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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.

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.

Past

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.

Present

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.”

Future

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.

Conclusion

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.