Priming the Pump

Priming is a term used in psychology to describe exposing a person to a stimulus in order to alter their behaviour, usually in the short term.

In one famous study, participants were primed by having to arrange specific words. One group got the polite words and another got the rude words. For example, the polite group may get words like “kind” whereas the rude group may get words like “brazen.” After arranging the words, participants displayed markedly different behaviours!

The polite group walked more slowly and waited longer before interrupting the researchers (who were ignoring them on purpose).

The rude group walked more quickly and were quicker to a more disrupting interruption.

The results have been easily replicated in subsequent research.

I wonder what would have happened if there had been a “tactful” group! Perhaps they would have arranged words like “graceful” and “agile”. They would have walked with a skip in their step and promptly interrupted with the best ability to create rapport with the researchers. (or is this huge wishful thinking on my part???)

So how can you use this to your benefit!?

Here is my new daily practice: I have a notebook that I write in every morning (2 days in a row so far; look at me go!). I fill the page with words that I want to embody. Notice that in the study, participants weren’t merely working with the word “rude” or “polite;” they had words that would help them get to this point. So I don’t just sit and write the word “efficient” 20 times before I start a busy day. I may write words like:

If I wanted to truly enjoy a day off I may write:

So far I have had great experience with this morning journal technique. (2 days – woohoo!) I have always struggled to keep any sort of morning practice, but really look forward to this. Of course it could be done as an evening practice as well to influence a good night’s sleep.

You may like to put your priming word in to a thesaurus to come up with many other words to influence your behaviour. Inputting the word “calm” gives great suggestions such as breezeless, hushed and unruffled. Or perhaps if there is a way you DO NOT want to feel, pull up a list of antonyms. Possible words to combat “anxious” are unconcerned, carefree and patient. As with any mantra or affirmation, try out how you respond to each word. It should feel like a good fit and resonate with you. If you feel any resistance to it, it may have the opposite result.

Try it out and let me know how you do! Bonus: keep your eyes peeled for a Priming Meditation in the near future.

Priming was part of my NLP training, but here is some very accessible info and more applications by Vanessa Van Edwards

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