The Trick William Potter is in Not Minding

September 14, 2015


This line, if you are not already familiar with it is from Lawrence of Arabia, although I came it across it more recently in the film Prometheus spoken by Michael Fassbender. In the original movie the script goes as follows:


Potter: [trying to copy Lawrence's snuffing a match with his fingers] Oooh! It damn well hurts.

Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.

Potter: Well, what's the trick, then?

Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.


Now snuffing out a match with one’s fingers isn’t usually painful if done quickly. However, in this brief exchange is described a fundamental principle behind Hypnotherapy and the power of Therapeutic Suggestion – controlling what you pay attention to.


There has been quite a bit of research recently on how we humans focus our attention and on how the brain ‘sorts’ what it needs to pay attention to amongst the huge amount of sensory information it is being presented with every second. A recent article published in The National Academy of Sciences of the USA explores our uniquely human way of doing this. The point is we are at every moment ignoring huge amounts of sensory information because it is not deemed to be important or relevant to us at that time.


So in that regard it’s not what you’re experiencing but what you choose to pay attention to, or ‘mind’, that matters.


With regard to our conscious and unconscious minds if you can imagine something you can experience it – or more accurately invoke the same physical state. For example, have you ever woken up sweating, heart racing and breathing heavily having dreamt that you were being chased, or falling or some such experience? That was purely an imaginary experience but invoked the same physical response. And, normally, whatever state we are experiencing at a given moment in time whether it be joy, pain, fear or anxiety etc., we have at some point in our lives, probably frequently, experienced the absence of that state. And if you have experienced something you can imagine it, and if you can imagine it you can experience it.


The application for this within hypnotherapy and NLP, is in the case of pain for example, to invoke or recall or revivify the state of ‘absence of pain’ that exists within us, and re-experience it as needed. Alternatively, invoke another state to ‘pay attention to’ that will enable us to ‘forget’ our pain.  Milton Erickson famously had a chronic pain sufferer imagine a Tiger sleeping under their bed -  when their pain intensified the Tiger ‘stirred’ and fear of an agitated Tiger quickly replaced the focus on pain, and the Tiger settled again.

These are only a couple of examples and in an actual session the approach used will be unique to the individual utilising their particular drivers and resources.


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