Welcome back from the Thanksgiving holiday. Who had a great Thanksgiving dinner? Who wished you didn’t eat all those extra calories?

Have you ever wondered why sometimes we overeat without even realizing it?

I’m going to summarize the latest food research for you so that you know the reasons behind our mindless eating.

Before we delve into the theories, here are some tips for reducing your food consumption mindlessly during the holidays or anytime of the year.
• Store tempting foods in less-convenient locations
• Learn to eat with chopsticks
• When eating with others, decide how much to eat prior to the meal instead of during it
• At buffets type holiday dinner, avoid having more than two different foods on the plate at the same time
• Use tall and slender glasses, smaller bowls and plates

Here are the researches behind these techniques. First, let’s go through some terminology. Consumption means how much food you eat.

When you eat, there are two types of external factors that affect how much you eat. The eating environment, which are the ambient factors associated with the eating of food, but are independent of food, such as lighting, social interactions that occur, or distractions. In contrast, food environment refers to factors that directly related to the way food is provided or presented, such as its visibility, structure, package or portion size and how it’s served. Both environments contribute directly to consumption volume; they can also contribute indirectly by suggesting consumption norms and inhibiting consumption monitoring.

I’ll speak to two types of eating environment factors affecting consumption. Remember, these are ambient factors independent of food.

One is that increased eating effort decreases consumption. Effort is related to the ease, access, or convenience with which a food can be consumed. It is one of the strongest influences on consumption. In a study of nonobese secretaries who were given Hershey’s kisses either on their desks or two meters away from their desk. When the candies were placed on their desks, secretaries ate 5.6 more chocolates a day than when they had to stand up and walk two meters for them.

Another investigation found that obese subjects were more likely to use silverware than chopsticks when compared to normal-weight patrons in Chinese restaurants. Of course, eating with chopsticks takes more effort.

The reason for this effect is that increased effort allows one to pause and reconsider whether he or she wants to eat more.
That’s why storing tempting foods in less-convenient locations and learning to eat with chopsticks can help you mindlessly eat less.

Another eating environment factor is socializing while eating, meaning eating with others. It’s well established that the presence of other people influences not only what is eaten, but it can also increase how much is eaten.

A study has shown that meals eaten with one other person were 33% larger than those eaten alone, and consumption increases of 47%, 58%, 69%, 70%, 72%, and 96% have been respectively associated with meals eaten with two, three, four, five, six, and seven or more people. Eating 96% more when you are eating with seven or more people, think about that.

The reasons are that eating with familiar people can lead to an extended meal. In other cases, simply observing another’s eating behavior—such as a role model, parent, friend, or even stranger —can provide a consumption norm that can also influence how much one eats. It also distracts one from monitoring how much food has been consumed already.

So when eating with others, decide how much to eat before the meal instead of during it. For example, you can set aside half the main dish and ask the waiter to pack it to go even before you start eating.

Now let’s move on to factors relating to food environment. Remember, these are factors directly related to the way food is provided or presented.

The first factor is that structure and perceived variety can drive consumption. And it’s true across a wide range of ages and for both genders. A study has shown that if consumers are offered an assortment with three different flavors of yogurt, they are likely to consume an average of 23% more yogurt than if offered only one flavor.

In another study people were given an assortment of 300 M&M candies that were presented in either seven or ten different colors. Although the taste of each color was identical, those who had been given a bowl with ten colors ate 43% more (91 versus 64 candies) over the course of an hour than those who had been given seven colors.

One reason this occurs is that increases in perceived variety make a person believe he or she will enjoy the assortment more. A second reason is that increasing the perceived variety can concurrently suggest an consumption norm in a particular situation.
So at a buffets type holiday dinner, avoid having more than two different foods on the plate at the same time.

The second food environment factor is serving containers that are wide or large create consumption illusions. More than 71% of a person’s caloric intake is consumed using serving aids such as bowls, plates, glasses, or utensils A study was conducted with teenagers at weight-loss camps showed teenagers to pour and drink 88% more juice or soda into short, wide glasses than into tall, slender glasses that held the same volume. These teenagers believed, however, they poured half as much as they actually did. This study has subsequently been repeated with nondieting adults with similar result. The reason is when people estimate how much soda or juice they have poured into a glass, there is a tendency to focus on the height of the liquid that has been poured and to downplay its width.

