Marketing yourself to achieve your goals

#pubdate {display:none;} I recently read an older but interesting book called The Psychology of Influence by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. It was written as a guide to circumventing the psychological tactics that so-called compliance professionals employ. These are the techniques used to sell us extended warranties on a new toaster or undercoating on a new car.

As I read, I began to suspect most readers instead use it as a handbook to increase their own business skills, people skills and even success with romantic prospects.

As I got further into the book, I realized there might be another use. Theoretically, we could use these techniques on ourselves to cultivate compliance in our own malleable mind. Here, I will explore compliance techniques, how they affect the daily life of a cyclist and how we can turn them around to help us set goals and achieve them.

The underlying theory behind Cialdini's hypothesis is that the world has become too complicated for any individual to gain a solid understanding of every circumstance they might encounter. In order to cope, we have developed certain automated responses to these situations that will work to our benefit most of the time.

For instance, you are shopping for a coach. Knowing nothing about your choices, you assume that the most expensive one is also the best. It's an easy shortcut for deciphering what we don't fully understand, or have the time or energy to thoroughly research.

Often, this strategy will lead to a correct conclusion; however, there are exceptions to the rule and people who will take advantage of these automated inclinations.

Consistency principle

The case study: The Chinese benefited from unprecedented success in brain washing their P.O.W's during the Korean War. The prisoner would first be asked to perform a seemingly innocent task, such as copying onto paper a written pro-communism declaration. Then, they would hold a contest where prisoners would compete to write the best essay on why communism is better than democracy.

A small prize, such as a couple of cigarettes, would be given to the winner. The prisoners reasoned that since they didn't actually believe what they were writing, the essay couldn't possibly do harm. The final step was to have the prisoner read their essay out loud to their fellow prisoners.

The science: Psychologists studied this case and found that humans are powerfully inclined to be consistent with things they had previously thought or said, even when they know they were wrong. They found that this pre-programmed consistency bug is more powerful when written down, and even more powerful when stated in a public forum. This consistency doesn't just exist in what we say, but also in our actions.

As a cyclist, you might start out as a slow climber and subsequently come to identify yourself as a slow climber. Subconsciously, you will do everything you can to make sure that your performance stays consistent with that image. Hence, to reshape your self-perception of your climbing talents, positive affirmations are key.

Apply it to cycling: Most cyclists, at one time or another, have been told that writing down their goals at the beginning of the season will massively increase their chances of success. Writing goals is a great step, but here's another recommendation to help you take your goal-setting to the next level: write your goals in an e-mail and send it to every single person you know.

The urge to remain consistent in the minds of your friends and peers far outweighs the need to stay consistent in our own minds, or even the urge to turn off the alarm clock and sleep another hour.

The power of (a) reason

The case study: A cyclist is waiting in a long line to register at a century or race. Another rider comes along and asks, "Can I get in front of you in the registration line?" The cyclist says, "No."

At the next event, the cyclist is again waiting in a long line. The same guy comes up again and asks to cut in line, but this time he gives a meaningless reason. "Can I get in front of you in the registration line because I have to register?" The cyclist says, "Yes."

The science: Humans have been conditioned to expect a reason to follow any request. We don't have the time to process every little request by weighing the pros and cons, conferring with our family and friends and, finally, asking our local clergy for guidance. To cope, we have developed a shortcut.

Instead of waiting to hear a logical reason for a request or favor, the word 'because' triggers an automatic affirmative response and cuts down on the time and effort it takes to make a well-informed decision.

One study found that 60 percent of the time, people agree to let someone get in line in front of them when no reason is given. When just the word 'because' is added to the request, the number increases to 93 percent.

Apply it to cycling: If a meaningless word like 'because' can increase the rate of compliance so dramatically, imagine the power of a reason like: because I want to be healthy, lose some weight and win a local race.

Therefore, one more step is required for maximum results -- in addition to coming up with a list of season goals, writing them down and reading them aloud to your friends. Compare these examples:

  • I will lose 10 pounds over the winter -- so my friends don't have to wait for me at the top of the hills.

  • I will upgrade from category four races to category three -- because the category three races are longer, more challenging and have better prizes.

Contrast principle

The case study: A man walks into a bike shop to buy a new bike and helmet. His budget is $2,500. He is first shown the helmets and picks out a nice $50 closeout model. Then he is shown a well-built $2,200 bike and walks away having spent less than he had allotted.

Another man walks into a different shop with the same budget and shopping list. The sales-person first shows him a $6,500 bike but eventually they settle on a more reasonable $2,800 model. The man is then taken to see the helmets where he decides to splurge on the top of the line $150 model.

The science: This principle states that people perceive things differently depending on the setting in which they are observed. By itself a $150 helmet seems expensive, but when put next to a $2,800 bike it seems like a drop in the bucket. The same is true with the $2,800 bike when compared to the $6,500 bike.

Apply it to cycling: Mike Walden once told me, "If you want to reach the moon, aim for the stars." I thought I understood it at the time, but now that I understand the principles behind this kind of thinking, it makes even more sense.

The idea is to set your goals so high that even if you only come close to reaching them, you will still have accomplished a great deal. Try incorporating this into your goal setting at the beginning of each season. Set the bar just a little higher than what you expect to reach. Continue to strive for that unlikely goal and by contrast, the goal you originally set for yourself will be easier to achieve.

Rule of reciprocation

Case study: You get hungry on a ride. A stranger offers you a gel ($1 value). Later at the coffee shop, you buy him a large caramel macchiato and a muffin ($8 value, plus it will fatten him up so he'll climb slower).

Science: Humans have been conditioned to leave no favor un-returned, even if the favor wasn't requested in the first place. The return favor will often be much larger than the original favor.

Apply it to cycling: During your warmup at a race, offer a competitor a PowerBar. Maybe he won't chase you down when you get in that winning break.

This last one has nothing to do with setting goals but it could help you reach them.

Josh Horowitz is a USCF certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his Web site at

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By Josh Horowitz

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