Hi Everyone,

Been thinking a lot about nudging over the past couple of weeks (following my last blog dated 29 01 16). Now I know its a proper thing with a name, I can see me nudging and being nudged all over the place. And what I’ve realised is that I get nudged by language too.

Some patterns of language are really good at getting us do to do things that we might not otherwise do. Advertisers use this kind of language all the time (and it can be quite manipulative), but actually most of us do it quite naturally.

Again, like nudging, it is something very normal that someone has taken and given a proper name to.  One of the names applied to such language is ’embedded commands’ which are described as

Language patterns that are…designed to bypass the conscious mind and go straight to the unconscious mind to influence you at that level

Bandler and Grinder, two Neuro Linguistic Programming gurus, coined the term ’embedded command’ when observing the work of psychiatrist Milton Erickson when he was working with clients by using hypnosis. They used the phrase to convey the idea that commands are hidden in a sentence disguised as a question.

So instead of saying “come here’, we might say ‘can you come here?’

By embedding the command it softens it and so we are less likely to meet resistance. And there is also a deeper level where the person hearing it acts on the suggestion without even really hearing it, that is without any conscious intervention as the command communicates directly with the subconscious mind (so yes, I can go there… without even consciously challenging whether I actually want to go there).

We all use this stuff sometimes: I certainly do with my teenage children! I know that if I say ‘tidy your bedroom’ I probably won’t get the response that I am hoping for (!!), but if I say ‘ wouldn’t it be good to have a tidy bedroom?’ then I might. And we all have examples of where we find ourselves doing something without really knowing what prompted us to start it.

There are lots of ways of embedding commands, not just with words but with intonation and emphasis, and there are lots of books that tell us how to do it. The statement as a question is one technique. Another way to influence our subconscious is to use the negative to get us to think of the positive. The brain doesn’t relate to a negative. If I tell you to ‘not think of pink elephants’ your brain ignores the not and thinks of pink elephants. Politicians seem to use this idea all the time. In his report back on his recent negotiations with the EU David Cameron (picture from undividedeurope.eu) gives us some great examples. Just look at this recent statement, in which I have underlined the the bits we won’t be able to help ourselves thinking about even though he’s not saying them!:

“I am not saying this is perfect, I am not saying the European Union will be perfect after this deal – it certainly won’t be – but will the British position be stronger and better? Yes it will.”

He’s even thrown in a statement as a question (in italics) for good measure!

Whilst often subconscious, it’s useful to know about the tricks that language can play on us because the more we know the more choice we have about how we use it ourselves and how we respond to the language we hear. You might start to notice the ‘softeners’ that reduce your resistance to an idea, and the occasions where you’re acting on a suggestion without having even thought about it. You might also start to see opportunities to use those ideas on others! Because the reality is, the brain doesn’t just process things on one level. It is all much more complicated than that, and what we think we heard isn’t necessarily what was said!

And that idea of all not being quite as it seems brings me on to another idea: false memory. But that’s a topic for another day!

Thank you for reading this blog. I enjoy sharing ideas from the Choose You Project. And do please keep sending in your comments, insights and examples as it is really good to hear from you.