The idea of holding a conference for people trained in our method had been gestating for a long time, but really it took a moment of insight to realise why we should take the plunge. Quest began as a Cognitive Hypnotherapy training school, teaching the approach I developed, but it quickly came to be something which is difficult to define. We’re more than a school, but we’re not an accrediting body. We’re not an association, but our members spend a lot of time associating. More time is spent now supporting our graduates grow than in training students; more time promoting the idea of Cognitive Hypnotherapy than promoting our courses. It was realising the obvious – that we had grown so far beyond our starting point – that brought home the need for Quest to have a conference of its own, and by Quest I mean the assembly of amazing people who come to learn from us, and stay to grow with us.
The first big question was, would anyone come? That was answered very quickly by the uptake of seats. The conference was full with weeks to spare, with seats given only to people who had trained with us. 130 seats each day, making it bigger than just about any other hypnotherapy conference in the UK.
The next question was, who should we have as speakers? We were clear we didn’t want me. One of the best bits of advice I’ve ever been given was to read outside my field. It’s served me well. I find most hypnotherapy books to be strong on history, weak on innovation, so we wanted good speakers with something relevant to our practice, but from other fields of endeavour. We thought it would take a while, but again, the names that came to mind proved a perfect fit very quickly.
So, a year in the planning, the big day arrived. You notice how I glossed over the planning bit? It’s because I was wisely left out of that bit of it; detail is not my strong point, and I’m numerically dyslexic, so from the sidelines I watched the organisational hurricane that was my wife Bex, our PA Jan, and Maggie Childs (a long-standing member of Quest with great experience of conference organisation) create the Questfest from nothing. A lot more work than I think any of us imagined.
Bex had several weeks of disturbed sleep before the big day; having 130 friends pay to come to your party brings quite a weight of responsibility. I slept fine, but woke on the morning of the first day feeling like I was being fed adrenalin intravenously. The first arrivals served to increase the dose. From the beginning the atmosphere was just amazing. Everybody knew somebody; many were good friends enjoying the time to catch up, others colleagues who knew each other only through their activity on our forums. The noise and buzz were unbelievable. So unbelievable that when it came time for me to open proceedings the adrenalin was flowing so much I forgot everything I’d prepared. Nobody seemed to notice, and those who did probably forgot it within minutes of Dr David Hamilton taking the stage.
David is the author of two excellent books, It’s the Thought that Counts, and Destiny versus Free Will, and is one of the best voices connecting the latest discoveries in science with their significance to the mind/body connection.
One of the most amazing things about David’s talk was his ability to do so for over four hours without a single note or visual cue, especially with the wealth of statistical information he included. He never once lost his train of thought, or ceased to be riveting; many afterwards talked of ‘light bulb moments’ they’d had in response to some of his points. And did I mention funny? With an accent like Billy Connolly, and a delivery to match (apart from the language) he had us in stitches, and it was quite amazing how fast the time went.
The things that I took from him, particularly, were the evidence that doing a good turn has a positive physical effect on the body. I wasn’t unfamiliar with that notion, but I loved his concept of ‘paying it forward’, that passing on a good turn to someone new is better than simply returning it. When I think about how any good deed I do is potentially the beginning of a ripple effect that never ends, and how, if everyone followed the same principle we’d have a tsunami of goodwill endlessly moving around the planet, I get such a strong sense of the significance everybody has to everybody else. Individually you could create health in total strangers you’ll never meet. A powerful thought. I also found his adaptation of visualisation to include feelings – he calls them’ feelingisations’ – to be a great addition to my toolkit. As the inaugural speaker we couldn’t have wished for better.
