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Are You Ever Really Past Your Past?

Have you ever observed a friend who reacted in a certain way and it was apparent his reaction had to do with something from his past? Maybe your friend was unable to make a commitment and you know it’s because of past relationship where he was burned. Or perhaps you knew someone who was afraid to try something new because last time she did so it turned out horrible. In both cases the past is impacting the present. Are we ever really past the past? Closer to home; are you ever really past your past?

Last week I wrote about the book Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do by John Bargh, PhD. It was such an interesting book that I’m reading through it again. The first section, chapters 1-4, have to do with our past and how it shapes who we are. The past includes our evolutionary past as a species, our personal history, the culture we grow up in and recent events. As we take a quick look at each, remember that virtually all of this impact takes place at the subconscious level.

Evolutionary Past

Whether or not it’s apparent to you, your ancestors helped shape who you are. I’m not talking about your great, great, great grandparents. I’m referring to the human race over the course of history.

Much of what we do comes from our genetic make-up. The genes that survived over the millennia are passed on from one generation to the next are the ones that impact your thinking which drives much of your behavior.

Human genes have two main priorities – help us survive another day and procreate. Both priorities ensure the human species will continue on. Those inherited genes impact things like who you’re attracted to, who you’re afraid of, your willingness to follow certain leaders and the groups you’re a part of. Your tendencies for each of those choices, along with many other choices, have been heavily influenced by your ancestors from long, long ago.

Personal History

Your personal experiences, whether or not you can recall them, are another huge determinant of how you think and behave. It’s a mistake to believe only the big or traumatic events of life shaped you. How much do you recall from your first few years of life? Probably nothing but they’re called “the formative years” for a reason.

It’s during your first few years of life you begin to learn about trust and relationships. How you were parented during that time shows up in your ability to build trusting, intimate relationships. How outgoing you are, confidence and many other traits come in large part from your experiences in early childhood.

Culture

It was eye opening to learn how impacting culture is without our awareness. For example, there is a societal perception that Asian people are good at math. There’s also a stereotype that girls are not as good as boys when it comes to math and science.

In studies where Asian women were asked to list their ethnicity, but not gender, they did better on math tests than Asian women who were not asked to list their gender or ethnicity. When Asian women were asked to list their sex, but not ethnicity, they did worse compared to the control group of Asian women who listed neither. It’s theorized the results in both cases are a result of the cultural norms that women subconsciously carry with them.

Lest you think the study of Asian women was a fluke, studies show African Americans do worse on certain standardized tests when they list their ethnicity as compared to those who are not asked to do so. How culture views us impacts how we view ourselves to a large degree.

Recent Events

You don’t have to dig into evolution, your family upbringing or culture to see how the past can impact you. Sometimes looking back a few minutes or hours is all you need to do.

Have you ever had a stressful commute home where other drivers set you off? If so, did you notice the impact on your mood and emotions afterwards? The “hangover” from events like that can cause you to be short with others where you’d normally exhibit patience. You may not notice you’re acting impatiently until someone points out the obvious.

Conclusion

In a very real sense the past is never past because so much of the past affects who you are in the present moment. The more you understand how the past may affect you the better positioned you’ll be to make course corrections for yourself and others.

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 hereto see what you’ve been missing.

A Wealth of Information Creates a Poverty of Attention!

Multi-tasking is a fallacy. Despite what you might believe, our brains cannot consciously focus on multiple tasks. Studies show when you try multi-tasking you’ll take longer and make more mistakes than you would have if you’d tackle one thing at a time. Sure, you can walk and talk but walking doesn’t take conscious thought most of the time. However, when something requires your attention, like avoiding stepping into the street into oncoming traffic, your ability to focus on the conversation, or anything else for that matter, is temporarily diverted.

In the world we live in some estimates say you’re bombarded with 3000 to 5000 marketing message a day. The late Herbert Simon, an economist, psychologist and Nobel Prize winner, said this about information overload, “…information consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Your “poverty of attention” creates the inability to focus and is due in large part to the overstimulation of daily life. But it’s not just marketing that causes it. Your cell phone is part of the problem. Google “cell phone addiction” and you’ll get millions of results! According to an article on Health.com, smartphones have lots in common with Vegas slot machines and they’re altering our brains.

As a persuader you’re competing against this overstimulation and lack of attention. What can you do? By thoughtfully incorporating the principles of influence into your communication you can bypass a lot of the noise.

One big reason using the principles work so well is due to human evolution.  Over the course of history, the principles enabled humans make better decisions faster which increased our survival rate. Travel back in time and consider:

  • Someone who looked, sounded and acted like you could probably be trusted without giving it much consideration (liking).
  • There’s a rustling in the woods so everyone takes off running…and you do too, with very little thought (consensus).
  • There’s not much Wooly Mammoth left so you quickly get some because you don’t know when the next kill will be (scarcity).

These are just a few examples where the psychology of persuasion prompted actions that generally led to good results. Our world is vastly different than the one our ancestors occupied but we still face psychological threats and the wiring of the human brain hasn’t changed.

  • You get a new boss and you have many things in common. You immediately like your boss (liking) which makes working with her easier and less threatening.
  • You’re in new job and realize on day one that you’re not dressed like everyone else. That night you head to the store to make wardrobe adjustments so you’ll fit in a little better (consensus).
  • Things are changing at work but despite the fact that you’re not in agreement with everything you don’t speak up (scarcity).

We face a different environment than our ancestors but we’re using the same brain. The more you look for opportunities to tap into the principles of persuasion the easier it will be for your message to cut through the information overload.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! The course teaches you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process. Not watched it yet? Click here to see what you’ve been missing.