9 mins read

How words influence thought (and decisions)

And using this knowledge for good...

I have always been intrigued by the way words influence how we think, feel and then do. How the words of others can impact upon our behaviour in line with our desires and how words can be used (misused) to lead us to things we think we desire!!! Are there such ‘magical’… ‘hypnotic’… ‘power’ words.

Well I’ve done some research into the worlds of marketing, the psychology of persuasion, neurolinguistic programming and hypnosis. Each school would have us believe there are such words and after a bit of digging around on the internet, it seems there is a level of agreement on certain words across these fields.


Some notes from the Neurolinguistics

Words have features…words are capable of:


  • Stimulating your imagination
  • Distracting you
  • Painting pictures in your mind
  • Activating your senses
  • Creating/recalling associations
  • Bring about emotions

Therefore words serve as proxies for actions; interactions; emotions; thoughts. As soon as you start thinking about what words mean, you can’t help but start imagining. Because we have a history of association with these words or a gap in our learning if the word is new.


A historical marketing perspective

Its perhaps no surprise that people have been looking at ‘persuasive’ words for some time. I love this illustration from an advert dating back to the 1960’s – published in the Washington Post. It would have you think that by carefully placing just 11 ‘persuasive’ words within a sales advert you can increase the likelihood of a purchase.


What do you think? Does it make you want to – “buy a home in one of America’s finest communities”. Will you love the results!

I’m not sure about your thoughts but it does make me lean in a little more than perhaps an advert that isn’t as directive. You decide!


So what about hypnotic words…

Some see hypnosis as a very powerful psychological tool and influence is all about psychology. So there is value in seeing what they say about these ‘magic’ words.

Have a read of this text below, a typical paragraph used by those in the field of hypnosis when putting clients at ease…


“You know you can relax your body because you’ve relaxed in the past. And the more you relax, the more comfortable you feel. As you feel the relaxation coursing through your body, you know that every one of your muscles can just let go and unwind completely. And the more you relax the easier it is to imagine yourself in a totally comfortable and contented place. And as your body continues to relax you can just let go”

Can you spot what are referenced as ‘hypnotic words’…. I was somewhat surprised by the simplicity of these words – Imaging, You/Your, Because, And, As (and because which wasn’t used here)

I borrowed these words and repurposed them. Find a quite space, relax a little, close your eyes and have someone read this paragraph out to you.


Did it take you anywhere, did you actually smell the citrus, do you think you would be more likely to buy something orange (or an orange itself) if it was now offered… those in the world of phycology believe so.

These words have the power to absorb attention, bypass the critical mind and stimulate the unconscious. It must be said that from my reading, for these words to have any affect you need to be in a relaxed state (not asleep), this is so you subconscious mind is more active (imagination) than your cautious (perhaps critical) conscious mind. In this state you are more open to influence .


So why do these words work

The magic 6 words and why…..



“The word ‘imagine’ stimulates imagination, it encourages you create a situation where anything is possible”

This word allows you to consider options and possibilities that you may never have thought of otherwise. Its an effective way to get past your natural resistance (your critical mind which throws up objections). Imagine is linked with enjoyable things such as a daydream a pleasant distraction from life – opening up the unconscious mind. Now if you add emotion to your sentence and words such as ‘picture this’ the thoughts people have become much more vivid.



“The word ‘you’ gets peoples attention and focus any desired action on them doing and/or achieving”

And adding an action or a directive word to ‘you’ adds magnitude to the sentence. See our hypnosis quote from earlier..


You know you can relax your body because you’ve relaxed in the past…”

There is great power in the simplicity of you can, you have, you are able, you will….



“The word ‘because’ slips past the critical part of you brain as it offer us reason”

When there is confusion or doubt our mind seeks explanation. Strangely by simply adding the word ‘because’ we can satisfy our natural search for reason. Now interestingly the reason you give doesn’t actually have to be that strong, however this only works with small requests.

A request such as “Can I jump this queue because I’m in a rush” when used at the post office may well work without any further clarification as to why you are in a rush. However the same kindness may not be offered if you are in a queue for a gig where limited places are available at the front near the stage.



“The word ‘and’ builds an association (positive and/or negative) between two things/events”

See again our quote from earlier where ‘and’ is used to make a connection between ‘orange scent’ and ‘nostrils’. Its a connector…


“You can smell the orangey scent as it tingles your taste buds and works its way up into your nostrils”.

The word ‘and’ can also be used to link two unrelated concepts together to make you think they are connected by association (and proximity). It can help imply similarity or cause and effect where there actually is none…

“Drink this X and you will become Y”

The word ‘drink’ could be substituted for ‘eat’, and your X could be a product you are trying to sell, while your Y could be the feeling or emotion or character trait you are trying to use as your ‘sales benefit’ (e.g. strong).



