Why 'priming' is so transforming

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Why ‘priming’ is so transforming

January 27, 2017 -

Call it the Senior Adult Championship. Thirty-five-year-old Serena Williams is playing her thirty-six-year-old sister Venus in the Australian Open final tomorrow. Venus is the oldest player to reach an Australian Open women’s final in the modern era. Meanwhile, Roger Federer will play either Rafael Nadal or Grigor Dimitrov in the men’s final on Sunday (their semifinal match is in the fourth set as I write this morning). Federer is the oldest man to reach a Grand Slam final since 1974.

As the saying goes, you’re only as old as you feel. It turns out, science agrees.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman describes a fascinating process psychologists call “priming.” In brief, what happens to us in one moment can affect us in the next moment in ways we don’t recognize.

For example, if you see the word “EAT,” you are temporarily more likely to complete the word fragment SO_P as SOUP than as SOAP. If you had just seen the word “WASH,” the opposite would more likely occur. Once your brain is primed with food, you are more likely to recognize other words such as fork, hungry, fat, diet, and cookie.

Priming works with concepts as well as words. Research subjects who were asked to walk around a room much more slowly than usual were much quicker to recognize words related to old age such as forgetful, old, and lonely.

In short, what our minds experience now influences what we are likely to experience next.

David testified to the positive power of priming when he told the Lord, “Your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness” (Psalm 26:3). Jesus often began the day alone with his Father (cf. Mark 1:35), as did David (Psalm 5:3), Abraham (Genesis 19:27), Jacob (Genesis 28:18), and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:20). It is no surprise that their lives were marked by faithfulness to the God they worshiped at the start of the day.

The negative effect is found in Scripture as well. For instance, wicked Haman was so angered by Mordecai’s refusal to bow before him that he sought to murder all the Jews in Persia (Esther 3). If Haman had been primed to see the Jews as his friends, he might have interpreted Mordecai’s refusal to bow as a wise response to his own sinfulness and mortality. The rising anti-Semitism around the world today is one horrific consequence of priming—deciding beforehand how to view people and interpret their behavior.

How we choose to see ourselves and our relationship with God greatly affects that relationship.

How we choose to begin our day greatly affects our entire day. And how we choose to see ourselves and our relationship with God greatly affects that relationship.

Craig Denison notes in today’s First15: “Restoration with God so often hinges upon our choices. Will you choose to condemn yourself? Will you choose to listen to the voice of your enemy who reminds you of your past transgressions? Or will you choose to trust God at his word and receive total restoration with the Father? The choice you make will profoundly impact your quality of life.”

At the end of his life, Moses told the children of Israel, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Solomon said of man, “As he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, NKJV).

What are you thinking in your heart right now?

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