For months, the Elton John song Philadelphia Freedom had been going through my head and I didn’t know why.
There are these violins in the opening part of the song… “Dee-dee, dee-dee, dee-dee, dee-dee.” Often, I’d find that little ditty in my head during the morning.
That brings to mind how we can plant ideas in people’s minds without them knowing it. I use it to help elicit resources in clients while avoiding any conscious resistance.
Priming & Eliciting Resources
Priming is when a stimulus is presented and it influences a person’s later response. As an example, if you give someone the list of the words wolf, cat and pet, and then ask them to think of a word that rhymes with ‘log,’ they’re likely to answer ‘dog.’ A wolf might remind someone of a dog, the word cat is often paired with the word dog and a dog is a common pet. In other words, that list of words gets the mind ready to choose dog.
Priming works largely unconsciously and can last a long time. From wikipedia…
“Unconscious priming effects can affect word choice on a word-stem completion test long after the words have been consciously forgotten.”
Priming & Ambiguity
I believe priming partly explains why ambiguity techniques work. When we as therapists say, “Your unconscious sees the opportunity,” we are also saying “You’re unconscious, seize the opportunity.” (Especially if you get the phrasing just right). The mind hears both and because of priming effects, is primed to accept the messages or even believe the ideas sprang from their own minds.
It’s An Allusion
One way to think about priming is as alluding to something. How many ways can you think of to allude to something? You can think of things in the same category (wolf/dog). You can think of phonetic ambiguities (heel/heal). You can think of words that rhyme (heal/feel/real). You can think of things you do in the same place. The list of possibilities goes on…
Priming is particularly useful for folks that don’t like to take directions or to be guided on what to do. It helps you introduce an idea covertly. If their unconscious mind accepts the idea, to them, it’s as if they thought of it in the first place.
The Jeopardy Game
One exercise I like to do, I call the Jeopardy game. Jeopardy is a game that has categories and the correct answers are always phrased in the form of a question. This mental game uses questions and categories (among other things) to build skill in alluding to things–priming.
1) Think of something you want a client to accomplish.
2) Ask yourself, “What else is in that same category?”
3) Find words that rhyme with the thing you want to client to accomplish.
4) Find ambiguities for the thing you want the client to accomplish.
5) Think of other things you might do in the same place or with the same people/tools/scenario.
6) Find ways to include those things in a conversation.
Derren Brown–Priming Example
Here’s a nice example in priming from mentalist Derren Brown.
As for me and Philadelphia Freedom…
I’d recently changed alarms and one morning I noticed my alarm beeping out a rhythm. “Dee-dee, dee-dee, dee-dee, dee-dee.” Take a listen to the first 4 seconds of the Elton John song, then the audio below. I think you’ll get the idea.