A study at an ice cream social demonstrated that people who were randomly given 24- or 16-ounce bowls dished out and consumed an average of 31% more ice cream when given the larger bowls.

The reason is there is a basic human tendency to use the size of plates, bowls, and spoons as an indication of how much should be served and consumed.

So this holiday, put away you large bowls and plates, and your short and wide glasses. Replace them with moderately sized bowls and plates, and tall and slender glasses.

The holiday eating environment directly encourages overconsumption because it involves parties (long eating durations), convenient leftovers (low eating effort), friends and relatives (eating with others), and a multitude of distractions. At the same time the food environment—the visibility, structure, size, shape, and stockpiles of food—also facilitates overconsumption.
By applying the findings of the latest research I’ve just presented, you will be able to develop an eating and food environment that reduces food consumption for all involved yet are effortless for the participants.

Your guests will thank you when they reflect on the fact that they enjoyed your Christmas dinner and yet didn’t overeat.
Happy holidays and enjoy the potluck.

Brian Wansink

Lauren had her first stomach flu over the Memorial Day Weekend.

It was started on Friday right before Memorial Day.

I took her to the doctors on Friday afternoon to see if she has pin worms. On the way to her doctors, which is only 5 minutes away from her daycare, she threw up all over. It was gushing out of her, and completely soiled the car seat. It look me 10 minutes to clean everything up in the parking lot, just enough so that the car won’t smell like vomit after the doctors’ visit.

At the doctors, she seemed her happy self. The doctor told me that she did not have pin worms, which was the good news. I also asked about her vomiting, and the doc said it may be because her nose was congested, and that her throat is a little red.

So I thought ok. Last time she had a stomach upset, I gave her some yogurt and water, which helped a great deal. So the first thing I did after I got home was to giver her some water and yogurt. Well, she was eager enough to eat the yogurt, but not 5 minutes after, she threw up again, and all the yogurt and water came with it.

It took me another 10 minutes to clean everything up. She then started throwing up every 10 minutes or so. Couple of hours into it, she was only vomit clear stomach fluid. I called her doctor, and was told not to give her anything until 2 hours after her last vomiting session. Which never came through the night. She was throwing up all over her bed, and we changed the bed cloth 10 times throughout the night. We started giving her Gatorade per the doctor’s instruction every hour, not more than 1.5 oz. She was begging for it, and it was very difficult to say no to her. Well, she actually vomited most of the Gatorade we gave her. I was getting worried, so I brought her to the doctors on Saturday morning. The doctor was worried about dehydration, and told us to give her two teaspoons of Emetol® in half an hour interval. The first time I gave her the Emetol®, she vomited it all out again, but the third and fourth time seemed to stick. She stopped vomiting at about 2pm. She then began to take in more Gatorade, and was gaining back some of the water she lost during the previous night.

We all thought the worst is over, and didn’t realize it’s only the beginning. She had a regular bowl movement the night before, and didn’t have any diarrhea Friday night or Saturday morning. I was remarking to my wife that we are so fortunate that she didn’t have diarrhea at the same time. Our luck ran out on Saturday afternoon though. Lauren started having watery stool starting at 4pm, and it was quite explosive. Every time she had a watering bowl movement after that, we had to change all her cloth because excrement would soil all the way through. We finally decided to use the large absorbent pad her mom uses for her period in combination with size 5 diapers, which helped a little. I spent quite a few hours on Saturday cleaning up excrement in her bathroom.

Lauren was very lethargic throughout the process, her usual playfulness was gone, replaced by her constant need to sleep and rest. The diarrhea stopped after about 12 hours, which is a long time as far as I’m concerned.

Thankfully, both my wife and I had Monday off because of Memorial Day, and we were able to introduce some solid food to Lauren on Monday. Her appetite gradually picked up, and by Thursday, she’s her usual self again. However, she had not made up for all the weight she lost during the stomach flu episode, and we are still trying to get her back to her normal weight.

