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055 Meet the Tragic Poster Boy for the Emotional Brain
15th June 2015 • Rough Draft • Rainmaker.FM
00:00:00 00:11:18

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While Enlightenment-era thinkers like Denis Diderot, Benjamin Franklin, René Descartes, David Hume, and Thomas Jefferson — giants from the age of reason — would like you to believe otherwise, we are not as rational as we think we are.

Recent books like Irrational Exuberance, Emotional Intelligence, and Descartes Error teach us that even the most analytical among us make decisions with emotions.

They can disparage the emotions as much as they want, but the fact remains that without emotions we can t make a decision in the first place.

And strangely enough, the one incident that seemed to break the influence that the age of reason had on the Western mind occurred on September 13, 1848.

In this 11-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • The event that changed the way we think about the brain — and emotions
  • The truth behind a responsible middle-aged man’s sudden and mysterious collapse into malingering
  • The eleven major emotions
  • How “reason-why” copy makes people feel good about their decisions
  • What people can say when they do rude things to not offend anyone (and still get away with their behavior — it’s not apologizing either)
  • My favorite ad demonstrating reason “why” copy in action

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The Show Notes

The Transcript

Meet the Tragic Poster Boy for the Emotional Brain

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.

Demian Farnworth: Howdy dear podcast listener, this is Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth, your host, your muse, your digital recluse, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.

And thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.

The Event That Changed the Way We Think About the Brain and Emotions

While Enlightenment-era thinkers like Denis Diderot, Benjamin Franklin, René Descartes, David Hume, and Thomas Jefferson — giants from the age of reason — would like you to believe otherwise, we are not as rational as we think we are.

Recent books like Irrational Exuberance, Emotional Intelligence, and Descartes Error teach us that even the most analytical among us make decisions with emotions.

They can disparage the emotions as much as they want, but the fact remains that without emotions we can t make a decision in the first place.

And strangely enough, the one incident that seemed to break the influence the age of reason had on the Western mind occurred on September 13, 1848.

For a 25 year old Phineas Gage — an American railroad construction foreman — it was just another day blasting rock for Rutland & Burlington Railroad outside of the town of Cavendish, Vermont.

And blasting rock through the Vermont landscape followed a simple, singular pattern. Bore a hole in the rock. Pour in black powder. Add a fuse. Top off with sand. Tamp with an iron rod. Light fuse, and duck.

Voila, one cubic yard of Vermont hillside reduced to rubble.

A script that became second nature to the seasoned Gage. But second nature, as I think we can all agree, can also lead to carelessness. Or at least absentmindness.

Take the case of Lynn Hill — one of the best female rock climbers to ever live, the winner of thirty international rock climbing titles. But on May 9, 1989, Lynn fell during a routine, easy climb in Buoux, France — after forgetting to tie a safety rope. A rope she tied thousands of times since she was an adolescent.

She fell 85 ft into a tree, and was knocked out, dislocated her left elbow, and broke a bone in her foot. Within six weeks she was her old self again — rock climbing.

Our Phineas gage was not so lucky.

On that fall day in 1848, he bore a hole like he normally did in the Vermont rock. He poured in black powder. Dropped a fuse. And, for whatever reason — his mind elsewhere — tamped the black powder.

Did you catch that? He tamped the black powder without the sand. He didn t follow the script and forgot the sand. Sand protects the black powder from the sparks kicked up by the tamping iron.

Sure enough, as Gage tamped, the iron rod struck the rock and a spark jumped into the powder below, triggering an explosion. The explosion sent the iron rod like a rocket clean through Gage s skull and landed 80 feet away with a clang.

Gage collapsed, but, miraculously, an hour later back came around and went on to live for a number of years … but because much of his left frontal lobe was destroyed, he was no longer “Gage.” He went from a friendly and reliable citizen to a cantankerous and profane outcast.

This incident is a fixture in psychology textbooks — it s known as The American Crow Bar Case — because it marks the beginning of what has become known as cerebral localization — in other words, certain regions of our brains control certain functions.

Here s what that means to us.

