Before you learn to change the perceptions of others, first you need to master your own perceptions. Alas, I can’t actually make you telepathic (sorry!), but I can get you closer than 99% of the population.
First and foremost, you need to become aware of your surroundings. The average Joe spends 9-10 hours per day glued to a digital device of one kind or another (TV, phone, etc.). Unfortunately, since less than 2% of the population is actually neurologically capable of multi-tasking, this poses a bit of a problem when it comes to our awareness of our surroundings.
Now, don’t go having a heart attack or anything just yet…I’m not telling you to get rid of your digital devices! But, at least for a period of time, you’re going to need to spend more time with your eyes on the world, instead of on a screen.
The good news though is this: since most people are blissfully unaware of what’s going on around them, it’s REALLY easy to alter their perceptions.
I’ve tried a few different tricks over the years, and I’ve found the following process to be the quickest and easiest way to seriously ramp up your awareness of what’s going on around you:
1. Go Somewhere New. Thanks to latent inhibition, our brains tend to glaze over certain details, especially in highly familiar environments.
So, the best place to practice awareness is in a new place (or at least a place you don’t know well), and preferably somewhere with lots of people.
Just to be safe, put your phone in airplane mode, to avoid the temptation of digital distraction.
2. Open Your Eyes. Where are you? What does it look like? What are all the little details? Who is there? What are they wearing?
Watch these people, their movements, their facial expressions, their clothing, and try to make educated guesses about who they are, what they do, what they might be feeling, thinking, and so on.
3. Write It Down. After you’ve spent a good 5-10 minutes observing, take out a pen and paper (or your phone, if you must) and start writing down everything you saw in as much detail as you can.
Do your best to do this from memory, without looking over things again. The goal here is to improve your working memory, the amount of information you can hold in your mind short-term.
4. See What You Missed. Now, re-examine your environment, and as much as possible, compare it to what you wrote. What did you miss? What did you remember incorrectly? Did you focus on certain things to the exclusion of others?
5. Rinse and Repeat. As you do this more and more, you’ll develop the ability to walk into a room and instantly make note of the details that others miss.
I like to call this “Developing a Sherlockian mind.” The mind is a tool, and it’s capable of vastly more than we get out of it. Going through this process will help you to develop a keen observation and a sharp working memory, which will serve you well far beyond the goals of this post.
If you want to take things a step further, Google “memory challenges” and explore from there. People can accomplish some pretty ludicrous things with a bit of practice and the right processes.
Now that you’re honing your perception, becoming more aware of the world around you, you’re going to have to learn how to retain more information in order to make good use of everything you’re now aware of.
To do this, we’re going to focus on one particular mnemonic (memory trick): The Memory Palace.
Before we dive in, it’s important to have at least a basic grasp of how the mind stores information. There are two basic types of memory, short-term and long-term.
The brain stores long-term memories by tagging and connecting things together based on commonalities with existing memories, using a combination of sensory data, emotional data, and geo-spatial data.
For example, if I hear a new song I really like one day while eating an egg, sitting at my kitchen table, then that new song gets tagged by my brain not only as music, but also as being connected to eating eggs, and sitting at my kitchen table. In the future, if I eat (or even smell) an egg, or sit at my kitchen table, there’s a very good chance that the song might pop into my head.
The memory palace is designed to quickly take new information and place it into long-term memory, largely bypassing the short-term holding tank. At the same time, it helps you to do a far better than average job of tagging and connecting new information to existing long-term memories, making it much easier to recall the information later in great detail.
Though the nuances can become quite complex as you dive in, the basics of building a memory palace are surprisingly simple:
1. Pick a physical place you know really well. Your home, your office, your gym, etc. It should be a location you know well enough that you could easily walk through it in your mind, down to the tiniest level of detail.
2. Think about your routine as you go to that place, such as getting to work, or coming home from work. You unlock the door, walk in, flip on the light, take off your shoes, hang up your coat in the closet, walk into the kitchen, etc. You want a nice mental path that you can follow through the place, something routine and familiar.
3. Now, you need to take whatever information it is you’re trying to store, and connect it to something in the mental model of the location you know well, in an odd way that connects to the info.
For example, if I wanted to remember the names and faces of everyone I met at a meeting, I’d picture encountering each person in an odd way that connects to their name as I moved through a space.
Say I met someone named John Smith. I’d picture him in my hallway as I walk in, sitting on the john, hammering away on an anvil (smithing).
