THE BLOG

Use the Power of Suggestion to Move Ahead

06/13/2013 08:18 am ET | Updated Aug 13, 2013

Ever had someone tell you that the procedure would "really hurt" or that the test was "really hard" or that the boss was "impossible to deal with" and then had those scenarios play out just as predicted?

Turns out those early suggestions probably shaped your reality. Psychological scientists Maryanne Garry, Robert Michael and Irving Kirsch explore this phenomena in an article in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science and found that deliberate suggestions can influence how well people remember things, how they respond to medical treatments, and even how they'll behave.

The reason, they say, is attributable to something the bigwigs call "response expectancies." This means that the way we anticipate our response to a situation influences how we will actually respond. In other words, if something is suggested or you expect an outcome, your behaviors, thoughts, and reactions will actually contribute to making that expectation occur.

If someone suggests you'll ace the interview, you're more likely to do a good job. If you think you'll win the race, you're more likely to train and prepare and perform in a way that gives you a greater chance of winning the race.

Using suggestion in this way can be a powerful tool in accomplishing our goals. But, it can also sabotage our success. If you internalize a suggestion that you aren't good at math, or don't have a clue about parenting, or probably won't ever make much money, you're more likely to create those scenarios too.

Making Good With Positive Suggestions

The influence of suggestion and our expectations is so far-reaching that scientists are now looking at how they can influence medical treatment, criminal investigations, policy decisions and educational processes.

"If real treatment and suggestion lead to a similar outcome, what differentiates between the two?" says Maryanne Garry, one of the authors of the journal article. "If we can harness the power of suggestion, we can improve people's lives."

I'm becoming more aware of the power of suggestion in my own life when it comes to accomplishing my own career and health goals and while helping to raise my daughter.

Before going out to a social event, for example, I'll say to my daughter: "I know you'll be polite and respectful because that's just how you behave," instead of suggesting that she better NOT be a pill. She's a good kid, with good behavior, is that because of the suggestions we make around here? Who knows, but it can't hurt.

I do this for myself too, particularly when it comes to exercise. I am constantly suggesting that I will feel strong and healthy during my workout. Does it always play out? Nope. But, if nothing else, it almost always helps motivate me to head to the gym. Suggesting that I'm too tired or wimpy, doesn't inspire me at all.

This is all a little law-of-attractiony, but I don't think it matters how this stuff supports us -- or even why -- just that it does. We are exposed to so many thoughts, ideas, beliefs, influences. When we take charge of our experience and choose those that actually help us, those that actually empower, motivate, engage, enliven, and inspire us, good things are bound to happen.

If you want to work with the power of suggestion in your own life, here are a few ways of doing it.

1. Become conscious to what is coming in. This is good advice for just about anything. But as is with so many things, awareness is required to help us identify the suggestions that are coming our way in the first place. If you are not aware of the messages you're sending or receiving from others, it's tough to counteract what you hear with conscious suggestions of more positive scenarios. Tune into what's going on around you. Get curious about it and the suggestions that are influencing you will be easier to spot. Also, notice what you hear or see the next time you decide to do something and allow the suggestions that are most helpful to inspire you.

2. Cultivate support. This is big-time important when it comes to the power of suggestion. Whenever possible, surround yourself with encouraging and supportive people. People that buy into your dream or believe in you. Psychologists have shown that we are influenced by both deliberate and non-deliberate suggestions. How people talk to us, their gestures, tone, and implications matter, as do their words. Positive influence begets positive suggestions. Positive suggestions beget positive outcomes.

Simply by showing interest or by doing things that make other people feel important or special also creates a positive suggestion that is powerful enough to prompt them to work harder and longer on a task, says the Psychological Science article.

Keep this in mind when you are parenting or otherwise relating to others. You are always making deliberate or non-deliberate suggestions through your behavior and those can build-up, inspire and motivate people -- or not.

3. Stay open to different possibilities. Another way to tap into the power of positive suggestion is simply to remember that it is always working, therefore stay open to any outcome. Since, anything can happen, don't allow the influence of suggestion to limit your possibilities. When someone suggests you can't achieve something, immediately suggest otherwise and create a new expectation. Then be open -- not attached -- to any outcome. In this way your attitudes and behaviors will create (often unconsciously) the experience you desire -- or at least the one suggested.

For more by Polly Campbell, click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.