You know what? It’s easy to forget we’re human. Or rather, it’s easy to forget that our audiences are human. After all, it would be so much easier if they were just completely rational, logical, mind-reading automatons, wouldn’t it? That way they would see that your idea is the right one to solve their problems.
But they don’t. And yet, we still create our messages as if they are.
“You have this problem? Here’s our solution.”
Or its cousin, “Here’s our solution. It solves this problem.”
Put that way, it doesn’t make much sense, does it? There’s something missing, right? There’s just not enough to convince us. And that’s because you’re human. Because you’re human, just knowing a “logical” answer exists isn’t enough. You need more than that. You need the story you can tell yourself about it. And that’s because, as I talk about in this video:
Story is the logic of the mind
Here’s the video’s Red Thread:
- GOAL: Drive action from your messages and marketing.
- PROBLEM: We’re often so focused on offering the solutions we have that we forget about the stories people need to tell themselves before they’ll act. The result: we present all the rational, logical (to us!) reasons why our ideas make sense as answers to the problems our audiences have.
- TRUTH: While stories can seem like the opposite of logic, the truth is that stories are the logic of the mind. They’re how we make sense of the world, and of ourselves. Those stories—like all stories—have specific elements that drive action and change.
- CHANGE: That’s often why logic-only explanations of problems and solutions don’t work the way we hope: they’re missing the critical element of stories that make inaction impossible: conflict. Conflict drives choice. Choice drives change. But not just any conflict, emotional conflict. A conflict between what someone wants, what they believe, and how they’ve acted so far. To drive action, stories—and your message—must create that emotional conflict. It’s the only way the story makes “sense.”
- ACTION: So yes, present your audience’s problem and your solution. But if you want to raise the probability of your audience fully understanding, accepting, and acting on your idea, present one more element that creates your message’s “moment of truth”—the conflict that creates the shift in thinking that changes the outcome. (more on that, below!)
- GOAL REVISITED: With that missing element in place your message works on both the logical and emotional levels. Your solution will come across as the only logical answer given the emotional elements of what someone already wants and believes. And, with both the logical and emotional arguments in place, your message is much more likely to lead to long-term change.
If you want to go deeper…
That’s not because it’s an absolute truth in the philosophical sense. No, it’s because, if accepted as truth by your audience, it should create the moment of truth that makes inaction impossible.
And why does a moment of truth make inaction impossible?
Because a moment of truth is a moment of “cognitive dissonance.”
Cognitive dissonance is the state someone enters when they act (or are part of an action) that goes against their “feelings, ideas, beliefs, values, [or] things in the environment.”
What’s more, “when two actions or ideas are not psychologically consistent with each other, people do all in their power to change them until they become consistent” [Emphasis mine]. In other words, as I often say, when two truths fight, only one wins.
[By the way, if you want a great book on cognitive dissonance, don’t miss Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me).]
This is one of the main reasons why problem/solution-only presentations don’t always work, especially if your audience is already aware of your solution. Something, about either the problem or solution, isn’t problematic enough. If it were, they’d be actively shifting something—what they want, what they believe, or their current solution—to fix it.
In a way, it’s science! Or at least Newton’s third law of motion:
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
In the classic problem/solution-only presentation, the problem and solution are essentially working directly against each other. The problem isn’t bad enough, or the solution isn’t good enough, for anything to give… and so there’s no movement.
Just “raising the stakes” on the problem—highlighting all the additional stuff that can and will go wrong—usually isn’t enough either. Because of the fun (!) ways that cognitive dissonance works, people will usually continue to rationalize why the problem isn’t that bad, or why your solution isn’t that good—at least for them. This is also why continuing to pile on the features and benefits of your solution won’t always work, either. It’s the same thing in reverse!
In both cases, you’re just adding more information to a single element, but you’re not introducing a fundamentally new element that puts everything in conflict.
You have to introduce a third force to knock something out of balance.
That’s what a good Truth Statement does: it interrupts the problem-solution tension. It destabilizes the status quo of inaction. Because it introduces a new force (in the form of a strong belief about the world or how it works) it requires, almost literally, another force to counteract it and bring everything back in balance.
So let’s look at the elements in play:
Element 1: What someone wants. (In the Red Thread, this shows up as the Goal.) When chosen well, this is something the audience is likely won’t stop wanting, even in the face of struggle and difficulty. That makes this Goal a very strong anchorperson in our mental game of tug-of-war.
For the sake of example, let’s say someone wants to achieve a healthier weight so they can be more active. We can even make it a nice, specific goal, like 10% of their current weight (a target shown to improve almost all health markers).
Element 2: How they’ve acted so far. This is the audience’s current (or traditional) solution or approach. It may not be working to fully get them what they want, but it’s what they think (or hope!) will work.
For a lot of people, the traditional approach to achieving a healthier weight involves eliminating all the “bad” foods and choices and keeping only the “good.” It may mean cutting out entire categories of foods (sweets, say, or carbs), even if those folks enjoy them.