And so on and so forth. If it’s odd, and has a semantic connection to the information, it will be much easier to remember.
This method is really useful for information that needs to be in a certain order, because you can memorize the order in sequence with your typical path through the location.
4. Once you’ve connected the information to things in your memory palace, you should walk through it a few times in your mind, just to cement it. And remember, the more detail you add to the mental image, the easier it will be to remember.
That’s it. It takes some getting used to, and depending on how much information you want to store, you may need to either use a larger location, or go into much more detail with objects in a specific room or even a corner of a room.
There are all manner of variations to this, and a quick search on Google for “Memory Palace” will lead you down a pretty fascinating rabbit hole, if you care to explore it. If you want to explore this and other memory hacks, check out this video:
Last but not least, now that your perceptions are sharper, and your memory is a steel trap, you need to work on your ability to really listen to what’s going on around you.
Though you may think that you listen quite well already, the reality is that most people spend more time thinking about their next response than they do about what is being said right now.
The thing is, we can all tell when someone is really listening to us or not, and that goes both ways.
Because we’re the center of our psychological universe, we want to be listened to, to have a voice, and for people to actually hear what we have to say…and that’s something we can put to good use.
I’ve found that using a combination of active listening skills and probing questions to be the best possible way to do this.
Active listening involves re-stating or paraphrasing what’s being said (emphasis on rephrasing…don’t just parrot back whatever was said).
Probing questions are just what they sound like; questions designed to get people to dig deeper into a subject without too much overt prompting. “Please, tell me more.”
Both of these are common tools in a psychiatrist’s toolbox, and will serve you equally well in your day-to-day interactions.
Here’s an example of one possible conversation you might experience, and how to go about using active listening and probing questions:
“Hey Sam, how’s your day going?”
“Oh, you know, same old same old.”
“Huh, sounds like things could be better. What do you have on your plate today?”
“Well, I’ve got this report due by the end of the day…”
“Oh God, it’s not another one of those stupid TPS reports is it? I hate those things!”
“Exactly! Gah, every time I get assigned one of these I get a sudden urge to go smash a printer with a baseball bat…”
“Oh man, I know the feeling. I’ve done so many of those things. Do you need a hand? I’ve figured out a few handy shortcuts.”
“That would be amazing! I’m not sure I’m going to get it done otherwise. It’s kind of stressing me out.”
Now, for the most part, when someone asks, “How are you doing?” or “How’s your day going?”, you probably default to the standard response of “Good” or “OK”, right? Most people do, and it ends there.
The thing is, more often than not, that’s a lie. They’re probably not “good”, but they just don’t think you want to hear about their shitty day…and you might not care, but this is your chance to shine, to allow them to feel like they have a voice.
The trick, however, is this: you need to be sincere. Don’t just feign interest, but be interested.
Instead of accepting the conversation killing “good”, you ask a follow-up question that’s open-ended (i.e. they need to articulate a response, not just toss out a yes or a no).
If you give someone a chance to talk about their day, to be heard, that person is going to A. like you more, B. feel like they owe you, and C. be inclined to share information with you in the future. You want all of those things.
As you do this, you’ll also be learning more and more about the people you’re talking to. Likes, dislikes, hopes, needs, hot buttons, etc. Store all of this away for future use, because you never know when it might come in handy.
You’re essentially developing both a psychological profile/dossier, as well as building relationships and connections that can benefit you down the road. Having a broad network, about which you know a great deal, is highly useful in the business world (more on this shortly).
Beyond that, not only should you be listening to what’s being said to you, but you should also always be listening to what’s being said around you.
Yes, I’m telling you to eavesdrop.
You’d be pretty astonished at the things people will talk about when they think nobody is paying attention, and those are just the sorts of conversations you want to be aware of.
Of course, you don’t want to be overt. I’ve actually found that one great way to do this is to gently put in a pair of earbuds when I’m in say, a coffee shop, but then not turning on music. People think I’m not listening to them, though I certainly am. Handy.
If you hear something interesting, store it in the memory palace. You never know when it might be of use.
And that, as they say, is that. Improve your awareness, master your memory, and then listen carefully to what’s being said and file the info away for future use.
Practice these three principles relentlessly, day in and day out, and to the average human, you’ll seem like Sherlock Holmes reincarnate.
And now, Mr. Holmes, it’s time to put your remarkable new skills to use…as a hacker of minds.