Can Hypnosis Help You Drop Bad Habits? I Tried It

Of the many bad habits I have—and there are a lot of them—the one that especially hinders my life is procrastination. I like to procrastinate. I’ve been good at it, and I’ve never been punished for it. My best papers in school were ones I pulled all-nighters for, and the tests I aced were ones I crammed for the night before. When it comes to creative writing, my bursts of inspiration usually happen right before something is due. I was probably just lucky back then. Now, that luck has run out, and my procrastination just doesn’t cut it anymore.

I’ve spoken with many friends and coworkers about hypnosis therapy. What is it? Can someone control your mind? Can it help you drop a bad habit? 

There have been many success stories of hypnosis reducing pain and stress and helping people stop smoking. For example, in one study done by Joseph Barber, Ph.D., of the University of Washington School of Medicine, 39 out of 43 patients who underwent hypnosis to quit smoking stopped their addiction. 

Despite these promising results, I’ve always thought it would be hard for someone to penetrate my mind and change the way I think or behave, but that didn’t keep me from wanting to try it. Not knowing what to expect, I visited board-certified hypnotist John Mongiovi at his office in the Flatiron district of New York City.


(Image credit: Urban Outfitters)

His office is spacious and comfortable. It has a high ceiling and is minimally decorated. It holds a long sofa against the back wall where I sit and an armchair where he sits in front of me. I tell him it reminds me of my therapist’s office, to which he explains that hypnosis can be similar to a therapy session, but it’s not the same. According to Mongiovi, the most basic definition of hypnosis is, “a state of deep physical relaxation and mental absorption, or mental focus.” He adds, “we’re not here to analyze you. We’re here to figure out the best key to changing the behavior pattern, the thought pattern.”

A behavior pattern that interferes with your life is how he defines a bad habit. “There are both behavior habits and thinking patterns—negative thinking patterns. You’re addressing both,” he says. He tells me to think about someone who smokes. The person who smokes is likely dealing with some sort of stress, and they are looking at cigarette as something to look forward to when going through something difficult. You can’t just address the nicotine addiction. You have to address the thinking side of it too.

He lays it all out for me and explains how my session with him is going to go. One session is usually two hours long, and it’s usually one and done—it’s unusual to see someone multiple times for the same problem. You spend an hour asking any questions about hypnosis and talking about the issue you want to address. During that time, he will try to understand the person’s communication style and the way they are dealing with their problem. “It’s part you getting comfortable with me and hypnosis and part me trying to understand what is going on,” he says. The hypnosis part is the last part of the session, which can last from 45 minutes to an hour.


(Image credit: Urban Outfitters)

The hypnosis part, he reassures me, is nothing to be afraid of. “The misconception is that you go to sleep or that you go unconscious. People are afraid to lose control. They don’t want to go unconscious, and they don’t want to be unaware of what’s going on,” he says.

He goes on to explain that he cannot make me do something that I would not normally do. He says it’s the same with stage hypnotism, which is what most of us associate with when we think of being hypnotized. “You cannot give a suggestion to someone that is against his or her moral fiber or belief system,” he says. “If you were to tell someone to do something that had nothing to do with the reason they’re here, even in the deepest states of hypnosis, that in itself would alert them and sort of jar them out of the trance.” 

I ask about hallucinations, and he said he does not have the power to conjure up little green monsters to chase me. “All hypnosis, in a way, is self-hypnosis,” he says. “You go into hypnosis, and the hypnotist gives you suggestions. The basic idea is that the suggestions are influencing your unconscious (the power of suggestion is absolutely real, as observed by the placebo effect). There is another aspect to hypnotism that is virtually productive: Your unconscious mind during that whole time is doing its own work.”

We start talking about my bad habit, which I tell him is my procrastination. I explain that even with the organized to-do list I make every morning when I get into work, I end up looking at the New York Times or New York Magazine or looking to see if I gained a follower on Instagram. “Why do you do that?” he asks. I say, ”whenever I get writer’s block, I read articles to see if that will inspire me to start writing something.” He responds, “so you’re not procrastinating because you don’t want to do it. You’re trying to find inspiration.”

“Yes,” I reply. I bring up why I wanted to be a writer, which slowly turns into a discussion about my frustration with people not taking beauty seriously and how I hope to write something that will prove to everyone that beauty is more than a superficial topic meant to sell lipsticks. In the end of it all, he asks me this question: “Are you really trying to find inspiration, or are you not confident in your own writing because of all the pressure you put on yourself?”

He lets me sit on that thought before telling me it’s time for the hypnosis part. He tells me that I will I lay down on the couch with my eyes closed. I must remain silent, and every once in a while, he will check to see if I have fallen asleep by asking me to wiggle a finger. In the event I fall asleep, he will gently tap me to wake me up. I lay down, close my eyes, and clear my mind, as I listen to the phrases of encouragement and instructions he repeats along with the nature soundtrack playing in the background. The hour goes by fast. “I don’t know what I feel, but I do feel different,” I tell him when it’s over. He says he gets that a lot from his clients. I leave his office feeling enlightened.

Now, every time I catch myself wanting to check out an article on the New York Times or check my Instagram feed to see what people are up to when I’m writing, I pause, and I can hear his voice in my head telling me to stay focused. Sometimes I ignore it because hey, nobody’s perfect, and I love to read, but I’m more aware that I’m getting off track.

Next up, read up on dry salt therapy.


This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions.

Audrey Noble
Associate Editor

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