How to Use Double Binds to Achieve Your Outcomes

Do you want to read this article now or would you prefer to save it for later?

It is your choice. Either way, you will benefit from the principle described in this blog post. You will not only learn how to use this technique in your daily life, but also profit from applying it in therapeutic settings.

Imagine that you have a tool to create your desired outcome. You always have it with you and you can use it whenever you want, in nearly every situation. This tool is free, and it is very easy to use. It’s called the “double bind”.

The Feeling of Control 

The double bind is a technique that gives someone the feeling that he can choose freely. As no one wants to be patronized, and as we all like to have choice, the double bind can work like a charm.

Let’s assume you spent the whole morning at your local car dealership and finally found your dream car. It’s around lunchtime, and the car dealer asks you:

“Do you want to sign the contract now or do you prefer to have lunch first?”

You simply cannot wait to drive your new car and therefore you decide to sign the contract immediately, accompanied by the attentive and courteous car dealer. As you drive home in your new car, you’re satisfied with your decision and the fact that you could choose when to sign the contract.

Double Binds and the Illusion of Choice

Now, let’s think again about the choice you had at the car dealership. Was it really a free decision? Or did the salesman actively lead you towards his desired outcome? Sure, you wanted to buy that car. But did you even think about other choices? For example, buying no car at all, or thinking about the deal first and coming back later?

That’s the illusion of choice.

While it may seem that the double bind could be misused, especially when it comes to sales and marketing (and it sure is sometimes), it isn’t all bad.

In fact, since you now know about the double bind you can either decide to start looking out for it more often or you can ignore it completely.

See what we did there?

When it comes to influence, the double bind can be an incredibly useful tool. Especially if you are helping an individual make a better decision than the only options they think are available to them.

A Useful Tool or Only Handy Sometimes?

Think of the last time you were with a friend, family member, or loved one, and they seemed really stuck. An example could be if they felt like they were in a toxic relationship.

You may have heard them say something like, “It’s either I stay with the jerk or I will be alone forever!”

What about the other options available? Like, for instance, stop dating the jerk and find someone better?

When somebody is struggling to answer a question and you want to be a powerful motivator of influence, the double bind is the perfect tool for the job. In this particular case with the jerk of a romantic partner, you could use the double bind as a means to influence them out of their own double bind.

You could say something like, “That’s interesting - did you want to consider the other alternatives or stay stuck in your bad relationship?”

Influential double binds are really useful when you present a “good cop / bad cop” scenario. You would give two options, with one that is obviously better than the other.

You may see this in marketing quite a bit, where the sales person offers you two alternatives, with one clearly being better than the other.

Some phrases they use might be:

  • So you have two options…
  • You only have these two choices…
  • You know these two options are only available…

When this happens, especially when it comes to marketing or sales, as you become more aware and you’ll notice them when they happen.

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Beware Of the Pitfalls of the Double Bind 

Double binds can be very powerful. Because of this, you should always pay attention to them as they can also be psychological pitfalls and can even prevent you from achieving your full potential.

A common example would be a dissatisfied employee who is trapped inside the illusion that he has only two choices: Staying with his current but hated job, or ending up unemployed. He simply doesn’t see the several other choices he has, such as finding a better job, starting a company, or changing careers.

This would be a double bind that keeps him in a mental loop and prevents solution-oriented thinking.

If you find yourself in this position, then one of the best questions you can ask yourself as a means to interrupt this pattern is simply: “Are these really the only two options available?” You’ll often find that once you look at the evidence, it’s much easier to recognize other choices.

So now that you know about some of the pitfalls of the double bind, how can you use this tool to improve the lives of others?

How to Use the Double Bind in a Therapeutic Session

If you are a coach or therapist, you may have clients who seem to repeat the same story over and over again. Sometimes this loop can sound like it has a bunch of moving parts, but if you look at the pattern happening on a deeper level, it probably is a Double Bind pitfall.

Take for instance a client who feels like their significant other doesn’t listen to them. They come to you wondering if they should get a divorce because no matter what they do it seems like they go unheard and misunderstood.

This client might start telling their story and while they do, they recall every moment they’ve attempted to speak up and their partner shuts them down instead. 

At first glance, it may sound like a lot of information, but even as complex as humans are, sometimes the problems are incredibly simple.

Everybody either distorts, deletes, or generalizes information. In this case, most relationship issues can stem from generalization, where the words, always and never are used.

The client talking about their spouse might say, “They never listen to me. I always feel misunderstood.” 

One question you could ask your client using a double bind is, “Does this happen only some of the time, or can you remember a moment when your partner understood you completely?”

Do you notice how the double bind is structured? The first portion is asking them to remove the generalization and the second portion is asking them to remember a time when their partner understood them.

The result you want as the therapist or coach is the exact same with either case. When you get the client to look at the evidence, often they will end up realizing that it isn’t exactly all the time that this happens.

