Priming-Improving Your Chances of Success image - 180 x 600

As you well know, change is hard. In previous posts, I’ve talked about strategies for improving your chances of making a lasting change by setting clear goals, establishing rituals and enlisting accountability buddies.  In this blog, I’m introducing you to priming, a psychological term that refers to arranging things in your environment to create optimal conditions for moving forward.

What is priming?

Though it often occurs unconsciously, priming equips us to notice certain things and to feel and act in certain ways. Did you ever notice how listening to certain music, looking at pictures of places you love or spending time with people you care about puts you in a good mood?  Those are examples of priming. Similarly, talking with a friend who complains all the time can feel draining. That too is an example of priming, the type you want to limit.

What does the research say?

When working toward achieving goals, we need ways to maintain our energy and momentum.  This is where priming comes in because it offers a purposeful way to create positive affect.  In a study by psychologist Ellen Langer, subjects in their 70’s spent five days living as if they were 20 years younger. They were surrounded by furnishings, magazines, music, and movies from 20 years before, and were encouraged to speak in the present tense about topics they would have discussed when they were in their 50s.  After the study, the men’s concentration, attention, and memory skills increased. They also had better posture, eyesight, hearing, and flexibility. The environment had actually lowered their mental and biological ages! This is a powerful example of the power of priming.


Look around you, particularly the space where you work. What kind of effect does it have on you? What can you do to capitalize on the benefits of positive priming? Here are some ideas:

  • Replay a peak experienceWrite about a past positive experience.  What were you doing?  Who were you with?  What made it so special?  Research indicates that reliving experiences when we felt at our best trains our brains to focus on the positive and contributes to resilience in times of difficulty.
  • Create a positivity book or bulletin board – Fill it with pictures of loved ones, inspirational quotes and beautiful scenery.
  • Get out in nature Nothing is as restorative and inspiring as a walk on the beach or hiking up a mountain. Even getting out of your office at lunchtime to sit outside in the sunshine, can have a huge effect on your mood and well-being.
  • Dance to your favorite music – Music is a powerful way to change our mind state, and physical activity is known to ward off depression and anxiety.

For more ideas, I encourage you to read the blog of my friend and colleague, Dr. Donna Marino on Priming Your Environment. It contains some excellent suggestions.