Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Seven Self-Help Secrets You Can Learn From S&M (Sales and Marketing, that is!)

It's a funny thing, but I think I've learned more about motivation this year from studying sales and marketing techinques, than I have from all my prior years of reading self-help books.

On the other hand, it's not really that surprising.  Marketers spend enormous amounts of time and money trying to figure out how to get people to do things, and they absolutely care about results.  They know it's not enough to get you to think about something, or have a general idea that you should do something, they have to get you to take immediate action.

And you see, it's common knowledge that the technically "best" products are often beaten in the market by "inferior" products that nonetheless have better marketing.  But this is exactly the same thing as a common self-help issue!

That is, even when you know you should do something, you don't always do it.  You know intellectually that it's better to quit smoking or exercise or whatever, but that doesn't automatically translate into doing it.

The truth is, we don't take action for reasons, we take action because of feelings.  Marketers know this, and they use it to get us to buy their products.  But you can learn this too, and use it to get yourself to do the things you know you should.

And a lot of my readers already know this.  Almost one third of the people who signed up for my Seven Days to Live Your Dreams coaching program explicitly mentioned my marketing "pitch" as an important factor in their decision.  And in the last month or so, many people who bought my book actually thanked me for creating "limited time offers".  The deadlines, they said, were just the thing that got them out of thinking about getting the book, and into doing something about it.

And so today I started thinking, "What if people could use the same principles to motivate themselves to do things?  And what marketing secrets would they need to know to do it?"

Secret #1: Ask, "What's in it for me?"

Marketers know that the number one thing they must convey is not the features of their product, but the benefit you'll get from having it.  That's why, when they advertise exercise equipment on TV, it's always being demonstrated by somebody who's so fit they obviously don't need any exercise equipment!

So when you think about your goals, it's really important that you focus on what you're going to get from having the goal, not what it's going to take you to get it.  As the old saying goes, "obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal!"

Secret #2: Trust Your Feelings, Luke

Marketers know that nobody does anything for reasons.  People act because of feelings.

Now, it's easy to believe this doesn't apply to you, and that it's really just everybody else that does this.  But absolutely nobody is immune.  In fact, science has recently shown that the brain centers that govern conscious intentions (backed by reasoning) are completely unconnected to the parts that actually co-ordinate short-term actions and motor control!  The idea that you do things for "reasons" is in fact nothing more than an illusion .  That's why, when your intentions and your feelings are in conflict, your feelings always win.

So, you have to feel your goals, by being able to envision them with sufficient detail that you can feel the emotions you would have if you already had the thing you want.

Again, advertisers do this by presenting you with pictures.  If they're selling sports cars, they show the car zooming around curves or they show women behaving as if they think the driver is sexy.  The purpose?  To inspire you to feel what it would be like to have what they're offering.  Not to convince your rational mind that you're actually ever going to go that fast or be found attractive by the opposite sex!

Secret #3: Appeal to the "Baser Instincts"

Society teaches us to be ashamed of many of our desires: desires for sex or attractiveness, desires for prestige or superiority to others, the desire for revenge or to "show them", etc.  But advertisers are not ashamed to tap into these desires in order to sell their products, and neither should you be ashamed to use them to leverage yourself into action.

For example, if one of your reasons for exercising is that you want to look better than so-and-so, or show somebody else that you really "can so" change your life if you want, then by all means, USE IT!

When you think of exercise, think of accomplishing your goal and how nice it will feel to be better than that person or to show them or whatever.  Imagine your smug inner feeling of superiority when you lord it over them!

Or think about how nice it will be for people to look at you with desire, and bask in the warm glow of inner confidence as they do.

So, no matter what it it is you secretly desire, and no matter whether you would ever admit it to anyone, this is precisely the kind of juicy stuff that your "feeling brain" and "action brain" positively thrive on.  Saying stuff like "I should be healthy", however, does absolutely nothing.

