Overlearning, Deliberate Practice, The Einstellung Effect and Interleaving

This is the third post on the Learning How To Learn course available free on Coursera. In this post I will describe the 4 things I learnt in the second part of week 2.


Have you ever been driving down a familiar route, only to realise you weren’t concentrating, but still drove safely? It was almost like you were on autopilot? This is possible because you have overlearned how to drive.

Overlearning is the process of continuing to learn a concept or skill you have already grasped. It takes you from competence to mastery.

The best times to overlearn are when you want to be able to do something without thinking. Overlearning is also useful for a skill you want to perform in a stressful environment, for example playing music in front of people. If you have overlearnt the song, you will make fewer mistakes and feel more confident.

You should avoid overlearning one skill when you are studying for an exam with multiple topics. In a maths exam if you can find the longest side of a triangle perfectly every time, but can’t multiply two numbers together, solve quadratics, find the area of circle… you get it. If you can do only the one thing well, you will fail the exam.

Deliberate Practice

You know when you’re studying for an exam and you see those horrible questions you know you can’t answer? Do you tend to avoid them and focus on something easier to get a little motivation boost, or do you target those big hairy questions? If you choose to attack the big hairy ones, you’re doing the right thing.

Deliberate Practice is where you purposely practice the hardest parts of what you want to learn. We have all heard the 10,000 hours rule (it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything), but just practising isn’t enough. You need to practice the right way.

If your practice is uncomfortably difficult you are doing it right. You want to be just past the level you can comfortably do. I won’t lie to you, it doesn’t feel nice at the time, but it’s the ONLY way to improve.

The Einstellung Effect

Sometimes when I am trying to debug some code, there are times where it feels like I am just slamming my head against the problem. My whole body goes tense and I KNOW if just think harder, I can figure this out. Turns out, I’m wrong.

This is the Einstellung effect, you keep trying to solve a problem the same way, despite it not working. You feel like if you just stick with the problem long enough, the solution will come to you, but it never does. You are blocked.

When you are stuck by the Einstellung effect, it’s time to walk away. Talk to a colleague about something completely unrelated, take a walk. Basically, take your mind off the problem for a bit. Let the diffuse mode takeover and make connections you can’t make when you’re too focused.


The logical way to study, is to do each topic, one after the other. As humans, we like order, so this makes sense to us.

Interleaving is the practice of mixing up the order of what you learn, in one session. Remember earlier I talked about how context is as important as the chunks themselves. Interleaving teaches you context.

If you want to know when to apply each skill, interleaving is the best way to do it. This could mean, instead of studying triangles for an hour, then taking a break, then doing an hour on circles, taking a break and so on. You would do 10 or 20 minutes of each topic for each hour. Jumping from topic to topic forces you to change the way you are thinking, each time you switch topic, preventing you from getting stuck in the Einstellung effect. Your exams are most likely to have the topics in a scattered order too, so it’s good practice for the real thing.

Please let me know what you think in the comments below

A Simple Trick To Learn Anything Faster

Week 2 of Learning How To Learn is all about Chunking. This is a method of learning, where you break down the huge amounts of information you want to learn, into smaller more manageable pieces, called Chunks. Breaking down your learning into chunks makes learning on the larger scale, much easier. It’s like eating a meal, you don’t swallow the whole thing in one, you take many small bites.

What Is a Chunk?

A single piece of a concept or skill formed from many scattered pieces of information that share a similar use or meaning. If you can perform a skill automatically or you just “get” a concept, it has been chunked.

Chunks are like puzzle pieces. They can be joined together to create a bigger picture. For example when playing a song on the guitar, one Chunk will be strumming the strings in a certain pattern, another Chunk is forming the hand shapes to play the chords, another Chunk is the rhythm and together you can use these Chunks to play a complete song.

Once you know how to play the whole song, that song becomes a Chunk, rather than the individual parts of playing the song. In other words, Chunks can become more complex and larger. This allows you to perform more complicated tasks, solve more complex problems or come up with deeper ideas.

When you are stressed or scared, it can become harder for your brain to access Chunks, this is why some people perform much worse under stress, such as a public performance or an exam. They know the material when they are relaxed, but once their brain starts producing adrenaline, they can no longer retrieve the knowledge they need.

How to Form a Chunk

All disciplines are different, but Chunks are universal in learning. There are 4 steps to forming any Chunk:

Focus on the thing you want to Chunk ONLY

No multitasking allowed. If you want to learn how a new mathematical trick, you focus on just that one trick.

Aim to understand

It becomes much easier to remember something you understand, than something you have just memorised. Make sure you figure it out for yourself to really understand.

Review the Chunk soon

You need to refresh your memory to strengthen the connections in your brain. Remember spaced repetition.

Gain Context

Knowing how to do a skill or understanding a concept is only half of the battle. Knowing when to use a skill is equally important. There is no point in having a particular skill if you never know when to use it and there’s no point knowing when to use a skill you don’t have.

The Value of a Library of Chunks

The more chunks you collect, the more skills and ideas you can use as you learn to piece together different Chunks in different combinations.

