One day Dr Milton Erickson’s young son, Robert, fell on the sidewalk out side their home. He cut his mouth and was bleeding heavily when his parents arrived on the scene, alerted by his cries of pain and fear.
Erickson immediately said, “Robert, it hurts. It hurts real bad. Real bad. I wonder when it’s going to stop hurting. Right now it hurts; it just hurts. When is it going to stop hurting?” This caught Robert’s attention.
At first, he was only attending to the pain, but now he also began wondering when the pain would stop. He stopped crying as he wondered about that. By that time, his parents had gotten him to the bathroom, where they were washing his mouth so Erickson could determine whether or not stitches would be required. As the blood ran from Robert’s mouth into the sink, Erickson said to his wife. “Look at that blood, Mother. That’s good red healthy blood! That’ll clean that wound out really well. Look at the color of that blood.”
Of course, Robert was also looking at the blood. Instead of being captured by his pain and fear, he was fascinated attending to his “good red healthy blood.” After the wound was washed out, it became clear that Robert would need stitches.
So Erickson began to tell Robert that he needed stitches and reminded him that his brother had gotten stitches last year when he had been hurt. “I wonder whether you are going to win the stitches contest, Robert, and get more than your brother got. He had six stitches. All you would need is seven to win the contest.”
When they arrived at the emergency room, the attending physician was amazed at how quietly this young boy sat while he was being cleaned and stitched up. All Robert said through his stitched-up mouth at the end of the procedure was “How many stitches did I get?” “Nine,” he was told. And
he gave a lopsided smile through the wound.
That is the power of changing your attention.