Just think about it.  If ideas like "I should be healthy" could actually motivate you to do something, don't you think advertisers would put those ideas in their commercials?  Wouldn't they say something like, "You should be healthy!  Call now!"

But, have you ever seen an ad like that?  I don't think I've ever seen even one.  Maybe somebody has run an ad like that, but they probably didn't stay in business very long.

Secret #4: Make the Actions Clear, Easy, and Specific

Marketers know that it doesn't do any good to get you all riled up and motivated, and then not give you a way to get the product!  They also know they have to tell you step-by-step what to do to get the product.  That's why they don't just put their phone number and website on the screen, they tell you to pick up the phone and dial the number, and to "have your credit card ready".

Why do they do this?  Because when they don't do it, they make less money.  The more a person has to work to figure out what to do, the more likely they are to abandon their initial idea of acting on the message they've just seen or heard.

This is because the "action plans" part of your brain isn't really very bright.  It needs step-by-step instructions.  If somebody is consciously motivated, they might pass the necessary instructions to their brain's "action" part.  But, this isn't nearly as effective as just giving the action brain the necessary steps to begin with.

I see this in action all the time on my blog.  When I write about my book and how good it would be to have a copy because of all the good things you'll learn from it, I do get some sales.  But when I write about my book and tell you to click here now to order the book that's going to change your life forever, I get a lot more!

So when you want to take action, you need to have a plan of action, broken down into simple steps.  You've got to make it simple enough that you can get your "action brain" to do it on its own.  If you have to think about it, it's too hard!  Make it simpler.

For example, if you have to think about which exercises to do, write it down, and make your action plan as simple as this:

  1. Look at the list.
  2. Do the next exercise on the list!

If you have to think about how to do a particular exercise, then practice it.  Go through the motions physically a few times without weight or at a low intensity.  Then mentally repeat the steps in your mind, over and over and over again, until it becomes automatic enough to be done without thinking.

By the way, did you notice that I just said to do that "mentally ... in your mind"?  That's an example of how blatantly simple and clear and specific you have to be, to the point of redundancy...  just like a TV ad that tells you the phone number five times, and then tells you to call it now six times!

Secret #5: Set a Deadline for Taking Action... NOW!

Why do marketers always tell you to act now?  I mean, isn't it good enough to just act when you get around to it?

No, because your your "action brain" only understands the present.  It doesn't do "later".  All it knows is whether it's currently time to run some particular "action sequence".  Everything, therefore, is either "now" or "not now".  And if it's "not now", the action brain does nothing.  The action brain's job is just to do whatever is supposed to be happening "now".

Unfortunately for us self-helpers, the action brain's idea of what should be done at a particular time is not based on clocks or schedules or to-do lists, it's based on context and "priming".  The action brain responds to environmental cues (like where you are), social cues (like who you're with and what moods they're in), and internal cues (like how you feel), in order to determine what action programs to run.  Verbal commands (or even words you overhear in passing) are also powerful context cues.

(By the way, that's another reason why marketers tell you to do it now, because "now" is a verbal cue that something actually needs to be done... now.)

But sometimes just saying that it should be done "now" isn't enough.  For a lot of us, a lot of the time, it's the feeling of deadline pressure associated with a task that cues our action brain that it really does need to be done now.  Without that pressure, we can tell ourselves all day long that it should be done now, but our brains won't believe us.

So use that.  Create a deadline if you have to.  But also use other context cues, especially ones that are sensory in nature.  For example, Instead of deciding to exercise every day at 8am, decide that you will exercise "before breakfast", and refuse to have breakfast until you have exercised.  This will train your action brain that the "breakfast" sequence now begins with exercise!

Secret #6: Create an Incentive for Taking Action

If you refuse to have breakfast before you exercise, then you have to exercise or you will lose breakfast.  Marketers call this a "take-away", and they use it by creating sales, limited time offers, limited quantities, and so on, to create a real or artificial urgency, based on a desire to get (or keep) something that you will otherwise lose.