There are two types of thinking when it comes to problem-solving: Sequential thinking and Holistic thinking. Neither is better than the other, they just each have separate uses.

Sequential Thinking

This way of thinking, allows you follow a train of thoughts one after the other, like a sequence. Sequential thinking uses the focused mode and is good for following a logical process to it’s conclusion, such as in a maths problem, understanding a series of events or cause and effect.

Holistic Thinking

Holistic Thinking allows you to make intuitive links between multiple disciplines, ideas and concepts. In the diffuse mode, you can join up seemingly unrelated Chunks to come up with more creative solutions to problems. This is great for brainstorming, solving complex problems, where logic isn’t enough and creating something new.

Illusions of Competence

An illusion of competence is when you feel like you understand something, but you actually don’t. You may go to a class and think “that really made sense” then you go to explain it to someone else and you can’t quite explain it right, the words just don’t fit together as well as they did when the teacher said it. Sound familiar?

How Illusions of Competence Form

Illusions of competence form when you don’t use the best methods to learn. Re-reading feels good, because you feel like you are putting in the effort and you are understanding it better, but this is actually an Illusion of Competence. You aren’t trying strengthening the neural pathways in your brain, you are tricking yourself into thinking you are learning better.

Highlighting is even worse. Just don’t do it.

Re-reading can be good, if a significant amount of time has passed since your first reading, so your memories of the material have faded.

What are the Best Ways to Avoid Illusions of Competence?

Trying to recall the material is best.

Try quizzing yourself or having someone else quiz you. This causes your brain to actively retrace the neural pathways of that Chunk and therefore strengthens your abilities to remember and understand said Chunk.

Test yourself.

You need to answer practice questions, solve problems or teach the Chunk to another person, to see if you really understand what you’re trying to learn. If you can’t solve the problem, or explain the concept easily, you don’t understand the material well enough. Simple.

Learning How To Learn: Week 1

I took the course Learning How To Learn on Coursera and would like to share with you what I learn from it, in the next series of posts.

Learning How To Learn is a FREE course, offered by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terence Sejnowski. The former, a professor of engineering, whose research is on neuroscience and social behaviour, the latter researches neural networks and computational neuroscience. They’re combined expertise allows them to have some of the best insights on learning effectively and they offer the course free of charge. The course has had over 2 million students and has a user rating of 4.8/5. I fully recommend everyone does this course, as learning better will make every aspect of your life more successful. You can find the course here: https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn/home/welcome

The course is broken down into 4 weeks, where each week is like a chapter of what will be learnt that week. There is nothing stopping you going faster than one chapter a week though, they don’t lock the chapters. If you want to take the course slower than one a week that is an option too, but there are optional assignments you can complete and these have a deadline if you would like them marked.

Week 1 is an introduction to learning and what this course is going to teach in more detail in the weeks to come.

Focused Mode Vs Diffuse Mode

There are two distinct modes of thinking we use when learning. Focused mode and Diffuse mode.

Focused Mode is when we are concentrating hard on what we are doing, in this mode we can only think about 4 things at once, as we are using our “short-term memory” or “working memory”. It is commonly believed we can hold 6 or 7 things in our mind, but studies has been found that 4 is more accurate. Focused mode is best for when you need to learn or think about something difficult.

Diffuse Mode is how our brains act when we let our minds wander. In Diffuse Mode we concentrate less, so our brain can move between different thoughts more easily. This is best for making creative connections allowing us to form ideas we wouldn’t normally come up with.

For example I would use diffuse mode and focused mode to write this blog post. The diffuse mode is best for the first draft, I’m not second guessing what I write, the ideas just flow in a stream-of-consciousness style. Then once I have all the rough ideas down, I will switch to focused mode to edit the post. I am looking for mistakes, checking the grammar, making sure I used the best word for a situation and removing unnecessary sentences.


Procrastination is the act of avoiding doing something important, for a more pleasurable, less difficult activity. It turns out that this is not just a problem for lazy people, but many successful people actually suffer from it all the time. The good news is, it can be managed.

Why We Procrastinate

Seeing a task you don’t want to do actually activates a small pain response in your brain, even when you know that completing that task will ultimately be good for you. Your brain then wants to switch to doing something less painful, such as watching TV, chatting to friends or mindlessly browsing the web.

When To Use Willpower Is Crucial

Master procrastinators such as myself tend to believe that people who get stuff done are just more motivated, they have some innate willpower we mere mortals could never achieve. As a student, even when I was at my most motivated to do some work, I would look at my work and quickly see my motivation fade, as I felt the allure of watching some top quality Parks and Recreation ( a fantastic show, I highly recommend watching).

Research has found that people who get stuff done, don’t just have a vast resource of willpower that has been unfairly distributed to them. They have just figured out when to use their willpower. Everyone has a finite amount of willpower, so using it at the right times, allows you to get work done.

The initial painful feeling you get when looking at an unpleasant task I mentioned earlier, actually passes very quickly if you manage to start the task. So the very beginning of any task, called the “cue”, is the time you need to exercise willpower. Once you start a task, you forget how much you did’t want to do it, surprisingly quickly.


