#3. Performing a Ritual Before Eating Makes Food Taste Better
A human being is a creature of ritual and habit, even and especially when it comes to food. When it's your birthday, the cake tends to come to the tune of a discordant, unenthusiastic "Happy Birthday." If you're the religious type, chances are you precede your meals with a little prayer you give to your deity of choice before chowing down. Sure, there are all sorts of cultural reasons for that stuff, but there's a very neat magic trick these chants are able to pull off: They make whatever you're about to ingest taste better.
If you're not into saying grace before mealtime and/or the very first bars of "Happy Birthday" send you into a murderous frenzy, pretty much any quirky ritual will do. Mutter "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" three times under your breath while grinning widely and eyeballing the couple at the next table. Stand on your head and loudly scream, "I dedicate this meal to A'grasokh, god of turmoil and madness." It doesn't seem to matter, as long as you do it.
While animal sacrifices at McDonald's aren't explicitly forbidden, you can tell they don't like it.
Why It Works:
You already kind of knew this on some level, based on your experience at restaurants. The steak served to you by a waiter in a tuxedo who offers it on a polished silver platter under soft violin music might be no different from the hunk of meat served in a plastic basket at Billy's Beef Bonanza down the street (hell, they probably use the same supplier), but there is a ritual to the former that makes that food seem more ... important, somehow. Kind of like if you see a scruffy guy pull up in a limousine with five bodyguards, you assume he must be a rock star or something. "They wouldn't go through all that hassle for some random asshole!"
So the food we perceive as important tends to taste better, and the easiest, cheapest way to make it important is to give it a little "Abracadabra" just before eating it. Several different experiments involving food ranging from carrots to chocolate have verified that this is a very real thing, and it changed the taste of the food so much that the test subjects not only enjoyed the food more and savored it longer, but were actually willing to pay more for it.
"The three-hour one man show really brings out the flavor."
In the case of the carrots, the ritual (completely non-religious in nature, by the way) was even able to increase the subjects' anticipation of eating the next carrot, despite knowing full well that it would clearly be just another carrot. Yes, they managed to make fucking carrots desirable. If that's not magic, we don't know what is.
#2. Saying "I'm Excited" Reduces Stress
We want to apologize in advance, because this one really does sound like the kind of rah-rah "Think positive!" bullshit you've heard at some HR seminar at the office. But it turns out they might be kind of right.
Bad at Sports
That kitten wasn't just talking out of his ass, either.
We all have temporary spells of work bullshit -- maybe you're facing a seemingly impossible deadline, or a spine-crushing triple shift, or a huge test that your whole semester hinges on, and holy shit, it's tomorrow, you could have sworn it's not until next Thursday. That crap happens to everybody, and your biggest enemy is the panic itself. You're rarely at your best when you're shitting your pants in terror.
And here's where your disgustingly positive life coach will make you stop and say you're "excited" about the upcoming challenge, instead of "terrified," as if merely telling that to yourself can actually change your stress level (and thus performance) during the task.
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"Yeah, and if that was true, nobody would suck at sex."
But the science suggests they're right.
Why It Works:
According to Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard, saying "I'm excited!" prior to a stressful circumstance (yes, you have to say it out loud) helps to change the pants-shitting perspective into something more positive inside your head. Once you have the positivity thing down, it greatly reduces your stress and makes you perform better at just about everything, from oratory skills to general work performance.
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"And that's how I passed quantum physics with nothing but a tank of laughing gas."
You know what doesn't work? Trying to calm yourself down, or telling yourself it's no big deal. That apparently is the secret -- Brooks' research discovered that the whole "I'm excited" thing works because it doesn't deny the ball of anxiety in your gut is there or try to make it go away. It just tricks your brain into thinking it's a positive.
#1. Adding a Reason to Your Request Is a Jedi Mind Trick
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You're standing in line at a Starbucks. A busy-looking suit taps on your shoulder and asks, "Do you mind if I cut in front of you?" A week later, an identical-looking dude does the same thing, only this one says, "Do you mind if I cut in front of you, because I need to get my coffee?" Which one are you more likely to tell to fuck off?
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"Well, I have two middle fingers, so ..."
Of course, your answer is "Both, and if he tries anything, so help me, I will initiate a slap-fight." Ours was, too. However, should this scenario actually happen, a whopping 93 percent of people would let the latter guy get his coffee before them just because he gave a reason ... even if the reason adds nothing to the situation. It's not like they dressed him in bloody surgeon's garb and had him yell something about being late for an open-heart surgery. Just giving a reason -- even if it's stating the obvious -- works wonders.
Why It Works:
The key is that it really only works on requests that don't require a lot of time or effort on the other person's end -- once they have a moment to think about what was said, they usually build up some resistance. But in our day-to-day lives, our resistance is pretty low. For instance, think about how you traveled to wherever you're reading this article now (school/office/company bathroom). Chances are you probably didn't have to think very hard about getting there. It was a familiar route, so your brain operated your body on automatic, leaving you to daydream about whatever bullshit you'd rather be doing. While this is a useful brain-tool to have, it also leaves us wide open to manipulation.
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"Hm? Oh, yes, I'll contribute to Nuke the Whales."
When the brain is in the automatic state, our reasoning becomes simplified, to the point where almost any reason to do something is good enough for us. "Hey, can you move a little to the left so my space orangutan can better fling his acidic poop at the guy standing next to you?" becomes "Hey, can you move a little to the left because of [REASON]?" in our head, and we're automatically all "Sure, cool" and don't think twice about it until the screaming begins. If the favor is a bigger, more inconveniencing thing, the autopilot brain is more likely to nudge us a bit, but even then, it's likely to grant the favor if the reason presented is somewhat plausible.
None of this makes any logical sense, of course -- there has presumably been a reason behind every single request you've ever gotten, even if the person didn't state one. The existence of a reason for their request isn't new information. But it doesn't matter -- if you learn to reflexively give that "because ________" after every request, you'll find the world bending to your will.
Flimsy rationalizations: the true opiate of the masses.
Paul K Pickett is a Canadian writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lacey Pickett is his sister, also Canadian.
Related Reading: You're being brainwashed right now, friend. Chanted slogans have an unreasonably large impact on your mind. And if you ever need to make a courtroom think you're smart and trustworthy, wear glasses to hack their minds. Prefer to brainwash children? You're a fucked up man, but these propaganda comic books should give you some ideas.