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Where’s the best place to change a mind? - with Denise Hampson, CEO of Desire Code

This week I interviewed Behavioural Design expert and CEO of Desire Code Denise Hampson on the importance of place in persuasion. Keep reading if you want to know the best place to change a mind, it’s closer than you might think.

What’s a topic you’ve felt your mind has changed significantly on?

When I was a cyclist, I was a lot younger but I saw the world more in black and white. There were good and bad days based on my performance while I was training. If I did standing starts, and I was 6.1 seconds into the first corner it would be a bad day, if I was 5.9 seconds it would be a good day.

I was staying in a big house with this couple, we were very similar, and she said to me, you see the world really black and white. There are a lot of greys. You can cut yourself a bit of slack. I was really harsh on myself and she taught me to be more forgiving.

Where did this conversation first happen?

We were sitting in the kitchen having a cup of tea. I have said to her since it was living with her and her husband that turned me into the grey bits-in-between kind of thinker. She was a really great person and a life coach, she was a real achiever and a senior public servant and she’d overcome a lot.

I lived with them for a while and we had a lot of conversations in my early 20s. Both of them were wise and great, they weren’t trying to parent me. We just had great conversations.

For a long time after being a cyclist, my perspective broadened. I knew a lot of people for a long time who still based their self-worth on their performance. I think it’s more about the state of mind of the person. You can go to all the stuff you want and meet amazing people, if you’re not open to change you won’t. It might have just been time for me.

How did you first hear about it?

Yoga is another one, I was in Canada for the whole of 2017, and I worked for Lululemon where the yoga lifestyle was the thing. Everyone in the street had a yoga mat sticking out of their bag, that’s Vancouver for you. It was a company that centred itself around yoga and I didn’t get it. It didn’t resonate with me.

2017, Denise at Lululemon trying to get into yoga

When I came back to the UK I got two credits for Digme in Covent Garden and I went because friends were going, I got it that session, and I felt different going out. I got why people found it beneficial and because I had two credits I went again.

I was back in London for a year before I had that moment. I only ever feel like I get that yoga benefit from that studio, it feels like home for me.

What role do you think place has in changing a mind?

There’s a popular point of view that changing your mind is a sign of weakness, but changing is a sign of maturity or intelligence. Part of being persuaded is being open to the idea something could be different. I was probably in the space both those times to think something different.

Another thing I thought of was a coach who I had while track cycling. He used the concept of positive and negative chairs. He told me on race day when I turned up at the track to get two chairs and put my bag on one. The one you sit in is your negative chair and the one with your bag on is the positive chair. Fighting nerves takes a lot of energy, and can feel like a rollercoaster, so he said it’s better to wallow in them than to fight them. When those nerves kick in and you feel heavy and tired you can let yourself loose on how bad it’s gonna be while you are sitting in the negative chair. It doesn’t matter if you feel negative all morning, as long as you feel good on the track for the race itself.

POV you whip out your positivity chair after reading this

So, 5 minutes before you race you switch seats and sit in the positive chair, and from that point you’re not allowed to think anything negative at all. Only positive stuff at that point, and you psych yourself up positively, and it changes how you feel for when you get up to race.

Does famililarity matter? For example, how sports teams win more games at home?

Familiarity, when you’re familiar you don’t need to take extra energy to find your way around. I imagine it’s the same for football teams, they’re comfortable and there are no surprises. There’s also an element of “this my domain.” On the flips side, training at home, your race day might feel like a training session. It might feel different in a competition.

I used to have race socks, I had a pair of red and a pair of white, I lost one of each and there was an odd pair. I raced really well and there was someone who commented and said it was the socks. The next week I did the same thing again and I raced really well again . Over time it became my ritual. I didn't believe the socks had a magical boost of energy and power, but what they did do is tell my brain today is race day. If I wore red and white every day, it might not do that, but it brought me extra energy. Today is race day today, has to be something special, if you’re the home athlete and it doesn’t feel like a competition, being in an unfamiliar place will say to your brain it’s competition day.

My closing thoughts - Where is the best place to change a mind?

In Denise’s story, long-term behaviour change happened at home. From home to school to conferences, there’s a lot of places where my mind has been changed. When I think back to the most significant mindset changes I’ve made, the work has been done at home or at school. At first I thought the key was that behavioural change happens easier in familiar places because you have more energy, but I don’t think that’s it.

Looking back, the key to a place that will change your mind long-term is a place you go frequently that has a constant stimuli driving that change. That stimuli can be a person, a lot of books or a show you watch a lot, but in order to change behaviour long-term the stimuli has to be there. This repetition is more likely to happen in a place you go to frequently where you are with the same people. Denise has a good blog post about repetition in memory design here if you’d like to read more.

Random guy in a blue shirt who, after reading this article, you'd now ask to move to the other chair before making your argument

I remember at school every time we started a new topic in maths we would switch tables. Denise made a really good point, when first changing a mind, what’s most important is the place someone’s mind is in, as Ian Forrester mentioned last week, you have to grab attention to engage someone new. So, if you’re talking to someone about something new, moving them to a new place will grab their attention (it doesn't have to be far, it just has to be different), but make sure there’s a way to expose them to it after.

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