Learning any new skill takes practice, we have all heard the saying “practice makes perfect”, but is there any truth to this? The brain is made up of many pathways, each time you perform a certain activity, the same pathway is activated and activating the same pathways over and over again is practice. Think of it like a path through a field, you know the ones that weren’t put there, but people kept walking on the same route over and over, so the path becomes more visible. Eventually there is an actual bit of flattened grass or mud that you can follow easily. This is how practice works. The first time, the path is barely there and will fade if no one else uses it again, but enough repetitive use and the path becomes strongly defined. So rather than practice making perfect, practice makes permanent.

Why Maths Is So Hard

Many people consider maths their worst subject at school or the one they found hardest. Is this because they are stupid? No. Maths is often difficult because we learn best by comparing new knowledge to old knowledge. Maths, is full of abstract concepts, meaning we have nothing to compare it to. The more abstract something is, the harder it is to compare to something else or provide an analogy to explain it. It’s perfectly easy to explain 2 sheep to someone, you just show them two sheep. How do you explain just the number 2? This seems obvious now, as you learnt it so young, but there was a time when people had no concept of numbers just being numbers, it was too abstract.

People do eventually learn maths though, it’s not some big hoax intended to make the uninitiated feel stupid. The best way to learn something new, is to focus on the subject for a set period of time, then take a break and let yourself slip into the diffuse mode, so your brain can create connections between the new ideas you just learnt and your existing knowledge.


We have 2 types of memory. Short-term (or working) memory and long-term memory. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial in knowing how best to learn.

Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory can hold 3-4 chunks of information at any one time. Meaning we can think about 3-4 different ideas and use them to solve problems or create new ideas. Short-term memory is like a fuzzy blackboard, where the ideas you have can easily get smudged or rubbed away entirely, so you forget them or get them muddled up.

Long-Term Memory

Long-term memory is where information can be stored for life. Once you have committed a memory to you long-term memory you can likely remember it forever. It’s like a warehouse filled with information, it’s much clearer than short-term memory, but all long-term memories, started out as short-term memories.

Moving Short-Term Memories to Long-Term

There are two factors affecting how memories move from short-term to long-term:

  • The strength of the emotion felt learning the memory
  • Repetition

The first point is why certain things that terrified you once, seem to stay with you forever or why people always say the knew exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about 9/11. The emotions were so strong, that the memory was burnt into their memories forever.

The second point is how we can learn things that we don’t feel strong emotions for. By practising multiple times, we can create pathways in our brain strong enough to become permanent long-term memories.


Repeating the same thing over and over isn’t enough to learn it. The best way to commit something to memory is to use “spaced-repetition”. This is where you increase the amount of time between each practice session. The effort you go to, to remember a skill and do it again is called recall and this is what makes the pathway get strengthened. So re-reading or highlighting texts in a passage tends to do very little for helping you remember or learn as you aren’t reactivating the pathways in your brain, quizzing yourself is much more effective.

To make the quizzing even more effective, it is best to use spaced-repetition. To do this, you might practice a skill on Monday, then one day later on Tuesday, then 2 days later on Thursday and so on, until you no longer struggle to remember how to do it, even weeks later.


I personally never feel like I have had enough sleep. I would sleep 10-12 hours a day if that were a realistic option, but sadly my employer want to accommodate this habit. Sleep is actually very good for your brain. During the day, you need to relieve yourself as nature calls, you get rid of waste you produced from your food and drink. Your brain can only relieve itself when you are asleep, so if you don’t sleep your brain becomes clogged up with toxins that make you less able to think and learn more slowly.

During sleep your brain sorts out what it feels are the important memories and removes the less important ones. This is why it can be hard to remember what you had for dinner yesterday, your brain didn’t need the memory and got rid of it. Sadly, you can’t tell your brain to keep the things you studied that day and forget how you embarrassed yourself at the pub the other day. But, you if you focus on what you are learning and tell yourself you want to dream about it before bed, you are more likely to dream about what you learnt and therefore retain more of what you learnt.

An Experiment In Editing – 4: To Sell Is Human

The following is the fourth in a series of posts inspired by Jason Fried’s post on Signal V. Noise about a writing class he would like to teach. In the hypothetical class, he aimed to show that editing and compressing is truly valuable. That’s why the posts get shorter, not just varying in length, he aims to go from the fully explored idea to just the main point of the text. I am going to attempt to do this with several of my posts, as an experiment to see if it helps with my writing skills.

To see the original post, please click here.

One-Line Version

Selling is important, selling solves problems, selling can make lives better.

One-Paragraph Version

Every job involves persuading people, a good solution to a problem, needs people to believe in it, for it to be implemented. You need to understand people, keep going when things get tough and understand the problem you want to solve. To move people, you need you pitch your offer, be able to adapt to changing situations and you need to work for the customer. Not just yourself.

Three-Paragraph Version

Why Sales?

Every job today has an element of “non-sales selling” (persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve them making a purchase). These skills are critical in all jobs, so we are all sales people. In a world where everyone has access to the same information, moving people can be a way to help people solve a problem, not screw them over.