In fact, they may think that they enjoy them “too much,” which in and of itself is a clue that something else is going on. That brings us to…
Element 3: What they believe. Assuming that people are the smart, capable, and good beings they want to be seen as, there is always a good reason why someone is taking their current approach, even if it’s not working well or at all. They have a belief about why the current approach is the right one. That belief is going to be something about themselves, the solution, or the world. In a status quo situation, this belief is what keeps the current solution tied to the problem because it’s fully aligned with the current, and possibly ineffective, solution.Assuming that people are the smart, capable, and good beings they want to be seen as, there is always a good reason why someone is taking their current approach. Click To Tweet
Back to our example: the traditional solution for our example audience looks like the worst aspects of what’s known as “diet culture,” where thinness is valued at all costs (even at the price of health), and both weight and food choices are seen as moral issues—food choices, and by extension the people making them—are seen as “good” and “bad.” If you believe that, it makes sense to cut out the “bad” stuff, and unfortunately, to feel bad about yourself when that approach eventually fails, as it often does.
Even worse, the failure appears to be a reinforcement of the underlying belief: “bad” food led to “bad” choices, which makes you a “bad” person… so it must be true, right?
The status quo cycle continues because the problem and solution are locked in with equal force.
Even worse, beliefs—like wants—are very hard to alter.
We don’t readily “unbelieve” things, which makes them another great anchor in our tug of war. Yet that’s essentially what the problem/solution-only presentation is asking our audiences to do—without even the benefit of illuminating underlying belief so it can be examined.
When you present someone with a new solution and say, “You should do this instead, because it will work better,” but don’t give them a belief-based reason it will work better, you’re basically saying to them, “Stop believing your solution is the right one (even though we’re not going to talk about why you believe that), and believe me instead.”
And a reminder, you’re human: would that work on you? I didn’t think so.
So getting someone to change (as in alter) their beliefs—to believe something fundamentally different they do now—is very, very difficult. When it does happen, it usually takes a long time, which I’m guessing like most of us, you don’t have a lot of.
So don’t try to change people’s beliefs. Swap the belief, instead.
Swap it with something else they believe to be true, because that’s going to just as strong, or stronger. Swap it for a belief strong enough to pull their current approach in a new direction—yours.
For instance, one of the lessons I learned in my 13 years moonlighting as a WW leader (and in all the research I’ve done since) is that pain is the enemy of long-term change. Science tells us we will not continue to do something, long-term, that’s mentally, emotionally, or physically painful for us. Just as with cognitive dissonance, we will do something to relieve that pain.
But our own experiences tell us that, too. Think about a time when you had to do something that was painful. You eventually stopped doing it, or—and this is key—you changed how you thought about it to make the effort worthwhile.
So I can (and did) swap in that other belief when I talked with folks about achieving healthier weights. I didn’t tell them the “good/bad” view of food was a bad belief—again, humans, would that work? Nope. It’s probably one that has been long and deeply held. I know from experience that it’s a belief that can change over time, but the time part is key.
No, instead, I redirected their focus to the other, equally strong belief about pain being the enemy of long-term change.
If they want to achieve a healthier weight,
And they believe that food is inherently good or bad (and/or they are)
And they believe that pain is the enemy of long-term change,
…now they have a conflict.
Because their current approach—cutting out foods they love—is painful.
And now the story they’ve been telling themselves about cutting out foods doesn’t work anymore. Because they’ve had that moment of truth—the very thing they’re doing is going to work against their want, long-term.
And that’s where your new solution comes in. It resolves the conflict, and it makes the story work.
In the case of our example, I used to introduce the new approach, “What can you change without pain?”
Ah! Now the story makes sense:
I want to achieve a healthier weight.
I believe certain foods are getting in my way.
I also believe that pain is the enemy of long-term change.
So I’m going to cut back on those foods, instead of cutting them out (and now I know why that wasn’t working!).
And now I can achieve my goal without the mental pain I know will get in the way of my goals, long-term!
Logical, yes, but also emotionally compelling. It helps someone get what they want, while reinforcing what they believe.
Do you see how this works even if someone still holds onto the belief about “good” and “bad” foods and food choices? [But for the record, I believe weight isn’t a moral issue. To quote Hamlet, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”]
Swapping beliefs allows someone to start seeing the world in a new way, which means they’ll start acting differently in it.
So now as you look at your messages (or even your own choices), what beliefs are holding your audiences in status quo and keeping them from what they want?
What other beliefs could you add that would make inaction impossible—and your idea irresistible?
I can’t wait to see!
Swapping beliefs allows someone to start seeing the world in a new way, which means they'll start acting differently in it. Click To Tweet
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There’s something missing from how we typically go about explaining to people the power of our ideas. What’s missing? Well, that’s what we’re talking about on this Message in a Minute. I’m your host, Tamsen Webster of Tamsenwebster.com. Most of us, you see, have been taught to present our ideas as the solution to someone’s problem, and to focus more on that problem and solution than on the story people are going to tell themselves about why that solution makes sense for that problem. See, we’re not rational decision-makers, we humans. We are rationalizing decision-makers. That story that we tell ourselves is the logic of our mind. That means we need to have all the elements of that story in place.
Now what’s missing when we only focus on the problem and the solution is what’s known as a moment of truth that’s in every story. It’s the point in that story where the main character must make a decision between something they want, something they believe, and what they’re doing right now, how they’re thinking about it, how they’re approaching it right now. That’s what you need to add back into your messages. You need to present a problem, of course, and your idea as a solution, but you also need to create and include some belief that makes it impossible for them to ignore that problem and makes your solution the only one that makes sense. If you want even more information on how to do this, then go to Tamsenwebster.com/content and look for the blog post that matches this particular video. If you want to get those posts right when they come out every time, sign up for my newsletter at tamsenwebster.com/newsletter.
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