Episode 105: Priming
There’s this concept in positive psychology called Priming and basically, it’s a way to intentionally direct your thoughts and focus to prime or enhance your mental state.
Have you ever noticed how in most reality shows they do these like 30 seconds to 1-minute clips about the contestant or participant? These networks know that if they can get you invested by caring about this stranger that you’re more likely to stick around and watch them and not only that but you’ll most likely stick around for the entire season because you want to root for them and watch them grow.
We go from seeing a stranger on tv to feeling an emotional connection to them. In that 30 second clip they were able to spotlight enough about them to tug on our heartstrings and redirect our thoughts to attach ourselves to them, to be on their team and it’s so fun because we feel GOOD about it.
It’s a brilliant piece of information because it’s something we all have access to. It’s taking the time to intentionally direct and channel your thoughts in a productive way. When we see something we have thoughts about it. That thought then “primes” your brain to respond to the second stimuli.
It’s your brain’s way of preparing to predict where you’re going next. It’s flipping on a switch with your brain geared and ready to give you past experiences, understandings, perspectives, meanings, and all the practiced feelings that are associated with that.
So this can go either way. There was this fascinating research study done by Yale in which they asked a series of participants to answer some questions. On their way to the lab the researcher casually asked the participant if they could hold their coffee for a minute so they could write down their responses.
The participants each held the coffee between 10-30 seconds. Half of the participants held a hot cup of coffee and the other were handed a cold cup.
When they arrived at the lab they were asked to read a short description of a random person and then asked to judge or rate the individual’s personality using a questionnaire. The only difference in the research study was the temperature of the coffee. The rest of the study was completely the same for both groups. So the only difference was holding a cold cup or a hot cup.
What’s fascinating is that the people who held the hot coffee judged the people as happier, kinder, more social, and generous whereas the participants who held the cold coffee were more inclined to observe the person was irritable, unhappy, and selfish.
Remember, the only difference in the two groups was the temperature of the coffee and the results were so interesting because these participants didn’t know they had been primed.
When we are presented with a stimulus our brain immediately prepares for or primes your focus for what it predicts will come next. The hot cup of coffee clearly had significant meaning for these participants – energetic, productive, happier, smiling, social. This one 10-30 second encounter was all it took to set their brain on a particular path with a particular story or perception. The same with cold coffee, unhappy, probably gross, irritable right?
I tell you what, I love following the dodo on social media. It’s the group that highlights animal videos of happy, cute, and feel-good stories. I can see just one of those short videos or even just the initial stimulus of seeing their logo and my mind already goes to smiling, curious of what cute animal they’re going to share today. That 30 second reel primes me for positivity and productive feelings.
This is a powerful tool you can add to your tool box because it means that you can directly and intentionally prime yourself for positive and productive emotions and we know that our feelings drive us into action and our actions create our results so if I want more productive or positive results in my life then I want to be super intentional about what I’m priming myself for.
There’s a reason why when it comes to doing my daily reflection especially when I’m working on a goal I always focus on the positives first. I list out all the “what’s going right’s” and pull out as many as I can think of before I even start to think about the “what didn’t work”. The goal is to prime my brain to see that there is progress and not just some but a lot of it.
That primes me to look at the next stumbling blocks or challenges through a more abundant lens and thus more manageable and doable.
What we normally do is only focus on all the things we’re lacking, all the things we still have to do, all the things we aren’t good at yet and so most people stop reflecting, some stop thinking about goals altogether because it’s a painful process, it’s become a painful process – just the thought a goal primes them for pain and as a result they struggle to accomplish the things they really want to.
So when you know that this exists first of all and next how to utilize it, doors open for you. Goals become fun and something to look forward to because it feels good. It builds you up and makes you more confident that you can go and do more because look at what you’ve already done, right?
There are so many areas in your life where priming can make such a huge impact and if you’re intentional about it, it can create significant positive impacts. I want to give you just 4 areas to think about where priming can help you progress and to create a more confident life.
1.) Your mornings – I’m not the first one to tell you how important your mornings are. Think about priming and if the first thing you do is automatically check your email on your phone you might be setting yourself up for a more mentally challenging day.
I’m not against phones in the morning. However, I will suggest just being super intentional about what you look and where your focus goes in the morning. I have a file on my phone specifically for this. It’s full of happy, beautiful, uplifting images that reflect who I am and who I want to be. So in the morning when I see these things I’m primed to be excited about the day, excited to see what I can go out and do and create.
Which is a huge difference from checking your email or scrolling through random SM and hoping there’s something on there to uplift instead of thwart, right? Don’t take chances with your morning. Choose ahead of time what your first things will be in the morning.
I even went as far as changing my alarm clock. I have an alarm that gently lights up – like the sun rising because the sun is not up when I get up so it creates that feeling and it has the lightest, softest birds chirping and I know some of you are like, I’d sleep right through that – but the light keeps getting brighter and the birds slowly get louder until you’re awake but it’s this gentle wakening over my previous harsh, blaring, obnoxious alarm. The little things that really make a difference when it comes to priming (like, remember the study and holding a cup of coffee for 10 seconds) right?
So I won’t tell you how to change or what specifically to do, you get to explore and figure what would work best for you but start thinking and crafting your morning firsts and see how that changes your mood and the course of your entire day.
2.) Clean up and get organized!
I’ve always loved the quote from Elizabeth Gilbert that says, “Outer Order equals inner calm” and it’s true because your outer circumstances while circumstances don’t make us feel anything – they do trigger our thoughts. Everything you see you have thoughts about so the more you have around you, the more energy you’re expending to that cause.
