Posts Tagged ‘Focus’

mother and son

Jan 29


By Jhassel Arellanes, LPC Estimated reading time: 9 minutes, 17 seconds

Every boy has heroes. Growing up, I found mine on TV and in comic books, but what I didn’t realize then was that my biggest hero was an arm’s length away.

I was born on an October afternoon, and my mother says that I was much anticipated. She suffered no pain during labor, and after giving birth, the doctor released her two hours later.

I grew up in Mexico, in a place where it is often above 100 degrees, with high humidity.

The first two months of my life were normal. I have no recollection of the following events because I was only a few months old, but my mother shared this tale with my brother and me.

One hot afternoon, while Momma was doing hand laundry with one of her friends in our back yard and I was in a playpen with the friend’s 4-year- old child, Samantha, a dog quietly snuck under the backyard fence and began biting Samantha and pulling at her clothes. My mother and her friend ran over and hit the dog with a stick, but it kept on biting Samantha and then it turned on me. It was only after the dog ran away that they noticed Samantha was unusually quiet.

When we were brought to the hospital, the doctors said Samantha had lost too much blood, and that we didn’t get there quickly enough. Sadly, Samantha died from the dog attack; I survived but was in serious condition. My Momma, whose first child had undergone 17 surgeries for cysts in his brain, was devastated that I was hospitalized with internal bleeding and multiple lacerations. Nevertheless, she endured.

The doctors told her, “Your child won’t last more than a month.” But she had faith and prayed to God for a miracle. After a month, the doctors said that I would live only two more months. My mother laughed at them and said that they were already proven wrong because I had survived past the first month. But, she did seek a second opinion at a different hospital.

After surgery at the new hospital, the doctors gave this prognosis: I would live only three more months. Doctors’ orders were to take me home for a better quality of life. Momma occasionally brought me back to the hospital to check my brain because I had developed encephalitis and other illnesses that affected my spine.

After a year, my mother refused to listen to doctors anymore and did not treat me with palliative care.

By my second birthday, I started to show signs that I could crawl, and then stand. Maybe I was thanking my mother for her faith in me. And although it did bring a smile to her face, she immediately took me back to the hospital to ask the doctors how that was even possible. She was told that my spine had returned to its normal state and that I could recover about 20 percent of the strength in my legs, provided I received corrective therapy, which I did get.

By age 3, I was able to stand with both my feet, holding on to the nearest wall. I had a wheelchair, which was soon replaced by crutches, and then orthopedic shoes.

The shoes were odd: gigantic and black, with clips on the sides, and straps that led to a thick, gritty belt. There was a trick to putting them on, twisting each shoe inward. In theory, my legs would go from looking like bent straws to holding me up. Of course, I would still have to use crutches to keep steady.

Those shoes came with a warning: I should never walk or stand by myself. So, I became dependent on them, and believe me, I got a lot of looks and poor treatment from people on the streets.

One summer day, the temperature was so high it was like Armageddon outside, but it was nicer than being inside because we did not have air conditioning. My mother had gone out and left my 11-year-old brother to look after me. Shortly after she walked out the door, my brother said, “Don’t go out. Don’t open the door for anyone. There’s cold water in the fridge. You’re going to be okay,” and then he went out to play street soccer with friends – what kids in Mexico do well in any weather! My brother was popular in our neighborhood and skillful with the ball and his feet. He was the one I loved to follow.

The heat in my house was absurd. My lips were chapped, and the weight and metal of my shoes had steamed my toes better than any slow cooker. It felt as if my feet were melting, and eventually, the rest of me would follow. So I decided to do what I had never done as a child: I went outside alone.

By the time I got to the middle of the street, I was almost on the ground because in order to walk I had to force my body to lean forward. Still, I loved the sun on my face and the ground under my feet, and I thanked God I wasn’t in that steamy kitchen anymore.

My brother saw me and said “You’re crazy if you think I’m going to let you play. Momma will kill me, and when she’s done with me, she’ll kill you.” After a few minutes of begging (and agreeing to trade one of my favorite action figures), he caved. His condition was that I stay near the goal, but do nothing to stop the ball or the kid with the ball. I was to be like a statue — with a hat and big shoes…and straps.

But being out in the street with my brother and the other kids was much better than watching them play from the kitchen window. As time passed, the temperature rose, and so did my love for the game. Then, a kid came along and kicked the ball hard and it hit my stomach. My brother pushed him and yelled, “Go easy on him, he’s sick and can’t move well.” The boy replied, “If he’s going to be here and play with us, he’s going to be treated the same.”

