elements of mastery

Elements of Mastery

Elements of Mastery

Recently I was working on a difficult jigsaw puzzle, and was reminded that I can be kind of brilliant when I get out of my own way – well, when it comes to puzzles, anyway. When I TRY to find a piece, it takes a long time and I often don’t find it at all. However, if I relax, simply look at where a piece goes, then let my gaze wander through the pieces on the board without attachment, it happens as if by accident. I almost always find my piece, although sometimes it is not the exact peace I was looking for.

Preparing For Clients

When I first began working with clients, I would try very hard, preparing for each client for hours sometimes. I felt I had to know exactly what I was going to do during the session, in order to provide a valuable service. I would ‘decide’, based on information from them, what specific processes I would use and what I would do, even going so far as to loosely script what I would say during hypnosis.

My client would arrive, and somewhere within the first 10 minutes, I would ‘forget myself’. I would find myself absorbed in the interaction, enthralled with the words, concepts, and information, and truly enjoying the connection with the person I was working with. The session would come to an end, and shortly after my client left, I would realize I had not used my prepared ‘tools’ at all, and sometimes had no idea why I had done what I had done, or where it had come from.

I had gotten into a zone, forgotten to try, and simply found access to everything I had learned in a much more fluid and effective way.

The Lesson?

It took me about a year to realize my most important lesson to date: With clients, I cannot, and SHOULD not, decide what to do before they even arrive. How can I possibly tailor an effective session without knowing the individual with whom I am working?

When I relax and just ‘do’, I am much better at my job.

Not only am I working with the individual who actually walked through the door, but my insight is usually flawless, I’m able to help them, it’s fun and I’m good at it. It is with this in mind that I have recently been exploring the concept of mastery. It seems to me that mastery is a result of four simple elements: Learning, Practice, Relaxation, and Trust.


This seems fairly straightforward – in order to master the piano, I must first learn how to play. I may need to learn the notes on the keyboard, how to play chords, scales, etc. I may need to learn how to read music, and even the specific combination of notes that creates a pleasing tune. If I want to play Mozart, I need to learn Mozart.

Within the context of hypnosis, there is always more to learn. There are many teachers, many different perspectives, many methods and tools. A Master Hypnotist is always learning. To become true masters of our trade, we must continue learning by exposing ourselves to ever expanding sources of information, processes, teachers, research, and experimentation.


A master pianist may not spend hours a day practicing a particular song or piece of music in its entirety. They may, however, spend hours practicing one element of playing that piece of music – perhaps there is a particularly difficult chord, and what they practice is just that ONE chord, until it becomes so natural, they no longer have to try. Perhaps they have a bit of weakness in one finger, and they spend time every day just doing strengthening exercises for that finger. This allows for the practice to be detached from any outcome other than the perfection of that one element. A martial arts master once told a friend of mine that “Practice does not make perfect, unless one practices perfectly”. I think this is particularly profound – after all, if a baseball player has his stance wrong, and practices that stance for hours every day, all he will have is a perfectly wrong stance.

Unconscious Competence

The purpose of practice is to reach a point of unconscious competence. That means we can move through that particular action without thought, like when you’ve been driving for years and you no longer have to think about turning on your turn signal or which pedal makes the car stop. In martial arts, the masters spend hours practicing, repeating movement and flow over and over again – just so that they do not have to think when an occasion arises where those moves are required. Most of these arts teach one that if you have to think when attacked, you will be too slow, and fail. Luckily, this is not true in the art of hypnosis (speed is not necessarily called for), but the lesson is valuable none-the-less.

Relax and Trust

What is the use of all of this learning and practice? Well – the doing, obviously. By allowing ourselves to zone out, relax, and trust the unconscious mind, we give ourselves access to our storehouse of information whenever we need it. We learn and practice as often and diligently as possible. Then when the time comes to do our thing, relax into an open state of mind, and trust that everything we need is within us. This is a formula for the mastery of any pursuit, frankly, and one we can put to use not only for ourselves, but for our clients that are seeking help to gain mastery themselves. After all, mastery of music, art, sports, public speaking, etc., can all be enhanced by the same principles. Learn, practice, relax and trust.

Enjoy The Surprise

So what do I do to prepare for a client now? I spend hours researching, learning, and practicing. Then, when the time comes for an actual session, I spend a few moments breathing and relaxing, having done no specific preparation whatsoever. Once they walk through my door, I simply open my mind and enjoy the surprise of having no idea what I’m doing. This article was written by my good friend Rowan Peacock.

About The Author:

Maggie discovered NLP while still in college, and went on to learn hypnosis and NLP over 25 years ago. She is a Certified Hypnotherapist, NLP Master Practitioner, Hypnosis & NLP trainer, writer and artist. She is always learning and expanding her "map".

