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4 Ways the Power of Suggestion Can Change Your Life

Research shows why self-fulfilling prophecies so often come true.

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Ever had someone tell you that a dental or medical procedure "will really hurt,” that a test "was really hard,” or that a new boss "is impossible to deal with”—and then had those scenarios play out just as predicted?

Turns out, those early suggestions probably shaped your reality.

A deliberate suggestion can influence how well people remember things, how they respond to medical treatments, and even how well they will perform and behave, according to research by Maryanne Garry, Robert Michael, and Irving Kirsch.

The reason, they say, is attributable to something called response expectancies. This means that the way we anticipate our response to a situation influences how we will actually respond. In other words, once you expect something to happen, your behaviors, thoughts, and reactions will actually contribute to making that expectation occur.

If you think you’ll ace an interview and expect it to go well, you’re more likely to do a good job. If you think you’ll win a race, you’re more likely to train, prepare, and perform in a way that gives you a greater chance of victory.

Using suggestion in this way can be a powerful tool in accomplishing our goals. But many of us get caught up on the other side: thinking only of our limitations. The power of suggestion is just as powerful in those situations—actually sabotaging our success.

Think you’ll struggle at a new job? You’ll likely feel more negative and create less-favorable outcomes. Has it been suggested that no one in your family knows how to have a healthy marriage? You may unconsciously do things to sabotage your own relationship. When you expect to catch a cold—because everyone is getting it—you’re more likely bound to be ill.

In fact, research finds that the influence of suggestion (and our expectation) is so far-reaching that scientists are now looking at how the power of suggestion and expectancy can aid in health care, criminal investigations, policy decisions, and education.

4 Ways to Use the Power of Suggestion

You can use the power of suggestion, right now, to create the experiences you desire in your own life. Here are four ways to do it:

1. Tune in to the moment.

This is good advice for just about anything. But as 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 the negative suggestions you hear. So tune in to what’s going on around you. Get more curious, and the suggestions that could influence you will be easier to spot. Then, you can give special attention to those that are most helpful or encouraging.

2. Create a network of support.

Identify the people that believe in you and stay close to them. Psychologists have shown that we are influenced by both deliberate and non-deliberate suggestions. How people talk to us—their gestures, tones, and implications—matter just as much as their words. Positive influence begets positive suggestions. Think about whom you spend the most time with, and make sure that they bring positive energy—that alone will help to create more positive outcomes in your life.

Think, too, about how your behavior is suggestive. When you are interacting with others (or, especially, when you're parenting), you are making non-deliberate suggestions with your body language, attitude, and attention. These subtle suggestions can build people up and inspire them—or tear them down, all without you saying a word.

3. Maintain a flexible mindset.

When we are locked into a fixed mindset, we tend to take failure personally and see little opportunity for improvement. This is limiting. Better to remain open to any outcome, and when suggestions or influences come into your life, consider those that take you closer to your goals. With flexible thinking, you continue to learn, grow, improve, and draw things into your life that will influence your progress.

4. Understand that the power of suggestion is always working.

If you expect something to happen—if someone or something suggests to you a specific outcome—your expectations of that outcome play a major role in its occurrence. The expectation or suggestion alone often unconsciously changes your behavior and your responses to help bring into reality the outcome you are expecting.

Knowing all this, don’t expect anything less than the best. I suggest that you deserve it.

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