Lauren’s maternal grandfather, who’s helping us taking care of her, also caught the stomach flu from her. He had the exact symptoms. We were able to shorten his diarrhea by giving him active charcoal to help with it, and encouraged him to eat a large amount of yogurt. It seemed to work for him, and his ordeal only lasted 3 days.

I’ve learned couple of things during the ordeals.

  • Always have Gatorade in the house just in case someone gets diarrhea.
  • Don’t rush to give liquid or food to someone with stomach flu until couple of hours after their last vomiting session, you’ll only make it worse if you rush it.
  • Let the child sleep as much as needed during the episode, that’s how the body can fight off the stomach flu.
  • This shall pass :)

I want to thank all my friends who prayed for us during this, and for supporting us through this. As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I sincerely hope it’s the case for Lauren.

Until next time, be safe.

Only recently I’ve noticed how fast Lauren has grown.

The other day I was carrying her from the parking lot to her day care, and since I was parked a bit far down the road, it was a 30 yard trip. I was also carrying her lunch bag on my left hand, and some cloth.

After I dropped off, I suddenly found that the left-side of my back hurt a little. I was wondering why, and finally figured out, Lauren is gaining weight fast!

That’s actually not a surprise. Her appetite is really big now-a-days, not that I’m complaining. She ate twice as much as when she’s first back to the US, and all that food shows up. You know what they say, “you are what you eat”. I buy a lot of organic food for her: her bread, jelly, milk, breakfast cereal, even the chicken are all organic. They are a bit more pricey than the non-organic ones, but I thought they may be worth the money in the long run.

I also noticed her smiling a lot more nowadays, as a matter of fact, she’s giddy most of the time, and I don’t know where that came from.

She’s also babbling quite a bit. There was a time when I worried that she would never learn to speak, but now I’m having trouble get her to shut-up when she’s in bed. She also looks like a big girl now, as you can see from the attached photos.

She had a good spell of couple of weeks without getting sick, but she’s caught a cold again. Please keep us in your prayers.

Hello all.

It’s been awhile since I wrote any blog entries.

I brought Lauren back from China back in December of 2007. Since then, she has started attending a day care, my mother in law came to the US to help take care of her, and Lauren’s been sick for a long time.

Since she’s back, I brought her to her doctors 8 times, for everything ranging from cold, mid-ear infection, strep throat to the fifth-disease. She seems to catch everything from everybody in her day care.

Thank goodness, she’s in a good spell now, have just recovered from her last cold.

Anyway, I’ll be blogging a lot more about Lauren in the coming days.

Here is the most recent picture of her, enjoy:

How to fail at practically anything

My favorite management author John Maxwell once wrote: “The major difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.”

Being human, we naturally avoid failures. We want to do the best work we can, present ourselves in the best light.

Here at [our company], our success is much celebrated, and is even measured and compared with people of similar pay grade. At home, we want to give our kids the sense of security from knowing that their parents are successful people. When I look around the room, I see a lot of successful people. So why am I talking about failure instead of success?

Let me ask you this. How do you normally deal with failure? Do you sometimes shy away from opportunites that you know will be pushing the limit of your abilities. Do you blame circumstances and others when the responsbility rest squarely on your shoulders? I used to do both, and I got no where, only regret and bitterness. Obviously. These are not constructive ways of dealing with failures.

Let’s take a look at this poster. Guess who this person is.
“Lost job at age 23.
Defeated for state legislature at 23.
Failed in business at 24.
Sweetheart died at 26.
Had nervous breakdown at 27.
Defeated for Speaker at 29.
Defeated for nomination for Congress at 34.
Lost renomination to congress at 39.
Rejected for land officer at 40.
Defeated for U.S. Senate at 45.
Defeated for nomination for Vice President at 47.
Again defeated for U.S. Senate at 49.

Yes, it’s Abraham Lincoln. Despite the repeated failures he experienced in life, he went on to become the president of the United States, and is considered one of very top US presidents.

Here are the right ways to handle failure as demonstrated by Lincoln.

