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An Elephant Never Forgets!

“An elephant never forgets,” might be a familiar saying to you. Parents often use the fun visual to motivate children to do their homework. But, do elephants really have good memories? They do according to elephant ecologist Stephen Blake, from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. That’s because, weighing more than 10 lbs., elephant brains are the largest of any land mammal!

In psychology, many social scientists and behavioral economists use the analogy of the rider and the elephant as a visual for the interplay between your conscious and subconscious thinking. The tiny rider represents your conscious thought processes trying to direct your day. The big elephant is representative of your subconscious, which actually drives most of your day.

While the rider has the ability to direct the elephant, it’s not hard to imagine the elephant resisting or going wherever it wants when it decides to. And, when the elephant chooses to do something, oftentimes there’s very little the rider can do to change the elephant’s mind.

For instance, you know you shouldn’t eat that piece of chocolate cake. But, your subconscious takes over and convinces you to take a bite. It does so for a host of reasons; you worked out extra today, you watched your diet all week, you love chocolate, one bite won’t hurt, you deserve it, etc.

Consider how your brain functions.

Behavioral scientists estimate anywhere from 85% to 95% of your daily decisions and behaviors are driven by your subconscious. That means nine out of every 10 things you think and/or do are not consciously thought out. That’s so because your brain relegates most of what it learns to your subconscious. In doing so you don’t have to “think” about what you’re doing.

Take brushing your teeth for example. You decide to do it but the mechanics of how you brush happen effortlessly. You’ve done it for so long you no longer have to think about how to brush your teeth. Going one step further, even “deciding” to brush your teeth may be a subconscious act depending on your routine.

Not having to think isn’t bad.

To quote Henry Ford, “Thinking is the hardest work, which is probably the reason why so few people engage it.” Ford was on to something because, despite only being about 2% of your bodyweight, your brain chews up around 20% of your calories in a typical day. When it’s engaged in active thought, it ramps up its use by nearly 400%! And you thought your car was an energy hog!

The routines you learn take on a life of their own and before you know it, those routines dictate much of your day. In other words, the elephant, not the rider, is deciding where to go and when. Even as you become aware, sometimes there’s very little your conscious rider can do.

Conclusion

The elephant never forgets and neither does your brain. That’s why change is so hard. If you’ve never smoked you’ve never had a craving for a cigarette and there’s nothing to forget. But, ask any smoker who’s quit and they’ll tell you the cravings and triggers never leave. The only thing you can do is replace an old habit with a new one. If you want to learn how to break old habits and form new ones look into one of the following resources because each is excellent:

Atomic Habits by James Clear

The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg

Tiny Habits by B.J. Fogg

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker, 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 topic of ethical influence.

** Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical – will be available for pre-sale on July 9 and goes live on August 20.

His LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive SellingPersuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture: Improving Performance through Timely Feedback, have been viewed by nearly 70,000 people! Keep an eye out for Advanced Persuasive Selling: Persuading Different Personalities this fall.

 

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.