I read a lot and for the most part the books I read are good. Every now and then I come across one that’s so good it needs to be shared. Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do by John Bargh, PhD, is one of those.
As the subtitle indicates, Before You Know It is about how our subconscious drives the vast majority of our behavior. I first became interested in the subconscious when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller Blink where he mentioned several of John Bargh’s studies on priming. Bargh’s work in this area is of particular interest for me because it dovetails with many concepts Robert Cialdini covered in his NYT best seller Pre-suasion.
While scientists cannot pinpoint exactly how much of human behavior is driven by the subconscious, estimates I’ve come across during my studies place it anywhere from 85%-95%. That means nine out of 10 things you do every day are done without conscious thought! If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be good to understand more about how your subconscious is formed and what you can do to make it work for you as opposed to just letting it randomly guide you?
In Before You Know It Bargh helps you understand your subconscious and how to harness its power to create more of the outcomes you want. He looks at subconscious drivers from three primary vantage points; the past, present and future.
Over the course of evolution our genes have constantly been filtered for reproduction and survival. The genes that helped us survive and reproduce best are the ones that got passed down from generation to generation.
For example, if running fast was necessary to survive because of predators, slower people would eventually be the ones who don’t make it. Over time the human race would become much faster compared to our ancestors because the fast genes would flourish.
The principles of influence operate at the subconscious level for the most part and have helped humans survive over the course of history. Going along with the crowd (consensus), being loss averse (scarcity) and working together in cooperative ways (reciprocity) come natural for most people and are all good ways to ensure you live another day.
Your personal history also plays a huge role in developing your subconscious and determining who you are. Throughout life you’re constantly learning. When it comes to getting what you want, the things that worked and things that didn’t get stored in your memory. Before you know it, that learning is in the back of your mind driving your behavior in the form of habits that require little or no thought.
This section looks at all sorts of environmental cues that can impact you in the moment. Mere exposure to something can change your thinking and behavior in ways that might surprise you. For example, simply finding out someone was born where you were born, attended the same school as you, or cheers for the same team will make you like that person more without much conscious thought.
What’s interesting is how unaware you are of such stimuli. When asked for rationale after acting in a particular manner, your mind will generate reasons, many of which are actually bogus. Salespeople have known this for decades and have a saying to describe this phenomenon, “People buy based on emotion and justify with logic.”
Your goals, dreams and desires are all in the future. What you want and the problems you need to solve can weigh heavy on your mind. Until they are resolved they can disrupt your sleep and distract you during the day. But there’s good news. You subconscious can help you sort out many of those things without your awareness.
Imagine you shared a goal with a small group of friends for accountability. After sharing you spend some time each day trying to achieve that goal. How cool would it be if those people kept working on your behalf and occasionally texted you with insights and ideas on ways to achieve your goal? That’s essentially what your subconscious does when you’re not consciously focusing on your goals.
If you find social psychology interesting, if you enjoy books like Blink and Pre-suasion, if you’re ready to learn more about why you do what you do and how to harness your subconscious, then pick up a copy of Before You Know It. If you apply some of what you learn, before you know it you’ll take more control of your life.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed 150,000 times. His latest course, Persuasive Coaching, just went live this month. Have you watched both? If not, click here to see what you’ve been missing.