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Willpower

This is one of the most informative nonfiction books I’ve ever read:

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.

In this book John Tierney documents the results of years of research by Roy Baumeister on the subject of willpower. He gives tons of great anecdotes about experiments and observations. But this post will cover only my major takeaways.

1) You willpower is finite and becomes depleted each time you use it.

2) You use the same reserve of willpower for everything you do (see p. 35).

3) Sleep and glucose replenish the reserve.

I’ll unpack those points briefly. Like a car has a gas tank, the authors argue, you have a willpower tank. And it only has a certain capacity. Once you empty the tank any given day, you’re running on empty until you get food and sleep.

How do you empty the tank? Every time you do something that takes an act of willpower, you lose some from the tank. Acts that take willpower include anything that requires you controlling your thoughts, emotions, impulses, and performance.

The authors make a big deal of the fact that people tend to be more prone to pop off on spouses and children after an especially hard day at work. The willpower tank is empty at the end of the day. That’s when you need to be careful.

In order to refill the tank you need glucose and sleep. A glass of lemonade, or preferably a good meal, can do wonders. So can a good night’s rest.

I’ve started thinking about willpower in terms of a bucket. You need to know when your willpower bucket is getting low. Remember that every time you perform some act of self control (even if you fail at that act), you’re taking a ladle-full (or more) of willpower out of the bucket. When the bucket gets low, it’s not a good time to go grocery shopping. Or to have a disciplinary meeting with a child. Or to have a serious discussion with your spouse or boss. Sleep on it first. Or at least have a good meal.

The authors recommend a few things to help us in battles of willpower:

  • Watch for symptoms (p. 245): Keep your mind on the bucket. If you recognizing that you’re close to flying off the handle, or binge eating, or whatever you may do when your willpower is depleted, take note. And get yourself out of the situation.
  • Pick your battles (p. 248): Don’t try to do a lot of willpower depleting activities at once. If you’re trying to quit smoking (and that’s going to be a huge act of will), that’s probably not a good time to also go on a major diet.
  • Develop steady habits: Once something becomes a habit, it no longer takes willpower.

One of the more interesting points (at least for me) the authors make is that repeat dieters often struggle because the body that has once experienced the depletion needed for a major diet will fight harder and harder to keep you from putting it through it again. The authors call dieting a major catch 22. Why? Because dieting takes willpower. And willpower needs glucose. And dieting restricts glucose.

Finally, the book gave me a new appreciation of Christ’s experience in his temptation with Satan. It’s not mentioned in the book, but I couldn’t help but think of it. Satan came to him while he was on an extended fast. When his willpower was at his lowest. But he had a food that Satan didn’t understand:
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). That was his ultimate source of willpower. We need that type of communion with God to keep our buckets full as well.

How to Get People to Convince Themselves to Do the Right Thing

Recent Reading: Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything – Fast by Michael Pantalon.

I’ve already used Pantalon’s technique in my counseling ministry. And everyone I’ve shared it with has found it helpful. On top of that, it’s really simple.

You use, “on a scale of 1 to 10, how badly/much..?” Then you follow up by asking the person why they chose that number instead of a lower one. 

Here are a few examples.

1) Let’s say I’m counseling a husband who is neglecting his wife and ruining his marriage. I want to counsel this man to become a better husband. As a pastor, I would give biblical imperatives and pray for this man, of course. But then comes Pantalon’s instant influence technique. I would ask the man, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how badly do you want your marriage to continue and thrive?”

If the man answers something like “7.” I would then ask, “Why did you pick such a high number? Why didn’t you say ‘3’ or ‘4?'” This would set a context in which the man I’m counseling would then begin to reason with himself (out loud) about why he wants his marriage to work. You’re setting up a scenario where he can convince himself to make the right decision. He may begin telling you how much he loves his wife. And how he can’t imagine himself living without her. And how he realizes he’s been messing up and knows that he needs to do better. And by the time he leaves the office, he’s already preached a sermon to himself. You just played the role of instigator.

I recently heard someone say, “No one will ever reject their own conclusion.” If you let a person argue himself into making a choice, he is not going to reject the conclusion he comes to in his own mind. So that’s the goal. You’re pushing the person toward a desired outcome.

2) Another example. Let’s say your daughter doesn’t want to do her homework. You ask her, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how badly do you want to do your homework?” Let’s say she answers with “3.” Then you would say something like, “So you picked a 3. That’s actually higher than I expected. Why didn’t you pick 2 or 1?” Her answer then may be something like, “Well, if I don’t do it, I know I’m going to get a bad grade, and I don’t need a bad grade right now. And, I guess I sort of do need to do it…” And before you know it, she’s working on her homework. Because she’s convinced herself (with your help) to do it.

As a pastor, I would obviously begin any scenario with counsel from the Bible. But I’ve found it rather easy to tie this process into biblical counseling situations. It’s especially helpful because you can use it in virtually any scenario. From counseling a husband who isn’t fulfilling his duties, to trying to get your child to do her homework, to trying to convince a committee to follow a plan you think is best, the instant influence process is helpful.

