How should I start each day? What's priming?

What you will get from this article:

  • Discover the science of priming, and how your state affects other aspects of your life
  • Read about two powerful studies that analyze the power of priming
  • Learn the 8-step Tony Robbins priming exercise you can practice each morning
  • Listen to Tony lead a priming exercise that you can follow along with

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The power of priming

Do you wake up each morning feeling lethargic, sluggish, overwhelmed or apathetic about work and the day ahead of you? Is there an obstacle that causes you to start overthinking right when you wake up? Many people wake up feeling completely drained and, though they want to be focused and feel successful, they simply don’t have the mental energy to accomplish their goals.

If this sounds familiar, it’s time for you to discover the power of priming.

Life can be challenging. When we’re tired and down, it can be hard to remember what achievement, success and fulfillment feel like. But as Tony says, “Problems call us to a higher level.” You can turn your life around by facing your problems head on, with the mindset of a champion.

The positive effects of priming on psychology have been proven again and again. You can learn to change your state of mind by changing your physical state with an effective priming routine. You can learn to use repetition priming to create positive associations and use the law of attraction to get what you want in life.

In this article, we’ll answer the question “What is priming?” in detail. You’ll learn the research behind priming psychology, why and how it works, ideas for different types of priming and Tony Robbins’ own exercises and proven special techniques.

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What is priming?

What is priming and how can you take advantage of its positive effects? One way to define priming is the act of taking time to adjust your thoughts and emotions so you can live your life in your peak state. Priming is most powerful when completed in the morning to set a productive and powerful tone for your day. It’s also useful for mastering your emotions as it gives you a moment to take a breath and control your reaction.

If you have obstacles that are holding you back from where and who you want to be, priming is one of the most effective tools for bridging that gap. Our thoughts, feelings and emotions can be primed by factors we’re not even aware of, which greatly impacts our performance in other aspects of our lives. When practiced correctly and often, priming can help you cultivate positive emotions and drastically improve your quality of life.

However you define priming, it’s apparent that this practice is not just hype or a fad – it has been proven with science and psychology. It all happens completely within our subconscious, but we can still learn how to use priming to our advantage. You can prime yourself positively or negatively depending on what you allow into your mind. Tony Robbins’ priming exercise will allow you to filter out more negative stimuli to prime yourself for positive interactions, experiences and results. When you learn how to set and reset your mood, you’ll prime yourself for success.

The psychology of priming

In psychology, priming is a phenomenon in which a person is exposed to a first stimulus, then to a second related stimulus. The first stimulus affects the person’s response to the second – it “primes” their second response. One example that’s easy to understand is priming with words: If someone is shown the word “sun,” they’ll be faster to recognize the word “moon” than if they were shown a completely unrelated word, like “train.”

Priming in psychology has been studied for years because it can have major effects on our behavior and habits, often without us even knowing. Psychologists theorize that priming occurs because we store information in our long-term memories in groups, or “schemas.” When we see a word or image, the rest of the group to which it belongs is also activated, and the related information is easier to access.

Priming may have evolved to help us make faster decisions by associating danger with certain events. But it doesn’t always help us make the best decisions. Priming psychology has shown that our reactions are “primed” by our moods and experiences – for better or worse.

Cold coffee leads to negative perceptions

In a 2008 study conducted by Yale psychologists, one researcher casually asked the participant to hold their coffee in the elevator on their way to the lab. The team member would then write down some information about the participant before asking for their coffee back. Each participant would hold the cup of coffee for somewhere between 10 and 25 seconds. For half the participants the coffee was hot, while the other half held cold cups of coffee. That’s the only difference between the two groups of participants.

Here’s where it gets interesting. In the lab, all the participants read the same brief description of a random individual and rated the individual’s personality using a questionnaire. Participants who’d held hot coffee rated the person as happier, better natured and more generous and social. Participants who’d held the cold cup were more likely to say the person was unhappy, irritable and selfish.

Remember, there was absolutely no difference between the profiles that both groups read. But how they reacted to the descriptions was significantly different. The strangest part? They had no idea they’d been primed.

coffee priming example

A single question leads to higher test scores

sales interview questions

In another example, Harvard researchers looked at how answering a short questionnaire, which included either a question about their gender or ethnicity, impacted the subsequent math test scores of Asian American women. Those who were asked to identify their ethnicity scored 11% higher than those who were asked to identify their gender and 5% higher than the control group (who didn’t have a question about their gender or ethnicity before the test). Once again, they all took the same test, but that single question made a huge impact on their test scores. This is the power of priming.

Negative emotions lead to negative experiences

You’ve certainly experienced the emotional priming phenomenon yourself, though you probably didn’t know it at the time. Think about an instance when you were angry or frustrated – did you then overreact to a small problem? Did everything seem worse because you were still hung up on the event that made you angry? You were feeling the priming effect of your anger, which caused you to react a certain way.

Now think of a moment when you were totally in love, and felt alive and awake to the gift of life. Did everything seem easier to deal with? Did you look at those you may not have liked in the past and felt a new sense of appreciation? That was because you were primed by the feeling of love.

