Under the Influence
How do you make decisions?
Do you analyze the situation, and weigh all the pros and cons before taking action?
Or do you just go with your gut, without giving it much thought?
Whichever way you decide, you probably feel that you’re in charge of your decisions, and your life.
Sometimes our gut feelings are based on all kinds of subtle issues that our unconscious mind has digested to give us a quick answer.
Sometimes our feelings express what is truly important to us, even though we haven’t put it into words and thoughts.
There’s nothing wrong with going with your feelings.
Conscious thinking isn’t the only way to understand the world.
But our feelings are not always our own.
The world around us shapes our feelings.
We’re led to desire things, or act in ways that don’t make sense rationally, and go against our deepest feelings of what’s really important in our lives.
I’m happy going with my feelings if they’re really mine, if they’re based on what’s really important to me.
There are people around us that manipulate our feelings for their own financial, political, or personal goals.
But that’s not the only way that our feelings and thoughts get twisted.
Our mind is built in ways that favor certain types of thinking, feeling, and acting.
(You can think of these as inner forces that shape our behavior.)
Often these forces work to our advantage.
But sometimes, they work against us.
Recently, I’ve read two powerful books that reveal some of these inner forces that drive irrational behavior.
Both books are based on solid research, but they’re written for ordinary, intelligent people to read and enjoy.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the first one, Sway, by Ori and Rom Brafman.
We’ll provide an overview of some of the forces at work within you.
I’ve also added some ideas about how you can consciously weaken the power of these forces so you can make a more clear-headed choice.
Pain vs. Gain
We feel the pain associated with a loss (or an anticipated loss) much more strongly than the joy of experiencing a gain.
It’s like your brain turns up the volume on the pain of loss, so you can’t hear the joy of gain.
How does this change the way you act?
You naturally focus, or even obsess on minimizing loss, instead of maximizing gain.
This force makes you avoid trying new things and making changes in your life.
You’ll do anything to avoid making a mistake.
- The best choices offer long-term benefits.If we stay focused on little moments, we’ll always be afraid of losing some quick, instant pleasure.
Consciously focus on the long-term benefits.
Build up those benefits in your mind.
Make the sounds louder, the image brighter, the colors more vivid.
Turn up the volume on those benefits.
Then compare them to the little things that give you quick pleasure.
- There’s something even more powerful that you can do.
Your mind loves to focus on what you might lose.
Your mind wants to protect the things that it possesses, or pretends to possess.
Think about the powerful things that you want, that you find so hard to act upon.
Take possession of them in your mind.
Feel them as yours.
Feel yourself enjoying the benefits.
Don’t obsess on the fear of losing them.
But let yourself feel that fear for just a moment.
And let yourself feel a strong desire to protect those precious possessions.
Once you make even a small commitment to an approach, it’s hard to consider alternatives.
Take a few minutes.
Imagine several different people who have made dramatically different choices.
See them committed to different choices, paths, lives.
And see each one happy and enjoying her life.
Let each one totally forget about the other choices, and just enjoy what she has.
It’s easier sometimes to imagine other people making different choices.
It’s not as unsettling as imagining a different life for yourself.
People change their behavior and performance to match the opinions people have of them.
Treat me as mediocre or weak, and I’ll absorb that view, and act that way.
I’ll take on your image of me.
Imagine yourself happier, more successful, more confident, or more powerful.
(Success can be anything you want it to be: relationships, family, career, business, money. You define it)
Now imagine successful people treating you as a successful person.
See and hear the way that they interact with you.
Feel the emotion in their voices, and see the emotion on their faces.
They see you as a different person.
Now accept their image of you.
Group Conformity and Dissent
There’s a powerful force within us that pushes us to go along with others and not stand out.
It’s much easier to think for yourself, and take a different point of view/action, when there is even one person already dissenting.
Whenever it seems that you have to choose what everyone is choosing, imagine a powerful, popular person who is calmly choosing a different path than everyone else.
See that person as friendly and well-liked.
Pick any point of view for him as long as it’s different than the crowd.
This opens you to possibility, and gives you more freedom to make your own choices.
(In part 2 of this series we’ll explore the book, Predictably Irrational)