So, my brother dragged me for a few feet down the street and said I had to go back home, but I begged him, “Let me play!” He looked down at me as if I were a puppy, said nothing, then released my arm, and the game played on. Over the next few days, every time my brother went out to play, I followed, and he said nothing. It was our secret as brothers to keep from mother.

A few weeks later I went out, but that time was different. There were many more kids and some were left out when the teams were picked. I stayed on my brother’s team because being the goalie wasn’t the most popular position anyway. Three minutes into the game, our team was dying. The kid who kept teasing me and shooting the ball toward my stomach was a good player. Every time he scored he’d mock the way I walked. My brother pushed him harder than normal as they ran toward the ball, but the kid was bigger than my brother. The other team continued to thrash us, and I became furious. About seven balls got passed me that day, and that big kid was rushing past the defense and shooting right to my stomach. He didn’t care if he scored or not; he just shot as hard as he could.

At one point, the kid pushed my brother to the ground, pretending that he’d shoot hard from close range. That’s when I reached my boiling point! I took a step forward and kicked the ball as hard as I possibly could. My celebration was immediate. I knew what it felt like to defend! But then, I looked down and my hopes crashed.

I forgot about my orthopedic shoes, and the metallic clip on the side had cut right into the side of the big kid’s foot; there was lots of blood. Now kids in my country often played soccer barefooted, so the boy’s foot was pretty torn up. My brother rushed me back in the house to clean off the blood. He did the best he could, but it wasn’t enough to escape my mother’s eye. She immediately took me to the clinic, hoping that the blood would not rust the metal of my shoe.

The doctor tried to keep my mother calm as she ratted me out about playing soccer. The doctor then lifted me up on a table, stripped me of my metal armor, and then stared at me. He was frighteningly quiet. I started to pray, and then my mother interrupted and asked if the shoes were reparable. He ignored her question and brought me down from the table only to make a strange request. He said, “I want you to stand on one foot.” I’m not sure what was funnier: his request or the look on my face. Then he said, “Now, stand with your other foot. Go on.” The moment I realized the floor was cold, it hit me – I was standing without those shoes. I was so stunned that I couldn’t talk. The doctor said to my mother: “Your kid is fine now, Maria. He can stand on his own. You can throw those shoes away.”

The doctor explained that since I was no longer standing and holding onto something, my shoes worked on my muscles, which got stronger when I was in the goalie position. My mother cried and I was relieved that she wasn’t upset. After we got home, she sat me down and said, “They told me you’d only last for a few months. Then, they told me you would never be able to stand; walking was out of the question.

“Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do Jhassel.” My mother’s words burned into my mind, and since then they have kept me going.

My love for soccer and playing alongside my brother were, in fact, key to my unexpected recovery. To this day, it’s something I remember every time I kick a ball.

In my lifetime, I’ve only met a handful of people who I consider heroes; my mother is one of them. Her strength, will, and resilient spirit continues to inspire me every today. She was the reason I left a hospital bed, a wheelchair, crutches, and special shoes behind and walked into life. Everyone has a hero. This is the story of mine.


By Eric Greenleaf, PhD

I met Jhassel in Puebla, Mexico, when I was presenting a workshop that he helped translate. He is tall, lean, and strong, and we hiked up a steep ancient pyramid to a church where we could see the surrounding city, mountains, and volcanoes. We swapped life stories up and down that trail.

Jhassel’s life proves, just as Erickson’s did, that resilience and inventiveness feeds discovery. And, just like Erickson’s, Jhassel’s strong, supportive family aided in his recovery.

Erickson once said of himself, when asked how he helped top athletes perform under pressure, “I win gold medals every day.” I think Jhassel Arellanes deserves a gold medal!


This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 37, No. 2 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter. 

Enhancing Performance in Sports, Intellectual Activities, and Everyday Life Ronald A. Havens & Catherine Walters

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes, 25 seconds.

Our purpose in this chapter is to describe a hypnotic technique we use to help our clients enhance their performance in almost any enterprise. Our approach remains fairly constant no matter what area of life a person wishes to improve. Whether a client wants to lower his or her golf score, become a better salesperson, develop new interpersonal skills, or simply feel better emotionally, we conduct our sessions in essentially the same manner.


After an initial diagnostic interview to determine why the person is there and what he or she wants to accomplish, we use hypnosis to clarify the thoughts, sensations, emotions, and behaviors that individual associates with the desired outcome. During this trance session, the client is instructed to imagine how it will feel to accomplish the desired goal and to examine all of the elements of this imagined situation, including the events that led up to it. This utilization of the individual’s own prior experiential learnings and understandings to establish the treatment outcome ensures that the particular objectives, personality, and background of that person are taken into account and that the prescribed changes truly suit the activity under consideration.