It feels really good to have a space that works for you. Again, I’m no Marie Kondo and will never assume what your space should look like. I know my kids and I have different preferences when it comes to organizing and what works in their rooms might not work in mine so again, just be mindful. Ask yourself, does this item, cupboard, room, desk, etc make it easy on my thoughts or more challenging.
I have a small goal to organize one space each day. It doesn’t take long – like 5-10 minutes a day just focusing intentionally on one area – in addition to the normal tidying up but it’s fun for me because it’s not a big chore. It primes me for positivity because it feels so good to see something accomplished and clean and sparking joy and you’d think after 365 days of doing this my house would be immaculate but it’s not. There are 6 people living in my home so just as I organize one space myself or others come and live there so we just keep plugging along in a productive and positive way.
It’s less about the clutter and more about creating positive habits that prime you for success. So make sure when you experiment with this you do so in a way that isn’t stressful or unpleasant. Start SMALL and make it fun.
3.) Success Stories – There isn’t anything quite like hearing a success story and feeling motivated and energized by it. Seek out success stories, ask others theirs, read about other’s journeys and how they overcame them, watch clips or movies about success stories.
We get so excited hearing about other’s success stories because there’s something within each of us that feels like, if they can do then maybe I can too – and it doesn’t even have to be what that person did – it just awakens or ignites greatness within you.
I love thinking about people that have overcome challenges and succeeded. I don’t always have to watch a movie, or read an entire book about them – just thinking about them even, reading a quote about them, seeing something that reminds me of them is enough to prime my brain for success and motivation.
I have this board behind my computer that I love. It’s full of happy things and every single thing on there holds significant meaning for me and each thing on there has a story. I have this diving bell charm I bought from hobby lobby years ago on there to remind me of the book and film, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”
True story of Jean-Dominique Bauby who was once at the top of his game as a fashion magazine editor who suffers a stroke in 1995 that leaves him almost entirely paralyzed. The only thing he can do is blink his left eyelid. Other than that he’s completely paralyzed and looks comatose.
I won’t go through the whole story but he ends up being able to dictate and write a book by blinking his one eye letter by letter.
He suffered from something called, “locked-in syndrome” and the book title is significant because he sees himself in those old deep-sea diving suits with the metal diving bell just sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss and the only thing that sets him free is his imagination like a butterfly to freely fly and explore.
It’s just so incredible for me to think about when my brain wants to complain or wonder how I can figure something out. I see that little charm and my brain immediately is primed for creativity and exploration – everything is figureoutable and I can keep moving forward.
So fill up on success stories so that you can add them to your mental tool box.
4.) Gratitude – Gratitude has so many benefits again, I’m certain this is nothing new for you. But it might be more of an incentive to actually spend time thinking about things that you are grateful for and training your brain to look for areas you can be grateful in.
In a research study conducted by Harvard University we read:
“The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways, gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives…Being grateful also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”
Researchers have noted that gratitude is “strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness” (Harvard Health)
Focusing on gratitude primes your mind to see through an abundant lens, a happier, more connected state. When we’re happy and feeling good we do more good and we end up creating more good in our lives.
The more you adopt this habit you’ll start associating things, people, and certain stimuli with feelings of happiness and gratitude aka you teach your brain to prime you for positivity.
All of this is a way for you to learn to create certainty and security within yourself. Confidence isn’t at the mercy of your circumstances. Confidence stems from certainty that you’re going to be okay, you’re going to feel okay and not only that but that you’ll give yourself what you need, positive, productive feelings.
There’s a million ways you can start adopting this practice in your life. I write down a minimum of 10 gratitudes each day. I have a practice called the 10/4 – there’s an older podcast about taking your gratitude practice even deeper and more significant.
Just getting in the habit of verbally saying thank you can prime yourself for positivity and I’m not just talking about saying it to people but to everything. I love that Marie Kondo thanks everything she parts with before she gives it away. Thank you for serving your purpose and blessing my life. I always say thank you to green lights, thank you for letting me go and not having to wait. Thank you for beautiful cloudy skies and fall weather. Thank you for a space to work from and a space to live in.
Meg Johnson taught me how powerful it can be to express gratitude. If you know about her she suffered the effects of a fall and it paralyzed from the waist down and during her treatment and recovery she couldn’t move at all and she said she could just stare at the ceiling and wherever her eyeballs could move, not her head but her actual just eyes and in her immense pain she would just start saying thank you to everything. Thank you light switch. Thank you window. Thank you ceiling tiles, etc. And she felt happier. Happier emotions contribute to healing.
Gratitude primes you for positivity in ways you can’t even fathom.
Other ideas: writing thank you’s down. Texting thank you’s. Meditating daily.
All of this primes you for positivity and confidence and just makes life all the richer knowing that you are intentionally giving yourself a leg up and a genuine head start.
Be intentional with the things you allow yourself to see, to listen to, to think about, and to hold.
So to recap,
1. Mornings – don’t check your email or random SM. Be intentional – go to specific boards that you’ve created
2. Clean up – physical cutter (and I know this looks different for everyone) leads to mental clutter –
3. Success stories – if they can do it then maybe it’s possible I can too
4. Gratitude – How have you progressed? Document the wins
Priming is such a powerful tool that doesn’t take a lot of time but that yields incredible results in your life. When you learn to prime your mind for confidence and positivity you create a game-changer. You find more joy, abundance, fulfillment, and increase your capacity to go and do and achieve your goals.
Okay, Catalysts, have an amazing week and I’ll talk to you soon!