Psychology of Influence
I recently read an older but interesting book called “The Psychology of Influence” by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. It was written as a guide to circumventing the psychological tactics that so called “compliance professionals” employ. These are the techniques used to sell us extended warranties on a new toaster or undercoating on a new car. As I read, I began to suspect that most readers instead use it as a handbook to increase their own business skills, people skills and even success with romantic prospects.
As I got further into the book, I realized there might be another use. Theoretically we could use these techniques on ourselves to cultivate compliance in our own malleable mind. In this month’s Tool Box I will explore compliance techniques, how they affect the daily life of a cyclist and how we can turn them around to help us set goals and achieve them.
The underlying theory behind Cialdini’s hypothesis is that the world has become too complicated for any individual to gain a solid understanding of every circumstance they might encounter. In order to cope, we have developed certain automated responses to these situations that will work to our benefit most, but not all, of the time.
For instance, you are shopping for a coach. (Since I’m a coach, this is an area I know something about…) Knowing nothing about your choices, you assume that the most expensive one is also the best. It’s an easy shortcut for deciphering what we don’t fully understand, nor have the time or energy, to thoroughly research. Most times this strategy will lead to a correct conclusion; however there are exceptions to the rule and people who will take advantage of these automated inclinations.
(Note to self: raise my coaching rates).
1. Consistency Principle
The Case Study:
The Chinese benefited from unprecedented success in brain washing their P.O.W’s during the Korean War. The prisoner would first be asked to perform a seemingly innocent task such as copying onto paper a written pro-communism declaration. Then they would hold a contest where prisoners would compete to write the best essay on why communism is better than democracy. A small prize such as a couple of cigarettes would be given to the winner. The prisoners reasoned that since they didn’t actually believe what they were writing, the essay couldn’t possibly do harm. The final step was to have the prisoner read their essay out loud to their fellow prisoners.
Psychologists studied this case and found that humans are powerfully inclined to be consistent with things they had previously thought or said, even when they know they were wrong. We have been conditioned to think poorly of people (including ourselves) when they go back on their word or are hypocritical. They found that this pre-programmed consistency bug is more powerful when written down, and even more powerful when stated in a public forum. This consistency doesn’t just exist in what we say, but also in our actions. As a cyclist, you might start out as a slow climber and, subsequently, come to identify yourself as a slow climber. Subconsciously you will do everything you can to make sure that your performance stays consistent with that image. Hence, to reshape your self-perception of your climbing talents, positive affirmations are key.
Apply it to Cycling:
Most cyclists, at one time or another, have been told that writing down their goals at the beginning of the season will massively increase their chances of success. Writing goals is a great step, but here’s another recommendation to help you take your goal-setting to the next level: write your goals in an e-mail and send it to every single person you know. The urge to remain consistent in the minds of your friends and peers far outweighs the need to stay consistent in our own minds or even the urge to turn off the alarm clock and sleep another hour.
(Note to Self: Hold essay contest. Subject – Liquid Fitness is the greatest coaching service ever. Post winner’s essay on Pez.)
2. The Power of (a) Reason
The Case Study:
A cyclist is waiting to register in a long line at a century or race. Another rider comes along and asks, “Can I get in front of you in the registration line?” The cyclist says, “No.” At the next event, the cyclist is again waiting in a long line. The same guy comes up again and asks to cut in line, but this time he gives a meaningless reason. “Can I get in front of you in the registration line because I have to register?” The cyclist says, “Yes.”
Humans have been conditioned to expect a reason to follow any request. We don’t have the time to process every little request by weighing the pros and cons, conferring with our family and friends and finally asking our local clergy for guidance. To cope, we have developed a shortcut. Instead of waiting to hear a logical reason for a request or favor, the word “because” triggers an automatic affirmative response and cuts down on the time and effort it takes to make a well informed decision. One study found that 60% of the time people agree to let someone get in line in front of them when there is no reason given. When just the word “because” is added to the request the number increases to 93%!
Apply it to Cycling:
If a meaningless word like “because” can increase the rate of compliance so dramatically, imagine the power of a reason like: because I want to be healthy, lose some weight and win a local race. Therefore, in addition to coming up with a list of season goals, writing them down and reading them aloud to your friends, one more step is required for maximum results. Read these examples:
1) I will lose 10 pounds over the winter – so my friends don’t have to wait for me at the top of the hills.
2) I will upgrade from a Cat 4 to a Cat 3 – because the Cat 3 races are longer, more challenging and have better prizes.
(Note to Self: Change essay contest subject to – WHY Liquid Fitness is the greatest coaching service ever.)
3. Contrast Principle
The Case Study:
A man walks into a bike shop to buy a new bike and helmet. His budget is $2,500. He is first shown the helmets and picks out a nice $50 close-out model. Then he is shown a well built $2,200 bike and walks away having spent less than he had allotted. Another man walks into a different shop with the same budget and shopping list. The sales-person first shows him a $6,500 bike but eventually they settle on a more reasonable $2,800 model. The man is then taken to see the helmets where he decides to splurge on the top of the line $150 model.
This principle states that people perceive things differently depending on the setting in which they are observed. By itself a $150 helmet seems expensive, but when put next to a $2,800 bike it seems like a drop in the bucket. The same is true with the $2,800 bike when compared to the $6,500 bike. A vivid example can be seen when researchers asked a subject to put one hand in a bucket of hot water and the other hand in a bucket of cold water. Then he simultaneously placed both hands in a bucket of room temperature water. The subject reported that the hand that was in the hot water felt as if it was in cold water while the one that was in cold water felt as if it was now in hot water.
Apply it to Cycling:
Mike Walden once told me, “If you want to reach the moon, aim for the stars.” I thought I understood it at the time, but now that I understand the principles behind this kind of thinking, it makes even more sense. The idea is to set your goals so high that even if you only come close to reaching them, you will still have accomplished a great deal. Try incorporating this into your goal setting at the beginning of each season. Set the bar just a little higher than what you expect to reach. Continue to strive for that unlikely goal and by contrast, the goal that you originally set for yourself will be easier to achieve.
(Note to Self: Switch the order of the training plans on the website so the most expensive one appears at the top.)
4. Rule of Reciprocation
You get hungry on a ride. A stranger offers you a gel ($1 value). Later at the coffee shop you buy him a large caramel macchiato and a muffin ($8 value, plus it will fatten him up so he’ll climb slower).
Humans have been conditioned to leave no favor un-returned, even if the favor wasn’t requested in the first place. The return favor will often be much larger than the original favor.
Apply it to Cycling:
During your warm up at a race, offer a competitor a PowerBar. Maybe he won’t chase you down when you get in that winning break. This last one has nothing to do with setting goals but it could help you reach them!
(Note to self: Give gift of nominal value to all potential clients)
Thanks for reading.
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Josh Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com