How I Cured My Shyness – An Introduction to Refactored Thinking

I haven’t always been the social, chatty guy that I appear to be today. In fact as many of my high school friends would tell you, I was pretty awkward and shy in social situations. This never affected my life in college, as I had no problem talking to the group of friends I hung out with, after all we were all nerds who talked about programming and philosophy.

After college, we all went our separate ways and so there was no longer a group of people who I could socialize with. I found myself feeling pretty isolated, I mean I couldn’t even hold a simple conversation with a stranger and talking to girls in loud bars was completely out of the question.

I have studied psychology my entire life. In high school I was somewhat of an amateur psychologist whereby I tried to understand people’s motivations for doing things with the limited models I had available. I have also been heavily involved in self-improvement. I’ve tried everything from hypnosis to NLP, to positive affirmations.

Some things worked sometimes, but nothing really stuck and my “shyness” continued to plague me. It wasn’t until about 4 years ago when something remarkable happened.

I was reading yet another book about how to be more social, in fact I think I had already read the book once. My state of mind on this day was one of frustration. How can it be, I thought, that despite all these things I’ve studied and all these things I’ve done, I still have no idea how to permanently cure my shyness?

As I was reading the book again, a sentence in a paragraph jumped out at me and gripped my temples in a big jolt of excitement! The answer I was seeking, the secret that permanently cured my shyness was right there in front of me. I had missed it!

So what happened?

Before I tell you what happened allow me to set the stage.

I had been exposed to the idea of mental models before; they were called beliefs. Beliefs are essentially generalizations (mental scripts) that we believe without question. They not only lead to automatic behavior but they also tend to define your reality.

For example when you reach a conclusion on your own about something or someone, you’re building a mental model (a belief) about that thing. Now that the “hard work” of thinking is done the brain, ever the effort optimizer, will go on and use that conclusion as the truth in guiding your thoughts and actions.

Ever since I remember I have been labeled as “smart.” I was a little ahead of the other kids when it came to reading and comprehension and I mostly coasted through school getting good grades with minimal effort. My peers always asked me for help with difficult subjects such as math and physics. In fact my nickname was “professor” since I always tried to teach new things to my friends or to explain things to them.

This is all fine and dandy but without realizing it, I had developed a mental barrier to information which I didn’t quite understand. In fact, I was pretty adamant about not being exposed to new information which I didn’t understand (or else run the risk of being labeled stupid)

Carol Dweck explains this phenomenon at length in her book Mindset – The New Psychology of Success She calls it a “fixed” mindset where the fundamental belief is that you cannot learn and grow and get better. I read this book much later after this initial epiphany.

For me as it turned out, protecting my “smart” label had taken on a life of its own inside my head and as I discovered, had been the core driver behind my apparent shyness.

The paragraph that cured my shyness

Getting back to the story, the book I was reading was an eBook by Dr. Georges Sabongui called The Art of Social Networking I don’t think it’s available anymore. The paragraph was this:

“….and if I had no idea about a particular topic, I wouldn’t turn off, I
would turn on. I would get excited about the idea that this person I
was talking to could teach me something I didn’t know about and
broaden my horizons…”

By itself the paragraph is pretty harmless and powerless, but when feel as frustrated with everything as I was and when you read something that fits your specific need so perfectly that it feels as if it was custom tailored to you, the experience is nothing short of an epiphany!

Some of you may recognize this as plain old reframing, and it IS a reframe, but it’s more than that to me. It’s one of maybe dozens of different reframes that would have never worked for that particular situation. That’s why I call it thought refactoring.

In software engineering the concept of refactoring means that you take existing code that works, and you rewrite it in a way that is cleaner, simpler, more readable and more organized without losing the original functionality. It’s a way to go back and rethink about the problem you were trying to solve in a different way.

Thought refactoring works the same way, except that you don’t need to worry about keeping the same functionality as long as the original problem is still solved. It can be as simple as writing down your thoughts and then rewriting them in a more concise manner and as complicated as debugging your own brain.