First, get into the mindset to look at failure as learning opportunities. The only real failure is failing to learn from failure. I enjoy Indian food, as I find it very flavorful and exotic. One time my wife and I was eating at this Indian restaurant in Hayward, and we orderd the dish Bangain Bharta. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to learn to cook it myself. I found a few recipes from the internet, bought a few spices from an Indian grocery store. You can enjoy the 5th iteration of my Baingan Bharta over there. It’s not perfect, but that is not my aim. Let me tell you, you don’t want to taste my first try, after a tentative spoon, my wife simply refuse to eat any more of it, and had to eat it over a week’s time because it was just aweful. How do I improve on it? I kept at it, bringing it to potlucks like this one, and surveying the participants what they liked and what they didn’t like about the dish and adjusted the ingredients and recipe accordingly. Little by little, more and more people started enjoying it, and my wife doesn’t even mind taking a few bites now. Those of you who regularly eat Indian food, please provide me with some feedback on the dish along with your comments on my speech.

Second, fail with class. Cut your losses if there is nothing you can do to salvage the situation. Don’t sink good money after bad. Don’t blame others, always take reponsibility. Act if you are setting an example for your kids, act the way you want them to act when facing failures and setbacks, and it will make you both better persons.

Thirdly, never give up. Have you watched a child learning to walk? My daughter is approaching two, and let me describe to you the process. This happens over the span of a few weeks. Watching the world go by around her, my daughter decided to catch up to it by walking. She hold on to a coffee table, with both arms tightly around it, then she put out her left chubby foot, and started to shift her weight to that foot. Well, her muscle is not yet strong enough, and she falls flat on her face. Of course, I rush over and comfort her. Does she sit in a corner and lament that she’s a failure as far as walking is concerned? No way, in 10 minutes, she’s back on her feet again, both hands on the trusted coffee-table. With the chubby feet go out, and BAM, she falls down again, this time on her rear end. She noticed that it didn’t hurt as much as falling on her face. In the next days, she tries again, and again, and again. Until she can master the muscle movement to coordinate the complex pattern of walking. Then she starts running, and somehow she manages to outrun me occasionally. Can you image a child who would simply give up along the way, and say to herself, “maybe walking is not for me”. But as adult, we do that to ourselves all the time, we give up way to easily. What would happen if Thomas Edison stopped at lightbulb prototype 1,700, he would’ve never invented the lighbulb as we know it today.

Lastly, be a man of action, actively pursue your goals keeping in mind you’ll hit a few bumps and detours along the way. Know a smooth sea never make a skillful sailor. When looking back in your life, you’ll regret thing you have not done for the fear of failure. If you don’t succeed initially, try and try again. Knowing that if you learn from my failures and move closer to your goals inch by inch, you’ll eventually get there.

Let me quote Theodore Roosevelt.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Know you are destined for greatness, and learning from failures along the way will only get you there sooner.

The way you praise your kids may prevent them from becoming successful.

My daughter is about 2 years old. Being a first time parent, I sought help from many different places, my friends who have kids, my parents, my pastor from Church and a lot of books. The most eye-opening book I read was Professor Carol Dweck’s “Mindset: the new psychology of success”

How many of you have kids? How many of you routinely praise your kids? What do you say to them? You are not alone. According to survey, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they are smart.

It’s actually counter-productive to praise your kid’s intelligence. For instance, saying, “oh, Lauren, you finished your homework so fast, you are so smart” will actually hurt her chance of being successful.

The problem lies in the praise itself.

A praise is considered a positive enforcer in behavioral psychology. A reinforcer basically means it increases the future occurrence of the behavior being reinforced. However, a praise on your kid’s intelligence or good looks does not increased desired behavior because these are fixed traits that they can’t change.

Even worse. Carol Dweck conducted an experiment where two groups of students were given a series of easy puzzles to solve. Both groups did well. They were praised either for their intelligence, or for their effort. Then they were given a choice. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researcher told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, the researcher explained,, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90% chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test.

The problem lies in their mindset. Kids praised for their intelligence needs to maintain that image, and we all know, people with real talent do not need to put in effort to achieve results. This is what psychologies call fixed mindset, also known as entity theory.

