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A Few More Mind Tricks

This is a small collection of tricks that you can use to influence others and to "fool" your own mind. I have written before on subliminal persuasion and subliminal techniques, and I'll say again that it is your call as to when it is ethical to use such methods. At least it pays to know about them in case others try to use them on you. Consider the first example...

How to Plant an Idea

If you tell a friend something like, "What will you do if your plan doesn't work?" you have planted a seed of doubt. But you don't have to plant negative ideas. The technique is simply about getting a person to answer in the direction in which you would like him to think. If you choose to plant ideas in your friend's minds, you might want to try more positive ones. For example, if a friend has too much credit card debt, rather than lecturing him on what he needs to do --which he probably already knows -- you might ask, "What would you do if you really needed to get out of debt quickly?" That could get your friend thinking in the right direction.

Be aware that people all around you use this technique half-consciously, but the ideas that most of them plant in their friend's minds are fear-based. A man wants to open a restaurant, for example, and his friend asks casually, "Have you seen the statistics for the failure of new restaurants?" Or a woman wants to travel alone and her friends ask her, "Isn't that really dangerous?" Attention is directed toward ideas that will elicit fear and so demotivate the person (possibly -- humans are complex).

Imagined Conversations

One of my most useful personal mind tricks is to have conversations in my head. While explaining something in an imaginary conversation, I often get ideas, even from the "person" I'm talking to. If you like, you can even ask Einstein for advice. Some people talk to their dead relatives and receive good counsel. This isn't a way to reach beyond the grave though. It's just a means of accessing the power of your subconscious mind. Through the words of an imagined person, your mind will often come upon ideas it would otherwise have missed.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

What happens when people are in front of a mirror alone? They become more honest according to one study on cheating. Participants had to do puzzles quickly, stopping after five minutes ( a bell sounded). About 71% cheated and continued to work after the time limit, but only 7% did so when they could see themselves in a mirror.

Two applications for this little trick come to mind. One is to place mirrors where you want other people to be more honest. The other is to encourage better character in oneself by working around mirrors.

Imagine a Future Perspective

Here's another little trick that I sometimes use to reorient my mind beneficially. It is all about taking new perspective in order to clear the mind a bit. When you're very upset, you can't think clearly. Think back to any emotional episode in your life, though, and now you see it more objectively, with less emotion, right? The trick, then, is to stop during a stressful moment, and "see it" from a year in the future. This should immediately diminish your negative emotions, and let you consider things more objectively.

And Now for an Optical Illusion

Here's a trick to play on your own mind. Try to convince yourself that the image is not flickering in the circular area (really, it isn't)...

Flickr Photo by Markldiaz

I like optical illusions because they remind us that things are not always as they appear. We need to be reminded how fallible our minds are in order to have any hope of discovering our errors and dropping our ego-based ideas in favor of better ones.

Personal Programming

You can program your mind by explaining a rule to yourself or others, repeating it, and consciously applying it until it's a habit. Many clichés, such as "Everything happens for a reason," are good examples of such programs. You can call these beliefs, too, but know that all of them are wrong sometimes, and having a firm belief in the idea is not important. Just acting and therefore thinking as if it is true is enough. Good mental programs do not guarantee anything but put the odds in your favor, like putting on a seat belt does even though doing so sometimes kill people. Seatbelts save lives far more often, so you play the odds.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming

If you imagine a scary scene in the distance, then imagine it right in front of you, large and loud, your heart rate will increase. The way in which you think about things dramatically affects your experience of them, and affects how you deal with life. Neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP, is about learning the language of the brain, and using that knowledge to reprogram it in new and better ways.

Here's an NLP trick to try. Recall something traumatic from your past that still brings up a lot of emotion. Note the qualities of your memory. Is it colorful, large, loud? Change these qualities. Imagine the scene in black and white, play silly music in the background, and put a picture frame around the scene (is it wood or metal? - see the details). In your mind, take the picture to a basement and hang it on the wall.

Do this well - more than once if necessary - and you should be able to recall the episode without the negative emotions, or at least with a lower degree of distress. You basically changed the way the memory is coded in your brain. Good NLP practitioners claim to cure some life-long phobias in an hour. Although I am skeptical of the more extreme claims I do think this is powerful stuff.

Want More?

In addition to the content on subliminal influence linked to at the start of this page, I also have a page on eye tricks that looks at how to influence others with your eyes and how to read people's eye movement to determine what they are thinking about.


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