A few years ago, I went to visit my sister on the Caribbean island of Grenada and she took me to the local market to buy some hot sauce. As we were walking around, she told me about a young boy at the market who was legendary for selling more than any of the other boys.
“How?” I asked.
It turned out he always carried a notebook with him. Every day, he would systematically vary his clothes, what he said when he approached potential buyers, how much he would laugh, if he would dance, and many more variables. Then he would write down the results in his notebook, every single day.
Imagine a notebook like this:
Attention statistical nerds: Yes you need to control for different variables.
After dozens of interactions, he would know key insights that the other boys — who simply depended on intuition — would not.
After hundreds of interactions, he would have such a fine-tuned approach that his sales would be permanently above everyone else.
This is precisely what happened. And the boy? He was apparently 10 or 11 years old.
This happens all over the world. Here’s a boy from India who knows precisely what works.
How can you apply this to your life?
I have used testing to test responses in bars, write a comedy column for the Stanford Daily, and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars (including one 60-second test that permanently added $25,000 per year to my bottom line).
Today, learn how the simple act testing can change your life.
* * *
Testing in bars
I have tested dozens of answers in bars and dinner parties that consistently produce fascinating results.
Bars are target-rich environments with predictably arousing end results.
Others pursue women. I pursue test results.
TEST: The “What do you do?” test.
Question: “What do you do?”
Ramit Answer 1: “I’m a writer.”
Response: Interest level: 2/5. They’ll say, “Oh that’s cool…I have a friend who’s a writer…he’s trying to publish his book on using cucumbers to generate sustainable energy for –” NO YOUR FRIEND IS NOT A WRITER, HE’S A LOSER
Ramit Answer 2: “I’m an author.”
Response: Interest level: 4/5. “Really? So what did you write?”
BONUS: “What do you write about?” = opportunity for hilarious testing.
TEST: The Office Test:
Question: “Oh, so do you have an office?”
Ramit Answer 1: “No, I work from home” results in a 90%-95% “Scorn Score,” (e.g., “Oh…” or “Ah…how is that?” followed by a semi-frown).
Ramit Answer 2: “No, I work from a home office.” In this condition, the Scorn Score drops to approximately 50%. Common answer: “Wow, I wish I could do that.”
One word changes everything.
You’re asked the same questions hundreds or thousands of times in your lifetimes — “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” “Where do you live?” “What do you like to do in your free time?” — yet how many of us ever take the time to systematically test them?
Have you ever tested your responses?
Interesting test results
Anyone remember listening to Loveline years ago with Dr. Drew and Adam Carolla? They had the uncanny ability to listen to a caller for about 10 seconds, then instantly detect if they had been abused or had some disorder. After years of micro-testing, they just knew.
Well, after years of writing a blog, I am proud to announce that I can tell by someone’s comment if they are a loser or not.
You can especially see this on “social media marketing” websites, where clueless small-business owners are looking for a magic bullet (social media!) to save their floundering businesses. They truly believe that if they JUST crack the code of using Facebook and Twitter, they’ll make instant riches. So when the blogger shows them a new INSTANT TACTIC FOR SOCIAL MEDIA SUCCESS, the comments go like this:
- “Amazing! You have definitely opened my eyes. Thanks!”
- “I am definitely going to try this. You are amazing!”
- “[Blogger], thank you. I have been struggling but you put a whole new light on how to achieve real lasting success.”
NONE OF THESE PEOPLE WILL EVER DO ANYTHING.
And that is because micro-words betray us. When people say they “should” do something, they won’t. Taking action speaks for itself.
Let me show you by comparing two comments I received last week.
Pramit (yes that is really his name) wrote:
“I’ll be honest. For some odd reason, just typing out my week 1 results made me feel “accomplished”, so much so that I felt comfortable not actually following through on what I said I’d do. And, as much as I hate to say it, I was running 80% for the iPad rather than to improve myself in some way. Now that the first week’s contest is over, a part of me is saying, “screw it, you’re still too young for this stuff, just go back to normal and watch more TV”. Then I feel guilt wash over me – “god damn it – Ramit has been hustling since friggin high school! If I can’t reproduce that kind of effort, I’m lacking in some major way!” I’m guessing this is the stage when a good amount of people turn into haters, but I don’t plan to. I know that if I were Ramit, I’d step back, think about what I’m really getting at, and try out the next few weeks, with or without posting my results.
Anyone else feel the same?”
I love the brutal honesty. The mere fact that Pramit is so self-reflective, and that he took the time to leave a comment like this, is a positive sign. But the fact remains that he didn’t follow through on what he pledged.
You can talk a big game, but if your action doesn’t follow, nothing else matters.
Now compare this to Tracey, who left a comment on the very same post as the above commenter.
“I’ve been reading Ramit on and off for years and never implemented any of his strategies. I rationalized that I was a perpetual loser, and that these were all great things for someone really together and talented to do. As a consequence, I’ve struggled as the low employee on the totem pole with the lowest salary, most hours, and least fringe benefits.
I’ve been saying for the past year that I needed to find another job. But I never bothered looking very hard because the whole idea of looking for work in this economy depressed me. I realized that I was making a lot of negative assumptions.
I didn’t post my assumptions, because I wasn’t sure I could stick to testing them or that I’d fail – that self esteem thing again. But thanks to Ramit I started doing things differently. I created a resume that didn’t just focus on my strengths, it yodeled that I was a super-awesome employee. I did this by having a positive coworker who really has her shit together look over my resume and cover letter and suggest adding some obvious stuff about my capabilities that I never even thought of mentioning. And then I went the extra mile on a job I had applied for weeks ago…
11 days later they offered me the job – 5K more a year than I make now, 30 minutes closer to home, and a benefit package that blows the shitty one I’ve had completely out of the water.”