For a variety of evolutionary reasons, our "feeling brains" react far more strongly to fear of loss than desire for gain.  Imagine how much harder you would work to avoid losing $100, than to earn $100, for example!

So, succesful change programs often involve some personal incentive as well.  For example, paying a personal trainer to help you exercise can be very motivating, because if you don't exercise, you will be losing money.  Perhaps even worse, you'll be embarassed to tell your trainer you're quitting!  This is one way in which "betting on yourself" is beneficial to change.

Another example: before I produced my book for sale, I created a corporation and opened a merchant account so it could accept credit cards... almost two months before the book was finally ready to sell.  I did it precisely because it would feel really embarassing to keep paying $26 every month for the account without having any orders to process!  That way, I knew I wouldn't dawdle around for months trying to create a "perfect" product, but would instead focus on creating an actionable product.  That is, a finished product.

So apply this to your goals as well.  How can you set things up so you'll lose something if you don't follow through?  I call this "betting on yourself", and I believe it's one of the key reasons why people who use coaching programs, personal trainers, etc. are so much more likely to be successful at achieving their goals than people who go it alone.

Secret #7: Ask for What You Want, EVERY SINGLE DAY

No sane marketer runs an ad just once.  To cut through the noise, you need repetition, repetition, repetition.  Don't envision your goals once: do it a hundred times.  Don't envision how you will take action once: do it a thousand times.  And don't feel like you have to do it differently, either.   Remember, the exact same ads are often run year after year after year.  If you are creating the right mental "ads" for your goals, you won't need to change them.  Just "run" them in your head.  Again, and again, and again.

The conscious mind thinks that this is unnecessary and redundant, because it already "knows" that your goal is "a good idea".  But ignore your conscious mind's blathering, because it's not qualified to know what works for the "feeling brain" and "action brain".  If knowing that it's a good idea were enough to produce action, we would all be freakin' saints by now!

So don't pay any attention to what your conscious mind says.  Your feeling brain can run the same mental scenarios over and over and over, and produce the same feelings every time.  And those feelings will then set the context cues for the action brain to act on, time after time.

Therefore, you must ask for what you want, every single day, by envisioning what results you want, and by feeling the feelings of having what you want.  Just like I ask you, day after day, to buy my book and attend my workshops, by telling you how wonderful your life is going to be when you do.  It's just that simple.

So if you haven't done it already, subscribe to my blog.  Now.  Or else you might miss the next article like this one, the one that might have the exact thing that you need to know, in order to change your life and totally show that annoying guy how much better you are than he is.  Seriously.  So scroll back up towards the top of this page and type your email address in the box and click "Subscribe me!" (Or you can use the RSS feed if you're into that sort of thing.)  Go ahead and do that, then click on the picture of my book to order it, because it's got lots of cool articles in it like this one, and you will be able to easily read them over and over in order to drum the ideas into your action brain.

Yes, really, do all that now.  Because then you'll know for sure that these techniques will work on you -- and you can start using them on yourself to achieve good things, instead of only having them used on you to make you buy things.  One more time: do it now.  For your action brain, there is no other time.

--PJE

P.S. The workshop prices for Seven Days to Live Your Dreams just went up significantly, as I warned that they would.  That's because, if you create deadlines and incentive, you have to follow through on them, or your action brain will know you're not really serious next time!

However, there is still time left to get a free MP3 of the Banish Unwanted Feelings Forever workshop, and to register for the "Instant.Creativity" workshop coming up on Saturday, September 30th.  (It's just going to cost a bit more than it would have yesterday.  Early bird gets the worm, and all that.)  So send an email to secondchance "at" dirtsimple.org to get the details.  Just rememeber that the free workshop is only available to people who buy my book, so you'll need to do that first, if you haven't already.  And there are only eight lines left for the remaining workshops, before the price goes up again!