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Sticky Ideas Workshop (Part 5): Emotional

Sticky Ideas Workshop (Part 5): Emotional
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

    If you want to connect — I mean, really connect — with an audience, you have to hit ’em square in their emotions. Movie makers know this, and exploit it to the fullest, making us laugh, cry, punch the air in triumph, jump out of our seats in terror, and even swell with love for all humanity — almost on demand.

    A lot of times this is pretty cheap, and leaves us feeling manipulated and used. This is because the movie (or novel, or TV show, or commercial, or whatever) seems to play on our emotions for no other reason than because they can. The emotional response is triggered without satisfying any real need.

    But the emotions roused by the greatest works of art — whether in film, paint, words, or stone — do satisfy a need, and it is for that reason that we return films like Casablanca or paintings like Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring after decades and even centuries.

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    Enlightened Self-Interest

    Chip and Dan Heath refer to Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” to explain why some emotional appeals fall flat, and others not only succeed but can even change lives. Abraham Maslow, a mid-20th century psychologist, theorized that human behavior is driven by a number of innate needs. What’s more, these needs are hierarchical; that is, the most basic needs (food, water, sleep, sex, etc.) had to be met before higher needs (friendship, family, self-esteem, and ultimately “self-actualization”, where we turn our attentions to the needs of our society and its members). Maslow represented his idea with a pyramid (itself a pretty sticky idea) placing the basic needs at the bottom and the higher levels built on top of them. Although few psychologists today still hold to the hierarchical nature of needs — recognizing, for instance, that seeing to the common good is often necessary to assure that more “basic” needs are met — Maslow’s schema is still useful as a rubric to measure our ideas and their presentation against.

    For example, let’s say you are offering a recipe for a super-healthy cookie. Yes, a cookie meets a basic need — the need for food. Notice, though, that you rarely see commercials for cookies with the tagline “You can eat this” or “it’s a kind of food!” Instead, ads for cookies or articles on cooking try to appeal to the higher stretches of Maslow’s pyramid. They might appeal to mothers’ need to provide for their family (like the peanut butter commercial: “Choosy moms choose Jif!”) or to our need to protect our environment (“these cookies are made with 100% organic ingredients”) or to our need to feel independent and self-reliant (“don’t eat store-bought cookies — stick it to the Man by making your own!”).

    In these examples, we are looking for ways of engaging our audience’s self-interest — their need to fulfill their needs — in ways that allow them to be the kind of people they want to be: better parents, better eaters, and better citizens. Instead of offering something to eat, we offer self-fulfillment. Not bad for a cookie!

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    Who Am I, Anyway?

    In order to be effective, emotional appeals need to engage with individuals’ identities in a profound way (which is why the horror gross-out, while momentarily effective, is rarely remembered longer than a few sleepless nights). As the Heaths point out, people make decisions based on their identities, so emotional appeals have to confront them with their own selves. The best ask us to consider who we are — and more, what do people like us do in situations like this?

    Consider those late-night famine relief commercials, the ones with the swollen-bellied children staring into the camera with huge, liquid eyes and Sally Struthers begging us to help. These commercials are pretty effective — effective enough to have been run most of my life, anyway — because they force viewers to either act or face an uncomfortable disconnect between the kind of person they think they are and the kind of person they are acting like. If it’s important to you to be the kind of person that helps those in need, then it’s going to be hard not to do so when given the opportunity to contribute.

    What this means in practical terms is that you have to really know not just who your audience is but who your audience thinks it is. It also means that we have to be especially on guard against the Curse of Knowledge. We may be blinded by the brilliance of our own ideas — which always seem innately useful — so that we don’t consider the ways our ideas meet our audience’s actual needs. Or, for that matter, that our ideas may well meet needs that are far different from the needs they meet for us.

