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The Subconscious; the Dark Matter of our Psychology

Something I do when I’m on the treadmill is read on my Kindle or watch documentaries. I recently finished Quark Science on Amazon and the episode on dark matter grabbed my attention because it reminded me of something from psychology.

What is this mysterious thing scientists call dark matter? According to Dictionary.com it is, “Unseen matter that may make up more than ninety percent of the universe. As the name implies, dark matter does not interact with light or other electromagnetic radiation, so it cannot be seen directly, but it can be detected by measuring its gravitational effects.”

As I watched I thought about the dark matter of our minds – our subconscious.

More than 90% of the Universe and Your Being

Dark matter is thought to make up more than 90% of our universe. If it makes up so much you’d think you’d readily see it. If you can’t see it, you may think perhaps it doesn’t really exist. Our subconscious is very similar.

In Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy author Martin Lindstrom looks at the buying habits of people as they pertain to thought, feelings and emotions. Lindstrom contends that 85% of our decisions and/or actions are driven by the subconscious. Leonard Mlodinow puts that number at 95% in his book Subliminal: How Your Subconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior.

Let’s split the difference and call it 90%. That means 9 out of every 10 of your thoughts and/or actions are driven by something you’re completely unaware of, something you cannot readily access.

Cannot Be Seen But Can Be Measured

In much the same way that dark matter cannot be seen, neither is your subconscious “seen” in the sense that it’s not accessible to the conscious mind. If it were, then we’d call it your conscious mind.

But we know we have a subconscious even though most of the time we’re completely unaware of it. That’s because we see the effects of our subconscious on what we think, how we feel and what we do.

A Dark Matter Personal Story

Have you ever had someone confront you about something you were completely unaware of? If so, you may have resisted what they had to say. That happened go me and it wasn’t until decades later that I could finally see it.

When I was a junior in high school I was suspended for three days for swearing at a teacher. We had a confrontation in the library and she told me if I didn’t like what she had to say I could leave. A 17-year-old full of testosterone I blurted out, “Fine! I don’t give a damn, I’m gonna get the hell out of here!” I stormed out and she caught me in the hallway. To her credit, she gave me every opportunity to apologize but I was angry and refused. Next came the punishment.

If you would have told me my uncharacteristic angry outburst had to do with my parents going through a divorce I would have denied it. I would have insisted with every fiber in my being that the teacher was the problem and it had nothing to do with my parents. Looking back, I now know divorce has a huge impact on kids, whether or not they realize it at the time.

The moral of the story is simply this; I was unaware of what was driving my emotions and behavior. Based on my understanding of psychology I know I’m not alone.

Conclusion

Most people don’t know why they think, feel and do what they do because seldom do they have time for self-reflection. If asked about their thoughts, feelings and actions, they will come up with a reason – a rationalization – but most of the time it’s not completely accurate because they are unaware of the dark matter that actually drives them.

To Do This Week

Maybe you’re like the millions of self-quarantined people who have a little more time on hand than usual. Take some of that time to do some self-reflection. Occasionally pause and ask yourself:

  • Why do I think that?
  • How come I feel this way?
  • Why did I do that?

Ben Franklin said, “Three things are extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” I think knowing yourself is the most valuable of the three.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was a top 10 selling Amazon book in several insurance categories and top 50 in sales & selling. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world!

3 Things are Extremely Hard…

Ben Franklin famously said, “Three things are extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” Now you might be thinking you know yourself well because you can describe your likes, dislikes, hobbies, career, family roles, etc. What Ben Franklin was talking about was understanding at a deeper level. Understanding why you do what you do gives insight into who you really are.

Why is it so hard to know yourself? Below are five psychological reasons that stand out to me. As you read, think about yourself in relation to each one.

Habits

If you’ve ever walked on a naturally worn path in the woods that’s a good example of habits. The more people walk on the dirt path the more other people will walk on that path even though there might be hundreds of ways to zig zag through the woods and get to the same end point. A well-worn path is easy to follow.

Habits are like paths that are often formed before you realize it. They make life easier because they save you time and energy. And that’s also what makes habits hard to change. Habits usually serve a purpose and therefore have to be replaced with new, better habits.

If you were in the woods it wouldn’t be enough to tell yourself you’re not going to walk on the path (an attempt to break the habit) you’d have to navigate a new path and that’s never easy.

Cognitive Dissonance 

Cognitive dissonance is the human tendency to rationalize what we believe or do so we can avoid feeling hypocritical. For example, you might acknowledge you could eat better BUT you’ll self-generate reasons to confirm why what you’re currently do is acceptable. Your rationalization might include the following: healthy food is over-priced, you’re on the go all the time, or your job has you eating out several nights a week.

