Do thoughts come before feelings, and does it matter to copywriters?

Did you know that it’s axiomatic in the direct marketing world that thoughts create feelings?

And that it’s not the other way around?

Feelings don’t create thoughts… thoughts create feelings.

I must confess that over the years I’ve accepted this as true.

And I’ve allowed this “truism” to serve as a foundation of my creative concepting whenever convenient.

For instance, if I’m selling a weight loss product, I might logically say to myself, “I will attempt to influence my reader to think about a time in their youth when they felt lithe and beautiful.”

I might use the magic word “imagine” in order to direct them to form a picture in their mind.

My intent is to have my prospect “imagine” a thought that leads to a picture that leads to intensely good feelings… and then I can deftly transfer those good feelings to my product, increasing my chance of a sale.

So in this context I do believe that thoughts can precede and influence feelings — especially if you plan it that way.

But in looking online for validation, I find we are far from consensus on this topic.

Let’s say I have a sudden sharp pain in my stomach that doubles me over. I then think “I’d better see a doctor!”

So in this case a thought came after (or was caused by) a feeling.

Yes, it’s a physical feeling and not emotional — at least not initially — but the point is made.

Does it matter if thoughts come before feelings?

Yes, it does if you’re a copywriter, sales professional or entrepreneur whose focus is on sales.

One thing we all agree with is that emotions are more powerful that thoughts (logic) as a tool of influence.

People don’t buy a Jaguar because it’s a well-made car (it’s not). They buy it because it looks good. It’s sexy.

And while people who buy business solutions (B2B) are thought to buy based on logic to a degree, in the end emotions do come into play:

“Will I get fired for this?”

“Will my boss notice how smart I was?”

“How can I get the hell out of here before the shit hits the fan?”

As you find yourself in situations this week where you could benefit from the power of influence, consider the marketing wisdom that “thoughts create feelings.”

How can you stimulate thoughts that lead directly to the emotions you’d like your prospect to have?

Then how can you “bridge” that emotion to the product or service you’d like to sell?

As you write copy this week, ask yourself what feelings you want to stimulate, and then what thoughts you need to create for those feelings to happen.

© 2013 Chris Marlow, all rights reserved

P.S. — This reminds me of the Influence Intelligence NLP course that resides within the S.S. Treasure Hunt. It’s for copywriters who want to learn advanced methods of influence they can use in their copy and salesmanship.

About Chris Marlow

The original copywriter's coach, Chris Marlow has worked with copywriters since 2003. Her acclaimed Marlow Marketing Method™ Client Acquisition Course has produced hundreds of successful copywriters. Chris' S.S. Treasure Hunt membership site not only houses this course but four more on the subjects of Copywriting, Advanced Copywriting, Productivity, and Closing Clients. The S.S. Treasure Hunt also contains the world's only statistical pricing database for about 100 copywriting jobs. Chris has put together this resource to give copywriters everything they need to succeed — and nothing they don't. Chris is committed to helping copywriters focus on what's important, saving them from the time- and money-wasting Bright Shiny Object Syndrome so prevalent on the Internet.

7 Responses to Do thoughts come before feelings, and does it matter to copywriters?

  1. John Lisimba February 7, 2017 at 12:27 pm #

    Which comes first, thoughts or feelings?

    Thoughts and feelings are closely related. Which one comes first is like trying to find out whether the egg comes before the chicken. To understand this paradox, we have to find out how each of them is processed or comes about. Which one is a by-product of the other?

    Our five senses

    It all starts with our senses. These lock onto interesting things in our environment. If what we see, hear, smell, feel/touch, or taste is attention-grabbing, we start thinking – thinking about what our senses dwell on.

    This causes —

    Production of brain chemicals

    The thoughts cause our neurons in the brain to start producing brain chemicals. These brain chemicals are called neurotransmitters. They play excitatory or inhibitory roles. The brain chemicals are produced when we concentrate our thoughts on what our senses avail us.

    What happens next?

    Through synapses, messages are sent to cells and appropriate feelings are produced.

    Do we plan which thoughts to use in sales copy to arouse feelings in our prospects?

    No. It is a matter of looking at what appeals to our senses in the product we sell. We can paint pictures of our prospects enjoying the benefits our product avails them.

    Let us digress a bit, to experience the power of feelings/emotions

    A prospect stares at big yellow lemons on sale in a basket. She slowly picks one. She feels its uneven rough surface. The unmistakable lemon smell clashes with hair in her nostrils, shutting up all other thoughts.

    She images last time she peeled one.

    She squeezes it.

    She hears the sound of light yellow juice dropping into the glass as it oozes down the sliced lemon. She slowly adds a bit of sugar and cold water to the lemon zing. She listens to the sound of the spoon as it gently stirs the juice.

    She sighs —

    Aaaaah! It has been long.

    As she reaches for her ‘sweating’ glass, her hand shakes.

    The light yellow drink causes some tremor as she picks the glass of home-made sweet lemonade.

    She experiences some uncontrollable great mouth-watering of her life time!

    Sorry for arousing your desire.

    To sum up —

    Thoughts come before feelings. As marketers and copywriters we are concerned with emotions not physical feelings. Our senses make us think. Thinking arouses brain chemicals (neurotransimitters.) Neurotransmitters stir feelings. Emotions/feelings move us into action. Thoughts, therefore, come before feelings.

    • Chris Marlow February 7, 2017 at 1:02 pm #

      AN excellent, well-thought out response John! And a very good analysis of semantics. So that while feelings motivate us to do things, if we can put the right thought into a mind, we may therefore influence his feelings. Agreed?

  2. Chris January 3, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    Thanks for weighing in, Terrence 🙂

  3. Terence January 3, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

    I tend to agree with May. One cant help his/her feelings, but can do something about them via the thought process. What and how we feeling is a character disposition…something etched into the psyche.

  4. May July 1, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    I too am scouring the web on this. I think a lot of CBT is based upon the thoughts create feelings logic, at least it used to be!
    i believe that something has to create the thought in the first place, and that there are different types of thoughts. I do feel/think 🙂 really that there must be a feeling first which then transforms into a thought if enough energy is given to it – but that if energy is then given to the thought that this creates a stronger feeling. 🙂 X

  5. Alan January 12, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Chris, I am a former psychotherapist now coaching, speaking and consulting. In my experience, this is like the chicken/egg bit in terms of what came first. it’s not that thoughts cause feelings or that feelings create thoughts–one effects the other. Thoughts do instantly create feelings consistent with our thoughts–and–feelings give rise to thoughts/beliefs that are consistent with the feelings that preceded them.

    • Chris May 30, 2014 at 8:45 am #

      Thank you Alan… for weighing in! Your comment adds much value, and clarity!

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