On the contrary, kids praised for their effort put even more effort into it next time around. They are not easily discouraged, because failure just means they need to try harder. They possess what psychologies call growth mindset, also known as incremental theory.

So how do you praise your kids?

There are critical dimensions of praise done right.

First, put your kids in the growth mindset. Tell them that the proven facts that the mind is like a muscle which grows with usage, and so is intelligence. Your kids shouldn’t think their natural abilities are enough to make them successful.

Secondly, praise the effort not traits such as intelligence or physical abilities. Emphasizing on effort gives a child a variable they can control. They comet o see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.

Thirdly, use intermittent reinforcement. Stop showering your kids with praises. Studies have shown praising your kids is like adding sugar when baking a cake, too much sugar will make your kids to expect it every time, and they’ll stop eating cakes when not presented with an overly sweet one.

And lastly, be specific and sincere in your praise. Kids below the age of 7 readily accept praises at face value. However, older kids can smell an insincere praise from miles away. You also need to be specific, ask yourself, do I want the praised behavior to occur more frequently in the future? Also give the reason behind your praise.

I can tell you right now this is hard work. But imagine the day when your sons and daughters leave home to establish a family and a life of their own. And you know deep in your heart they have the persistence and the courage to face whatever challenges lie ahead, and they won’t give up easily.

And know that it’s you who has helped them to become who they are. You have indeed brought out the best in your kids.

Toastmaster speech 7 – The Art and Science of Influence Part 3

This is my third speech on the art and science of influence.

The third rule of influence is called “social proof”. We determine what is correct by find out what other people think is correct.

Have you ever wondered why there is laugh tracks during sitcoms? Who finds them annoying? Have you ever wondered the reason behind them? Well, the reason is, they work very well.

We loosen our guard when watching TV, where the canned laughter simply triggers in us the desire to follow the herd, and laugh ourselves.

There are two conditions where social proof works the best.

The first condition is uncertainty. We look for other’s actions to follow when we are uncertain, which is well demonstrated in the following story.

It’s the story of Catherine Genovese. She lived in Queens in New York City. She was killed in a late-night attack on her street as she returned from work on March 13th 1964 starting at 3:15am and ending with her death at 3:50am.

Her assailant had chased and attacked her in the street three times over a period of 35 minutes before he finally killed her. 38 of her neighbors watched from the safety of their apartment windows with no one calling the police.

New York Times published a front page story on March 27th by Martin Gansberg, two weeks after the murder with the headline “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police”. People were outraged. How could 38 “good people” fail to act? When interviewed, these witnesses simply responded with “I don’t know, I just don’t know”.

The prevailing theory at the time was people simply don’t care, that Americans were becoming a nation of selfish, insensitive people.

Two New York based psychologist, Bibb Latane and John Darley had another theory, they hypothesized the reason for the inaction was precisely because 38 people witnessed the event. It’s significant in two ways. One is that with several potential helpers around, the personal responsibility of each individual is reduced. Secondly, because the situation was ambiguous, in time of uncertainly, people look at others for answers. Because the observers can see the other observers, and see them not taking action, they interpreted it as a non-emergency as well.

This begs the question, in an emergency, what’s one’s best course of action?

The best course of action is to reduce the uncertainties of those around you concerning your condition, and their responsibilities. For instance, in a medical emergency, you should point to a stranger in the crowd and say “you, sir, in the blue shirt, I need help, call an ambulance.”

The reverse is true as well. When presented with a situation which is ambiguous, don’t shy away from the responsibility. Ascertain the situation, and be the man of action.

Another condition where social proof works the best is similarity. Social proof works the best when we are observing the behavior of people just like us. That’s why there are so many TV ads featuring testimonial from ordinary people on the street.

Another curious fact is that after a suicide has made front-page news, airplanes – private planes, corporate jets, airliners – begin falling out of the sky at an alarming rate. It’s generally referred to as the “Werthers Effect”.

UC San Diego professor David Phillips is a leading authority in this area. Examining the suicide statistics in the US between 1947 and 1968, he found that within two months after every front-page suicide story, an average of 58 more people than usual killed themselves. He also found that this tendency for suicides to beget suicides occurred principally in those parts of the country where the first suicide was highly publicized. He observed the wider the publicity given the first suicide, the greater the number of the later suicides.

