Mental Knock Outs unleashed against You
Building defenses is your only way out
“our typical reaction to scarcity hinders our ability to think.”
― Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Have you ever been tricked or manipulated?
Have you bought something impulsively?
Ever been in a situation you couldn’t say No to?
These aren’t questions that you would like to think about. Some answers will even bring back memories you have a distaste for. And hence you may have a tendency to avoid this line of thinking completely.
But I wanted to just bring a fact to your attention: marketers and sales professionals spend huge sums of money to seek out factors that make people exactly do what the marketers want.
Else why would Ikea make a serpentine walk for every customer even if the bill due was less than USD 10? Why would Louis Vuitton spend a massive sum on their stores and the five-star hospitality dished out by the staff? Why would Iskcon devotees offer you a flower and then ask you for a donation?
I have spoken about many of these elements in my previous blogs and you can read them here, and here. Hence, I will not belabor the point. But what I wanted to elaborate upon today was that there are ways by which magicians, illusionists, pickpockets, and even marketers can suppress your ability to think objectively about crucial factors. They have mastered the art of making you pay attention only to the elements that the practitioner has in mind, while making you zone out from everything else.
A recent New Yorker piece on the illusionist pickpocket Apollo Robbins inspired me to think about this psychological trait of humans that can be exploited to great effect. Here is an excerpt from the piece -
When Robbins hits his stride, it starts to seem as if the only possible explanation is an ability to start and stop time. At the Rio, a man’s cell phone disappeared from his jacket and was replaced by a piece of fried chicken; the cigarettes from a pack in one man’s breast pocket materialized loose in the side pocket of another; a woman’s engagement ring vanished and reappeared attached to a key ring in her husband’s pants; a man’s driver’s license disappeared from his wallet and turned up inside a sealed bag of M&M’s in his wife’s purse.
These are not demonstrations of god-like magical abilities that Mr. Robbins possesses. These are rather skills that Mr. Robbins has painstakingly mastered over many years of practice, beginning with pickpocketing for fun, and then graduating to performing his art for entertainment.
The centerpiece of his profile is that humans are gullible, and can be distracted with flawless precision by the masters of the craft of psychology and behavioral sciences. You mix a particular skill into this duo, and that would make for a lethal combination to render anyone defenseless. It’s this element that gets exploited —- by illusionists for entertainment, by political parties for steering public opinion, and by corporations for profit maximization.
Let’s look at the following question that may show up in many surveys conducted by political or corporate organizations #
How unhappy are you with the current state of affairs?
If you think about it, this question is very biased in its direction. It will make you think about stuff that isn’t going as per your expectations. It will make you think about everything that’s wrong with the subject of inquiry. It will make you forget everything that actually is good and works.
And hence, if you were to answer this question, it will be a very lopsided representation of the subject in discussion. And it's this line of thought that can be pulled further into making you decide in a way that the influencer wants. He has hit a chord and now could play you like an instrument.
Now what if the same question was asked in an unbiased manner #
How would you rate the happiness levels experienced within the current state of affairs?
When presented with a range of options to choose from, your thinking process has a broader scope and hence requires objective analysis before you provide an answer.
If you were provided a blank canvas to make suggestions compared to what other organizations do, then you would even see your organization in a better light and put your views across for improvement in all possible ways.
Do you see how your thinking can be steered in a particular direction?
And in case you are thinking about the futility of surveys, then you can just type ‘survey’ in your mail inbox and check for the number. of emails that will show up, e.g. mine is shared below —
Many entities and professionals would like your feedback. But many of them would also like to steer your feedback in a way that creates trust, loyalty, and repeat consumption. And the set of questions that will be posed to you is very different in both scenarios.
I have just started reading the book ‘Pre-suasion’ and it’s been a very insightful read till now. I am only 20% through, but the start itself is making me think of so many ways that our psychological traits are manipulated by organizations. Let’s look at an excerpt from the book. -
“Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” Following a brief reflection, nearly everyone answered yes. In that privileged moment—after subjects had confirmed privately and affirmed publicly their helpful natures—the researchers pounced, requesting help with their survey. Now 77.3 percent volunteered.
Frequently the factor most likely to determine a person’s choice in a situation is not the one that counsels most wisely there; it is one that has been elevated in attention (and, thereby, in privilege) at the time of the decision.