The ABCs of Selling

Attunement – Understanding your customer, so you can figure out the best solution for them, as an individual.

Buoyancy – Being able to keep going despite all the rejection you will face trying to move people.

Clarity – Understanding the situation as clearly as possible, so you can solve problems your customers didn’t know they had or didn’t know could be solved.

Skills You Need, To Be Good At Moving People

Pitch – Your customers can’t buy your offer if they don’t know it exists. If you never put the information into the world, it doesn’t exist. An effective pitch is crucial to moving people.

Improvise – Plans fail, situations change. You need to be able to think on your feet and adapt to the situation as required.

Serve – A good salesperson ultimately serves their customer. You can improve your service by making it personal (find a way to improve your customer’s situation). Or by making it purposeful (find a way to improve the world, even just a little bit).

One-Page Version

This book is about how Sales not only deserves a re-branding from being all about pushy con-artists, but that Sales is actually a necessary skill for workers everywhere today.  

We All Work in Sales

A Survey of western workers, found that 1 in 9 people work in traditional sales, but that the other 8 in 9 spend 40% of their time in “non-sales selling” (persuading, influencing and convincing people in such a way that doesn’t involve them making a purchase).  Pink refers to this as “moving people”

How We All came to be in Sales

One of the skills that seems to be universally useful, is the skill to move people. Teachers move their students when they get them to study hard and learn for their futures. Nurses move people when they work on building a treatment plan with their patients to create a plan that works and they will stick to outside of the hospital setting.

Does Sales Deserve Its Bad Reputation?

The success of a sales technique is determined by the amount of information on both sides of the transaction. If the seller has more information, he has more power, so he can use tricks and be pushy to get more sales. Today, every person has access to the same information as everyone else, this means the seller and buyer are equally powerful, so lies and tricks won’t work. So today, the best salespeople actually work to find the best solutions for their customers, not just to get the best deals for themselves.


Attunement, is all about understanding your customer. The better you understand the person and their needs, the better chance you have of being able to help them with their problems and therefore the better chance you have of making the sale.


Salespeople face a lot of rejection. No matter how persuasive you are, you can’t persuade everyone. If you give up at the first failure, you will never sell anything. Being able to bounce back and carry on is key to surviving in sales.


Clarity allows you and your customer to see the situation clearly and understand it. You can offer a solution to a problem your customer may not have known even existed or that they did not have know could be solved.


The pitch is how your customer learns about your offering. If you never make the offer, no one ever finds out about it and therefore never buys it. The stronger the pitch, the more likely you will move people.


Selling on a formula doesn’t work in a world where information is so readily available. Being able to react and adapt to situations is a key skills in moving people.


As a salesperson, you have the opportunity to improve the lives of others, your offer solves a problem. There are two ways to serve. Make it personal, find a way your offer benefits the person. Make it purposeful, find a way your offer makes the world a better place.

Professional Advice on How to Make Work Better For Everyone

I watched The Way We Work, a TED Original Series, the following post will feature my favourite points, but I highly recommend you check out the whole series. Most of the videos are 3-5 minutes long, so you can watch them very quickly in one go if you like or just watch the odd one on a break.

Employees Are Adults, Treat Them With Respect

Most people want to do well at their jobs. Given the respect they deserve, they will perform better. People respond to the way they are treated, if you treat them like delinquents trying to get away with the bare minimum, they will do so. Treat people well and you can get great results from them.

The Job Of Management Is To Build Great Teams, Not To Control People

If your manager spends their time telling you off for little things, like a casual chat with a coworker or for slouching when a customer walks by, they are a bad manager. You manager is supposed to find ways to help you be better at your job, not pick at each little mistake you make. If you are a manager, you should be empowering your people, not knocking them down. Great managers build great teams.

Every Employee Should Understand Your Business

What does your company do? If you can’t answer that easily, how can you do the best work to support that company? How do you know what makes that company more or less successful? Not knowing, is an insane way to work. The leadership of your company, needs to make sure that everyone understands the business and their role in it. Know your business, know your worth.

Everyone You Work With Should Be Able To Handle The Truth

I love feedback, sometimes it can hurt, but it’s the best way to grow. Getting feedback once a year isn’t helpful. You complete work much more than once a year, so why only get feedback once a year? When you learnt to drive, did you get corrected once a year? No! That would be madness. So, don’t do this at work. If you tell the truth, then people should understand and respect that. If they don’t, maybe they aren’t the best person for the job. Feedback helps us grow and improve. Learn to love feedback.

The Company Should Live Out Its 
Values At All Levels

I once worked at a company where the CEO, whilst giving a speech to the whole company, was claiming that the most valuable asset his company had, was its people. In that same 5 minute speech, he publicly shamed a whole department. There is a time and place for negative feedback, in front of the entire company, is not that place. That does not show you value your people, it shows the opposite. The CEO can say whatever he likes, but if his actions don’t follow his words, employees notice.

