English psychologist Edward Titchener (1916) discovered that if you keep repeating a word fifty or more times, it begins to lose its meaning. It becomes just a sound rather than a concept. Take, for example, the word “milk.” You can imagine the colour, taste and smell of the liquid. But consider what happens if you say the word “milk” out loud over and over again. What if you keep saying it as fast as you can while still pronouncing it clearly?
Go ahead and do it right now for at least sixty seconds.
What happens to the meaning of the word? Do those same sense impressions still hold, or does the word feel strangely vacuous or conceptually empty? Is it more a sound than a word?
The fact that repetition changes and diminishes meaning is very useful for reducing the emotional impact of words and thoughts. You can repeat negative self-judgments or feared future outcomes until they lose their sting and ability to disturb you.
Try it right now.
Choose a negative label you often apply to yourself e.g. fat, ugly, useless, stressed.
Now repeat it fifty times and notice what happens to this word/thought.
What did you notice?
Interesting isn’t it?
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