Are You Sure You Want What You Want?

The question in the headline may seem odd, but consider. Many of the things we want are desires adeptly created by marketing and/or peer influence. It’s easy to recognize in teen agers.

Cassandra brings us a more vivid example of how ideas and desires can be influenced:

I was simply wondering whether all this is financial furor is simply, well, psychological, behavioural, maybe even imagined? And if so, perhaps, rather than embarking upon some of the messy heavy lifting and austerity seemingly required to alter consumption, savings and political orientation problems, we can simply alter our minds. Enter Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Why has this been relegated to the likes of McDonalds and the soap-powder advertisers, when the world of high-finance is simply screaming out for quick and easy solutions to the big financial and economic problems of our day such as sustaining the price s of level-3 assets, monoline solvency, performance of Alt-A or BBB mortgage tranches as well as extending the maximum amount of leverage households and the US government might safely assume before the lenders say no?

Tony Robbins uses NLP along with other tricks, and I know some people who claim they employ it to great effect.

The demo below, according to Cassandra, shows

the fabulous Derren Brown operate upon a dyed-in-the wool cynic like english actor-director-writer Simon Pegg

BTW, the way he touches Pegg’s shoulder and hand is significant, although I don’t know enough about the technique to say how.

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  1. etc

    I believe the technique doesn’t work if the victim believes the user is trying to bamboozle, befuddle, or bemuse them.

  2. Matt Dubuque

    As a linguistics major with an emphasis on mathematical and computational linguistics, I was a student of John Grinder’s and Richard Bandler’s (and Gregory Bateson’s as well) at UC Santa Cruz before and during the development process of NLP and my contributions to the field is referenced in one of their volumes.

    Although there are some clear limitations to NLP, it is indeed extraordinary. Bandler came to all this as a mathematician, as his discussion of n-tuples in The Patterns of Magic Part 2 indicates; John on the other hand, who publicly acknowledges a “short” stint in the CIA, was called the most promising linguistics student since Noam Chomsky (who invented the entire field of transformational grammars and syntactic structures).

    John’s pioneering work in transformational grammars is perhaps best represented by his pioneering work on trans-derivational searches as well as his selectional restriction semantic work.

    Their body of work on this subject is indeed comprehensive and I would recommend purchasing The Structure of Magic, Volumes One and Two and The Magic of Patterns: The Patterns of Magic, Volumes One and Two for a deep intro to the subject, as Uncle Miltie would say. If you read the books, you will understand the reference to Uncle Miltie.

    There is FAR more rigour to NLP than those who popularized it such as Robbins often acknowledge. To learn more, I suggest going to the source, John and Rich.

    BTW, the Wikipedia piece was probably largely written by Richard Bandler, who always wanted to take the lion’s share of the credit for the development, both before and after his acquittal on murder charges in Santa Cruz.

    His untrammeled zeal to publicize himself and hypercommercialize their research did not mesh well with John’s soft-spoken nature and was a key factor leading to a very public split and nasty litigation.

    But John Grinder, who has lived in deep seclusion in Australia for many, many years deserves just as much credit.

    And of course Bateson was there the whole time, mentoring us all, as the wikipedia article hints at. His work on eveolutionary biology is just beginning to be understood and of course he also publicly acknowledged working with the OSI as well as Naval Intelligence.

    Great stuff. I’m glad I was there, fully participating in that historic revolution, at the beginning. It’s given me a real edge in so many ways over the decades.

    They taught me how to “learn how to learn” as it were.

    In terms of “the technique not working on resistant people”, there is an enormous emphasis in their books on overcoming this and communicating through unconscious channels. Those submodal techniques are the subject of John and Rich’s later work. Not even an issue.

    Matt Dubuque

  3. Anonymous

    The touch anchors whatever word the person is saying. You’ll notice every time he touches him he emphasizes a certain word (says it louder than anything else in the convo). It’s usually “bike” or “bmx” but he couches them into ordinary conversation. You might think you heard him say “by” but he was saying “bike”. Or “BMW followed by “X-box.

    I believe the theory behind it is your subconcious can pick up these subleties while your concious mind can’t unless it’s looking out for it. Your subconcious relates the touch to the emphasized word.