In the above example, 77% of volunteers saying YES to answer a survey was a marked improvement compared to below 30% in scenarios where the question “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” wasn’t in play.
Who would answer NO? Nobody. And now that they have stated in their own words that they are helpful, they will answer yes to a request, which comes from the need to be consistent with their words.
Our psychological tendencies are predictable to a great extent and they are similar across our entire species, irrespective of country, religion, or domain of expertise. And since billions are getting spent at leveraging these against us, how about building your defenses against the same?
One way would be to keep constant reminders in front of you #
These serve as wake-up alarms for me - waking me up from unconscious habits, from oblivion induced by our demanding jobs or critical responsibilities, and from lethargy created by mental fatigue from constant decision-making. I try to read them thrice a day with the hope that they become an important element of my thinking process.
When your affirmations become a part of you, it becomes very difficult to dislodge them, rendering many outside influences blunt in their desired impact on you. Try it for yourself !!! You could start with a simple desktop image. This real estate may look cheap, but it is tremendously valuable in building a value system. Sharing mine 👇
Another way would be to note down the pros and cons before making choices. All this would require is taking a minute(s) to think before you say YES or NO. And in that minute(s), try to write the + and - points for the subject of your focused attention. Or you could get good at doing this exercise in your head. I was just asked yesterday if I would like to join a group of people for a House Music concert in Abu Dhabi, and I paused, took a few seconds to mentally note the + and - of this opportunity, and eventually declined the invitation.
If I would have said YES to this, I would have to say NO to Snooker on Saturday, my early morning walk at Jumeirah Beach, and my workout post that on Sunday. This was enough for me to Say NAAAA !!!
The trick is to take time to zone out, to look at all areas this choice would impact or possibly impact, think about the stuff you will be saying NO to if you said YES to this, and only when you have absorbed the ramifications of this choice in full, then you could zone in and decide upon YES or a NO.
There is a book for this too. I have bought it, but haven’t got around to reading it. Maybe you could read it before me and share with me your learnings and takeaways.
Even better would be tapping into a brain trust that you respect and look up to. If there is any medical advice I need, I will go to my masi (aunt) who has been our family doctor since I was born. If any biohacking advice is needed, I will seek guidance from Dave Asprey’s treasure trove of blogs and podcasts. If any investment advice is needed, I will go to my peers with specific expertise in our industry.
The first option creates top-of-the-mind recall for certain value systems you want to put in place in your demeanor and execution. The second option makes you thoughtful, and the third allows you to go deeper into your subject of research.
Either way, these act as Chinese Walls against the onslaught of psychological influence darting toward you. Build your defenses, before you have no reason to as there is nothing left to protect.
Recommendations for the Week #
Jack Raines is one of my favorite financial bloggers and his recent piece on Ovarian Lottery is a MUST READ. It gives you a perspective on the possibilities that we have a shot at, and how easy it would be to squander them away. It’s a wake-up call that you don’t want to snooze at any cost.
James Clear has written a gem of a book called Atomic Habits, and it is one book that I have in all 3 formats - Kindle, Audible and Hard copy. But what’s even better, is his weekly newsletter called ‘3-2-1’. Each issue contains 3 short ideas from him, 2 quotes from other people, and 1 question for the reader. It’s a damn good newsletter - short, crisp, and thoughtful. Do check it out.
Bill Gurley is one of the most successful investors in the US and Wikipedia profiles him as follows “He is a general partner at Benchmark, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm in Menlo Park, California. He is listed consistently on the Forbes Midas List and is considered one of technology’s top dealmakers.” I recently came across a talk he gave for a batch of MBA students. It covers certain habits that could play a pivotal role in anyone scaling heights in career, business, and in life. I heard the whole talk during my walk at the beach and I would rate this as one of the best talks I have ever heard.
I am off to North India for 10 days on 3rd February and I am so looking forward to trying out all the delicious treats that we have been told about. We will be in Delhi, Chandigarh, and then Kasol. If any of you happen to be in one of these places during 3 - 12th Feb, then I would love to catch up. Feel free to DM me on Twitter or Instagram.
Till the next piece, stay safe and kick ass !!!
Sending you loads of love & luck.