All Companies Should Be Excited 
For Change

The world changes all the time, with the rate technology progresses, we are experiencing change faster than ever. Your company will change. If you don’t change with the times, you get left behind. So, it’s better to enjoy the change and figure out how to use it to your advantage, rather than wishing for the good old days. Change is good, embrace it.

Trust Your Employees

The Four Seasons, is known for having consistently amazing service. One of their tenets is to do whatever you feel is right for the customer. They trust their employees to make their own decisions about what could help a customer or make them feel better and this is key in their consistently high standards of service. When people feel trusted, they will feel empowered to make decisions that benefit your company and customers. If they feel they will be chastised for making a mistake, they will never take even the smallest risk, which will only cause harm for your company. Trust your employees and reap the rewards.

Treat Everyone Fairly.

People aren’t stupid. If you treat one group of people differently to the rest, they will notice. At one company I worked for, there was a health insurance benefit for all the departments, except the IT team. Once the IT team found out, they were understandably livid. They felt cheated. This was eventually overturned and the IT team felt better because they were now being treated as equal to other departments. Not everyone took the health insurance, but the fair treatment improved morale. Treat all your employees fairly or risk losing good people.

Watch the videos yourself, let me know your favourite parts below.

A Summary Of To “Sell Is Human – Daniel H. Pink”

When you think of a salesperson, what comes to mind? List the first three words you would use to describe a salesperson, are any of them positive? The main idea Dan Pink is trying to promote in this book, is that sales does not only not deserve its bad reputation (anymore) but is actually an incredibly useful skill that all of us can learn to become more successful.

We Are All Salespeople

Pink quotes a survey that says most workers in the west actually spend as much as 40% of their time in what he calls “non-sales selling”: persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve them making a purchase. The same survey also found that many businesses and successful people consider these soft skills to be essential to their success and provide much greater returns than the effort they put in.

The survey found that 1 in 9 people are in traditional sales, but the other 8 in 9 spend so much time to non-sales selling or “moving people” as Pink says, that we are all in sales too.

How We All Became Salespeople

What is your job title? How much do you do that specific thing? For example, if you are a software developer, how much time do you spend just coding? If you’re an engineer how much time do you spend just building things? If you’re an accountant, how much time do you spend just doing financial calculations? If you answered above 80% I am willing to bet you work in a large company and be in a highly specialised role.

Larger companies tend to have enough people that they can hire people who each have a narrow specialism, so if Janet the developer can’t manage projects for her clients, that’s fine, Emma the project manager can do that instead. In smaller companies though, each worker tends to be less specialised “designers analyse. Analysts design, marketers create. creators market.” (I changed the spelling of analyse to match UK English). Pink calls the ability to adapt to different roles like this, elasticity. He argues that the job market changes so quickly and so often nowadays that elasticity is becoming a critical skill for people who want career longevity.


What’s Ed-Med? I hear you cry? It’s not a weird spin-off of Ed, Edd and Eddy (90s Cartoon Network anyone?). It refers to Education and Medicine, the two fastest growing industries at the time “To Sell Is Human” came out (2012).

Moving people is a skill that can make a huge difference in any industry, but how could a teacher use sales? They don’t have any products to push, they do have students they need to encourage, though. They need to persuade children to learn now, to improve their prospects in the future. Teachers need to agitate their students.

Agitating students sounds like a bad idea. Why would you purposefully be annoying? Let me explain:

In moving people there’s irritation and there’s agitation.

Irritation – Getting people to do what you want them to do.

Agitation – Getting people to do what they want to do.

So agitation is actually giving people the push or the nudge in the right direction to do what is best for themselves.

There is a good example in the book. Pink meets a nurse, whose patients stick to their treatment plans at a rate significantly higher than the national average. When he interviews her, she tells him that she works out the treatment plan with her patients, by allowing them to be a part of the process. Rather than just telling them what she believes to be right, she gets their buy in, so they feel more compelled to keep up the treatments once they are at home and no longer being watched. Patients want to get better and because this nurse has asked for their opinion and their help to figure out the best plan, the patients feel listened to.

Does Sales Deserve Its Bad Reputation?

Earlier, I asked you what your first thoughts were when you think of a salesperson. Pink created a word cloud of the results he got when asking people the same question, the most common word…Pushy. Difficult, yuck and sleazy also featured heavily among the list. Only 5 of the 25 listed words were positive, including “necessary”, “challenging” and “fun”. Positive words were mentioned much less often than negative words, in general for this survey.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Pink explains how this may have been true in the past because traditionally the salesperson had more information than the buyer. Now that everyone has access to the same information the balance of power has been shifted to be more… balanced. In a world where the buyer and seller have the same information, dishonesty isn’t going to provide any benefit, the buyer will see through it. Instead a salesperson who wants to find the best results for their customer and does everything they can to get their customer the best solution will be most successful, like the nurse earlier. So the most successful sales people today actually work for their customers, not against them.

A New Kind of Sales

Famously, the ABCs of selling in Glengarry Glen Ross were “Always Be Closing”. This high pressure strategy may have worked well when sales was one-sided, the salesperson had all the power and all the knowledge. Now, Pink says the ABCs of selling are :




I’ll explain what each of these terms mean and share my favourite tips from the book.