There’s a saying in sales – people buy based on emotion and justify with logic. That justification is how people rationalize buying things they don’t need and can’t afford (The deal was too good!) so they don’t feel bad about themselves. Likewise, with many things in life people simply create reasons – true or not – to explain their behavior in ways that allow them to feel better about themselves.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias happens when you only seek or respond to information that confirms your current beliefs. Confirming what you already believe is easier and less time consuming than challenging your beliefs and ways of doing things. This is one more reason it’s hard for you to change.

We seldom state what we believe, acknowledge we could be wrong, then seek to honestly challenge our beliefs by looking at opposing data. Instead we take the easy road without realizing we’re doing it because it helps us avoid feeling hypocritical. This is why most people lock into one media source (MSNBC, Fox, CNN) for their news.

Confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance together create a powerful one-two punch to keep you mindlessly doing what you’ve always done.

Impact of Influence

Over the past 15 years I’ve immersed myself to learn about influence. Something I’ve seen consistently with people is a resistance to the idea that attempts at influence impact them. They’ll readily admit influence techniques impact others, but not them because they’re too smart.

I’ll let you in on a secret…even though I teach influence sometimes I’m persuaded by things I’m unaware of. I pretty much view the world through the lens of influence and if it can impact me at times without notice then how much more with untrained people? Most influence operates at the subconscious level and that’s why you’re unaware when it’s impacting you. And that leads me to my last area of impact…

Our Subconscious

Most neuroscientists estimate 85%-95% of what we do in a given day is driven by our subconscious. In other words, the vast majority of the time we act without consciously thinking about what we’re doing or saying!

Imagine your subconscious is an umbrella over your habits, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias and influence. Each of those primarily operates without your awareness because they impact you at the subconscious level.

This unconscious behavior is a huge reason why it’s so hard for us to know ourselves and understand why we do what we do. If you’re not aware of what’s going on in your mind how can you really know why you do what you?

Think about the Wizard of Oz for a moment. At the end of the movie the curtain was pulled back to reveal the great and mighty Oz was actually just a little old man with a megaphone pulling some strings. Pull the curtain back in your life and you’ll begin to see the reasons for why you do what you do. But beware, doing so will take time, energy and courage and that’s why Ben Franklin was so right when he said, “Three things are hard: steel, a diamond and to know one’s self.”

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 110,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

 

Dale Carnegie and Sun Tzu on Avoiding Arguments

We’ve made some really good headway looking at tips from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. In case you’re a newer reader, below you’ll see what we’ve covered so far. Click on any tip and you’ll be taken to the Influence PEOPLE article for that piece of timeless advice from Dale Carnegie.

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
Give honest, sincere appreciation.
Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Six Ways to Make People Like You
Become genuinely interested in other people.
Smile.
Remember their name.
Be a good listener & encourage others to talk about themselves.
Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
Make the other person feel important.

Now we move into the section of the book that teaches “How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking” and the advice we start with is probably Carnegie’s best advice – avoid arguments. Sounds easy enough but sometimes it seems unavoidable.
Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War, a book about conflict, sometime around 500 BC. He had this to say about fighting, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” In a nutshell Sun Tzu is saying only pick the conflicts you know you can win or else avoid the conflict altogether. Arguing is a type of conflict and quite often it can be avoided IF you’re honest with yourself and your assessment of another. This is similar to the general knowing his army as well as the enemy’s. For us this simply means, if you know what sets you off you can avoid people or situations that are likely to make that happen. Let’s start with ourselves. Unfortunately, knowing yourself isn’t so easy. That’s why Ben Franklin said, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” We have blind spots and sometimes we don’t want to face the truth. But, if we’re willing to make the hard self-assessment we’ll come to learn our strengths and weaknesses.By the same token, when you know another person you can seek to avoid their triggers. Let’s consider the other person for a moment. It could be your spouse, boss or a friend but usually we have conflict with those who are closest to us. That’s just a sad fact of life. The good news is this; you probably know them well enough to know how to avoid the triggers that usually lead to conflict. For example, here’s one for the guys to avoid: You ask your wife to buy a case of Miller Light for$14.95, but instead she buys a jar of cold cream for $7.95. DON’T tell her the beer would make her look better at night than the cold cream! Ladies, you want to avoid telling Mr. Right he’s like a bank account – without money he doesn’t generate much interest.Both of those funny little jokes are sure to start an argument. Will you always avoid arguments? No. But, taking account of yourself and another can go a very long way to make the avoidance a reality. You could take the really high road and follow the advice Jesus gave his disciples, “Love your enemies.” Ouch, now that’s hard! Loving your enemies doesn’t mean feeling towards them the way you might with your parents, spouse or kids. No, love is a verb, a “doing” word. It’s placing the welfare of the other person above your own no matter the cost because it’s the right thing to do. Love your enemies and you won’t have enemies for long and you’ll have very few arguments.And think about this; who wins an argument? There’s always a jokester who says, “Me!” but in reality nobody wins. Oh sure, you may be “right” but is it worth it when being “right” damages or kills the relationship? Far too many people never speak to loved ones or friends because of arguments over things that seemed important but really weren’t. So resolve to yourself to do whatever is in your power to avoid arguing. That may mean having to let someone feel like they’re right. Big deal, especially if you know in your heart that you are right. Never lose sight of the goal, to win a friend or influence someone. ** FREE GIVE AWAY ** It would mean a lot to me if you’d help increase Influence PEOPLE readership by forwarding this blog to some friends or co-workers. Do so and you could win a copy of Dr. Cialdini’s book Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive. If you’re currently receiving email notification then you’re already registered to win! If you’ve not signed up for automatic notification then send me an email (BFA654@gmail.com) after you’ve shared the blog with someone and I’ll register you for the drawing. The lucky winner will be announced on next week’s posting. Thanks in advance, I appreciate your help! Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”