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    Caring is Sharing

    No idea gets picked up and passed around unless it meets somebody’s needs. They have to care, and it’s your job to make them care. When people care about an idea, they become its greatest advocates; in marketing terms, this is called “going viral” (which is, of course, deeply offensive to people who deal with actual viral transmission and its often horrific consequences).

    In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point (the book the Heaths credit with inspiring them to write Made to Stick), one of the phenomena the author returns to again and again is the sudden revival of Hush Puppies, the somewhat dorky shoes popular in the ’70s among white-bread middle-class American moms. In the ’90s, a handful of East Village hipsters started sporting Hush Puppies and, in the blink of an eye, sales suddenly boomed, bringing the brand back from the brink of obscurity.

    The company that makes Hush Puppies had little to do with this revival; they’d failed for years to make Hush Puppies relevant again. Instead, it was a handful of people who found something in these goofy shoes to care about — likely a way to distinguish themselves from the rest of their scene and show off their sense of irony and nostalgia. These trendsetters, in turn, managed to make others around them care as they did, setting off a ripple effect that eventually reached the malls of Middle America and put the Hush Puppies brand back on the map.

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    Ideas don’t have to spread like wildfire to be effective (though it doesn’t hurt!) but they do have to spread, and ideas don’t spread unless people care enough about them to a) integrate them into their own lives and b) sharing them with others. In one way, this makes our job easier — if we can figure out who the trendsetters are, we can focus our energies on crafting an appeal specifically to their sensitivities and let them do much of the legwork. At the same time, though, it means that ideas have to be over-loaded with emotional resonance — they have to meet a number of different needs to spread widely enough to take off on their own.

    It should be clear that “emotional” doesn’t mean that our goal should be to make our audience weep, necessarily, but rather to grab them where they live, wherever that is. This is probably the hardest part of making ideas stick. Let us know how you do it in the comments or kick off the conversation in the forum.

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    Last Updated on October 13, 2020

    12 Things High Self-Esteem People Don’t Do

    12 Things High Self-Esteem People Don’t Do

    Having high self-esteem is important if you are aiming for personal or professional success. Interestingly, most people will high levels of self-esteem act in similar ways. That’s why it’s often easy to pick them out in a crowd. There’s something about the way they hold themselves and speak, isn’t there?

    We all have different hopes, dreams, experiences, and paths, but confidence has its own universal language. This list will present some of the things you won’t find yourself doing if you have high self-esteem.

    1. Compare Yourself to Others

    People with low self-esteem are constantly comparing their situation to others. On the other hand, people with higher self-esteem show empathy and compassion while also protecting their own sanity. They know how much they can handle and when they can offer a helping hand.

    In the age of social media, however, social comparisons are nearly ubiquitous. One study found that “participants who used Facebook most often had poorer trait self-esteem, and this was mediated by greater exposure to upward social comparisons on social media”[1]. Basically, you will feel worse about yourself if you are constantly getting glimpses into lives that you consider to be better than yours.

    Try to limit your time on social media. Also, when you do start scrolling, keep in mind that each profile is carefully crafted to create the appearance of a perfect life. Check yourself when you find yourself wishing for greener grass.

    2. Be Mean-Spirited

    People with low self-esteem bully others. They take pleasure in putting other people down. People with positive self-esteem see no need to down other people, choosing instead to encourage and celebrate successes.

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    If you find that you feel the need to put others down, analyze where that’s coming from. If they’ve had success in life, help them feel good about that achievement. They may do the same for you one day.

    3. Let Imperfection Ruin Your Day

    Perfectionism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but obsessing over making everything perfect is a sign that you have low self-esteem and can lead to never-ending negative thoughts. This can turn into an inability to solve problems creatively, which will only make self-esteem issues worse. 

    Those with high self-esteem disconnect from the results and do their best without expecting perfection.

    People with that kind of confidence understand that messing up is a part of life and that each time they aim and miss success, they’ll at least learn something along the way.

    If you miss the mark, or if your plan doesn’t work out exactly as you would have liked, take a deep breath and see if you can pivot in order to do better next time.