By his resonating and later proven by data, the increased airplane crashes simply resulted from people electing to kill themselves in this crashes to protect their reputations, to spare their families the shame and hurt, or to allow their dependents to collect on insurance policies.

[Refer to the diagrams.]
Here is a set of data resulting from Dr. Phillips research.

As you can see, the worst time to travel is 3-4 days after a widely publicized suicide and then a few days after that.

One implication of this condition is when trying to influence your kids’ behavior, seeking a role-model of similar age and background is much more effective than selecting one who differs greatly.

So how to detect if someone is using social proof on you?

There are two types of social proof situations. One kind is when social evidence has been manufactured. We need to learn to recognize these situations, and punishing the perpetrator for their deeds. For instance, never buying product from companies that uses the “average-person-on-the-street” tactic in their ads.

Another could be innocent mistakes. When uncertain, we depend on the collective knowledge of the crowd. Thus we need to be aware that other’s actions should not be the sole reason for our actions.

In summary, social proof is the third rule of influence. When applied in uncertain situations and by people similar to us, it wields great influence.

This is my second speech on the science of influence.

In my previous speech, I explained why these rules of influence work so well.

I then went on to explain the “contrast principle”.

And lastly, I addressed the first rule of influence – reciprocity – the universal rule of equal exchange.

Now, who’s waiting for more?

The second rule of influence is called “commitment and consistency”.

Being perceived as consistent in one’s believes, words and deed, offer three advantages.
1. Good personal consistency is highly valued by society.
2. It provides a short-cut to make future decisions based on earlier ones.
3. Sometimes a rational decision done with careful deliberation maybe too painful to accept

Let’s consider a scenario. How many of you buy Christmas gifts for your kids? I see, quite a few. Imagine this conversation between you and your son a month before Christmas.
You: “So what do you want from Santa for Christmas this year?”.
You son replies: “I’d love to the new baseball game for my Nintendo Wii!”.
You ask, “but why?”
You sons responds, “Everyone wants it, it’s a really cool game, it feels like real baseball. And it will make my Christmas so much better.”
You respond: “alright, let’s see what Santa brings this year, I’m sure he won’t disappoint you”.

Now, couple of weeks later, it’s almost time, so you look for the new baseball game at Amazon, you can’t find it, then you go to all your electronic local stores, they were all out-of-stock. As Christmas nears, you are growing desperate. At the last minute, you decided to buy your son the skiing game instead, which has plenty in stock at your local BestBuy the day before Christmas. You were thinking, skiing, baseball, they are all participatory sports, what’s the difference.

Christmas morning, your son tears open the gift wrapping, and look a bit disappointed. You tried to console him, “cheer up, I heard skiing game is much better”.
Your son responds, “Thanks dad, it’s no baseball, and you promised that Santa Clause will bring me the baseball game for Christmas.”

You feel really guilty. Although Christmas season is over, you still can’t get over it. Then, in late January, the baseball game start showing up on store shelves again. What do you do? The first chance you got, you buy your son a copy of the baseball game, to keep your promise.

Ladies, and gentleman, what I’ve described here was based on a real story. Some toy manufactures in the past has done this, where they deliberately pump-up the advertising for a specific toy, and under-supply it to the stores, so parents instead of buying one, actually bought two games for their kids to keep their promise.

As also demonstrated by this little scenario, the key to the successful deployment of this principle is commitment.

Allow me to demonstrate some important characteristics to increase the level of commitment.

[Aud 01], would you say you are an environmentally friendly person? Yes, do you recycle regularly? Sounds like you are really into it. Would you please come up here and note the fact with the words “[Aud 01]” recycles regularly. Let’s applaud for [Aud 01]’s recycling effort. Thanks you. Now, the Environmental Working Group is running a campaign, we looking for volunteers to put up a sign in their front yard that simply says “Save the Earth, Recycle”. Since you recycle regularly, would you agree for us to put a sign in you front yard for a month? Great. Thank you for being such a good citizen, I wish more people are like you. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I’d point out the sign is about 5 feet high 3 feet wide with large yellow letters. Will that be a problem? You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. Great, thanks, we’ll be over next week.