3) Another example. Let’s say you’re talking to someone who’s very discontent with their job and you want to nudge them toward contentment. You could ask them, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much to you like your job?” If they say “2,” then ask them why they didn’t say “1.” This will at least provoke them to start saying a few things they actually do like about their job. Ideally, this would lead to the person convincing himself that his job isn’t really as bad as he thinks when he takes a step back and looks at the big picture. He may be so busy focusing on the negatives that he’s never taken the time to do this before.

If you give this a try, regardless of the scenario, give me a comment to let me know how this worked for you.

The Six Principles of Influence

In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini lays out six key principles of influence. Each of these principles describe key factors in how people are influenced. This post will list the six principles and give a brief description of each. I recommend the book highly. I’ve added it to our Recognizing Christ Recommends page. It’s a tough read but there’s a ton of good stuff in it.

The six principles are:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

1. Reciprocation is the basic principle of quid pro quo (the voice of Hannibal Lecter shows up in my mind as I type those words): “I did something for you, now you do something for me.” People will use this on you all the time. I’m sure you’ve met people who you don’t want to take a favor from because you know they’ll expect something in return. The key to countering the principle of reciprocation (the way to say “no” after someone’s evoked something they did for you in the past) is to remember that if someone is using reciprocation as a “trick” in order to put you in their debt, then you have no obligation to go along with the trick. Cialdini calls this a simple act of “redefinition.” That person didn’t do you a favor. They tried to play a trick on you. Don’t be afraid to tell them so.

2. Commitment and Consistency is the principle that people will normally try to be consistent with previous commitments they’ve made. That is, let’s say, if you have previously committed to be a strong environmentalists, you’ll likely listen to the person who tries to get you to donate to some environmental organization. You’ll tend to be consistent with commitments you’ve previously made in your mind or with your words. But if that’s not a commitment of yours, then it’s not as big a deal. You will just tune them out.

Cialdini summarizes the principle: “Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision” (p. 57).

He uses a fascinating illustration involving American prisoners of war in WWII. The Chinese government knew that most of these soldiers wouldn’t betray their country. So instead of asking them to simply trash the U.S. in writing, they started with small requests and worked their way up. They started by saying, “Is America perfect?” The soldier would inevitably answer, “No.” Once the soldier made that commitment, they would force him to be consistent with it: “You admit America is not perfect, so could you give us some examples of how it’s not perfect.” And then the onslaught begins. Well, we’re materialistic. We have a lot of lying politicians. Our prison system is broken, etc. So by the end of the conversation, their words are construed to present America as nothing but a bunch of greedy, lying, no good scoundrels. And propaganda is born. That’s how commitment and consistency can be used in a negative way.

3. Social Proof is the principle that we will look to the society or setting or context around us to validate whether or not we should do something. It’s the old “everybody’s doing it” idea. Cialdini uses the example of laugh tracks played during sitcoms. They’re cheesy. And I doubt anybody likes them. But all the research shows that they work. When we hear other people laughing, we’re more likely to laugh ourselves. Cialdini also uses Billy Graham as an example. He documents that Graham’s altar calls often involved “ringers” These people who were predetermined to go forward would serve to make other people feel more comfortable in going forward.

4. Liking is the principle that we are more likely to say “yes” to someone we actually like. Not much to say about this one. The way to counter this is that if you realize you’re only doing something because you like the person who wants that thing from you, you need to actually state that as your reason for saying no.

5. Authority is the principle that we will obey authority. If someone holds authority over you, you’re more likely to comply with what they want from you. The principle of defense here is to make sure someone is actually an authority before you accept their authority. If you’re inclined to listen to someone because they pose as an authority (let’s say they have a lot of degrees or have a big following or call themselves experts in their fields), do some digging to make sure they’re all that they claim to be. Fake degrees from garbage schools exist for a reason.

6. Scarcity is the principle that the possibility of losing, or not being able to acquire, something makes it more valuable. Cialdini actually starts this chapter with a quote by G.K. Chesterton: “The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.” The principle can be summarized with this quote: “The idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making. In fact, people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value” (p. 238).

____

Knowing these principles of influence is helpful for the purpose of influencing people. But it’s equally as important for resisting unwanted influence. Salesmen want to use the scarcity principle on us to get us to buy something at a higher price than it’s worth. Or to get us to buy it now instead of waiting. They’ll get us to make verbal commitments and then implicitly calls us to be consistent with those commitments. You get the idea. Knowing is half the battle.

Pitching an Idea

In Pitch Anything, Oren Klaff summarizes his basic outline for pitching an idea like this:

“For [target customers]
who are dissatisfied with [the current offerings of the market].
My idea/product is a [new idea or product category]
that provides [key problem/solution features].
Unlike [the competing product].
My idea/product is [describe key features].”