While I don’t buy into the brain-as-a-computer metaphor, since it’s been proven wrong by modern cognitive science, the idea of going in and replacing “buggy code” in your mind in the exact location where it’s needed, still appeals to me. Ramit Sethi calls it replacing invisible scripts.

What happened next

That same afternoon after my big a-ha I went to a meetup event with a big group of strangers some of whom much smarter than me, and I found myself having absolutely no problem stating my own thoughts and debating (it was a discussion group) In fact I felt so liberated that I went to another meetup right after that one with a guy I met for the first time at the event and had no problem conversing during the train ride. It’s been awesome ever since!

Becoming a Master Dealmaker – Two Meta Models of Persuasion

I have a passion for persuasion. I think that everyone should know how to persuade ethically and effectively. This obsession has led me to study psychology, strategy, marketing, cognitive science, and anything related to persuasion and influence that I could get my hands on.

I have observed that there are two main models of persuasion that are in use today. These are more like meta models of persuasion since they encompass many little models under them.

The needs based model.

As the title suggests, the needs based model relies on us understanding the various needs of another person and designing our products and services to fulfill those needs. While seemingly simple in surface, the needs based model is the core behind almost any form of marketing and advertising today.

The basic idea behind this model is that people have wants and needs such as the Maslow hierarchy of needs and we are motivated to fulfill those needs. Marketers then direct their attention towards linking their product or service to a particular need.

Maslow’s list includes:

  1. Physiological needs, such as food, water, bodily comforts, and other individual biological needs.
  2. Safety needs, such as shelter and protection, free from worry about things like money, health, etc.
  3. Love/belonging needs, such as friendships, relationships, acceptance, family, intimacy, camaraderie, etc.
  4. Esteem needs, such as self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect from others but also status, glory, reputation/fame, etc.
  5. Self-Actualization needs such as morality, creativity, spontaneity, lack of prejudice, effortlessness, achievement, problem solving, playfulness, etc.

Along with Maslow’s original list of needs, there other needs that are slightly more “negative” or darker/sinister in nature, far more secretive and powerful. They too are part of the human nature and cannot be ignored. In fact one book I read called them appropriately “hidden addictions” This list includes:

  • The 7 “deadly” sins/vices: Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride. All of them very powerful and very easily taken advantage of
  • Vanity
  • The need to be right instead of wrong
  • The need for a scapegoat
  • The need to know secrets that nobody else knows
  • The need for power (or a sense of power)
  • The desire to win (or not to lose)
  • Etc.

The basis of the needs based model is that you first determine what the other person’s most pressing need is and then you frame your offer in a way that gives them the hope that you can fulfill that need, without anyone directly stating the need. This is how scam artists usually take advantage of people.

The biases/shortcuts based model.

The shortcut/biases based model takes advantage of the brain’s inherent desire to preserve as much energy as possible and use heuristics to make decisions rather than think harder. The list of cognitive biases is HUGE!

By presenting an offer in ways that take advantage of these biases (such as for example the status quo bias or the confirmation bias) you can get someone to make a quick decision in your favor.

For example we tend to remember much better things in the beginning and things in the end and not so much the things in the middle, so if for example you start off the year working hard, you slack off in the middle but then you pick it up again toward the end of the year (when reviews are usually done) people will tend to remember more what you did last and thus give you a higher score.

Another very important example is the status quo bias where you tend to go with the default choice rather than weigh all the choices evenly. “Evil” websites and software developers for example can take advantage of this by leaving checked off options where you are charged a recurring fee, or where you inadvertently install programs you never intend to use.

The core distinction among the two models is customizability.

When you’re creating a product to target a very specific need or want, you HAVE to customize your pitch for the appropriate audience or else you won’t connect with them. (By the way this is also how you gain rapport with people….more on that on another post)

However when you’re using biases and shortcuts, since we all have pretty much the same biases, you can keep your pitch constant regardless of the audience you’re presenting to. This is the main idea behind a book called Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. He focuses primarily on how you can frame your product in such a way that it will appeal to any audience without the need to vary it based on needs.

The most effective persuasion techniques combine both models for the biggest bang for your buck.