way that we are praised by others, influences how we perceive ourselves as either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.  People with a fixed mindset have more rigid views of their skills and abilities.  It’s as if they classify their own personal qualities as absolute certainties:

  • I’m smart.
  • I’m athletic.
  • I’m attractive.

Those who live with a growth mindset see their own character traits more as skills or abilities than concrete qualities:

  • I’m a hard worker.
  • I’m a good problem solver.
  • I’m a good learner.

Dweck found that individuals with a fixed mindset were less resilient than those with growth mindsets.  When presented with a situation in which they failed, the fixed mindset people in the study were more likely to give up, while the growth mindset people persisted.

I was raised to be a fixed minded individual.  My parents, teachers, and others in the community were always telling me how smart I was, how articulate I was, and how mature I was for a boy my age.  And while your first reaction in reading this might be to think about how that would give me a big ego, that’s not what a fixed mindset is about.  The specific repeated praises of me being so smart, so well spoken, so mature did give me a level of confident, but more importantly, they gave me identity markers that I thought amounted to who I actually was.

Flash forward to my junior year in high school, when, for the first time ever, I was in a math class that I couldn’t easily understand.  I had always earned A’s and B’s in math classes, and all of a sudden here I was, at a loss to understand the concepts of pre-calculus.  I went to my guidance counselor, ashamed to admit that I was failing at a class.  She told me that I had already met my minimum math requirements in order to graduate, and that I could drop the class if I wanted to.  So of course I did.

At the end of that semester, when I got my first C ever in chemistry class, I returned to the guidance counselor.  No worries, she said.  You can take a different science class and still meet your science requirement.  And so I did.

By avoiding those tougher classes, I was able to meet all my requirements and graduate third in my class.  I was still smart.  Thank goodness.

The pattern, however, was now established.

It was all subconscious, of course.  I never realized the behavior model that had been created, but it had been created, and I lived with it for twenty more years.  I did whatever I felt I was good at, and did those things at a high level, and anything that I couldn’t do at a high level, I simply didn’t do. I abandoned anything that made me feel like I wasn’t smart or successful.

In college, when I declared as a hospitality management major in the business school, I got A’s and B’s, until I had to take Business Statistics.  Another freakin’ math class.  And I failed.  We were allowed to re-take it one time, but had to earn at least a C to stay in the major.  Three weeks into my second attempt, I knew I wasn’t going to cut it, and I dropped the class and switched to Liberal Arts.  I got a B.A. in English-Teaching, and graduated with a 3.5 GPA.  Still smart!

I entered graduate school to get a Master’s in Secondary Education, and it was great.  I was talking with people who were passionate about teaching, who wanted to change the world one young mind at a time.  In that program, we had to teach full-time, unpaid, as interns.  It was hard, but I had a good mentor, and I was loving it.  At the end of that year, my advisor required us to write a thesis about some aspect of education from our internship experience.  A paper? No problem!  I’d written so many by that point.  What was one more?

But it was a problem.  I don’t know why, but I had major writer’s block for this paper, which had never been a problem for me before.  It was the day of the deadline, and I still hadn’t finished it.  I was sitting in the kitchen of my apartment, at a loss for what to do, trying to cobble together the thoughts that I knew I should have after a full year of teaching, but they just didn’t come.  The paper was about 75% there, but it was definitely unfinished.  And I lost my mind.

I’m not exaggerating.  I had a breakdown.  I wrote this stream of consciousness that came to me in the moment of hysteria, and I printed it out at 11:30 at night, and I drove it to my advisor’s house, babbling out loud to myself in the car like a madman the whole way, and left it on his front doorstep at midnight.  Then I drove home in silence.  I had never felt more ashamed of myself.

My advisor called the next day.  “Paul, this paper… it’s not really what I would expect from you.  Are you okay?”

I told him about the stress, and what had happened to me the night before.  I told him that I didn’t know what else to do.  He was so kind to me.  He offered me an incomplete, which meant that I could re-write the paper and submit it later, or he said that I could take a B on the internship, which I know sounds fine, but in grad school getting a B is like getting a D.  Technically, you have passed, but it’s not good.

“Please just give me the B” I answered. “I just don’t think I can handle anything else right now.”

At this point, you might be wondering what any of this has to do with losing weight.  The answer is: everything.

Imagine what it’s like to be a hypnotist who, up until now, has been unable to use hypnosis to lose weight.  Just like I was the English major who wrote so many papers, yet had this one time where I couldn’t finish a paper, now I’m the hypnotist who has been practicing for over fifteen years, who has hypnotized over 20,000 people, and yet I can’t seem to do it for this important personal reason.  The only upside so far is that I haven’t ended up babbling in my car like a madman.

When you operate from a fixed mindset, failure makes you question your very identity.  Am I smart?  Am I successful?  Am I a good hypnotist?  Because if I am, then I should be able to do this, right?  Yet here I am, obese for all fifteen-plus years of my hypnotism career.

Here’s the wonderful thing that I learned from Carol Dweck’s book: mindset is adaptable.  If you’re a fixed mindset person, you can switch to being a growth mindset person.  You can practice thinking differently, and you can shift your behaviors.  You’re not stuck, if you don’t want to be.

Which is why I’m still here, working on this project.  Because while I do believe that I’m smart, I now care more about being gritty, about being a person who perseveres.  And while I do believe that I’m successful in many regards, I care more now about being successful on my own terms than being successful in the eyes of others.  While I’m not in school anymore, I’m still on Earth school, and that’s for my whole life, and there’s still lots to learn and lots to do, and why shouldn’t it be fun and fascinating and serve others along the way?

I know this was a crazy long post, and if you’ve read it all, I’m grateful.  I hope it brings something useful into your awareness.  I hope that, if you’re struggling with something, you can see that you’re not alone.  Whatever failures you’ve had, you’re still going, and you can get where you want to be.  If I can help, I will.

I spent my 45th birthday in Phoenix, Arizona, at a four day live event organized by Brendon Burchard, one of the world’s top high performance consultants.  Brendon has published multiple best-selling books, his online trainings have been consumed by millions of people, and he has consulted for Anthony Robbins, Oprah, and more.  He’s no slouch.

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