On the other hand, the client’s reservoir of experiential learnings and understandings is not the only possible source of guidance at this point. Relevant information from the professional literature also may be incorporated into the hypnotic suggestion process if necessary. For example, an ever-growing body of research consistently shows that success in virtually every endeavor, including everyday life, depends on an optimistic attitude and a positive sense of self-efficacy (e.g., Taylor, 1989; Maddi & Kosaba, 1984). Accordingly, we routinely include suggestions regarding these attitudes as the person develops the imagined experience of a successful outcome.

We also routinely include suggestions designed to promote a condition of highly focused attention.  Obviously, one must focus one’s attention on an activity to perform it with any degree of success. What is less obvious, and less widely known, is that a particular state of highly focused attention is commonly associated with exceptional performances in virtually any area. For example, Gallwey (1974) taught tennis and golf players to enter into a state of “relaxed concentration” to improve their game. Lozanov (1978) found that students could learn a foreign language more efficiently in a similar state that he called “concert  pseudopassiveness,” and Gilligan (1987) attributed the “controlled spontaneity” frequently observed in the performances of professional musicians, athletes, and psychotherapists to this condition of absorbed attention. Zeig (1985) described the way in which Milton Erickson reportedly predicted the winners of a track meet. He would choose those who were “concentrating and focusing.” Race car drivers refer to this state as “streaming” and athletes in general talk about being “on” or “in the zone.” Given the similarity of this experience to the absorbed attention typical of a hypnotic state, it is natural and useful to incorporate a description of it as a desirable outcome of therapy for most clients.

Furthermore, individual activities, such as target shooting, require a narrow internal focus of attention for peak performance (Maxeiner, 1987), whereas team sports demand a more diffuse and external focus (Nettleton, 1986). When such information is available for the pursuit being considered, it is added to the client’s own understandings via the suggestions we offer regarding the goal state.

The specific steps involved in this intervention are as follows:

Conduct a trance induction or any other procedure designed to stabilize and redirect the client’s attention inward. Ideally, the person will be in a receptive, passively observant frame of mind before the therapist proceeds to the next Explain to the person that in the same way that it is possible to remember and relive a past experience, it also is possible to use imagination to “remember” an event that has not yet happened. Quickly add that the person can, for example,  “remember”  what it will feel like when the person realizes that he or she accomplished whatever it was that brought the  person  to  you  in  the first place. Indicate that the client already knows how it will feel to do so and suggest that they he or she pay attention to those feelings and sensations now. While he or she is locating and becoming familiar with how it feels to succeed, suggestions for different aspects of the experience can be provided, such as a sense of satisfaction, well being, or excitement. After the client begins to identify and experience the emotions and sensations associated with accomplishing the desired goal, the experience is expanded and clarified, one sensory pathway at a time. Details about that future situation are gradually filled in by asking the person to pay attention to physical sensations, sounds, and sights. Eventually the person is asked to take cognizance of where he or she is, who else is there, what the date is, and so on. As the person vividly imagines being in that future situation, happy and satisfied with a successful outcome, he or she is asked to “remember” the actual experience of succeeding. This step can be omitted if the goal is a change in emotional or psychological state, because it is often difficult to identify exactly when such changes occur, but if the objective is enhanced performance of some specific mental or physical activity, then it is a useful part of the process. The client  has  an  opportunity  to  “experience” (and thus rehearse) how it feels to perform in a successful  manner, and the therapist has an opportunity  to  include  suggestions for particular actions or states of mind that  are  known  to  enhance performance in that endeavor. For example, this is an appropriate time to suggest  that  the client  “remember”  how it  felt to be effortlessly focused and undistracted,  to  be sure of  himself or herself and yet amazed by his or her own abilities. This alsois an appropriate time to suggest that the client examine things about the situation that seemed to make it easier to perform so well, that is, to become aware of any changes in attitude or approach that apparently helped to create a positive outcome. The next step is to ask the client to remember, from that future vantage point, some of the significant events that  took  place along the path leading from now, sitting in your office, to the desired result. These events are  mentally  “reviewed”  to  “remind” the person about what led to  the hoped-for  end  product  and  to set the stage for their eventual  occurrence,  but there  is no  need for the events to be reviewed in sequential order, nor is it necessary for the client to understand how those happenings  contributed to that conclusion.  In fact, it is best if the client views them as a selection of unrelated events that simply pop into the mind. Throughout the entire process, the client is encouraged to wait for different aspects of the experience simply to emerge or appear and not to create them on purpose. Even if what springs to mind does not make sense or seem relevant, as is often the case, the person is asked to observe passively and allow things to unfold in whatever manner they do without interfering  or  attempting  to alter them. Finally, as the trance and the session are brought to a close, the client is told to forget about the things that have occurred and to allow the unconscious mind to assume responsibility for turning these imagined events into Although some clients are able consciously and intentionally to follow their own “unconscious” advice, others tend to alter matters in a way that merely perpetuates previous patterns of action and reaction. Thus, whenever possible, it is desirable to elicit amnesia for these experiences and to offer a posthypnotic suggestion for their eventual accomplishment in a seemingly spontaneous manner. When this suggestion is successful, clients engage in the activities that lead to the desired outcome without realizing that there is a method to it. Looking back on it, they typically report, “One thing just led to another.”Although we would love to take credit for inventing this approach, the basic rationale and structure of the technique presented here were derived directly from the work of Milton Erickson.


