A Sceptic’s trip to Norway

Jag var på Millionaire Mind Intensive (tänker inte länka då det har möjlighet att ge dem positiva saker, du får googla om du vill veta mer om dem men jag råder dig att läsa detta först) nu i helgen, en resa företaget jag jobbar på skickade mig på. Lite skeptisk till konceptet, men samtidigt intresserad då jag generellt gillar att uppleva nya saker och resa, åkte jag och en kollega tidigt på morgonen på fredagen. Första gången jag missat ett flyg faktiskt, så först spenderade vi några timmar på flygplatsen med att vänta på nästa flyg istället. Riktigt tråkigt var dock att jag var förkyld under hela helgen, så allt detta är intaget i en dimma av host, snor och tårar.

Nedan följer en rapport på helgen, i syfte att presentera för de andra på företaget, men jag vill inleda med lite lättsammare och personliga upplevelser här på bloggen.
Jag hade för det första inte klarat helgen så bra som jag gjorde utan min kollega som sällskap, att ha en person att bolla sina tankar med som var lika skeptisk som jag var väldigt skönt, så tack!

Under helgen satt jag ofta och tänkte på Tim Minchin – Storm (länkad i rapporten), och fantiserade om att hacka projektorerna för att få upp lite vettiga röster på scenen, det var till tröst i alla fall x)

Och… en rolig observation: Jäklar var mycket norskar verkar åka skidor! Hela helgen var det fullt med människor med skidor på tunnelbanan. Vet inte om det var något speciellt evenemang, eller liknande just denna helgen dock.

Report

Total in links: 21 videos and podcasts, 8h 36m 10s

Intro

I’ll first explain my view of the overall concept, and then go into more details about what you actually could learn from this. For this to be as educational as possible, I strongly recommend to watch the videos and read the articles in the links provided. Since I’m no expert in these subjects, and strongly believe in expertise, I don’t really see the point of trying to explain these complicated methods, concepts and issues myself when there are experts out there that already have provided this information.
If you find any of the sources questionable I’d be happy to get notification of that, I’m comfortable with my skills of checking sources but that also means that I’m truly grateful for when someone points out when my sources don’t reach the acceptable standards.

Since I met people on this event that apparently didn’t think sceptical/critical thinking, science, and facts is a legit thing (they tend to get misled and fooled by these types of marketing pretty easily), I want to start of with this video, an animated version of the comedian Tim Minchin’s sketch “Storm” [10:38]. I know that it’s a comedy sketch and nothing to be taken too seriously, but it has some great arguments for science in it, and always soothes me and make me happy after I’ve been in contact with these anti-science people. You can say that it’s my way of relaxing my mind, and “de-frustrating” my thoughts.

Scam

In short, it reminds me a lot about the scam “Pyramid scheme” [6:21] and “Multilevel marketing” [31:57]. Although it doesn’t actually meet the requirements for this, the tactics they use to reel in their audience and getting them to buy overpriced courses and DVD:s are all the same. With the vague promises of quick fixes for your financial situation like “Thinking like a millionaire”, and the saying that someone can have a “Millionaire Mind” and that is the thing that determines whether or not that person will be financially successful or not. Of course there are some personality traits [7:17] that are more common amongst financially successful people, but like every other scam or cheap sales tricks for bad products this is strongly oversimplified, so that you will get the feeling of “if I only buy that DVD/course I’ll get a millionaire mind and then it’s just a matter of time before I become a millionaire”. Of course they never say this out loud, because that would be illegal marketing, but they’re very close to that edge. It’s just like so many diets and “quick fixes” for your physical appearance like whiter teeth and thicker hair, we all know it doesn’t work, but with effective marketing and aggressive sales pitch you can sell almost anything to desperate people in need.
In this sense, it’s not a scam, they don’t actually trick you to do anything, they use clearly constructed routines to brainwash, lure, and manipulate people. You will have to judge for yourself how honest that is, but for me, I think that if you can’t sell your product on the notion of how good it actually is, without using almost illegal psychological methods of deception, your product is not worth being in the market. At the same time, I strongly believe in radical self-reliance, and if you don’t take responsibility of thinking critically, and checking your sources you’re on the failing side of evolution according to me. But that said, I still think it’s a dishonest way of making money, unethical way of marketing, and a total waste of potential.