    I’m sure there’s a few other things but that’s the gist. WHy the guy thought he wrote down bike when he didn’t is something I don’t get.

  4. Dean

    I am never sure of what I want and why I want it; certainly today I wished we were discussing a more serious subject though…

  5. Matt Dubuque

    In terms of the role of the touch (and the presenter has determined that a touch is appropriate for this person instead of tonal or tempo shfts, etc. due to the representational system of the subject) it is NOT ONLY an anchor but also precedes embedded commands working completely outside the conscious awareness of the subject.

    John and Rich’s work on Milton Erickson (Uncle Miltie) in The Patterns of Magic: The Magic of Patterns Volumes one and two provides the most comprehensive and competent treatment of anchoring and embedded commands. The Structure of Magic, Volume 2 explores the revolutionary discovery of representational systems, a cornerstone of NLP.

    This person is a reasonably competent practitioner of NLP. His shortcomings would be obvious to John and Rich, as well as Erickson, Cameron-Bandler, Gilligan and Eicher.

    Apparently very little pacing and leading for example, a key omission.

    That failure would have been a major hurdle to overcome with a more combative and resistant person.

    A lot more to this video than meets the eye of the average layperson.

    Matt Dubuque

  6. Anonymous

    A related documentary: on Freud's psycho-analysis theories applied to mass marketing.

    Sums up the global post-1919 economy…an economy based on satisfying wants and not needs.

    Imagine the deflationary spiral that would happen if the masses suddenly "woke up" and realized that they don't need to pay $4.00 for a caffeine fix or a $500 Coach bag to feel validated.

  7. chris

    Most of our discourses assume the existence of rationality on the part of discussants when it comes to argument, explanation, proof and persuasion. Certainly supply and demand and pricing equilibrium theories assume a certain kind of rationality in choices and actions.

    But what about the marketing of addictive and harmful stuff (like tobacco)or of sugary things which produce diabetic type conditions? Is it rational for people to keep smoking knowing what they know about the hazards? Or to keep sucking at fizzy sugar waters? Even when they probably know that companies worked to intensify the nicotine dosing? And will reaction of nicotine addicts, or anyone else for that matter, to news about the 40 year history of knowledge of the presence of polonium 210 in tobacco be rational, or something else. (See
    Monique Muggli, from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in the September edition of American Journal of Public Health.)

    These questions seem to affect choices and action, marketing, public health and may well have consequences for professions which depend on assumptions of rationality, like economics does. Isn’t that serious enough?

  8. Anonymous

    Arguments of the subconscious as the seat of decision making aside; I find it difficult to buy this example. Anyone who has gone to the trouble of consciously choosing an idea (in this case a leather jacket) and then writing that idea down (physically connecting the idea with an action thereby strengthening its place in memory)and then somehow forgets same idea in less than 24 hours ostensibly via the subtle manipulation shown here; is either weak minded, deficient in memory, or playing along.


  9. etc

    Matt Dubue says: “In terms of “the technique not working on resistant people”, there is an enormous emphasis in their books on overcoming this and communicating through unconscious channels. Those submodal techniques are the subject of John and Rich’s later work. Not even an issue.”

    If someone is convinced they are dealing with a grifter out to rob them, they will be resistant to anything that person says. I can’t imagine a known grifter could use these techniques to persuade a sophisticated investor to buy investments from the grifter.

    The charismatic Mr. Ponzi could always raise money from some sucker, but everyone wasn’t a sucker susceptible to his tricks.

  10. mxq

    Chris, great point re:

    “These questions seem to affect choices and action, marketing, public health and may well have consequences for professions which depend on assumptions of rationality”

    cognitive dissonance ostensibly drives humans to pick the path of least resistance.

    The subliminal messaging that the demo used steathly moved past any sort of sensory threshold that Pegg had, effectively enabling the NPL guy to dictate the parameters that align his will to Pegg’s self-perceptions. By subliminally modifying assumptions, the NPL guy can “push” him down the new path of least resistence.

    A very powerful tool, indeed. Also the foundation for a lot of market disloactions, imho.

