Before You Know It

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 Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed by more than 50,000 people! His latest course, Persuasive Coaching, just went live. Have you watched them yet? If not, click on either course name to see what you’ve been missing.

The Hidden Recesses of Your Mind

The human mind is perhaps the greatest creation in the universe. In the past century we’ve started to unlock the mysteries of the mind through scientific study. Here are a few interesting brain facts:

  • Your brain consumes approximately 20 percent of your calories but accounts for about 2 percent of your weight.
  • It’s not true that we only use 10 percent of our brains.
  • There 100 billion neurons in the brain, six times more than the number of people on earth.

Several weeks ago I wrote a post called What The Hell Were You Thinking? and shared stories about how we often do things but don’t realize why we do them. Malcolm Gladwell explored this in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. He shared several studies that showed mere exposure to words and ideas can change people’s behavior. For example:

  • People exposed to words typically associated with the elderly walked slower after seeing the words.
  • People who wrote a paragraph about the last book they read got more Trivial Pursuits questions correct than those who wrote about a fight at a soccer game.

The reason this is top of mind is because of something that happened not too long ago. I was in the middle of replying to an email when I realized I was supposed to be on a conference call. I dialed in but kept my eye on the emails coming in regarding the issue I was involved with.

After a few minutes a young coworker I’ve been mentoring resolved the issue to the delight of another coworker. His handling of the situation was brilliantly orchestrated so I replied, “Well–played, maestro.” I pasted a picture of a maestro in the email to be light-hearted.

When I returned my full attention to the conference call it leaped out at me when the vendor we were talking to referred to a version of their product called…Maestro!

When I referred to my coworker as maestro and pasted the picture in the email I had no recollection, none whatsoever, of that word having been mentioned on the call! But without a doubt it was fixed in my subconscious and impacted my behavior just as Gladwell described in his book.

This brings to mind a time when Jane told me about a dream she had. In the dream she described a woman with a red top and white pants. It was no coincidence to me that the night before we’d met a woman, a friend of a friend, who was wearing a red top and white pants. Jane didn’t remember meeting her but it was apparent that despite the lack of memory it was the reason for the woman in her dream.

The human brain is fascinating and despite all we know there is much we still have to learn. For you and I it’s important to understand that things our brain has taken in, but doesn’t consciously process, impact much of what we say and do. Every now and then we should pause and ask ourselves why we do what we do because not all of our decisions are good ones. When we make bad decisions we need to correct them before they become detrimental or before they become bad habits.

Don’t Criticize, Condemn or Complain

Last week I introduced Dale Carnegie’s tips from How to Win Friends and Influence People in conjunction with Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink as a way to help you be more influential. The more I thought about that post the more I came to the conclusion it might be good to start digging even further into Carnegie’s advice because it’s timeless wisdom about how to influence people.

Did you know How to Win Friends and Influence People was first published way back in 1935? Believe it or not, it’s sold more than 15 million copies! The fact that nearly 75 years later you can still find How to Win Friends and Influence People in bookstores is a testament to this truth: people know Dale Carnegie’s advice works!

Carnegie didn’t have social scientist or behavioral economists to test his hypotheses. Instead he observed what the influential people of his day were doing and reflected on hi
s own successes when compiling his thoughts.

He started by encouraging readers regarding three fundamental techniques everyone should remember when dealing with people:

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

First up for our consideration is “don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” This should be obvious for one reason – nobody likes to be around anyone who is constantly criticizing them or complaining about their behavior. Okay, so you’re sick and tired that your boss, spouse, kid, employee or someone else won’t change. I’ll bet a light bulb didn’t just come on and you thought, “Perhaps if I nag enough that will do the trick.” No, in most cases if people were honest they’d admit the “advice” they’ve been giving ranges from subtle jabs to flat out complaining. People say, “You never…” or “You always…” as if saying it louder or repeating it more will bring about the change they want to see.

Newsflash: Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If what you’ve been doing isn’t working then perhaps it’s time to try something different…unless nagging is your way of releasing frustration.

On a more subtle level, we often fail to remember everyone has reasons (even if we think they’re poor ones) for doing what they do. Kids will justify cheating in school because everyone is doing it. Thieves will tell you they steal because they can’t get a job or life has been unfair to them. Famous people cave into all kinds of temptation because, “You don’t know what it’s like to have all this pressure.” I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. Right or wrong, everyone has reasons for doing what they do.

