Merriam-Webster defines hypnosis as "a trance-like state of altered consciousness that resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject."
While many people indeed associate hypnosis with sleep, it is actually a natural state of mind which is induced in us naturally all throughout the day. Every time you are driving or engrossed in an interesting movie, for example, you enter a natural hypnotic state. The only way hypnosis resembles sleep is that you have your eyes closed for both. In fact, I often warn clients that if they fall asleep during hypnosis, it will be the most expensive sleep they will ever have!
Part of this misunderstanding is because of how hypnosis was named in the first place. The word "hypnosis" is derived from the Greek word hypnos, meaning sleep and was coined by the Scottish surgeon James Braid around 1841. Hypnosis is not a state of sleep however. It is actually an altered state of consciousness, during which our brain wave activity slows down to a frequency called "alpha". It is referred to as an altered state of consciousness because during hypnosis, you are totally aware of what is taking place and also remember everything you have been told too. This surprises many people who incorrectly believe that a hypnotised person is "zonked out" when they are in trance.
Think back to the last time you watched a movie which made you feel very strong emotions whilst watching it. Even though your logical conscious mind knew it was just a movie, your subconscious mind suspended disbelief and willingly accepted everything happening to be 100% real for the entire duration of the movie. The power of your imagination enables you become deeply engrossed in a move and feel very powerful emotions in the process. In the case of the movie "Avatar", there were actual cases of people becoming so engrossed in the beautiful world created in the movie that they were depressed when they returned to the relatively dull reality of the real world. This is proof of the power of your imagination.
Hypnosis can therefore be simply defined as "a state of intense absorption or concentration"
In hypnosis, you can actually use this power of your imagination to make profound and permanent changes in the way you think, behave and feel. A hypnotist guides you through the hypnotic process, enabling you to make the changes you desire. In the same way that you focus on a movie to the absolute exclusion of outside distractions, hypnotic trance enables you to concentrate solely on making the required changes in the way you subconsciously think. In fact, the only reason to close your eyes during hypnosis is so that you don't get distracted by visual stimuli and so that you can use your imagination to maximum effect.
In a previous article, I spoke about how the imaginative subconscious mind always defeats the logical conscious mind, making it largely impossible to change a long-held bad habit using willpower alone. The state of hypnosis disengages the logical and analytical conscious mind, thereby making the subconscious mind more accessible. This provides you with expanded possibilities for positive changes.