Before reading this post, try this small experiment. Below you see two rows of four words and you have to fill out the last word. Try it for both rows and remember them or write them down. When you have done this, continue reading. I will get back at this later.
Do you recognize the situation in which someone says something that gets you upset very easily, and you do not really understand why? Or maybe going to a grocery shop and feeling happy and joyful and all of a sudden you have bought three items you did not want to buy in the first place? Maybe you recognize yourself being at a party, having a good time and all of a sudden you get this urge to smoke a cigarette with your friends. These type of situations are common and we all experience them.
Our minds work in mysterious ways and one of them is through associations. Sometimes we are conscious of the associations we make, by thinking thoughtfully and combining or matching certain situations, signals, and persons together. Most of the time we are unconscious of these associations. If I say the word ‘teacher’ you might think of the word ‘student’ and if I say the word ‘red’ you might think of a ‘firefighter’ or ‘apple’.
Your mind processes these associations differently, and one of these processes is called ‘priming’. Priming is when something influences our behaviours, emotions, and thoughts, often without us being aware that it is doing so. Most of the time we do not realize we have been primed to react in a certain way. Priming has often been used to change unhealthy attitudes and behaviours in psychological treatment.
‘You have to program your mind or your mind will get programmed’
– Les Brown
Let us have a look at the words you have chosen at the beginning of this text. Did you think of the words ‘green’ and ‘grape/grapefruit’? If so, you have just been primed. For both rows you have been asked to fill in the fifth word. The only requirement of the word is that it has to start with the letters ‘G’. Now in the first row the other words contain colours, which probably primed you into thinking of the word Green. The same goes for the second row which contains fruits, and probably primed you into thinking of the word Grape(fruit).
You have undoubtedly primed yourself on many occasions. Our repeated responses to signals from our surroundings lead to the same repeated behaviours, emotions, and thoughts. This repetition can automatize how we respond to those signals. Familiar situations enhance this priming process, such as a party-gathering with our friends or going to the same groceries store for over two years.
In general, the information we gather from social situations most of the time is unclear or vague. What we perceive during these situations is influenced by the ideas that are accessible in our mind. These are activated by our current goals, needs, and expectations. If we are exposed to positive or negative words, we tend to interpret vague behaviour as positive or negative. This is because the meaning of that vague behaviour has been primed by the positive or negative words.
Certain words can trigger a primed response by its meaning or by the way they are written. Also strong signals such as a facial expression of fear, disgust, or joy tend to have universal meaning and influence how you interpret your surroundings, objects, and people. Be conscious of the words you use during conversations in person and in text. Most of the time we have a much bigger influence on ourselves (and others) than we are consciously aware of.
It is important to realize that we can consciously influence the way we prime ourselves. Even though the priming itself works mostly unconsciously. You can use priming to your advantage. If you make use of positive words such as ‘efficient’, ‘successful’, ‘goals’ and ‘growth’, you can prime yourself into thinking more positively. On the other hand, making use of words such as ‘stress’ and ‘pressure’ can get you into a negative thinking pattern.
‘What you think of yourself matters’
– Tony Robbins
This could explain why affirmations work. Saying to yourself that you are capable, confident, strong, caring, and beautiful every morning can rewire your mind into associating positive thoughts and behaviours with your mornings. If you do this every morning for the next few months, you can prime your morning into waking up with a beautiful state feeling good about yourself. The moment you wake up and you open your eyes (and realize you are not dreaming), you can automatically start feeling capable, confident, strong, etc.
Even if it seems like an impossible task, try to become conscious of the things you have been primed of. Does it serve you or does it harm you? I also recommend you to try and prime yourself into a positive state. You can become conscious of how you feel when you are in a happy and positive state. Become conscious of the signals your body sends you. When you are not in this state, try and prime yourself into it. Figure out the triggers that can remind you and make you have a sense of the feeling of being in a positive emotional state.
Let me know what you think of this post in the comments below or send me an e-mail! I encourage you to share your experience or thoughts!