Here’s what that looks like if we use it to describe the book we’re working on:

Recognizing Christ in Fight Club is for Christians who are tired of being told to avoid secular culture. Our book equips 21st Century Christians to engage secular content with the purpose of seeing and worshiping Christ in places where others tell you not to look. Unlike books that tell you to withdraw from culture, like The Benedict Option, our book teaches the average Christian how to see the glory of Christ in movies, songs, novels, TV shows, and culture in general. And our book does this without compromising biblical authority or the importance of the Scriptures.

Frame Control

In his book, Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal, Oren Klaff describes the concept of “frame control.” In every conversation or meeting someone is going to control the frame. The person who owns the frame has ultimate control of the meeting. This applies for one on one conversations and for meetings involving multiple people.

The three major frames are:

  1. The Power Frame
  2. The Time Frame
  3. The Analyst Frame

When someone uses their authority to hold control over you or to be bossy, they’re coming at you with a power frame. When someone tells you to make it quick because they’ve only got fifteen minutes to hear your pitch, they’re using the time frame. When someone is only worried about hearing analytics, figures, and numbers, they’re using the analyst frame.

There are three counter-frames to use in order to defeat those frames:

  1. The Power-Busting Frame
  2. The Time Constraining Frame
  3. The Intrigue Frame

The power-busting frame uses unexpected moves to out-power the power frame. Let’s say you’re in a meeting and the main person you want listening to you is looking at his phone the whole time. You can’t get his attention. Klaff recommends doing something like playfully taking away the phone and then making a funny remark like, “you’re not going to see anything like what I’m showing you on a phone.” Then hand it back. It will shock the person you’ve done this to. That’s why it’s important to be playfully and not act like a complete jerk. But there’s no doubt all eyes and ears will be on you at that point.

The time constraining frame counters the time frame. If you’re arriving at someone’s office and they tell you something like, “make this quick, I’ve only got ten minutes.” You bust this frame by countering with something like, “good, I’ve only got ten minutes.” Don’t let them control the frame of time. Klaff says he once pushed a meeting down a minute because he and the other person got in a bidding war for time frame control.

The intrigue frame counters the analyst frame. If you’re making a pitch or doing a Q&A and someone only wants to get into minutia like facts and figures and numbers, you counter with the intrigue frame. This involves meeting their attempts at analyses with narrative. Tell a story. Tell a good story. Tell an emotional story. Tell an intriguing story. Then stop before the story’s over and tell them you’re not going to tell them the end of the story until the end of the meeting.

The final frame-buster is the prize frame. It’s important against all competing frames. The prize frame counters all other frames because it reminds the person or group you’re meeting with that you hold the ultimate prize. Instead of going into a meeting as if the people listening to you have what you want. You approach it as though you have something they want. And you don’t deviate from that mindset. This means you’re always willing to walk away if the other side won’t give you want you want. If they lowball you on an offer, don’t let them get away with it. You hold the prize.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough by the way. It’s now listed on our Recognizing Christ Recommends page.

Fiction in a Buffered World

I’m slowly making my way through Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age.

One of the interesting distinctions Taylor makes about our culture versus past cultures is this: He says before the Renaissance, Western people lived in a “porous universe.” This means that they were vulnerable to outside spiritual forces, They were vulnerable to God. The universe, and the self, could be penetrated by things outside it.

He argues that we are now living in a “buffered universe.” In the age of the ‘self,’ we are isolated and cannot be penetrated by external forces in the same way.  We are not vulnerable to “the world of the spirits and powers” in the same way that our ancestors were.

To put it in another way: Western culture was once enchanted. Now it is disenchanted.

Think of Martin Luther praying to St. Anne during a lightning storm. Most modern Westerners now attribute lightning to merely natural causes. What’s the use of praying to anybody? Just check the weather report before you head out next time.

Let me tie this thought to something else. A while ago, I watched a talk by Alan Jacobs that related to his. You can watch it HERE. He makes a lot of points about fiction in the talk. I’ll let you watch it if you’re interested. I just want to give him credit for the line of thought.

In the age of the buffered self, people do not want to be told what to do. One of the hallmarks of post-modernity was/is rejection of authority and institutions. With this being the case, there were more and more instances happening of people coming to faith, or their faith being sustained, through fiction. C.S. Lewis reading George MacDonald’s book Phantastes is the classic example of this.

In a buffered age, God often uses means other than preachers to penetrate people’s souls. And preachers should take note of this and try to use those things as well. This is no different than the prophet Nathan using a story about someone stealing a sheep to confront King David’s adultery. David was buffered. He was most vulnerable (or porous) while he was listening to a story.

Entertainment (whether fiction books, or movies, or documentaries, or whatever) is a tool through which the buffered self can become porous. It is our primary means of enchanting the disenchanted. This means we need to look for ways to take the things we are consuming and use them to point people to the truth. To point people to Christ. That’s what Seeing Christ in Fight Club is going to focus on.