Monday, December 4, 2017

The Practice Effect

(This blog was originally posted on November 30, 2016)

Photo by Rick Hustead

In David Brin’s novel titled The Practice Effect, the most effective (and valued) tools and equipment are old and well-used. Here on Earth, a brand-new axe blade is sharp and gets the job done in one or two swings. Conversely, protagonist Dr. Dennis Nuel discovers that same new axe is useless on an anomaly planet he is exploring compared to a worn-out counterpart with a dull blade and grooves where the user’s hands would have held it.

I loved this book when I read it in 1984, and the concept of a “practice effect” continues to fascinate me in the context of how the mind works. As I explain to hypnotherapy clients who want to change a long-term habit, the more they do or “practice” this behavior the easier, more automatic and, yes, “effective” it becomes. For example, when you learned algebra the symbols and arithmetic required to solve an equation probably challenged every mathematical skill you had up to that point. However, with practice you may have advanced to geometry, trigonometry or even calculus; if nothing else, you can apply simple algebra to work out how much tip to leave at a restaurant. Just like the grooves in the worn axe handle in Brin’s novel, repeating familiar behaviors eventually creates a subconscious mental script that reinforces their importance and value to the subconscious mind. (This attachment to a behavior such as smoking or drug use/abuse will be even stronger with a physiological chemical addiction.*) 

The perceived value of a familiar or “known” behavior comes from the comfort you derive from repeating and practicing this action. However, it is also why changing or stopping the behavior completely is so difficult. Remember, anything new or different (unfamiliar) is considered “pain” in the subconscious mind. It is almost as if you are starting all over again, having to learn a new or even re-learn a previous more effective “old” behavior. In many cases, you have to keep practicing that other, less comfortable but more desirable way of doing things over and over until it, too, has developed a “practice effect” that is ultimately more valuable than that old strategy.

*California law allows access by California residents to complementary and alternative health care practitioners who are not providing services that require medical training and credentials. The purpose of a program of hypnotherapy is for vocational and avocational self-improvement (Business and Professions Code 2908) and as alternative or complimentary treatment to healing arts services licensed by the state. A hypnotherapist is not a licensed physician or psychologist, and hypnotherapy services are not licensed by the state of California. Services are non-diagnostic and do not include the practice of medicine, neither should they be considered as a substitute for licensed medical or psychological services or procedures.

Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit
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