Other reviews

I found another review of this event here. Read it, it contains some very interesting information about the creator of this program T. Harv Eker, and his view on ripping people off. I also read in a comment thread, (can’t find the source, unfortunately, so feel free to skip to the next section if you’re not willing to take my word for it) a post by a german psychologist (or professor in psychology) whose friend dragged him along to this event. He wrote that they used a lot of tactics to get the audience emotionally addicted to this by activating a lot of different parts of your body and creating a flow of positive emotions associated with what the leader of the event repeats and pushes the audience to repeat after him.

The science behind how to associate things to emotions, feelings, and behaviour can be found here [11:49].

Harvard

The comparison to legitimate educations and courses by the leader was also a very clear warning sign and signs of delusion by the creator of this. When they were trying to sell the course about how to build a business, they tried to make a point about the 5 days course with a cost of €12 000 being very cheap considering that people pay over $250 000 for a 4 year education at Harvard Business School, and that the only difference between them is that you get a certificate from Harvard. To discredit legit educational institutes like this is a very common in anti-science, pseudo-science, and the whole movement basing their worldview on “alternative facts” [19:01].

Facts

One thing that also is very common in the pseudo-science movement is the denial of facts, the sayings like “there is no facts, everything is merely opinions”. They usually base this upon science developing, and discovering new evidence to support new theories or falsify old ones, the argument that we can’t know for sure if, for example, gravity really does exist because scientists once believed that the earth was flat and they could be equally wrong about this. Also the argument that we once believed something to be impossible, which we today know is possible. These are not arguments to support the belief that there is no facts, these should be treated as arguments for science being in constant change, it’s what separates science from for example religion. True sceptics will change their belief when new evidence is brought up, and that’s sound. If you believe that all people of a certain skin color has a certain trait, and then is presented with evidence that strongly suggests otherwise, it’s sound to consider changing your belief, that doesn’t mean that you should abolish all facts and try to breath underwater, because there are things that should be considered as facts today. It just suggests that you should be open to changing those beliefs. Scientists don’t say that there is one truth, and that is what they believe, they only says that as of now, there are certain things that we have more compelling evidence to support.
On the other hand, it’s very good to be sceptical, even of what scientists say (and of what I say). It’s very simple to get people to think something is true, when it actually is not, just by repeating it over and over again [8:24].

One interesting thing considering this topic is “The Backfire Effect” [3:01], something you should look up. It has made me more understanding of people with strong beliefs, more confused on how to discuss with those people, but I also gained more insight for myself. To see that I’m also affected by this is very important to remember when discussing different topics with those that don’t share my own beliefs. Here’s a longer article about the backfire effect which I strongly recommend, the same source has also made a podcast episode about this topic: Part 1 [44:17] & Part 2 [51:02], and how to fight back against this [1:05:49].

What they did at this course is that they said that you first should change your belief about something, and they did this by repeating what they wanted to believe over and over again, to be able to change it for real. This can work on many levels, for example to change your belief about what you’re able to achieve is a very effective way to help you get there, but of course not the only thing you have to do to be able to change. Although I think they empathized this method too much, which made it seem like it was almost the only thing you needed to do (I mean it’s even called “Millionaire Mind”, like the only thing you have to change is your mind to be more like that of a millionaire to actually make you a millionaire), although that, it’s a very powerful strategy to achieve something. I myself have used this method to be more successful, “Fake it until you make it”, alongside other things. I started to act like a person with good self confidence when I was young and had very low self confidence, and that affected both my view of myself to be more of a person with better self confidence, but that was also a consequence of how others treated me – like a person with good self confidence. A very clear example of a self fulfilling prophecy.

Argumentation

In argumentations like these, it’s very common that certain types of arguments is put forward that are especially faulty, bad manners, or plain stupid. Some concrete examples of this, that most people use, and we all be better of having a deeper understanding of, is “suppression techniques” and “logical fallacies” (The podcast “You are not so smart” have many episodes dedicated to different logical fallacies as well). It’s a very energy- and time consuming thing to learn all of these and be able to spot them when used by others and also to spot when you yourself use them, but to know that they exist and have a somewhat good understanding of the concept of this can help you keep up a more constructive discussion in general.