Tracey had a terrible job and crippling beliefs. Like Pramit, the above commenter, she was self-reflective enough to notice them.
But unlike Pramit, she took action.
Who is more likely to succeed over the long term? Who already succeeded with a $5,000-a-year salary increase?
How do you take action?
I’ve received and responded to thousands of emails this month from IWT readers. The patterns emerging are:
- Many of us are in our late 20s and early 30s and wondering, “Is this it? I’ve been working for 5+ years out of college, and I just feel stuck at this job. Is this really all I have to look forward to? Cost-of-living increases, the same co-workers, a job that’s not particularly challenging/meaningful…really?”
- Many of us have HUGE problems with motivation and following through. We “know” we should do things like networking, working out at the gym, and our personal finances, but we just don’t. Many of you even bought my book (which you can completely finish in 6 weeks) but still haven’t done anything!
- We’re not stupid. We see our friends who are our age — or a few years older — and want to make sure we don’t fall into the same patterns of buying an expensive house, then getting tied down “living to work” so that we HAVE to go to work to pay for all this stuff we’ve acquired. We “claim” we want to do extraordinary things but our actions usually don’t reflect it.
With that said, a defining characteristic of the emails I receive is that most people are really smart. You are already on-board with self-development and improving yourself, so that’s one huge bridge that’s already been crossed. It’s a matter of offering both TACTICAL suggestions, but also of changing your attitudes and worldviews to show you that there’s a game going on around you that you don’t even know about.
But so many of us are stuck on getting started, rather than adopting a “let’s-test-this” mindset. For example, how many bloggers think they need to create the perfect blog design before getting started? My blog was a piece of crap for YEARS until I got a professional design…but my articles were really good.
Many of us think we need to create a “perfect plan” before we start looking for a new job, or earning money on the side, or even deciding where to travel. The truth, of course, is we can test all of these things.
Uncomfortable psychological truths
I was talking to a friend who was sharing his goals for the next 2 years. He had several grandiose ideas and he asked — PRESSED — me to share my honest feedback. For once in my life, I tried to show restraint…but finally, after being badgered, I told him what I really thought.
“Honestly dude,” I said, “the best predictor of your future action is your past action. And if you’re honest, you haven’t done much in the last 1 or even 2 years. It’s fun to make goals but what are you really going to do?”
People don’t like hearing this because it cuts right through all the fancy ideas that are so fun to write down during a brainstorm and forces you to confront yourself. Indeed, when confronted with our own behavior from the last year, we usually have no answer for the question, “Why will this year be any different?”
The common response to this is, “You’re saying the book is already written! I refuse to believe that!” (Or worse, “Yeah…I guess…”)
I’m not saying the book is already written. But the odds certainly do say that you’ll more likely do the same thing as last year than have a radical change. And if I have two people in front of me — one who’s consistently taken risks and taken action, the other who grandiose notions of what he wants to accomplish this year but hasn’t done anything — who do you think I’ll bet on?
This is a key difference for top performers, who are constantly testing approaches, whether in business or even their personal lives (e.g., always meeting new people, challenging their own assumptions, etc). They’ll fail more…but they’ll also learn with each strategic failure.
There are ways to shortcut our natural tendency not to test, and to beat the odds:
- Do something different THIS WEEK. Last week, I challenged people to automate their positive scripts and leave a comment saying “WEEK 1 RESULTS.” Over 90% of people simply wrote down their PLANS instead of actual behavioral change. I have a specific to-do at the bottom of this post.
- Acknowledge that “knowing” something is not enough. Last year, you “knew” you had to max out your Roth IRA, or automate your finances, or earn more, or work out, or whatever. Knowledge itself rarely leads to behavioral change.
- Chunk it: One of the leading causes of doing nothing is not knowing what you need to do. If you’re inspired after reading these posts, but it fades away 2 hours after lunch, you might just be guilty of “I want to do something — ANYTHING! — but I’m not sure what.” The key here is to email 5 people every week who are doing something interesting that you admire and take them to lunch.
- Test it. Instead of assuming you need to spend months agonizing over the perfect phrase to get a meeting with someone, pick 10 lower-level people and simply test responses. Find the best response, then use it (with personalization) with your top target. And always have more than one target.
Or you could do the same thing you did last year. See if these sound familiar:
- “Yeah…I really should do something…I’m just not sure what” (Whose fault is that? If you continue doing what you’re doing, will you ever figure it out? You don’t need to know what your life goal is today, but you should be taking systematic steps towards finding out)
- “I should really talk to [friend’s name]” (“Should” and “really” are codewords for “I’m not going to do it.” If you really want to talk to him, email him and ask if you can take him out to coffee right now. Otherwise, stop fooling yourself that you’re going to do it)
- “I’m going to try to –”
TO DO THIS WEEK
- Identify THREE people that could help you get closer to your goals this year. Maybe it’s an alumni from your school who works at your dream job, or someone who’s started an interesting business.
- Find a creative way to meet with at least one BEFORE WED NIGHT (e.g., take them to coffee/lunch).
- Leave your results from the meeting along with ONE specific thing you learned in the comments section of THIS post with the heading “WEEK 2 RESULTS” by WED at Midnight PST.
Bonus points to anyone who uses testing to optimize their experience.
The person who gets the best results can choose between…
1) $250 to take people to coffee to help accelerate you towards your goals in 2011
2) A 15-minute call with me to discuss psychology, personal finance, or earning more