How to Protect Yourself From Being Hypnotized Without Knowing It

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Have you ever been mesmerized? It happens all the time. To everyone. It’s like when you look at one of those pictures with all these tantalizing shapes. They dazzle your eyes, preventing you from seeing the real picture hidden within. That’s what being mesmerized is like. And you don’t even know it’s happening.

Several years ago I found myself in San Antonio to make a presentation about how research in behavioral finance identifies useful techniques to help people save for their retirement. A fellow came up to me. He had read my book 401(k) Fiduciary Solutions and told me he felt every professional should read it. Then he asked the question no author ever wants to answer: “So, how is your book selling?”

I didn’t know the best way to respond, so all I said was the coy, “I’d like sales to be better.”

Then he told me something fascinating, something I had never heard before. He revealed a trick that “suggests” my audience buy my book without them knowing it. He said I should simply ask a question – any question – and immediately follow it up with the phrase “buy my book.” For example, “Do you want to know how 401(k) plan sponsors can reduce their personal fiduciary liability? Buy my book because you’ll discover the answer.”

Now, before you dial up Amazon and order this book, don’t. Unless you’re in the retirement plan business, this book won’t be of any help to you. It’s written for professionals (I’ve written other books for non-professionals.)

Getting back to my story, I eyed the guy suspiciously. He probably read my non-verbal cues since he almost immediately added he had a PhD in psychology. I still didn’t believe him, but he insisted I try the technique in my next email newsletter. I figured “what’s to lose?” and agreed to do it.

For the next few months I added this subtle message in my emails. During that time period, book sales skyrocketed. I couldn’t believe it.

It’s turns out I used an additional verbal trick. Notice the word after “buy my book.” It’s the word “because.” Behavioral research conducted by Robert Cialdini shows if you ask someone to do something, they’re more likely to actually do it if you just use the word “because” to justify the request. For example, “Advertise in the Sentinel because it shows you support your community.”

OK, just kidding, but Cialdini proved it works He used the old cutting-in-line-at-the-office-copier scenario. Half the time people asked to cut in line to make copies without saying “because…” and half the time they used the “because” phrase. Whenever the “because” phrase was used, people were more willing to allow the person to cut in line. It doesn’t matter if it was “because I’m in a hurry” (a legitimate request) or “because I need to make copies” (a silly reason). Both were equally effective.

Remember this next time you’re talking to a salesman. If you’re aware of tricks like this, you’re less likely to fall victim to them.

This is all about the power of suggestion. It’s different from persuasion. With persuasion, your counterpart overtly tries to convince you to change your behavior. With suggestion, they still want to change your behavior, they just aren’t upfront about it. It’s like they’re trying to hypnotize you.

If you’re like me, you view hypnosis with some skepticism. That’s because you probably think of it as all hocus-pocus fake magic. It’s not. It was actually started by a real doctor named Franz Anton Mesmer. It began with Mesmer treating people by first getting them relaxed (usually with medication) then rubbing magnets on them. He soon discovered he didn’t need the magnets nor the medication. People still appeared to recover. Mesmer was quite the darling of the Paris court, (Marie Antoinette was among his followers, along with Mozart), that is, until Benjamin Franklin proved his treatment had no scientific validity. It was merely the eighteenth century version of the Placebo Effect. It did, however, add the word “mesmerize” to our vocabulary.

A few decades after Mesmer’s death, in 1841 Scottish surgeon James Baird referred to “Mesmerism” as “hypnosis,” shortening the term “neuro-hypnotism” (used to describe nervous sleep) which had first been used in 1820 by Étienne Félix d’Henin de Cuvillers, a French practitioner of Mesmerism.

It turns out this “power of suggestion” (or hypnosis) really works, though not in the way we’ve been led to believe. For example, although early evidence concluded subliminal advertising worked, later research debunked the effectiveness of subliminal advertising. Research in behavioral psychology (most recently by Cialdini) proves the effectiveness of indirect suggestion. This essay is too short to explain the full details, but you can read any books by Cialdini (I suggest Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion and Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive).

Academics like Cialdini might not use the word “hypnosis” (philosophers and others prefer the term “Neurolinguistic Programming,” but this is not considered a scientific field), but his research and his books do an excellent job explaining why it works (and how you can use it). Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert and famous commentator on the 2016 presidential campaign, referred to Cialdini as “Godzilla” when it comes to persuasion.

Adams is also a trained hypnotist. He recommends these books for people interested in learning more about hypnosis: Reframing: Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Transformation of Meaning, by Richard Bandler , John Grinder; How to Hypnotise Anyone – Confessions of a Rogue Hypnotist, by The Rogue Hypnotist; Hypnosis and Accelerated Learning, by Pierre Clement; Speak Ericksonian: Mastering the Hypnotic Methods of Milton Erickson, by Richard Nongard, James Hazlerig.

Many people study the techniques of Hypnosis and non-verbal communication to alter your behavior in ways that benefit them (but not necessarily you). If you want to protect yourself from these unwanted advances, you need to learn how to use them.

Once you see the picture within the picture, you can never unsee it. Those dazzling shapes may continue to dazzle, but they won’t prevent you from seeing that picture. Ever again.

I’ve written more on this subject. If you read this Commentary on our web-site, I’ll supply links to the following articles:

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