Tricking Your Mind to Reach Your Goals

Autosuggestions examined scientifically

Unlimitix
Unlimitix
Apr 22 · 6 min read

One study finds somewhat unsurprisingly that homeowners in a small village were not likely to agree to having a wooden ‘drive safely’ sign installed in their front lawn. Interestingly however, another village next to it was four times as likely to commit. Where did the sudden increase of 300% in commitment come from? It’s very simple: Consistency. Home owners in the other village were asked first to sign a petition for a drive safely campaign. Afterwards, they were asked to place a drive safely postcard in the front of their window to signal their support. [1]

The explanation is just as simple. First, signing the petition and placing a small post-card next to a window was a very small ask. Consequently, many more participants agreed. Second, when participants were asked weeks later to place the large, wooden sign in their lawn, they were confronted with consistency issues. This also known as cognitive dissonance. [2] There were two confronting theories in people’s heads. On the one hand, they didn’t want to have that large wooden sign on their own lawn, on the other hand though, they already outed themselves of supporters of a drive safely campaign. For many participants, the latter effect outweighed the former one and they hence agreed to place the wooden sign in their yard.

Consistency

These consistency principles are incredibly powerful, and explain partly why autosuggestions do have such a strong effect on us. Telling us — or even writing down — every morning that we are disciplined, successful or of integrity highly increases the chances of us adhering to those principles and values; even fully inheriting them at one point. Cognitive dissonance causes us mental pain. After I have written down that I am disciplined for tenths of consecutive days, I am much more likely to act accordingly in a respective situation. For instance, leaving the office at 10pm but still having work to do when I come home requires high discipline. I am primed for leisure when I come home and chances of me postponing that work to tomorrow are high. Yet, if this doesn’t fit with my perception of discipline, plus knowing that I have written down that I am disciplined, will equip me with the respective willpower to go the extra mile.

Even though autosuggestions are often derided, science clearly confirms the strengths of autosuggestion. One study demonstrated that Japanese students improved their English proficiency by telling themselves “we are very good at learning English” or “we can speak, listen, and write English on whatever the topic we have in mind.” [3]

The history of autosuggestions

Yet, autosuggestion goes much further than helping with achieving mundane goals. The ‘father’ of autosuggestions is known to be Emile Coué, who also discovered the placebo effect. Being both a pharmacist and self-trained psychologist, he believed in the power of modern medicine, but noted that their effect can be amplified by autosuggestion. He postulated that repeating a statement, combined with strong affects towards the matter, will have significant impact. One should repeat those statements for 15 minutes every day for 21 days in total in order for the message to become self-evident to the brain, eventually resulting in being executed by it. Through this technique he reportedly cured many patients from asthma, kidney disease, paralysis, etc. [4] [5] [6] [7]

Autosuggestions and self-confidence

Another intriguing experiment is described by Vladimir Stankovic as follows:

“First a volunteer (preferably a male) stands in front of the class and straightens his arm in front of him with a job to strengthen his muscles and not let the arm be pushed down. Then Jeffers tries to push his arm down without success (since he is physically stronger than her). After that the volunteer rests his arm, closes his eyes and repeats in his head the sentence “I am a weak and worthless person” 10 times. His job is to really feel this while saying it as if it was true. After that he straightens his arm again and has to use all the power he has to stop Jeffers from pushing his arm down, but without success. She always manages to push his arm down. The volunteer is often surprised and wants to repeat the exercise but the result is the same. After that he is to repeat the sentence “I am a strong and worthy person” and this time he is strong again, even stronger than the first time. If this is repeated with various combinations of the positive and negative sentence the results are always the same — he is strong after the positive and weak after the negative sentence. This is also true even when Jeffers does not know whether the sentence was positive or negative while pushing the arm. This experiment shows that the words we say (or think) have an amazing effect on our minds.” [7]

Jeffers therefore encourages everyone to use strong, positive language [8] [9].

Autosuggestions and financials

Proctor believes that this even applies to your financial situation. Having studied money and wealth for over 40 years, he believes that successful people are comfortable about money and don’t hesitate to express their interest in accumulating wealth. People Proctor studied were significantly more likely to ask for money for services they considered valuable and to express their interest in getting rich openly. These changes in attitude increase the likelihood of attaining money. [10] [11]

Yet, while the full neurological explanation is still missing, many studies have shown positive effects of affirmations and goal setting [12]. It is believed that affirmations strengthen neural pathways. This means the more you tell yourself a certain story the stronger the neural pathway in your brain responsible for that certain piece of information will be.

Actionsteps

  1. Set clear, executable goals: Most studies show that in order for autosuggestions to work, goals must be clear and simple. A common way to set goals is called SMART. Your goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and terminable.
  2. Include an autosuggestion-session in your daily routines: Coué demonstrated that repeating a statement for 20 times after getting up and before falling asleep increases your chance of reaching (health-related) goals tremendously. Define the three statements that are most important to you and dedicate 21 days to each of them. You will be surprised by the effectiveness of this technique.
  3. Use positive, enforcing language in your daily life: Rather than saying, ‘I can’t’, you should say ‘I won’t’. Instead of saying ‘this is impossible’, say ‘I will strive towards the best possible outcome’. These tiny changes in everyday language can increase your daily performance strongly, as Susan Jefferson starkly demonstrated in her paper books, talks and experiments.

Reaching your goals is not that difficult. It requires minimal mental work, but often people refrain from investing even the little effort that is required. Looking back at life, it might be that one decision of putting in the mental work that is required to make you look back at life happy and full of gratitude.

Sources:

[1] Cialdini, R. B. (1993). Influence: Science and practice. New York: HarperCollinsCollegePublishers.

[2] Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. California: Stanford University Press.

[3] Ikematsu, Mineo. (2014). Can Autosuggestion improve English Proficiency of Japanese College Students?, International Symposium on Advances in Technology Education 2014.

[4] Coue, E. (2006). Self mastery through conscious autosuggestion. Digireads.com.

[5] Coue, E. (2010). The practice of autosuggestion: by the method of Emile Coue. Black Oyster Publishing Company.

[6] Coue, E. (2007). Self mastery. Arc Manor.

[7] Stankovic, V. (2013). Using Personal Computers for Affirmations and Autosuggestions. Conference Paper Informatics and Management Sciences (The 2nd International Conference), Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305816274_Using_Personal_Computers_for_Affirmations_and_Autosuggestions

[8] Jeffers, S. (2006). Feel the fear… and do it anyway. NY: Ballantine Books.

[9] Jeffers, S. (2004). Embracing uncertainty: breakthrough methods for achieving peace of mind when facing the unknown. NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.

[10] Proctor, B. (2003) You were born rich. HS: Your Coach In A Box.

[11] Proctor, B., & Blood, M. (2009) Become a magnet to money through the sea of unlimited consciousness. NY: Micheles Musivation International.

[12] Yearta, S. K., Maitlis, S., & Briner, R. B. (1995). An exploratory study of goal setting in theory and practice: A motivational technique that works? Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 68(3), 237–252.

https://doi.org/10.1111/j.20448325.1995.tb00584.x

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