Our time spent in promoting the benefits of Cognitive Hypnotherapy is obviously in order for it to be taken seriously, so the inclusion of a magician as a key speaker might seem at odds with that intention. We’d beg to differ. Michael Vincent is no ordinary magician. He’s one of the world’s best at close-up magic, and is a real student of his craft. In Cognitive Hypnotherapy, one of the key principles is the subjectivity of personal experience; our problems aren’t caused by reality, but by our perception of the information we take to be reality. Everyone is unique, so no two people sharing the same label for their problem – whether it be anxiety, stress, or dog phobia, experience it the same way. Each needs to be understood and their treatment adjusted accordingly. This process of our brain creating the unique perception that forms our problem lies at the heart of close magic too. A magician who makes balls disappear from under cups, or cards change, or coins appear is using misdirection, a deliberate use of the brain’s perceptual capabilities that provides a ‘reality’ that enables the illusion. Essentially your brain is tricked into seeing the world the way the magician needs you to see it to create that moment of astonishment that Michael feels is the essence of magic. Think of a client problem this way; at the moment the problem begins to happen to the client – like a dog phobia, or an urge for a cigarette or cream cake – the brain acts like a magician, misdirecting our conscious attention so the only choice we feel we have in the moment is the one presented to us, run from the dog, eat the cake, or smoke. What disappears is the feeling of control as we are smoothly taken down a reality tunnel the brain creates to fit the behaviour it feels is most advantageous, even where it goes against our conscious desires.
That’s a long explanation of why we felt Michael had something to offer, and certainly his thoughtful presentation left me with much to think about, while his magic was simply so astonishing that it would have been enough on its own. As some of the photos show, there was astonishment aplenty.
Michael generously also entertained in the bar in the evening before the gala dinner. A chance to posh up, nosh up, and dance the night away was eagerly embraced by the group. I think the release of adrenalin got to my wife. I have never seen her pogo before, certainly not to Bucks Fizz.
I was woken the following morning by the sound of a rifle shot, before realising it was Rebecca’s hip. Truly a game girl.
The second day of a conference is usually met by a host of bleary-eyed delegates, but not so in this case (in the main). They appeared still bouncy and eager for more. I admit I was feeling a bit trepidatious, and found myself saying things like, “well, the thing is, even if today isn’t as good as yesterday, it wouldn’t matter so much would it?” I tell you, this ‘having a party for 130 friends’ thing really makes you feel responsible for people having a good time. My normal optimism was under assault from the worry that today couldn’t possibly live up to yesterday. A worry that lasted for about three minutes once Dr Nick Baylis began to speak. Nick is the Director of Positive Psychology at Cambridge University, the author of Learning from Wonderful Lives and a past columnist for The Times. We’d met him at his home when we were hunting for speakers and found him utterly charming in a style reminiscent of Hugh Grant. I hadn’t realised the similarity extended to his humour. Without doubt his introduction was the funniest I have ever heard. I was gasping for breath within the aforementioned three minutes, and didn’t have a single worry about the overall result of the conference from that point. Nick spoke all day, interspersing his talk with video clips of famous films to illustrate his points. His presentation covered his particular approach to Positive Psychology, wherein he makes the distinction from it being about the study of happiness, to it being the study of wellness. How do people live rich, fulfilling lives? Can we learn from them? His perspective was illuminating; particularly the way it made unhappiness part of a normal life; not something to be feared or instantly banished (as you often feel it should be if you listen to many involved in NLP and personal development), but a resource from which new resources can be taken, new things learnt, or new opportunities noticed. People talked a lot about this point in the breaks, and it’s something that’s come back to my thoughts since. How often does the lesson that ‘it’s not what you’re experiencing, but what you do with it’, need to be taught?
Over the course of a day, hilariously using examples from his own life, Nick outlined the principles that create wellness; amongst them the need to perceive progress in our lives, the importance of following our passions, find balance, and the development of partnerships. The exercises he got the group to do were simple in form, and yet deeply thought provoking, and sure to become additions to the toolkit of those therapists present.
All too soon it was over and it was my turn to bring the conference to a close, thankfully, this time, without my mind going blank. As I looked over the audience, both Bex and I were aware, in a way we never had been before, of how significant a thing we are a part of. Quest isn’t ours because it isn’t a thing, it belongs to everyone who gives to it – as the 130 people in front of us had by their presence, their investment and their energy. The public deserve to know the benefits of Cognitive Hypnotherapy and, from being in the presence of such wonderfully positive energy over the duration of this amazing conference, I left with every confidence that they would.
My thanks to everyone who took part. Here’s to next time!
Our thanks to Seamus Smyth for providing most of the photo’s.
Click on a thumbnail to view the full image (and leave a comment!)