How To Use NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) To Be Happier

quote anxiety strongHere’s a Weird Truth – which you might relate to:

When you’re going through a challenging time, many of the compassionate things people say to you to help you can accidentally wind up hurting your healing process.

For example: “I’m so sorry!” or “You must be in so much pain!” or “How terrible for you that this awful thing happened!”

Boris Cyrulnik, a famed French ethologist, wrote about this “Weird Truth” in a report about his recovering trauma patients. He noticed that if he expressed too much pity or horror to one of his trauma patients, he could accidentally escalate their pain.

His recommendation instead?

Tell people going through a tough time: “You are strong.”

Cyrulnik believes that by reminding someone how strong they are, you can actually help to make them become more strong!

I personally love Cyrulnik’s recommendation. I know when I’ve endured challenges in my life,  I appreciate being around people who reinforce my identity as a strong person.

In a way Cyrulnik is practicing what’s called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).

When he tells his trauma patients that they are “strong,” he’s priming their subconscious minds with positive language that keeps them feeling positive and strong. 

NLP is a therapy built on the belief that using positive and self-loving language can influence your subconscious mind – which then leads you to choose more positive behaviors and more self-loving attitudes. 

One helpful NLP technique: dilute strongly negative words.

For example,  stop saying things like:

  • I’m furious!
  • I’m devastated!
  • I’m completely crushed.

Instead replace them with milder expressions such as:

  • I’m a bit miffed.
  • I’m disappointed.
  • I’m surprised.

NLP is a pretty amazing phenomenon. In 2000, researcher John Bargh set up the now-famous study that showed how the words we use strongly affects our behavior.


Bargh gave 2 different groups of people 2 different lists of words to unjumble, telling them they were being tested on simple problem solving.

  • The first list contained words suggesting impatience, rudeness and aggressiveness.
  • The second list had words suggesting patience, politeness and calm.

After the test was completed, the participants were asked to bring their lists to an administrator – who was deep in conversation with a colleague. Actually, this was when the true experiment kicked into gear!

  • All the participants given the list of words suggesting rudeness and aggressiveness became those exact words—angrily interrupting the administrator.
  • However, of the participants primed with language suggesting patience and calm 82 percent never interrupted the administrator at all.

The lesson to be learned? The words we use, hear and think are powerful!


Make it a conscious choice to pepper your thoughts, conversations, and journal writing with strong, uplifting words – which will keep you aimed in a positive direction!

During tough times,  enter what I humorously call the “Identity Protection Program!” Own one of the following identities as yours:

  • I’m the type of person who makes the world say yes to me.
  • I’m an indomitable spirit, a phoenix rising from the ashes. Nothing keeps me down!
  • When life gives me rough waves, I surf ’em!

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Written by Karen Salmansohn (Founder)

Hi I’m Karen Salmansohn, founder of NotSalmon. My mission is to offer you easy-to-understand insights and tools to empower you to bloom into your happiest, highest potential self. I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas – going as far back as ancient wisdom from Aristotle, Buddhism and Darwin to the latest research studies from Cognitive Therapy, Neuro Linquistic Programming, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Quantum Physics, Nutritional Studies – and then some.
  • ALZ

    LOVE this …its so true!

  • Your words are absolutely wonderful and I am thankful I found your blog. Have just experienced a painful breakup – am trying hard to get going again and am not telling anyone so they can’t feel sorry for me! I met someone who seemed lively and upbeat – it turned out he drank whenever he was awake. A beer with breakfast and alcohol in his coffee – then a glass of wine and then a few beers. He would fall asleep. When he woke up he would get a beer and start again. He is retired. I am in shock I am not a drinker and tried for 2+ years but the womanizing did me in! Let someone else handle his lifestyle. Thank you.

  • Dina

    Hang in there Constance. I’m going thru a breakup as well. I’m dealing with the emotions on my own also. Maybe, it’s better that way-so we don’t talk about it endlessly? Karen’s emails and blogs offer hope and change of mind from gloomy to bright! Best~

  • Elnaz

    so true ,have exprienced it personaly and just today I was telling a freind how important it is with whom you share your pain as what they say can be either hurting or empowering

  • tam

    Obssessed with. Love it. Thank you!

  • C

    I actually got tired of people saying “You’re so strong” or “You’re a rock” when dealing with my husband’s illness and eventual passing from a brain tumor over 12 years, while also working full time and raising our daughter. It got old and sometimes felt insincere when I knew they had no idea what it was really like, and ultimately… I had no choice in the matter. I just did the best I could and dealt with it. I wasn’t a hero for choosing to be strong, I was just surviving the best
    I could. I appreciated that they usually had good intentions, but it didn’t make me feel stronger. Sometimes I felt angry because I couldn’t be weak. I didn’t have a choice. There wasn’t an option to lay down and quit or throw a hissy fit, I had too many depending on me. Wasn’t an option.