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
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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.