Attunement – Understand Thy Customer

Attunement is the ability to take the perspective of others. It’s about empathising with the person you wish to move, so that you can understand their needs better and then find the best solutions for them. It is not just about getting some money off them and having no idea if you have helped them at all or worse, knowing you screwed them over.

There are 3 main principles of Attunement:

1) Increase Your Power By Reducing It

When was the last time you felt more powerful than the person sitting across from you? Did you know something, that they didn’t? Did you care more about the outcome for yourself or the other person?

Now imagine a situation where you are the one with less power, such as interviewing for a new job that you really want. You are probably much more conscious of what the other person is thinking, how they may react to your body language, the things you say and what you do. You’re trying to take their perspective. Become more attuned to them.

When we are in a position of lower power than the person we are talking to, it becomes easier to shift our mindset to assume the other person’s perspective and this makes it easier to move that person. So if you are the one with more power, but you want to better understand the other person, try reducing your power. Give them more knowledge or ask them about a topic they are already more knowledgeable than you, so they can feel more powerful. Having a better understanding of the other person gives you more power to move them.

2) Use Your Head as Much as Your Heart

Perspective taking involves thinking (head) and empathy involves feeling (heart). Using a healthy dose of both is much more effective than using one and not the other.

If you can successfully take someone else’s perspective, you have the best chance of ensuring the best outcome for both parties. You can figure out a solution that solves their problem, without giving away too many of your own resources, so both sides leave the table happy.

You also need to understand who has the most influence in a situation. I could spend all day every day proving to someone at the same level as me at my company that I am the greatest employee ever. But, someone at my level doesn’t decide my pay or whether or not I get a promotion, my boss does, if I use my head, I can figure out who best to impress.

3) Mimic Strategically

People tend to like people who they view as being similar to themselves. This goes back to ancient times, when we humans would stick together in small tribes and survival meant everything. If someone was from your tribe, they were likely similar to you and familiar. Someone unfamiliar could be from another tribe, a dangerous tribe. So today we still associate similarity to ourselves as being more trustworthy due to an outdated survival instinct.

That’s where mimicry comes in. You can copy the body language of people you wish to move and even use phrases they use to make yourself seem more like them and therefore more trustworthy. But, if you get caught copying them, you will irritate them and end up alienating that person, rather than convincing them you’re worthy of their trust.

Buoyancy – Just Keep Floating, Just Keep Floating

Sales people get rejected. A lot! Think how many sales calls you reject before even hearing what they have to say. I’m not judging, we get cold calls where I work all the time and I can’t stand it. It just wastes my time and theirs. However, I imagine it’s probably even worse being the cold caller and just getting person after person hanging up on you not wishing to speak to you or even being plain rude and hanging up (I don’t do this, unless dear reader, you are a cold caller, in which case I definitely do this, so don’t cold call me…)

Interrogate Yourself!

Me: Hey You!
Also Me: Who? Me?
Me: Yeah, You! Are you able to finish this blog post?!
Also Me: Yeah, I guess so. I mean I’ve finished blog posts before, so I should be able to do it again.
Me: Good, well done. Keep going.

You just witnessed a conversation between two very charming gentleman. The first character seemed a little aggressive at first and the second, a little timid for my liking. But, look closer, the first character, was actually convincing the second character to convince himself that he was capable of finishing this blog post. Why didn’t the first character just tell the second guy that he was capable? I’ll explain why.

Should You Really Question Yourself?

When you hear a statement, you don’t tend to process it very deeply. You just absorb the information passively. When saying something nice to yourself, you do get a small emotional boost because you have been positive to yourself, but this boost fades fast. For a longer, more effective self-boost, trying questioning yourself. There are 2 reason this works:

1 – When you hear a question, you are being engaged, so you respond to the question, even if it’s in your heads. As a result, you process the information more deeply. Asking yourself if you would succeed, actually prompts you to remember times you have succeeded before. Remember the conversation from earlier? This was me persuading myself I could do finish this blog post, so I felt compelled to carry on. You are reading the result now.

2 – When you ask yourself why you want to do something, you are more likely to think of ways to motivate yourself from within. Take the conversation I had with myself, it will feel good to complete this blog post, so I want to do it. Motivating yourself with inner feelings of goodness is much more effective than with outside rewards (material goods) like gummy bears or a new car or whatever things you like.

3-to-1 On All Positivity!

Moving people can feel like an “endless sea of rejection”, so you may turn to some positivity to make you feel better. Maybe, listing all your good points will help raise your spirits. Actually, no it won’t.

Studies have found that the ideal ratio of positive to negative comments, for keeping your spirits up, is 3 positive comments to every 1 negative comment. The 3-to-1 ratio of positivity to negativity, is best for your wellbeing and for staying resilient. Strangely, studies also found that if you surpass a ratio of 11-to-1 you actually do more harm than good, so be nice to yourself, just not too nice.

