Burb's Eye View: Hypnotic response to bad habits

The academic rigors of second-grade math were proving too difficult for a young Ronald Bonk.

The mocking numbers overwhelmed him. Bonk chewed on his pencils, hoping the method would provide prescience. The stress roiled. Eventually the habit evolved, and the Cleveland boy would soon find himself chewing at three knuckles on his right hand.

That habit would continue for the next 40 years. He tried to stop with gloves and lotions, he even quit washing his hands. In his sleep the habit would foment, and asking women to dance at swing-dancing clubs proved too embarrassing.

“It was always, ‘What are you, a leper or something?’” Bonk said.

Bonk tried hypnosis as a last resort, a technique that carries its own stigma. That decision changed everything for the former film restorer and 20-year Burbank resident – his career, his personal life and his hands which, after four years without a bite, have healed nicely.

He says it took one session with a hypnotherapist to see results. A therapeutic session with a hypnotherapist is similar to getting a massage or doing yoga – a person is led into a relaxed half-sleepy state in which breathing and concentration is slowed and focused. It’s a different experience from a hypnotist’s stage show – he was not made to cluck like a chicken or embarrass himself.

“At first it really weirded me out because ‘It’s mind control, it’s evil, it’s making you do things you don’t want to do,’” he said.

For hypnosis to effectively take hold and make someone quit smoking or eat less, the opposite is true. The subject has to want to do what’s being asked, and for Bonk he wanted out of the habit that plagued him nearly his whole life.

The results were so immediate and so real, Bonk wanted to learn more about what happened to him. He began taking classes at the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in Tarzana to learn about hypnosis – and to learn how to do it. His day job fraying after a company buy-out, Bonk eventually decided to go pro.

Today his main practice is in helping people quit smoking. He chose this discipline because the results are immediate – and he says 20 of the 22 clients he’s seen for smoking issues have quit. As World No Tobacco Day approaches on May 31, Bonk expects that number to rise.

The key to quitting, he says, is wanting the change.

“I don’t change people – people have to change themselves. I provide the route for that change,” he said.

If he can nix a 40-year habit with that attitude, some lesser habits might even be easier to break – like a certain writer’s tendency to let his attention wander during the work day.

Last Thursday I made myself comfortable in the leather-lined seat of a darkened office at the Hypnosis Motivation Institute. An old coffee aroma hung about, and I sat across Bonk in the low light answering yes-or-no questions with nods and shakes of my head.

Once the quiz was over I closed my eyes, and Bonk led me through some visualization techniques. In what seemed like 15 or 20 minutes, I was sitting there with one hand resting in front of me and the other up in the air, suspended by an invisible balloon that was only there because Bonk said it was. I knew it wasn’t there, but that wasn’t important – I was too busy slowing my breathing and chilling out.

The next 30 minutes or so involved thinking about a lake and keeping my eyes closed. I fall asleep easily, so this half-awake state was familiar. I don’t quite remember what was said, but a review of the audio recording after revealed that I was convinced I was on a table next to the lake mimicking the motions of sitting at my work desk.

Once I was brought around out of hypnosis I felt like I was just waking in the morning, or leaving a massage. It was rejuvenating.

The next morning I booted up the screens in my home office. I didn’t feel any different but I was well-rested. The frenetic pace of leaping between computer screens began as it always did, and I found myself pulled in several directions during the course of the day. As always. It was a very productive day, though I can’t say for sure if it was deadlines that motivated me or the hypnosis.

I did learn I need to take time to relax more and put the busy-ness of life aside for a few moments. If it were that easy to do on my own I would, and if biting one’s knuckles were that easy to quit Bonk would have done so 40 years ago. Sometimes it just helps to have someone guide you toward your goal.

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BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he’s not booting up his spellchecker, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter at @818NewGuy.

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