Once you establish that understanding, it’s much easier to help them reconstruct their story. Another linguistic tool to help them realize their stuck in a loop is the NLP Meta Model.

Use The Ericksonian Way of Binding during Hypnosis Sessions

When it comes to hypnosis, the double bind can also be very effective. For example, you can use it if you want your client to go into trance quickly and effortlessly.

Right before sitting down with a client to do some hypnotic work, you can ask:

“Would you prefer the hypnosis chair or the trance chair?” 

Note that the question presupposes that the client will go into hypnosis, or trance. They are both actually the same thing, and either one will get you exactly what you want.

Another great way to induce a trance using a double bind would be to ask:

“Would you rather go into trance quickly or slowly?”

This way, you distract the client from the possibility of no trance. It’s even more powerful because it contains an embedded command (“go into trance quickly or slowly”) that can increase the hypnotic influence.

Dr. Milton Erickson was a master in using double binds to induce trance and facilitate change. During a therapeutic session, you may use the Ericksonian way of binding:

“Would you like to enter trance now, or would you like to try to keep your eyes open for a little longer, while that delightful sense of comfort continues to fill your body?” 

And to facilitate change, especially with resistant clients, you may use the following:

“I don’t know whether you will make this change immediately, or within the next week.”

This way, you distract the client from any unpleasant urge to change and give him the illusion that he can choose whether and when he wants to change.

Famous Hypnotic Double Binds That Are Entertaining

Besides Milton H. Erickson, there are several other famous hypnotists who use the Double Bind technique in such an incredibly entertaining way that we had to include them.

James Tripp - Hypnosis Without Trance

James Tripp is famously known for his hypnotic skill without using any type of formal induction. If you look him up on Youtube, you’ll find dozens of videos of him creating hypnotic phenomena with the subject seemingly still awake. 

His most discussed and viewed videos are about his hand stick technique, where he can get people’s hands to stick to tables or other various objects within minutes.

One of the secrets that make his technique work is including a simple double bind. Yes. It really is that powerful.

He will often say, “Tell me, what feels more stuck to the table, your fingers or the palm of your hand?”

We won’t break this double bind down because it’s James’s secret, but just know that there is a little bit more to it than this in order to get somebody’s hand to stick to objects. If you want to get that good, a great way to start is to learn suggestibility tests.

Michael C. Anthony - Award Winning Stage Hypnotist

Michael C. Anthony is by far one of the best stage hypnotists in the world. We only say this because Mike Mandel retired, or Michael would be #2! (sorry Michael! Haha!!)

During a weekend long training with us in Toronto, Canada, Michael gave an incredible lecture on stage hypnosis and mentalism. While he was instructing the class full of eager students, he broke down one of the fundamental secrets of his stage hypnosis shows, which was the group induction. 

While this article is focused on double binds, there are also triple binds, which as you probably can guess, are when three options are presented rather than two. 

In the Mike Mandel Power Inductions Course, Mike presents an incredible Triple Bind induction, or 3B for short, which rapidly and covertly puts the subject into a deep state of trance.

Michael C Anthony’s triple bind is just as awesome because it uses time as the option. In this triple bind set up, Michael tells his subjects that they can begin to drift into trance within 5 seconds, 10 seconds, or …..(long drawn out pause)….NOW! 

Take a wild guess as to how many people sink to the floor in a profound trance at that very moment.

A Simply Strategy to Create Useful Double Binds

Now, let’s have a look at the design of Double Binds. Following this simple four steps, you can create your own Double Binds that will work to your advantage. 

Step 1: Define your desired outcome.
For example, you want a hypnosis client to go into a nice trance. Or you want your children to go to bed soon and without fuss.

Step 2: Create the illusion of choice
Now, design a question which creates the illusion of choice. The trick is to design questions that only contain “choices” with targeted behaviors or desired outcomes. 

Step 3: Deliver the double bind question
For excellent results, use a little time pressure and be congruent. The client/counterpart should decide quickly. For example, while pointing to the two chairs in your office, ask the client: “Do you prefer to sit on the hypnosis chair or on the trance chair?” Or, ask your children: “Do you want to go to bed now, or do you want to hear a short story before going to bed?

Wrap-Up: The Power of Double Binds

 Now, why is the double bind so effective? It’s because human beings always like to have choices, and the double bind creates the perfect illusion of choice.

Of course you are free to choose whether you would like to continue discovering even more principles of hypnosis with the Mike Mandel Hypnosis Academy or you could just check out the awesome Power Inductions course we mentioned earlier.

Whatever choice you do choose to be more interested in, you’ll be happy to know that hypnosis is simple and can enable you to improve your performance, become better at sales, master the art of hypnotic influence, or allow you to be the life of the party and entertain an audience.

The best part is, you get to decide.