This comes from a book that my friend clued me into, called Winning Body Language, by Mark Bowden.

One of his chapters talks about using body language to take advantage of the way our minds deal with predictability and interruption.

Results from an fMRI experiment in which peopl...

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Pattern interruption is a fascinating topic, and this isn’t the first context where I’ve bumped into it. Here’s a brief bit of background on the concept:

Our world contains much more observable data than the brain can handle, so we take in and process far less information than is available to us. Most of our reactions to the world are based familiar patterns that our subconscious mind has been conditioned to deal with while our conscious mind tunes out.

For example, when you greet someone and shake their hand, it is entirely possible you will never remember shaking their hand at all. Handshakes are so automatic and predictable that we do it without really ever consciously acknowledging what’s going on. We have an internal model for repeated behavior based on how handshakes work, and we assume that handshakes will work identically. Our body just does it, and the rest of our mind can tune it out. We are certain about our situation, and comfortable in that certainty.

We go through the same tune-out process when commercials come on, or when we see banner ads on websites. That’s why advertisers love the concept of pattern interruption.

Obviously, advertisers don’t want you to be doing any “tuning-out” when their ads are presented. But more than that, there are special psychological implications if you can snap someone back into conscious focus at the moment that their brain is accessing a pattern. If you create uncertainty right at that moment, your subconscious mind gets cut off in the middle of what it was doing, and that creates a couple seconds of hyper-awareness and disorientation.

High Five

Up high, Dude! Time for a man-clasp…

Let me return to my example of the handshake. If I extend my arm to you, you will start the almost completely subconscious process of returning the handshake. Now, at the moment you extend your hand to me, I change the position of my hand. Let’s say I put my hand above my head, palm out, because instead of shaking your hand I now want to to the frat guy high-five that moves into a hand clasp at the waist.

If I time it right, your brain will snap out of auto-pilot because the pattern got interrupted. You will be mentally weirded-out, and it will take you a few seconds for your brain to adjust.

This concept is used often by hypnotists and NLP practitioners because they believe, at the point of interruption, the disorientation makes you more susceptible to suggestion and word association.

HypnosisLet’s say I throw you off auto-pilot with my frat guy high-five, and then I say, “You look like you’re having a great time!” There are some schools of thought that say my suggestion will take special root, and influence you to actually have a good time. Some of this also depends on the process being interrupted. If I interrupt you at a moment of agreeing with me or complying with something that I ask, there are those that think you will associate that agreement or compliance with whatever suggestion I throw in there.

So you can see why advertisers and business influencers might pay special attention to this idea.

Now, back to body language.

Bowden suggests that as we communicate, our bodies demonstrate a natural rhythm depending on how much muscle tension we are experiencing. He further suggests that if you build a rapport with your audience such that they start mirroring your body language, and then you change your body rhythm by exhibiting more or less tension, the audience will mirror your changes, thereby experiencing the pattern-interruption uncertainty, and becoming hyper-receptive.

Bowden builds his model using eight levels of body tension, pictured using the following archetypes:

1) No Tension (completely collapsed, like in exhaustion or sleep)

2) Relaxed (cool, casual)

3) Neutral (detached, robotic)

4) Deliberate (managerial, just-so)

5) Alert (inquiring, is there a bomb?)

6) Agitated (more stiff than just alert, evasive, there is a bomb!)

7) Entranced (blissful, captivated, in love with the bomb)

8) Total Tension (shock, the bomb has exploded)

In using these eight tension levels, Bowden describes a two-step process:

1) Select a level of tension that mirrors your audience (e.g. casual), so you can gain a rapport with them and engender their trust.

2) Lead the group where you want. If they start casually, then you can build tension around a subject and lead your audience into a more deliberate or alert state. If they start off agitated about something, you can lead them into a more calm state.

The act of leading the audience through a body rhythm change will interrupt their familiar patterns and force them into a more mentally alert frame of mind. You can then physically guide your audience into the state of alertness you most prefer.

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  • Discover how to set up your business to use setback and stressors as fuel for growth.
  • Build an unstoppable business that uses resistance to grow like muscle!