The Truth Behind a Responsible Middle-Aged Man s Sudden and Mysterious Collapse Into Malingering

Antonio Dimaso, the author of Descartes Error, tells the story of a modern day Phineas Gage, a 30-something man with a head for business, flawless memory of his life story, and a knack for talking politics and the economy.

But the guy couldn t make a decision to save his life.

Before he lost his job, he had to be reminded by his wife that he had a job and that it was probably a good idea he go. But he needed help picking out what to wear, and when at work might spend an afternoon deliberating how to organize papers. The flow of work stopped.

He lost his job, and other strange behaviors emerged. He couldn t plan his next hour, let alone the next day, month or year. Turns out this man, whom Dimaso calls Elliot, had a giant tumor pressing upon his prefrontal cortex. What neuroscientists have come to call the emotional region.

Damasio writes: “The machinery of his decision making was so flawed that he could no longer be an effective social being.”

What exactly was wrong with his decision making machinery? He had no emotions. No feelings.

Damasio continues: “At their best, feelings point us in the proper direction, take us to the appropriate place in a decision-making space, where we may put the instrument of logic to good use.”

The TL:DR version of this story is we are rational AND emotional beings. And emotions, as I ve been stressing in the last few episodes of Rough Draft, are the bedrock to effective copywriting. They are the starting point.

The Eleven Major Emotions

Major emotions like:

  1. Sense of Belonging
  2. Envy
  3. Greed
  4. Security
  5. Fear
  6. Worry
  7. Vanity
  8. Pride
  9. Guilt
  10. Hope
  11. Ambition

Whether someone wants a promotion at work, or a healthier lifestyle, they desire these things for emotional reasons like prestige, approval, sex appeal, or security.

Our friend Elliot didn t have any of those emotions or desires. Thus desired-based decisions were impossible for him.

Think about your own life.

When you want to go to your favorite restaurant, why do you want to go there — and not the place down the road, in that other neighborhood? It s usually because the people are friendly, or the neighborhood is hip, or the food is a gluttonous feast, or it s the place where you met the love of your life.

Now think about the restaurants you swear you ll never return to. Why is that? It s usually because of the opposite reasons. Wait staff is mean, it s in a run down part of town, and it s where the love of your life ripped your heart out, threw it on the floor, and stomped on it like a stale cigarette.

Those are the reasons you hate the place and swear to never go again. Who cares if it has the cheapest, best tasting burgers imaginable.

But even the best desire rich promise — whether in copy or advertising — promises where your emotional hot spots are punched — and this is important, so pay attention — our desire-based decisions are eventually justified with logic.

And that s where “reason-why” advertising comes in.

How Reason-Why” Copy Makes People Feel Good About Their Decisions

In essence, if you make an offer, state a claim, or ask a favor, expect your prospect to wonder why you are making such a great claim. You need to satisfy her curiosity and sweep away her skepticism.

For example, explain why you are giving away a free sample of your book. In this case it might be because you know the advice in the first chapter will help them survive Manhattan traffic that very night.

Explain why you are throwing in a free 30-minute consultation with every contract. In this case it might be because this helps clients warm up to your strange coaching process.

My Favourite Ad Demonstrating “Reason-Why Copy in Action

One of my old time favorite ads was from a linen store who had a surplus of fabric. They needed to move it to make space for new fabric.

So they wrote two ads. One ad said, This fabric is deeply discounted today.” The other ad said, “We have too much of this fabric. We need to get rid of it. So this fabric is deeply discounted for this day only.”

It was the second ad that cleaned out their surplus. On a rainy day.

Elizabeth Langer s famous 1977 Copy Machine Study — a study that had people butted in line for use of a Xerox machine using lame, but effective excuses like “because I have to make copies” — demonstrates we don t need much in way of reason why. We just need something.

So your reason why could be as simple as “I m just a generous person” or “because” or “it s raining, and so I feel like giving away one nachos and cheese for every three enchiladas you order.”

See, people are skeptical. We wonder why people are doing things. We are particularly skeptical of salesmen and businesses and advertising. We are constantly trying to guess their motives.

But if you are upfront, honest, and straightforward — even if it s the ugly truth — people will believe you especially if you tapped into the mass desire that matters to them. In fact, they want to believe you. So give them a reason.

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