The bottom line on priming? Our thoughts, feelings and emotions can be primed by factors we’re not even aware of, which greatly impacts our performance in other aspects of our lives. When practiced correctly and often, priming can help you cultivate positive emotions and drastically improve the quality of your life.

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Different types of priming in psychology

Psychologists use many different types of priming when they conduct studies on the subject. Certain priming factors will create different results in an experiment. To better understand priming psychology, let’s look at its various types and the effects they have on the brain.

Positive and negative priming 

This is the most basic principle of priming. It describes how related words and images – those with a “positive” association – are easier to remember than unrelated words or those with a “negative” association. It’s proven that positive priming increases processing speed while negative priming slows it. 

Associative priming 

This is a more specific type of positive priming and is also known as “context priming.” In priming psychology, it involves the researcher choosing a first word or image that is commonly associated with the second, but not directly related. Because they’re directly related, “father” and “son” would not fall in this category, but words like “cat” and “dog” would. They’re often found together, but are different animals and therefore not in the same category. 

Conceptual priming

This type of priming utilizes two words that are conceptually related. This is where “father” and “son” fits into the priming landscape. Because they are in the same category – human, male, relatives – in many people’s minds, they can show priming effects. 

Perceptual priming

Perceptual priming also involves using categories to prime words or images, but the categories are different. Rather than two words being conceptually related, this type of priming involves using words that sound similar, such as “hand” and “band.”

Semantic priming

Semantic priming is a positive type that uses words that are associated logically, such as “strawberry” and “red.” Those who are primed semantically can recognize one word more quickly when they hear the other. 

Masked priming 

In a priming psychology study involving masked priming, part of the first word would be obscured. When shown the second word, the participant still recognizes it faster. The theory is that even though the stimulus is not fully visible, individuals still react to it.

Repetition priming

This is the type of priming you can harness to get what you want out of life. It’s achieved when two words are continually paired together. After enough repetition, an individual will be much more likely to respond to the second word when they hear the first.

How to harness priming psychology in your life

Creating a morning ritual that includes priming is the perfect way to start your day. What you do in the morning has a powerful and long-lasting impact on the rest of your day. Priming helps Tony start each day feeling more energized, focused and clear about his goals.

Ready to feel happier and take on the world? In as little as 10 minutes a day, you can start to experience the benefits in your performance, mood and state. Performing a priming exercise along with a healthy breakfast in the morning can help you reach a peak state and change your day for the better. It only takes 8 steps:

1. Sit

Find a chair in a relatively quiet area and sit actively. Place both feet on the floor, shift your shoulders back, chest up, and hold your neck long and your head high.

2. Breathe

By changing your breath, you change your state of being. Tony’s method incorporates a breathing exercise with three sets of 30 breaths, with a pause in between each set. 1 MINUTE

3. Begin heart breathing

Put your hands on your heart. Feel its power and strength as you breathe into it. 30 SECONDS

4. Practice gratitude

Think of three things you’re really grateful for right now. They can be from your past, present or future. Step into the first moment and picture it as vividly as possible. After about a minute, go to the second thing, then onto the next. Pro tip: Make one of these things simple, like a child’s smile or a time someone said, “thank you” and really meant it. Even on your worst days, you can find something small and meaningful to be grateful for. 3 MINUTES

5. Visualize

Now comes the part that’s like a blessing or a prayer. It can be as spiritual as you want it to be. Tony imagines colored light coming down and filling his body, healing anything that needs to be healed – body, thoughts, emotions, feelings. Envision your problems being washed away. Ask for the best parts of you to be strengthened. 1 MINUTE AND 30 SECONDS

6. Share

Now send all the energy you’ve gotten through your healing and strengthening out to others. Feel the energy going up and down, pouring out to your family, loved ones, colleagues, clients, friends and even strangers you’ve only met once. 1 MINUTE AND 30 SECONDS

7. Focus and celebrate

Now think about the three outcomes or goals that you want to achieve the most. These are things that will excite you once they’re completed. What would achieving them feel like? Place yourself in that position of achievement and celebrate that feeling of completion and victory. Visualize how it will impact you and what those victories could do for those around you. As with gratitude, go through each outcome one by one, fully experiencing the feeling of success. 3 MINUTES

8. Get ready to rock

 Take as long as you’d like to stretch and reflect on all of the positive work you just did. You are now positioned to excel in the state of your optimal self. Stay in character and get out there to conquer the day.

Your ritual can be more of a priming exercise or a priming meditation – whichever works better for you. No matter what your personal morning priming ritual looks like, it will help you direct your focus because, as Tony says, where focus goes, energy flows

Are you ready to start achieving your goals and creating real, lasting change in your life? When you learn how to leverage the very real psychology of priming, you’ll experience an incredible shift in the quality of your thoughts and emotions. When you prime your mind to experience more positivity, you’ll not only find more fulfillment in the everyday, but you’ll also become better at reaching your goals. But don’t take our word for it – give it a try yourself.

Feed your body, mind and soul

From the fitness move Tony swears by to his 5 rules for energy and vitality, discover how Tony feeds his body, mind and soul every day with Tony Robbins’ free Ultimate Health guide.