  11. Anonymous

    If you read Derren Brown’s book you’ll see it’s relatively cynical about NLP (He uses many kinds of tricks to perform his show not just NLP). From the little about it I’ve read it’s certainly doesn’t seem to be backed up by enough hard evidence. In his book he compares the leading gurus of NLP to evangelist preachers (something he has good knowledge of from his childhood).

  12. Jesse

    People do have a desire to believe in things that might well be utter nonsense.

    I do not believe that any of this has stood up to objective scientific testing in controlled conditions.

    But its fun. And madness has its allure.

  13. mdubuque

    etc., as I said, NLP clearly has its limitations.

    But being there from the beginning under the tutelage of Bateson, Grinder and Bandler did systematically teach me how to learn how to learn.

    And that meta-skill has helped me obtain numerous graduate degrees and certifications in diverse areas, such as passing the Bar Exam, obtaining a Series 7 license and being a successful market maker in derivatives, etc.

    For that I am grateful.

    Learning how to learn is a meta-skill that is easily to trivialize from afar, but not necessarily harmful in its disciplined acquisition.

    There’s an enormous amount of gibberish written on NLP. I recommend consulting the original sources cited.

    Matt Dubuque

  14. Anonymous

    I am stuck in a paradox. Surely Yves is not naive enough to think that nonsense video is real… But if Yves really is naive enough to think that the video is real… then maybe the video is real… because if Yves can be so easily fooled, then the average person can be easily fooled.

    Anyway, wanna join Quixstar?

  15. Juan


    So how does NLP relate to public relations as developed by/from Bernays et al (the former seems much more individualistic)?

  16. Dean

    Chris et al:

    You are making a rational argument worth discussing. IMHO this is equivalent to Plato’s cave analogy.

    For those needing reminding here is a synopsis:

    Plato used the analogy of the cave to illustrate his idea of forms. The analogy goes like this:

    Imagine several prisoners who have been chained up in a cave for all of their lives. They have never been outside the cave. They face a wall in the cave and they can never look at the entrance of the cave. Sometimes animals, birds, people, or other objects pass by the entrance of the cave casting a shadow on the wall inside the cave. The prisoners see the shadows on the wall and mistakenly view the shadows as reality.

    However, one man breaks free from his chains and runs out of the cave. For the first time, he sees the real world and now knows that it is far beyond the shadows he had been seeing. He sees real birds and animals, not just shadows of birds and animals.

    This man is excited about what he sees and he goes back to his fellow prisoners in the cave to tell them about the real world. But to his astonishment, they don’t believe him. In fact, they are angry with him. They say the shadows are reality and that the escaped prisoner is crazy for saying otherwise.

    POINT OF THE CAVE ANALOGY: According to Plato, the world outside the cave represents the world of forms while the shadows on the wall represent objects in the physical world. The escape of the prisoner represents philosophical enlightenment and the realization that forms are the true reality. Most people are like the prisoners in the cave. They think the shadows are reality. Philosophers, though, are like the man who escapes the cave and sees the real world. They have true knowledge.

    P.S. Actually the prisoners end up killing the freed man(aka philosopher) because his new enlightened perspective is very upsetting to the illusion of the cave mass.

    I believe something similar happens in our daily conversations here at Yves’ blog. Fellow bloggers are seeking comfort to reinforce a pre-existing bias and do not necessarily wish to accept the truth, because the truth is unaccommodating and uncompromising.

  17. Anonymous

    Three things:

    1. Judge things by their results not by their intentions.

    2. A person with ethics will make a person the end of his means, not the means of his ends (sorry for the cliche).

    3. Going forward: Fool me once, shame on me. Food me twice shame on you.

  18. Richard Kline

    Ahh yes, Uncle Miltie. Many of 'my people' where therapists of stripes diverse contemporary with Bandler and Grinder, whome they met and whose work they critiqued extensively. One of them trained with Milton Erickson, and his techniques were much discussed as well. Others of that circle were as good as Erickson in their own techniques, developed on their own. This stuff is truly remarkable when put to use by a _skilled_ practitioner; believe me I've seen it done.

