Émile Coué

Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.

                                                                                                     Émile Coué

CoueOk—the cynics will immediately dismiss Coué’s autosuggestion as just so much latent-hippie, New Age, Kumbaya, group-hug bunk. And why not?  Coué’s method has been lampooned in everything from The Pink Panther to Saturday Night Live. But take a second look—there’s enough modern science behind Coué’s approach to keep even the greatest skeptics reading!

Émile Coué was born in 1857 to middle class parents in the Burgundy region of France. He had an unremarkable childhood and studied to become a pharmacist. It was in his practice of pharmacy that he first became aware of a curious trend among his customers. Coué discovered that when he praised the curative powers of a medicine to a customer, the medicine seemed to work particularly well. However, when he dispensed the same medication without positive comment, it didn’t work nearly as well. Curious, Coué took up the study of both hypnosis and psychology. In 1913 he founded the Lorraine Society of Applied Psychology and was soon kept busy by a torrent of patients seeking relief from ailments that ranged from cancer to varicose veins to depression. Coué was no charlatan. He was careful to tell people when he thought he couldn’t heal their condition or could offer them only modest improvements. None-the-less, he became a sensation throughout Europe and in 1922, when his work was published in the United States, he became a sensation here as well.

There’s nothing complicated about the Coué method. It’s simply a matter of conditioning the unconscious through repeated self-suggestions or images. For example, someone fearful of public speaking might imagine themselves comfortably addressing a group while repeating, “I’m becoming confident and at ease.” In time, according to Coué, the subconscious would be programmed to this belief and spontaneously respond to the suggestion when necessary. Admittedly it sounds silly—but it actually works.

This was the method used by Dr. Viktor Frankl to survive the horrors of Auschwitz. More recently, an adaptation of the Coué method was famously used by Norman Cousins to survive first a life threatening disease and later a massive coronary. The Placebo Effect and the Pygmalion dynamic are both extensions of Coué’s work and their efficacy has been documented by literally hundreds of scientific studies. There is no doubt that the repetition of positive affirmations can produce profound physical, psychological, spiritual and behavioral changes. Best of all it’s free and unlike most exercise and diet programs, you don’t have to consult a physician before trying it out!

Interestingly, no one disputes the devastating impact that stress, a poor self-image, fear and despair can have on both body and soul. Instead, we resist the notion that positive thinking can produce the opposite effect. The intrinsic beauty of the Coué method is that it looks to the future with the hopeful promise that things can always be better—and that we each have the capacity to make it better.  Now put your cynicism aside for a moment and repeat after me….                          —Ebert

 

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