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  1. Thank you for a wonderful article on the art of just letting it be. I was lucky enough to learn that lesson myself early in my career.

    I was wondering what happens… how do you feel, when you have a client who expresses a sincere desire to be hypnotized but resists going deep or going under at all. I tend to feel inadequate yet intellectually, I know that is it the client who is resisting not me.

    1. Elissa,

      What works for me, in a situation where it seems a client is ‘resisting hypnosis’, is to take that as feedback that I have not fully explained the nature of the process. I know when I first started playing with hypnosis, I often was ‘waiting for something to happen’ – as the subject, I mean. It was only when I realized that, as the subject, I was responsible for DOING (i.e.I was responsible for relaxing, when the hypnotist suggested relaxation), that I began to experience hypnosis for myself. This has been useful in talking to clients about what is happening for them. I also allow myself to work within a fairly flexible experience of hypnosis, so that I keep changing my approach until I find what works for them. Sometimes that can take a bit, but if you are allowing for the client’s responsibility and participation in the trance experience, it can help you have patience in helping them find what works.

  2. You pose an interesting dilemma. Practice often, to benefit the client. Yet, to practice, there must be someone to practice with. Working with a peer is like practicing on a player piano. It “knows” where you are going, and often gets there ahead of you. No challenge for growth. A client needs me to already have the skills I am working to develop or refine. What do I so to resolve this conflict?

    1. David,

      I have found there are lots of people interested in the experience of hypnosis. Do it for free – start a Meetup group, or advertise on Craigslist, or walk around the park and ask people if they want to be hypnotized. Don’t sell working with other hypnotists ‘short’, either – sometimes they can be the most difficult subjects, and if you are practicing a different approach to hypnosis, they might learn somethin’ from you. 🙂 Have FUN!

  3. It is very true that the ability to ‘be’ with your clients, give them clean open listening and adapt your techniques is very important, especially with difficult clients, the ‘polarity’ responders who tend to believe their role playing is all true. I think once you’ve met the client once, it’s enough to tailor the next session to their needs. There is a fine balance between being prepared and being spontaneous and it brings out the best in us to be able to ride that balance like a bicycle without stabilizers.

    Still there are so many skills to pick up, like how not to react badly when a client says ‘it didn’t work’ one analogy would be to be like water and take the path of least resistance while still keeping an eye on the goals for the client while still dealing with the fact that they get in their own way.
    All the best

  4. I really don’t need to prepare myself before an interview and I just engage in ordinary conversation which to me is “controlled persuasion”. What is important to me is that I know what I am doing and I work toward a stated goal(s) that the client and I have mutually agreed upon. These goals may be at many levels of feelings, attitudes, and behavior intertwined like a “ball of rubber bands” each being a separate part but make up the whole, and before any work can be done an assessment must be done as to the strength of these “rubber bands” and their role within the whole.

    1. Yes. Rowan, in her article, agrees with much of what you write. She has spent years becoming skilled so she can just let go and let it flow when it comes to session time.

      I will disagree with you on some points though. Confidence does not require competence. I know lots of people who think they are good at something and perform with confidence but are not good. Having been a recording engineer I’ve had that experience multiple times 😉

      I’ll also disagree with the idea that there is no skill that can be mastered without assiduous effort.


  5. One must always remember the client is 100% correct even when 100% wrong so utilize what the client does give you and switch inductions so the client is not aware that you are doing anything totally different — just all in your grand plan they will believe. No one is going to walk into our office and lay down good cash money to ‘resist us’. “Resisting equals more training and learning more in the near future’. As we say in NLP, if it isn’t working, do something else — ANYTHING ELSE!!

    I happen to be one of the people that resists ‘orders’ and completely refuse to relax so how are you going to hypnotize me? In the hands of someone like Keith, I have nothing to resist because my mind is not consciously told to do something that I am aware of.

  6. Mastery begins with incompetence. You start out being both consciously and unconsciously incompetent. Next you consciously discover you are incompetent and begin to learn, study, and practice. Eventually this leads to conscious competence. After some more practice and experience the unconscious mind begins to pay attention and you then become unconsciously competent. So with enough time and effort put in one gains mastery at the unconscious and conscious level so that you can perform unconsciously without even needing to consciously think about it BUT you can jump in consciously whenever you need to and keep things interesting!

    1. Most of us, in our NLP trainings, learned about unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence. We were taught it as a model of learning. I think it’s important to note that it’s only a model and that processes do not always neatly fit into models.

      For instance, I find it true (for me, at least) that a lot of conscious competence takes place after I’m unconsciously competence at something. Running a scale on the guitar, for instance. I’m able to do it well–and then my conscious understanding of it deepens.

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