Here’s another newsflash: We are emotional beings, not logical, rational creatures. The vast majority of people act on emotion then try to justify their actions with some amount of logic. Salesman and marketers figured this out a long time ago. If you want to see great examples of “rational” people acting irrationally pick up Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational.

So here’s what Dale Carnegie realized – if we “attack” people by criticizing them or complaining about their behavior they’ll only dig in their heels and justify why they’ve done something. It’s like having two people stand face-to-face with their hands pressed against one another. As soon as one person applies a little pressure the other person automatically does so too. The result; the hands are in a state of equilibrium and remain in the same spot.

Now apply that concept to the person you’ve been complaining about, criticizing or condemning. They’ve probably applied equal and opposite pressure and have remained the same. In the end we sabotage ourselves because our own behavior only makes it harder to persuade them to bring about lasting change.

What’s the answer? Dale Carnegie’s already told us, “Stop criticizing, condemning and complaining!” You protest, “But then they’ll never change!” That might be true but at least you won’t have wasted your breath and frustrated yourself in the process. And remember, we’re going to be looking at nearly three dozen other ideas, including nine ways to encourage people to change without giving offense so hang in with me and look for another post next Monday.

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”

Blink to Win Friends and Influence People

How can you become more influential in the blink of an eye? This week I’m going to show you how can you use a concept from Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling book Blink in conjunction with Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People to become a more persuasive person. And the best part is this; it’s so simple it will take no more than 10 seconds a day!

In Blink Gladwell discusses a psychological concept known as “priming.” He cites several studies that clearly show people’s behavior can be influenced by mere exposure to words, even though they are totally unaware of it. I encourage you to pick up the book and read for yourself how NYU students became more, or less, patient depending on certain words they saw. Or perhaps you’ll be more interested to read about people acting older just because they read a few words associated with the elderly.
One other fascinating study showed people were smarter by focusing on smart things immediately prior to playing the game Trivial Pursuit.

So here’s how I’ve used Blink in conjunction with How to Win Friends and Influence People to be more persuasive. In order to be persuasive you have to put into action what you know. Unfortunately we forget a lot of the cool stuff we learn. Although I read and study a lot because I teach a variety of sales courses, I have to admit, my memory is not the greatest. Even though I’ve taught Dale Carnegie’s material dozens and dozens of times I could not recite all of his tips from memory. To overcome this I’ve taken his tips and dropped them into a recurring task in Microsoft Outlook so now, every morning when I log on at work, the task opens automatically and I’m exposed to Dale Carnegie ideas. I don’t read all of them each day — remember, I said just 10 seconds — I just take them like a vitamin, one a day.

Whatever day of the month it is, I simply read the tip for that particular day. For example, if it’s the 16th of the month I scroll down and read, “Let the other person feel the idea is theirs.” While I may not have all 30 tips committed to memory I know because of priming that mere exposure to Carnegie’s sound advice will positively impact my behavior. Over time it starts to become second nature to to avoid arguments, focus on people’s names, dramatize ideas, etc. In essence I’m doing it without even thinking about it.

Below are Dale Carnegie’s tips and to the right you’ll see how some correspond to Dr. Cialdini’s principles of influence. I encourage you to copy the list and put it somewhere that will allow you to see it daily. Do so and you too can become more influential…in the blink of an eye.

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

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

How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
10 Avoid arguments.
11 Show respect for other’s opinions and never say, “You’re wrong.”
12 If you are wrong, admit it quickly & emphatically. Authority
13 Begin in a friendly way. Reciprocity
14 Get the other person to say “yes” immediately. Consistency
15 Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
16 Let the other person feel the idea is theirs. Consistency
17 Try to see things from the other’s point of view.
18 Be sympathetic to other’s ideas and desires.
19 Appeal to the nobler motives. Consistency
20 Dramatize your ideas. Contrast
21 Throw down a challenge.

Be a Leader: How to Encourage People to Change without Giving Offense
22 Begin with praise and honest appreciation. Liking
23 Call attention to mistakes indirectly.
24 Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing. Authority
25 Ask questions instead of giving direct orders. Consistency
26 Let the other person save face.
27 Praise the slightest, and every improvement. Liking
28 Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. Consistency
29 Use encouragement and make the fault seem easy to correct.
30 Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”