Nothing Lasts Forever, Not Even Rejection

I’m not going to pretend that failing at something isn’t a horrible feeling. But, it is a temporary one. If you can learn to see your failures as “temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than universal and external rather than personal” you can become much more resilient. You will can keep going longer and achieve more int he long run, than people who give up. No one wins every time, but it’s the people who get back up and try again that become truly successful. It’s not about blind optimism either, it’s about being to bounce back when you take a hit, its about staying buoyant.

Clarity – I Can Sell Clearly Now The Rain Has Gone

Clarity is being able to help others see their situation objectively and identify problems they weren’t aware they had or weren’t aware could be solved.

Framing It Right

Contrast is key to moving people. If I offered you 10 coins of an unknown currency in exchange for your phone you wouldn’t know if that was a fair deal. But if I offered you 10 pounds for your phone, you would know that’s a bad deal for you because you understand the difference in the value between 10 pounds and your phone. Changing the frame of reference for the person you are trying to move can help you to move them.

The Less Frame

I don’t know about you, but I get choice paralysis for the most minor of things. I will be at a vending machine struggling to decide which sweet is worth my 50p. There are just so many to choose from, what if the skittles aren’t as good as the wine gums?! Instead, if you offer someone fewer choices, they are actually more likely to make a decision and therefore a purchase. It’s easier to choose between two products than forty. So reduce the number choices your customer needs to make to make their decision easier.

The Experience Frame

Think back to the greatest holiday of your life, now think back to the greatest item of clothing you have ever bought, which evokes stronger feelings of joy? Most people get stronger, longer-lasting happiness from experiences than material goods.

You can frame you offer by the experience the customer will get from it, rather than the quality of the product itself. That’s all well and good for people trying to sell holidays, but what to do if you’re selling material goods? Find the experience. Kodak don’t sell cameras, they sell memories. When Apple came out with the iPod, they didn’t sell music players, they sold “1,000 songs in your pocket”.

The Potential Frame

Not all non-sales selling is about you giving to a customer, you may be convincing someone to give to you. Like getting an interviewer to give you a job. When you go to a job interview, if you focus on how much you can grow as much as you focus on your past experience, you actually paint a better picture of yourself. Talk about your potential to grow with in the role as well as your past experience in order to seem like a better candidate for the job.

Pitch, Please!

If you never make your offer, how will anyone get it? Making an offer, is called a “Pitch”. Below are some tips on crafting effective pitches.

The Subject-Line Pitch

When you’re at work, you are busy, you can’t reply to every email. You have things to do and you only want to use your attention on the most useful information brought to you. If this is true for you, it’s going to be true for the people you’re emailing, too. How then, do you get their attention?

Busy people answer useful sounding emails. If you can’t solve a problem at work, the person who solves that problem for you is going to feature pretty heavily in your good books. So, next time you need your boss to reply to your email, try to phrase the headline in a way that sounds most useful to them. Do they need to someone to cover this weekend and you want that overtime pay? Put “I can work this weekend” as your subject-line. Subject-lines are the email equivalents of headlines, they’re all you’ve got to grab the reader’s attention, make them count.

The Specific Ocean

Specificity is key in getting people’s attention. If you read the headline “How To Write Better Pitches”, that could be any number of tips, to anyone for any situation. Therefore, you don’t know if it will directly apply to you, so you don’t care that much. Instead the headline “5 Ways To Pitch Your Promotion To Your Boss, Today”, you now know there are 5 tips, for employees who want a raise and want it today. If those details apply to you, you’re much more likely to read the second post than the first one. When you try to get everyone, you get no one. Better to grab the attention of people who can benefit from your offer.

The One-Word Pitch

The world moves fast, attention moves faster. I don’t have long to draw you in. I need to get my message across, fast. Imagine I could get you to think of my brand every time you hear just one word. Seems impossible right? Lets try it with some other brands.



Did you think of Google, then Mastercard? If you can get to people in one word, then you have their attention in the shortest time possible. So figure out a way to associate one word with your brand and your brand with one word, to people’s attention instantly.

Tom Cruise And The Dalai Lama Are At A Starbucks…

THE classic improv scene. It turns out, improvisation is incredibly useful in moving people. You can’t prepare for every possible outcome, so being able to think on your feet becomes useful. There are 3 rules of improvisation that make it work.

1) Hear Offers

To really be able to move people, you should be able to really listen to them. Sales isn’t about being able to talk anyone into doing anything you want them to do. It’s about understanding their needs, so you know how you can help them. You have the best chance of understanding if you learn to listen well, with no agenda.

Even phrases that seem like objections can be offers if you learn to listen for them. “I couldn’t possibly pay £100” is the same as saying, I will pay, if you lower the offer. “I can’t make Wednesday”, what about Tuesday? It gets easy to hear offers, once you start listening.

2) Say “yes, and”

You’re trying to get your friends to all go on holiday. Tabitha keeps coming up with excuses. Tabitha is bad at improvisation and doesn’t help solve the problem. Here are Tabitha’s Yes, buts

“Yes, but we can’t afford it”
“Yes, but we can’t make the time”
“Yes, but we will never find a room for all of us”
“Yes, but” just leads to a never ending cycle of excuses where you never make progress.