In our book on Hypnotherapy for Health, Harmony, and Peak Performance (Walters & Havens, 1993), we point out that Erickson was less concerned with what people were doing wrong in the present than with getting them to do things right in the future. He encouraged the development of attitudes and behaviors that would eventually result in successful adjustment and emotional well-being. He elicited the positive attitudes, states of mind, and behaviors that he knew would allow his clients to accomplish their goals, whether those goals involved enhanced athletic performance, academic performance, or performance in everyday life. Erickson concentrated on what people could do, and he devised an impressive array of techniques to help them build better futures for themselves. He used direct and indirect hypnotic suggestions, implications, metaphorical anecdotes, and straightforward behavioral assignments to get people to begin thinking and behaving in healthier, more productive ways. The approach outlined here is based on one of these many techniques, a technique Erickson called “pseudo-orientation in time” (Erickson, 1954).

Because Erickson usually devised a unique therapeutic intervention to suit the needs and personality of each unique person, it may seem some­ what presumptuous to reduce his approach to one specific strategy to be used with a broad range of problems. Nonetheless, we believe that it is appropriate to do so. Few practitioners can emulate Erickson’s creativity or wisdom and, luckily, most of the time it is not necessary to do so. We propose that it is possible, instead, to use his pseudo-orientation-in-time technique with virtually every client because it is the one intervention that captures the underlying essence of Erickson’s seemingly endless list of strategies. By concentrating on one particularly powerful Ericksonian hypnotherapeutic approach, it is possible to condense his insights and genius into a manageable procedure.

Pseudo-orientation in time is one of the few techniques Erickson used with more than one patient, and it is the only one of his techniques that seems to be useful for almost any presenting problem. In his original publication on the topic, Erickson (1954) described his use of this technique with five very different patients, all of whom enjoyed successful outcomes. Each patient eventually engaged in the activity he or she had foreseen in the age-progression visualizations, and each did so with no recognition that he or she was following his or her own self-generated prescription for success.

In another publication (Erickson & Rossi, 1977), Erickson even described using this approach on himself to prepare for the unpleasant situations he realized he would eventually encounter as a physician. He projected himself into an imagined future, figured out how to cope with the unfairness and unpleasantness of the events he was likely to face in his practice, and emerged from his reverie ready to continue with his career. Given the nature of that career, it is safe to conclude that his intervention worked.

Like most of Erickson’s interventions, the pseudo-orientation-in-time approach focuses the client and the therapist fully and solely on the future. In addition, because it is centered around the client’s self-generated imagined experience of accomplishing the desired objective, this technique relies heavily on the client’s own “unconscious” learnings and observations to define both the goal state and the steps required to arrive at that goal. Once the desired future and the steps to that future are identified, then the client is instructed to forget about it and to allow this outcome to unfold automatically or “unconsciously.” No other strategy seems to capture the essence of Erickson’s approach more directly or completely, and no other approach seems to be more consistently successful.


Jason, a 17-year-old member of a local high-school track team, consulted our office to improve his performance in the 1,600-meter race. His coach suggested that he seek professional help because he repeatedly lost races that, theoretically, he should have won. During practices, his lap times were consistently fast. During actual competition, however, he was unable to maintain a fast pace throughout a race.  He started and finished fast, but always faded during the middle laps and lost too much ground to catch up and win. As Jason described it, he was always fired up during the first third of the race, discouraged and  ready  to  quit during the middle third, and then would become angry and try to  do his best  again  for the final third of the way.