Shaming

The constant shaming of the people that didn’t buy the products, went to the bathroom, or didn’t participate in the way that the leader wanted to… in other ways, of sceptical people, or people sane enough to go to the bathroom when they have to… bugged me very much. It was very clear that he wanted to create a feeling of “us” against “them”, and “they” didn’t have it in them to become financially successful. Peer pressure is a very strong thing, something that all leaders of any kind are (or should be) familiar with, and can be used to get people hooked on smoking, killing another human being, saying yes to something they don’t want to, or buying a product they didn’t want to buy. In “normal” cases, peer pressure is created amongst the group, but here it was strongly pushed onto the audience buy the leader, with the threat of being singled out and shamed in front of the entire audience if you didn’t conform. An effective sales method, yes, but acceptable?
An example of this is when one person stood up and silently walked towards the exit during a section of the course where the leader had talked for about an hour straight with no breaks, and the leader points to that person and said that they had no manners, that his parents taught him to stay focused during a conversation with another person, which apparently the leaving person hadn’t learned. He pointed aggressively towards them and shouted “rude”, followed by applauses from the audience. I sat in total shock about the reaction of the audience, and got strong flashbacks to middle school when we watched the movie “The Wave” which basically is all about this kind of phenomena.

Sexism

There were also a lot of transphobic, sexist, heteronormative and racist talk involved in this. Of course not that different from legit courses, but I could very much see an overrepresentation of these kind of comments and talk here, than I see in other contexts. If you’re easily offended by this, you should definitely not go to this event (even though I strongly advice everyone not to visit this).
It’s also noted that this exact same routine has been going on for about 6 years, not much change has happened in the routine, the methods presented, or the presentation itself, whilst this in itself not is a way of debunking it, it’s notable that the financial world and how to build a business has changed quite much with the technical advancements and maybe should trigger change in these kinds of courses as well.

Not all bullshit

Of course there are some good things with a course like this, it’s impossible to keep up this kind of business without some legit facts about what you’re trying to teach the audience. Most of these things were just mentioned like “This is true, and you must use it”, and when it actually is something that improve what you’re trying to improve, that’s when you get testimonials of people saying that it worked. The interesting thing with these methods, although, is not if they work, it’s how they work, and why. Saying, for example, that focus is important for success is something that everyone should understand just by common sense and life experience. But HOW does focus work? What parts of the brain handle focus? Is everyone able to focus to the same extent? Why? These are all relevant questions to ask considering this subject. I’m not talking about “Here’s a method to improve your focus” kinds of answers, although they’re interesting as well, but it’s first when you’ve understood the basic principles of the concept that you actually can evaluate these different methods and choose the best one for you, or even come up with one of your own. Before that, you’re just replicating what works best for someone else, and are totally lost if that’s not the way that works best for you.
It’s also important to have a good understanding of the techniques you’re trying to use, for the sake of knowing the limits of the technique. Some techniques can, for example, only be used successfully in certain situations and is completely useless or even dangerous in other situations.

To be able to listen to these kinds of events without getting pulled into this cult-like group of people and spend all your money on the products that they’re desperately trying to push you to buy, you need to have some form of critical thinking. You need to be able to analyze the information and pick out the bits that are relevant and actually useful to be able to gain something from this. This is even more important when the source, in this case a very shady company with obvious compromised ethics, is less reliable. To help you get a better understanding of what critical thinking is, I’ll point you to someone that is a better source [12:30] than me. And here’s 5 tips on how to improve your critical thinking [4:29], something we could all gain from doing.
There’s a whole movement around people that value critical thinking, science and evidence-based facts. We’re called sceptics. If you’re into podcasts, I can strongly recommend the american sceptics community “Sceptics guide to the universe“. On the website, they also provide links to other sceptics organizations and communities around the world.