Instead, try “yes, and”. This leads to positivity and progress towards solving the problem.

“Yes, it is expensive, and we can book ahead to make it cheaper”
“Yes, it’s a lot of time, and if we plan ahead, we can make it work”
“Yes, there are a lot of us, and there is a hotel with enough rooms for all us on this website here…”

Much better to say “yes, and”, right?

3) Make Your Partner Look Good

Negotiation isn’t a zero-sum game. If the other side wins, that doesn’t mean you lose, this isn’t football. In negotiations there can be win-win situations. You can find the best solution for your customer and get a rewards for your offer. Just like in improv scenes, where if you and your partner have a good scene, you both look good, win-win.

If you make your customer look good, they are more likely to feel good and depending on the industry they will become a repeat customer or be more likely to spread good word of mouth about you, so you get more customers, win-win. See the pattern?

Salesman, At Your Service

As a salesperson, you have the opportunity to improve the lives of others. You can solve problems and create joy. The two rules of service are:

  1. Make it personal
  2. Make it purposeful

Make It Personal

A study found that when radiologists were given scans to look at with photos of their patients attached, so they were looking at the person they were helping at the same time as seeing an abstract scan that could be doesn’t evoke any feeling, they were 80% more likely to spot issues not related to the original reason for their hospital visit. This means they were 80% more likely find a cyst when looking at a broken arm, that they wouldn’t have spotted otherwise, and end up saving a life or sparing someone some pain.

To personalise yourself to your customers you could add a picture of yourself to your website, you could write a bio about your story. Now you’re no longer just some faceless business, you’re a human, trying to help. Are you more likely to buy a pie from PieMart inc. or from aunt Deirdre who’s passion for baking pies lead her to quit her job, start up a bakery and make each and every pie with the same love and devotion she gives to the pies she bakes for her nieces and nephews.

Make It Purposeful

In a call centre where the staff were cold calling people to try and raise money for scholarships and other funds for university students, some employees were offered the opportunity to meet some of the scholarship students their calls had brought in donations for. When they heard about how the money they brought in had made university affordable for these students and allowed them to get an education they other wise couldn’t afford, the callers realised why they were doing their job. This resulted in a dramatic increase of donations made as the callers were dialling more and feeling more impassioned in their pitches, now they knew what a difference their job made.

Think about how you will improve the life your customers and you will feel much better than thinking about how much money you will make from the transaction. You will find it more motivating and more fulfilling than trying to make some money.

If you have a recommendation for my next read or have comments about this book summary, please let me know in the comments below.

How To Improve Your Performance At Work In Just 10 Minutes A Day

If like me, your job comes under the umbrella of knowledge work (typically an office job when your knowledge is what contributes most to your job such as procurement, admin or accounting) then it can be difficult to objectively measure your performance from day to day. You could even go months or years and not have a real understanding of how or if your performance has improved.

It turns out, there is a solution that takes just 10 minutes a day, a Work Journal. I’m not talking about “dear diary, today at work I blah blah blah…”, I mean spending 10 minutes at the end of the day, reflecting on what went well and what did not go well that day and how you could possibly make improvements. There are several benefits that come from keeping a Work Journal.

You Will Learn More About Yourself

If you build a habit of taking notes what you did well and what you did not so well, you will start to see common themes in your journal. These themes can then be categorised into strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes.

If you focus on your strengths and do less of the things you are weak at, you will start to see your general performance at work increase. By figuring out what you like and dislike doing, you can let your boss know what kinds of projects you enjoy and hopefully they will let you do more of the work you like, so your work itself will be more enjoyable. If you tell your boss that you dislike keeping track of what work you need to bill for or how many hours you worked, they will probably tell you to piss off. No job seems to be free of admin. Maybe instead, you can say “I really enjoyed getting stuck into that problem the other day, I’d like more complicated projects like that”. Sounds much more proactive than whining about admin.

You Will Become More Patient

Learning happens gradually, but it builds. It’s is like compound interest, it keeps building at a faster rate, the more you do it, so it’s a great investment of your time. If you progress just a tiny bit each day, when you look back a year from now, you will see a dramatic increase where all those tiny improvements from each day have added up. This will inspire you to keep learning more, so you get even better. It’s a cycle of improvement.

You Will Learn To Plan better

If you start the journal today, then check your progress tomorrow, you will likely see no result. But, if you are keeping tabs on yourself each day for a few months or years, you can look back over your notes and see progress. You will be able to predict problems that used to seem random. As you look back over your journal entries, you will see that for example the phones go crazy at the same time everyday, so you can make sure to have a clear schedule and be ready for the ensuing chaos. Being prepared for a problem will make it so much easier to handle.

You Will See Personal Growth

Memory is imperfect and completely subjective. Things recorded in ink (or pixels) will stay the same forever. Having this objective record makes observing your patterns of growth that much easier. You will be able to read old journal entries and see how you overcame issues, you will see tasks you used to dread that you now handle with ease. Being able to re-read your own thoughts and feelings from the past will allow you to see how far you have come since then.

If you know of any more benefits of keeping a work journal, please let me know in the comments below.