The power of suggestion: how to recognize it, react to it

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A question asked but never truly answered: why are we so affected by external opinions? And more importantly how can we use others’ personal opinions to motivate ourselves?

The answer can be found in the simple art of suggestion. Suggestion is the psychological process in which people are manipulated by a scene, an image, a word, or a situation. While suggestion can be used to one’s personal benefit, for example getting a friend involved in cinema or cuisine as a result of constant positive reinforcement, it has also proven to be a dangerous psychological game to play.

Often used as a cliché in media, the power of suggestion is can be perceived as a therapist and a patient lying in a velvet lounge chair. The same inquiries asked over and over again, “and this makes you feel this way?” or “this is occurring because of this?” are often asked. Silly and what seems to be a dissipation of time, therapeutic suggestion has proven to be a well-crafted system of intricately formed examinations and investigation. According to the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, the effects of suggestion first began to be studied in Japan during the early 20th century. It was used as a common therapy method, similar to the ones portrayed in popular television shows. In order to persuade a patient to open up, a therapist would start by asking prying questions, until the question matched up with the patient’s predetermined answer.

So why how this occur? The power of suggestion stems from another psychological process called a response expectancy. A simple definition of this term being our anticipation influences our responses to life. For example, you go into your next test feeling positive and prepared, you will most likely do well on the exam. If you go in feeling nervous and negative, there’s a greater chance you won’t do as well as you hoped. This response is strictly internal and can only be changed by our personal thoughts. If our minds are powerful enough to determine the outcome of our actions solely based on our mood, imagine the kind of vulnerability our mind has when affected by another’s suggestion.

While suggestion can start off as a harmless opinion, it can quickly spiral into a turn for the worse. Negative external forces, or suggestion coming from other people, can hurt in unimaginable ways. A comment as simple as to what we eat, what we wear, how we act can do more damage than perceived. A negative suggestion can lead to a downwards slope of questioning, self doubt, and even hesitancy towards goals. Suggestion isn’t half-bad, however, and it was studied back then for a reason. Not only can we use positive suggestion to lift the spirits of others but we can use suggestion for our own self benefit.

Through personal positive reinforcement we can achieve our goals. Jessica Schwan, qualified therapist, claims, “When we take control of our thinking, bringing our attention to the truly positive potential, our bodies then respond with a competent different biologically based emotion (joy, anticipation, excitement, peace), resulting in actions that lead us toward that which we desire.”

However, in the end, it all boils  down to self confidence. By possessing just the right amount of confidence and using, not abusing, the power of suggestion, one can achieve the extraordinary.

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