Social network

One other thing they talked about that was good during the weekend was the effect that your social group and in general the people you surround yourself with have on you. If you hang around negative people, it’s not that hard to see how you yourself easily can get pulled into the same negativity. Although it’s important to remember that it’s not your friends to blame for your unsuccessfulness, if they are a contributing part of it, they probably don’t do it deliberately. And you never know who is effecting who in this matter, are you sure that it isn’t you that is affecting your friend to be more negative? Or, more likely, both of you that have a negative effect on each others, maybe just by not being socially compatible.
The lesson you can take away from this is that sometimes a new social group can be a very strong and effective way to change who you are. So if you’re currently in a mindset that you don’t want to be in, try to find new social groups to be a part of. If we’re talking about financial successfulness, your social network is probably a big contributing factor to how it is or could be, since recruiting people for jobs with good salary today mostly is about looking for people within your own social network. It might seem obvious, but if you know someone that works for a company you want to work for, it’s more likely you’ll get there than if you don’t. The same goes for knowing people that can help you, so if you’re friends someone that is very good with finances, it’s probably more likely that you’ll get more help with your own finances if that’s what you need.
Social networks, and how we affect each other is a very big topic, it’s basically most of the science field “Sociology”. What I just wrote is an extremely small part of it, and it might not even be true, it’s only based on my own experiences. Here’s a TED talk [18:06] explaining some of the ways that the social network might effect us.

Learned helplessness

An interesting topic brought up during the weekend was learned helplessness, although they never explicitly said the phrase “learned helplessness” (I assume it’s either that they either didn’t want people to go off learning stuff on their own without paying them for the courses, or that they simply didn’t know what it was called or even that it actually is a legit concept within psychology). Learned helplessness is basically what it sounds like, through repeated negative experiences in certain kinds of situations, you learn to assume a negative outcome in the next situation of the same kind. For example, if you used to always fail your math tests for a whole semester, you might not make that much of an effort to pass the tests next semester, because you just assume that you’re bad at math and that it might not be for you. Of course, it can be true that it’s especially difficult for you, but it can also be due to a bad teacher, a way of learning that doesn’t suit you, or anything else. Either way, you should be careful to assume the outcome of a challenging task beforehand, since that can have an actual effect on the outcome itself.
Like the backfire effect, you can counteract some of this by just being conscious of the existence of this, and having a basic understanding of how this affects you. So here’s a short video on what learned helplessness [8:50] is. And here’s a longer article about learned helplessness that I strongly recommend, together with the podcast episode here[45:45] and here [47:03] from the same source.

Focus

Another useful method of improving how you work in general is focus, which also is a very big topic. We know that it’s important to have focus, but what these videos can teach us is how focus works [1:18:17], and give us a better understanding of the concept of focus, to be able to know when your bad performance is due to lack of focus and also how you can improve your focus [11:43]. What I learned at a workshop, provided by the municipality of Mölndal, for small business owners was a method to improve your focus by acknowledge what’s distracting you, and figuratively putting it aside in your mind. We practised this by sitting in silence, focusing on our own breathing, and every time you started to think about something else than your own breathing, you acknowledge that thought and put it aside. I didn’t find it very useful for me, and I don’t know the basis of that method, but it might help someone and then that’s good. One thing to remember is also to not be hard on yourself when it comes to focus, focus is something we gradually gain physically in our brain when we’re young, and it’s not fully developed until around your 20’s, and not everyone has the same physical conditions for being able to focus. It’s the frontal lobe part of your brain that handles focus, and some might actually get ADHD by damaging the frontal lobe physically.

Motivation

One interesting thing is the whole notion that we all get motivated by money, research actually says otherwise, and when you see it and think about it, it actually seems plausible. People within our kind of industry, are more motivated by freedom, and control of your own time and effort, than by money and money can actually be a counterintuitive way to try to motivate your employers to work. For all you employers out there, this is even more important to know. Here’s a short video on the power of motivation[11:19], and here’s a TED talk by Dan Pink [18:32], who can explain how employees might not be motivated by money.

Short conclusion

Not all the tips and information provided during this course was bullshit, but the way that they tried to manipulate people into buying their products, and the cult-like atmosphere surrounding it all was a very scary thing to witness. I’d say that a majority of the things they said was total bullshit or sales pitches, and some things were actually dangerous, and a very small minority of what they said was actually somewhat useful.