    4. Dwell on Failure

    It’s common to hear people dwelling on all the ways things will go wrong. They are positive that their every failure signals an impossible task or an innate inability to do something. People with healthy self-esteem discover why they failed and try again.

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    People with higher levels of confidence also tend to adopt a growth mindset[2]. This type of thinking supports the idea that most of your abilities can be improved and altered, as opposed to being fixed.

    For example, instead of saying, “I’m just not good at math; that’s why I did bad on the test,” someone with a growth mindset would say, “Math is difficult for me, so I’ll have to put in some more practice to improve next time.”

    Next time you experience a failure, check out this video to help you believe in yourself again:

    5. Devalue Your Self-Esteem

    People with high self-esteem value their own perception of themselves – they understand that they come first and don’t feel guilty about taking care of themselves. They believe charity starts within, and if they don’t believe that, they’ll never have a healthy self-image.

    Self-care is often top of the priority list for people with self-esteem. For some ways to practice self-care, check out this article.

    6. Try to Please Others

    They can’t please all the people all the time, so confident people first focus on doing what will make them feel fulfilled and happy. While they will politely listen to others’ thoughts and advice, they know that their goals and dreams have to be completed on their own terms.

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    7. Close Yourself off

    Confident people have the ability to be vulnerable. It’s those with poor self-esteem that hide all the best parts of themselves behind an emotional wall. Instead of keeping the real you a secret, be open and honest in all your dealings.

    As Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, points out, “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen”[3]. When you embrace each facet of who you are and allow others to see them as well, it will create deeper, more meaningful connections in your life. When that happens, you’ll realize that perfection doesn’t lead to people liking you more.

    You can learn more about the power of vulnerability in this TED talk with Brené Brown:

    8. Follow and Avoiding Leading

    People with low self-esteem don’t believe they can lead, so they end up following others, sometimes into unhealthy situations. Rather than seeking a sense of belonging, people with high self-esteem walk their own paths and create social circles that build them up.

    9. Fish for Compliments

    If you’re constantly seeking compliments, you’re not confident. People with high self-esteem always do their best (and go out of their way to do good deeds) because it’s what they want to do, not because they’re seeking recognition. If you need to hear compliments, say them to yourself in the mirror.

    You can even try some positive affirmations if you need a confidence boost. Check out these affirmations to get started.

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    10. Be Lazy

    People work harder when they have high self-esteem because they’re not bogged down by doubts and complaints. Those with low self-esteem end up procrastinating and wasting their energy thinking about all the work they have to do rather than rolling up their sleeves and just getting it done.

    This may also bounce off perfectionism. Perfectionists often feel intimidated by certain projects if they fear that they won’t be able to complete them perfectly. Tap into your confidence and simply do your best without worrying about a perfect outcome.

    11. Shy Away from Risks

    When you trust yourself, you’ll be willing to participate more in life. People with low self-esteem are always on the sidelines, waiting for the perfect moment to jump in. Instead of letting life pass you by, have confidence in your success and take the risks necessary to succeed.

    12. Gossip

    People with low self-esteem are always in other peoples’ business – they’re more interested in what everyone else is doing than themselves. People with high self-esteem are more interested in their own life and stay out of others’ affairs.

    Instead of participating in idle gossip, talk about some positive news you heard recently, or that fascinating book you just finished. There’s plenty to talk about beyond what this or that person did wrong in their life.

    The Bottom Line

    Self-esteem is to success in life. People who maintain a healthy level of self-esteem believe in themselves and push themselves to succeed, while those with low confidence feel a sense of entitlement.

    If you need a boost in your self-image and mental health, avoid negative self-talk and the other mistakes of people with low self-esteem. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

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    Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Psychology of Popular Media Culture: Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem
    [2] Brain Pickings: Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives
    [3] Forbes: Brene Brown: How Vulnerability Can Make Our Lives Better

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