The point I’m trying to get across here is that it’s not just any commitment, the most long-lasting commitment has these four characteristics: active, public, effortful, and viewed as internally motivated.

Active means the commitment was acted by the person. People infer their likings via their own behaviors. The simply act of coming up here and writing it down makes it stick.

Public means it’s done publicly. That’s why I ask [Aud 01] in front of an audience. Having it written down also helps me to refer to it publicly later.

Effortful means the commitment takes effort. Me asking [Aud 01] to come up here and write it down intentionally increased the effort of the commitment.

Viewing as internally motivated, not coerced means the person making the commitment internalizes the commitment as their own. The key is to offer a reward that is disportionately smaller than the effort involved. I only offered verbal encouragement and praise, nothing more. Thinking back, [Aud 01] is likely to think it’s he/she willingness to commit, since the reward was not big enough to justify the motivation.

I can not stress strongly enough that this rule and any other rules of influence should be applied with the full ethical implication in mind. Using it to manipulate others for your own gain will not establish a long trusting relationship.

To recognize and resist influence of consistency pressure, we need to listen to our gut and our heart. There are situations where your gut tells you that you are making the wrong decisions, or committing to things unwillingly. In this case, explain to the requester that it will be foolish for you to comply.

In other situations, you can not be certain that you’ve been taken advantage of. When in doubt, ask yourself, “Knowing what I know now, if I could go back in time, would I make the same choice?” If the answer is no, reconsider the commitment and act accordingly.

To summarize, the second rule of influence is commitment and consistency. It leverages people’s tendency to value consistency to obtain compliance.

I’m here to talk to you about the science and practice of influence.

Webster’s definitions of influence is as follows “the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command”

Without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command are the key phrases here.

The famous painter Salvador Dali said: “The secret of my influence has always been that it remains secret”.

Influence has been a subject of social psychology for quite a long time. I’ll talk about the Professor Robert Cialdini’s work captured in his book “Influence – Science and Practice”.

Humans develop automatic stereotyped behavior triggered by specific heuristic to save time and energy in decision making.

An example used in the book was a jewelry store owner in a vacation town that mistakenly doubled the price of her turquoise necklaces instead of halving it, and was surprised that they sold much faster. This was because of the shortcut people take in determining quality when no other pieces of information are available, they simply equated price with quality.

Understanding the rules of influence is important not only in what we can leverage in situations where it’s called for and ethical, but also to understand how others uses the rules on us so we’ll recognize them and switch to deliberate decision-making mode.

Since influence is a big topic, I’ve broken my speech to a few parts. I’ll address in part one, the contrast principle and the first two weapons of influence – reciprocity and commitment and consistency.

An important principle in human perception is the contrast principle, which basically states when two things are presented in sequence, and if the second item is fairly different from the first, we will tend to see it as more different than it actually is.

Imagine that I lift up a big piece of rock off the ground, and put it in your hand first. Then I tell you to drop it and hand you a marble. Now if I ask you how much the marble weigh, you would’ve estimated the marble to be lighter than it actually is.

Another neat trick to demonstrate this principle is an experience to do at home. Have three pails of water, one on the left is quite hot, the one in the middle is at room temperature, and the one on the right has ice in it. Now put your left hand into the hot water pail, and at the same time, put your right hand into the ice water pail. After 10 seconds, put both hands in the room-temperature pail. You’ll be amazed by the perceived different in temperature from the same bowl of water.

This is also why sales person always try to show you the most expensive items they have that meet your need, so that a cheaper alternative seems much cheaper by comparison.

The first rule of influence is reciprocity – it says that we should repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. Reciprocity is has 3 characteristic First, it’s extremely powerful, it’s the basis for social exchange and commerce. Secondly, it applies to uninvited first favors. And thirdly, it can result in unequal exchanges.

The first is the direct approach.