    Embedded commands, pacing and leading, and all the rest I tend to see as deriving principally from Erickson's work, frankly, and I recommend that anyone interested read the published literature about him; one of the most remarkable men most folks have never heard of. But as you say, Matt, G & B's work with representational systems was specifically their contribution. Also as you say, much (most?) of what's been written on NLP is worse than useless. Go to the sources, and get some real training.

    Regarding working with resistant subjects, there is a misunderstanding here, unsurprisingly. To put it simplistically, one's mind has multiple strata of perception and motivation. Most of these can be affected discretely, EVEN IF THEY HAVE CONFLICTING VALUES AND INFORMATION. This is all the more possible as it is done subtly and out of the direct awareness of the subject. We can, and do, believe entirely different things at different levels of our emotional and intellectual response, especially when some or many of those beliefes or responses are not fully articulated or even wholly out of awareness. You would be amazed at the junk, bunk, and misinformation we cart around in our heads _and act upon_ without really thinking about it. From that perspective, someone may be highly resistant at one level, and at the same time effectively influenced at another one, if not necessarily to the same goal at the same moment. This isn't simply a matter of content, but of pacing, framing, invoking moods and concepts indirectly whose reactions in the subject can then be shifted around to other parts of their awareness and motivation where they were not sourced, etc, etc. Operant conditioning, but at and outside of awareness, often in responses different from the focus of the overt interaction, especially so if done with skill.

    With a resistant subject for a MBS buy, just to kick around an hypothesis, the goal would be more on the order of programming them to believe that they needed to buy _something_, and then parallelling them into asset classes. Like for example auction rate munis or covered bonds, not even necessarily bought from the instigator. Once their feet are moving backward, then move on to upselling them into securitized LBO debt, and then a few years after the start teasing them with higher points on the stuff they once disdained but now are all but skin to skin with. Good salesmen understand how to do this stuff implicitly: and they were the real market for pseudo-NLP if memory serves.

    The only way to resist such conditioning is to know the inside or your head very well, to constantly reassess your motivation, and to have highly defined objectives of your own which you regularly assess. Americans all want to get rich, and believe that they can, so they are dead suckers for a pitch. But we are hardly unique in all that . . . .

  19. Chris


    There was once a definition of investment banking: selling something you don’t own to someone who doesn’t want it and doesn’t have the money to pay for it.

    In some ways “politics” seems to work like that too.

    Doesn’t the little discussion reflect both those worlds “I’ve got a package which contains something which will make you very happy, or provide all your wants” etc. “Look you can see for yourself the package is right here.”

    One of the things some people in sales learn is that they are not selling a product, they are selling themselves as someone who is the best to sell a product.

    I thought some more about this post after catching up with yesterday’s news. Huffingtonpost had a really cute picture of a tiny baby polar bear!

  20. Anonymous

    Thank you Matt for your insights. Much appreciated.

    I must say I find it amusing to read some of the the all-knowing types with zero personal experience or theoretical background in clinical hypnosis declaring ‘this is bullshit’, ‘hoax’ and ‘NLP only working on dimwits’.

    Fine by me. All the more for me and the less for you. My gain, your loss.

    Just hope you never run into a really proficient NLP practitioner who wants you to think something you are not thinking or do not necessarily want to think in those terms.

    Because when that happens, your current intentions will more than likely fail you.

    Without you even noticing it.

    On a related note, those interested in more mainstream situational psychology, I recommend the book The Lucifer effect by Phil Zimbardo about the banality of evil. 90% of people’s personality factors can be over-driven with situational factors – and the person be made to do things she would never otherwise do. They can swear on their mothers grave, be bible-school going devote do-gooders and it all falls apart, when situational pressure is applied.

    All this without resorting to physical threats, violence, etc. Just pure sociological/psychological pressure.

    An astute mind would observer something analogous happening in the current financial markets…

    Also the tip on Bernays is excellent. I recommend the book ‘Propaganda’, which was always the favorite term for Bernays, instead of the later propagandist term, Public Relations.

  21. La

    An excellent book – “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini (as recommended by Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner). Not as subtle as NLP – but you’ll notice them in many day-to-day situations. And the “Century of Self” documentary mentioned previously is excellent.

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