Tiger Woods and Character

Aristotle is credited with saying, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.” In light of what’s transpired with one of the most well known people in the world this week I thought it would be good to look at character because of its impact on our ability to influence others.

I think you know the person I’m talking about here, Tiger Woods. Unless you’ve been on a secluded island this week it would be hard to have missed the stories that are surfacing about his infidelity. I don’t think it’s judgmental to say what he did was wrong. He’s said as much and if you were on the receiving end of the news his wife had to face I think you’d say what he did was wrong on many levels.

But here’s a truth for all of us – we can’t do anything about Tiger Woods. What we can do is take time to reflect on who we are and how we impact those around us. I can only speak for myself when I say, if I had done what he did very few people would care but that’s not the point. None of us should make right choices because lots of people are watching. We should make good choices because they’re the right thing to do. If we know people are watching then great, use that as extra motivation to do the right thing but never the reason for doing what’s right.

Have you ever thought deeply about your character, who you are? If I didn’t write this blog I’d still be Brian Ahearn. If I didn’t work at State Auto I’d still be Brian Ahearn. If I wasn’t a husband or father, I’d still be Brian Ahearn. All those things, as well as many others, function at two levels in my life.

First, they help shape me. Because I’m married I’m different than if I’d not made that commitment. Being a dad has certainly changed me incredibly. Learning about sales and influence has had a profound impact on me. But the fact remains, I’d still be me if I switched careers, if for some reason my marriage ended or the day my daughter moves out. I will still be Brian Ahearn.

The second level is these things become a reflection of who I am. The fact that I am married says something about what I value. How I raise my daughter also tells a lot about what goes on inside me. But in the end those things are like a map. A map is not the terrain; it only shows you something about the terrain. What we do and how we act shows what we value and reveals our character.

Who I am, who you are, is a very complex thing to figure out. Ben Franklin said, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” Figuring out who you are is very hard but it’s worth pondering because understanding who you are helps you understand why you do what you do. Tiger Woods will have to figure out why he chose to do the things he did, things that could cost him his marriage, tens of millions of dollars and possibly impact his pursuit of immortality as he chases Jack Nicklaus’ golf records. He may be supremely confident and in control on the golf course but there’s something wrong away from the course.

In the end, after all the things that seem to define you are stripped away all you have is yourself, the choices you’ve made and the impact you’ve had on others. None of us is perfect and that’s not what I’m getting at here. We’ve all made mistakes, done things we’d like to change, hurt people and who knows what else. We have to come to grips with those things and thank God the whole world wasn’t bearing down on us as we tried to make corrections in our lives. We should treat Tiger the way we’d want to be treated, talk about him the way we’d want people to talk about us.

So character, who we are at the deepest level, is the most powerful persuasion tool we have. It can take a lifetime to build good character but it can be lost in a moment. It’s precious and we should treat it that way. One way I found to help me was writing a personal mission statement. You can read about that in a prior Influence PEOPLE post.

I’ll leave you with this suggestion – rather than spending lots of time talking about something that you cannot change, something that really is of very little impact on you, use the time to reflect on yourself and change for the better. As Gandhi encouraged people, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”