Words influence: what you say impacts the results you get. By understanding how your mind processes the words it hears you can learn to phrase what you say in ways that will positively influence the results you want.
If I say to you “don’t think of a black cat”, notice what happens. In some shape or form your mind had to make an association of what a black cat is to understand the sentence – maybe a quick image flashed into your mind of a black cat, or you thought of a black cat you knew, or maybe you thought about the superstition about black cats and ladders.
Even if you were not consciously aware of this it happened at a subconscious level because the processes that are involved in comprehension had to think about a black cat even though I told you not to. Therefore the use of words like “don’t” are negated in terms of how the brain comprehends. In this instant “don’t” was filtered out and your mind obeyed the end of the sentence and thought of a black cat.
So if you are consciously telling yourself “don’t eat chocolate” or “must not eat chocolate” you’ll be undermined by the part of your mind that comprehends what it hears and the part that controls your behaviours – because it is getting the instruction to “eat chocolate”.
How about what you tell your kids (or your partner!)? When the kids are carrying a hot drink and you say “careful don’t spill it” – three things happen: firstly, their brain filters out the “don’t”; secondly, they have to think about spilling it to understand the sentence. Both these factors are causing the brain to receive the instruction to spill. And lastly, the part of their brain (the amygdala) that perceives and interprets everything as either a threat or being safe, detects a ‘caution/danger signal’ which automatically starts to activate the “fight or flight” stress response, causing the heart beats faster and often hands become shaky – not ideal when carrying a hot drink!
So how do we phrase things to produce more effective results? You focus on what you want to have happen, because remember the brain will filter out what you “don’t” want. In the hot drink example, by giving positive reinforcement and stating the desired outcome – what you want to have happen – you dramatically increase the likelihood of that drink being delivered without mishap. For example, you could say “you’re doing a really good job as you carry that cup of tea slowly and steadily to me” or “That’s it. Slowly carry that cup. Good work”. Also, saying it in a calm yet authoritative tone will avoid the amygdala perceiving the instruction as a ‘danger’ signal, because if you say it anxiously their mind will pick up on it.
As a clinical Hypnotherapist I’ve learnt specific techniques and ways to most effectively communicate in a way that the subconscious mind understands. When working with clients I help them focus on what they want and use hypnotic techniques to facilitate this at a subconscious level – because when clients want to overcome obstacles and create positive change it makes sense to work with the part of the brain that controls our beliefs, behaviours, habits, fears and even our physical sensations.
You too can apply this knowledge of how your mind comprehends and uses language to influence the outcome. So whether you’re talking to someone else or to yourself, to get the best results forget about what you don’t want, get clear on what it is that you do want to have happen…. and communicate this.
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