If you shop at Costco, you must have noticed all the people there giving out product samples, whether it’s a piece of sausage on stick, or some nuts. I rarely take these, but on the occasion I do take them, I somehow always purchase more of other stuff. Observe yourself sometime, and you’ll notice the pattern as well. What’s interesting was that I did not always buy the stuff they were passing out, but more of other items as if I owed Costco something.

Another form of reciprocity is called rejection then retreat, also known as door in the face. This tactic basically means making an initial request, and when rejected, make a smaller request.

Let me demonstrate. Audience member one, would you spend 8 hours every other Saturday to read to kids? No? How about 2 hour a month?

You see, by making the second request smaller in comparison you invoke both the contrast principle and the reciprocity rule. 2 hour a month compared with 8 hours a week seemed a smaller commitment than it actually it is.

So how do you deal with people applying this reciprocity rule to influence us? Simply rejecting any initial offer or a favor or sacrifice is not the best approach, you never know if the person offering it is sincere.

The more realistic approach to accept the offer initially thus obliging ourselves to return the favor. However, if during a later date that you determined the offer was a compliance tactic, feel free to rid yourself of the obligation, and react to it without regard to the initial offer.

I need to stress again that these compliance techniques should be employed by you in an ethical way, which is to say, not used to exploit people’s behavior or decision for your own benefit. The reason is first, it’s not right. And secondly, that although they work in short-term or one time interaction, repeated application of these techniques will make people uncomfortable around you and sour your relationships in the long run.

So remember the first rule of influence – reciprocity.

I’ll talk about the other rules of influence the next time.

Yesterday, JY and I decided to go to Le Asia to check out their product offerings.

We got there at around 11:45am. The first problem we encountered, there was no parking spots. We had to park in an adjacent Long’s Drugs lot, and walk a bit to get to Le Asia.

The store was even more crowded, there were people all over, checking out the merchandise, having cocktails, and doing various things. I think there were some San Ramon officials there for the grand-opening, I was just surprised that they haven’t left by then.

I also noticed a lot of people with no shopping basket or merchandise in hands. I thought a supermarket is an odd place for window-shopping, but I soon found out why. The check-out lines were 10+ people long. They only have about 8 lanes, and each one was running, but there was just so many people behind each line. I suspect it’s their Point-Of-Sale system that may not be capturing all the pricing information correctly that’s causing the delay, but I don’t want to wait in line to find out. It would taken me more than 30 minutes to check out, so I dropped my shopping basket as well.

Now on to the stores.

Le Asia is one of the largest Chinese grocery stores I’ve been to. The reason is that they replaced an old Ralph’s, and it was quite large to begin with. The store is divided into sections such as Bakery, Deli, Meat and Seafood, and in-store vendors. The layout is very similar to an American supermarket, with fresh produce and to the right of the entrance, dairy, meat and seafood to the back.

They had a very extensive fruit and vegetable section, even larger than the Safeway that I usually shop at. The fruit and produce were of quite good quality, and were priced well. Looking at this part of the store, it’s very difficult to distinguish it from your neighborhood grocery stores. The thing that gave it away though, was a whole aisle of instant noodles to the left of the fruit stands. You only see that in an Asian supermarket.

There was some freshly-baked breads. The bakery was not fully functional, I didn’t see any cakes or other pastries. The meat section has the layout of a typical Chinese market, with meat in bulk to be cut to order. The seafood section offers live (love those) and frozen fishes, crabs amongst other things.

The store has a whole section devoted to in-store vendors. These range from a gift-shop, a video store, a kitchen remodeling store, a cosmetics shop, a Filipino fast food stall (yet to open), bubble tea shop (yet to open), and of a counter for Chinese medicine. It’s very interesting that they are renting these spaces out, maybe they don’t have enough merchandise to fill the whole store with?

JY and I looked through most of the aisles, and were able to find most of the grocery items we normally buy from a Chinese grocery store.

Overall, I’m impressed by the size of the store, the cleanliness, the wide aisles, and extensive product offering. I’ll definitely be shopping here for the foreseeable future.

I also heard from a friend that the long-awaited Ranch 99 store in Dublin is also scheduled to open in 3 weeks, and competition can only be good for us consumers.

Happy grocery shopping for those of you in the tri-valley area.

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