The intervention in this case was quite simple and brief. Following an induction process, Jason was asked to imagine himself talking to his coach after winning an upcoming race. He was able to do this with little trouble, and he was also able to offer a verbatim account of his conversation with the coach about that race. He was then asked to remember what was different about the  way he had thought  about the various parts  of the race and to tell his unconscious to make sure that  these  new thoughts arose during the next track  meet.  Finally, he was told to wake up without remembering much, if any, of the session. He left with a promise to return the following week and report what happened.

Jason later said that he had won his next race, although he did not know why. As he described it, he was really fired up during the first half of the race, and by the second half was getting angry and determined, just as he always did. It was immediately obvious that he had stopped split­ ting the race into thirds. He had solved the problem of becoming discouraged and tired during the middle third of the race by simply eliminating it from his thoughts. Interestingly, this was exactly what he had said to his coach during his imagined winning experience.


Peak performance in any field is a function of multiple variables, including attitudes, emotions, innate talents, and practice. People who succeed have a clear idea of an attainable goal. They also know what they must do to accomplish that goal, and they have the willingness or desire to do it. Finally, they have optimistic expectations that they can and will reach their objective; they trust themselves and know how to get out of their own way. The techniques presented here are designed to provide these ingredients of peak performance to those who want and/or need them.

Hypnotic trance allows people to establish attainable goals. During trance conscious concerns, inhibitions, misunderstandings, fantasies, or wishful thinking do not interfere with the construction of a viable outcome. People are able to review the potential disadvantages or advantages of various goals and actions in a detached and careful fashion. The end product springs into awareness before it can be censored or modified by ordinary conscious considerations. Consequently, the imagined future is almost invariably compatible with the person’s needs and capacities.

This also is the case when trance is used to envision a series of actions or events that will lead to that imagined outcome. When conscious biases are bypassed, the end product is a set of activities, insights, or decisions that are quite appropriate for that individual and that lead almost inexorably to the desired outcome. Hypnotherapists merely help people discover what they already knew about their own abilities and potentials but were unable or unwilling to acknowledge.

People seek help from professionals because they want something different, something better, to occur. They want to change their thoughts, their feelings, their actions, and their lives, but those changes will take place only after they can envision them as happening in the future. Our vision of the future is a road map, a program, a guiding principle that modifies our present actions in ways that lead us toward that envisioned outcome. To explain his technique of pseudo-orientation in time, Erickson (1954) said, “Deeds are the offspring of hope and expectancy” (p. 261). When we expect more of the same, that is what our deeds create. But when we can imagine a better future so clearly that it actually seems possible, then we begin to think and behave in ways that lead us there.

Many different techniques can be used to attain enhanced performance, but few are as straightforward or as likely to meet the unique needs and capacities of each individual as the approach presented here. If you want to help others respond in ways that promote a better future, why not follow Erickson’s lead? Imagine the changes your clients will experience, first in their imaginations, then in their lives. Once you have envisioned such outcomes, you will find this approach hard to resist.

Points to Remember

Focus on what will make things go right in the future. Not on what made things go wrong in the past. Remember that people need to know where they are going in order to get there.  Help them develop a clear picture of a successful outcome. Always assume that the client knows at some level what goals and strategies are most appropriate and useful, but also remember to mention relevant information from the research. Encourage the client to enter imagined future situations by thinking about how it will feel to succeed rather than about what to do. After the client has a clear picture of a successful outcome and re­ views the events that led to to it, suggest that the unconscious mind can now accomplish these things and that the conscious mind can forget all about them.


Erickson, M. H. (1954). Pseudo-orientation in time as a hypnotherapeutic procedure. journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 2, 261-283.

Erickson, M. H., & Rossi, E. (1977). Autohypnotic experiences of Milton H. Erick­ son. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 20, 36-54.

Gallwey, W. T. (1974). 1beginner game of tennis. New York: Random House.

Gilligan, S. (1987). Therapeutic trances: The cooperation principle in Ericksonian hypno­therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Lozanov, G. (1978). Suggestology and outlines of suggestability. New York: Gordon & Breach.

Maddi, S., & Kosaba, S. (1984). The hardy executive: Health under stress. Homewood, IL: Dow Jones-Erwin.

Maxeiner, J. (1987). Concentration and distribution of attention in sport. International Journal of Sports Psychology, 18, 247-255.

Nettleton, B. (1986). Flexibility of attention and elite athletes’ performance in “fast­ ball games.” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 63, 991-994.

Taylor, S. E. (1989). Positive illusions. New York: Basic Books.

Walters, C., & Havens, R. A. (1993). Hypnotherapy for health, harmony, and peak performance: Expanding the goals of psychotherapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Zeig, J. (1985). Experiencing Erickson: An introduction to the man and his work. New York: Brunner/Mazel.