“The word ‘as’ is connected with ‘you’ and helps with the association of you doing something and/or achieving something”

As is a powerful word to use in terms of ‘visualisation’, an example of this is below where it has been used in a sporting context to promote a positive view of a successful act (achievement focused).


“You can feel yourself slicing through the defence as you shrug off tackles. You can see the gap between defender and keeper. You can feel the ball as it skips from foot to foot and you connect perfectly….”

Just two letters, but its impact to a sentence can be great and add another level to what is imagined by people.



“The word ‘remember’ also stimulates imagination, it lets you recall past successes. Transports you back to good times, good vibes…”

The word ‘remember’ also activates the imagination and can help people to connect easily to past positive events (a time when things were good). It strengthens the memory trace between now and then and can aid in building positive connection .

Openers can include – remember when times were good, remember your greatest success/achievement, remember falling in love….


Using these in a context (of sport)

Now these words and their power may not be new to you, as I know myself there is no trouble finding them with a quick google search.

However the trick we need to grasp is their application. You can’t just throw words together. They need to make sense in the context of your world. Its not enough to suddenly litter these within your vocabulary and hope things will happen. And they need to be connected with the right bridging words (be this emotion based language or cognitive based language).

Last week I shared my thinking on this with the academy staff at Southampton Football Club as part of an online conference they were hosting during lockdown – the theme of which was ‘Potential into Excellence’.

Note: whilst this part of the blog is a story of coaching and football the lessons within apply to across contexts and sectors.


Juicing the Orange of Your Coaching Session

Imagine if simply through the power of language you could unleash greater potential within your players. Imagine if you could do this by using simple trigger words.

In the the context of a coaching session – imagine if everything remained the same, but you simply changed your language. What if a simple change in word could we get more from what you already have without adding extra load, cost, time, energy. Could you better juice the orange of your coaching session.


The 6 magic words and Visualisation

So lets see what our 6 magic words look like in a visualisation exercise for a player scoring a goal.


Thinking this through for yourself or having it read to you as you relax and ‘imagine’ the events can boost confidence, reduce performance anxiety, increase self belief and enhance motivation.


Impact of words on our thinking

Words craft reality – neurologically we have an instinctual reaction to words and language. Therefore when we choose our words, we need to think beyond what it is we wish to say, we must think about what it is we wish players to think and do and/or feel and do.

If you desire players to take a more cognitive process driven approach to decision making, you should then consider which are the word that will land with the cognitive part of our brain (our prefrontal cortex).

Where as if you wish your plays to perhaps take a more creative approach to decision making, one which is more instinctive and intuitively led then using feeling/emotion related language which makes its way into the limbic system would be more advantages.

Below is an example of how this may apply to the language used across 4 differing coaching sessions. For each session example ‘cognitive words’ which are more likely to promote logical thinking are offered along with ‘feeling words’ which are more likely to promote emotion led thought.


When cognitive/logic language is used within coaching conversations and session set up our critical brain kicks in. There is likely to be more time spent thinking before any action takes place as we search our memory banks (previous experiences) for evidence to support and decision we make.

When feeling/emotion language is used within coaching conversations and session set up our quick response limbic system kicks in. There is likely to be less time spent thinking before action is taken. We may still search our previous experiences to some degree but we are likely to be quite responsive to the mood of the situation and act intuitively. Perhaps searching for evidence to back up our decision once the event (e.g. threat situation) has passed.


My rudimentary diagram below kinda illustrates this:

A tool for player observation/match analysis

So how may we get players more aware and aligned with this manner of thinking and openness to ‘possibilities’. Using a tool that asks them to consider what they ‘noticed’ about a play rather than simply using factual language like ‘what did you see’ or ‘what did you observe’ could really help. Equally using language like ‘I wonder’ rather than ‘I think’ could support more imaginative responses to situations. And example tool is provided below:



In closing

Words have the power to change thought, mood and motivation within an individual so we do well to learn about them. Before blurting out instruction, requests or questions perhaps use the following process for planning what could be said:


Ask yourself:

  1. What’s the vide you want to create (e.g. pressure, tension, defensive, attacking etc)
  2. Find words that match this vide/promote the association you want
  3. Place these words within your setup and delivery

Note – Don’t use words that are not naturally found in your environment, you will just sound weird and wont be understood.

If you are thinking of developing yourself in this area I’d suggest getting yourself on a script writing course. There’s loads to learn there.


Kurt Ewald Lindley – Exploring language for good

P.S. if you are into this area and from a football world I’d check out Sally Needham who is applying some of this in her work – based on the ‘thrive approach’ used in schools backed up by research around polyvagal theory.