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How to understand people… even stuff they don’t know about themselves

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What’s the secret to truly understanding people?

To figuring out what they want, what they fear, what they aspire to, what they secretly dream of but are too scared to tell?

As I’m closing off this intense review and reflection week, I’m more and more convinced that the secret is first, understanding yourself.

Not on a mere surface level, like knowing what you’re thinking about, what you plan to do etc.

No, I’m talking about really digging into the darkest part of your psyche.

As Carl Jung said:

If we remember that there are many people who understand nothing at all about themselves, we shall be less surprised at the realization that there are also people who are utterly unaware of their actual conflicts.

Jung was also a big proponent of the idea of each and everyone of us carrying within themselves in our unconscious, a shadow:

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.

This is what I mean by truly knowing yourself.

Investigating and deliberately seeking these dark, deep traits, so we can become more resilient and aware. Both self-aware and aware of what’s going on for other people.

As humans we’re not as disjointed as we like to pretend.

This is a huge advantage if you’re a copywriter in the more traditional direct response world for example.

In their industries (dating, finance, business development etc.), the market doesn’t change much if at all. And copywriters know it like the back of their hands.

After a while they develop an intuitive sense for what high-converting copy looks, sounds and feels like.

But most of these copywriters are also avid students of their own minds, beliefs, traumas and stories. That’s what makes them great.

I have to admit, in my field, especially when it comes to B2B, that’s quite different.

When I kick a project off I might have no idea what the market is all about.

For example…

I worked with a client selling software for the portable toilet and roll-off container market.

Or another one selling an enterprise intranet product.

With both I had to start from a clean slate.

But I started peeling the layers with my research.

Until the point where what remained was just human nature and how that intersected with their specific industry pain points, motivations and fears.

Thing is, if you can’t fill in the human nature gaps part with your own intuitive, experiential, and empathetic knowledge, conversions will suffer.

Because your copy won’t go deep enough.

Quick anecdote on this:

The other night to indulge in a festivity movie, I watched “The family man” with Nicholas Cage.

Jack (Cage) is a Wall St. broker who gets the chance for a glimpse in the life he would have lived, if he’d made a different choice in the past.

In this new life he’s a tyre salesman and lost all the prestige he had.

There’s a great scene where he goes to his other-life bosses, to convince them to hire him in this “new life”.

He obviously knows everything about them but they have no idea who he is.

“Business is business.

Wall Street, Main Street. It’s all a bunch of people getting up in the morning, trying to figure out how they’re going to send their kids to college.

It’s just people, and I know people.

Take you, for instance, Alan.

You have a certain energy about you, an active kind of energy….You’re an excellent father, but you feel guilty about the time you spend away from home. You drink bourbon, but you offer your clients Scotch. And your wife decorated this office.

You’re a little tougher, Peter.

For one thing, you like expensive things. You smoke Hoyo de Monterreys. You’re a Scotch man, single malt, not because it’s trendy but because you’ve been doing it for years… and you like to stay with what works. You have two great loves in your life: your horses… and this company. And you’re a man who prides himself in finding talent in unusual places.

The biggest part of judging character is knowing yourself, and I know this: I can do this job. I can.

After getting a glimpse into this new life, Jack became more in tune with others. He’s now more empathetic and understanding. Less robotic and more human. So he uses this to his advantage.

I think it’s a great representation of what intuitively knowing yourself and trying to mirror that for others feels like.

You don’t have to know what they drink or what car they drive (even though it might be useful), but you should know why they would pick one car over another.

It’s all about heading into those darker corners of our minds.

So we can use that precious knowledge as an unfair advantage. Even when it comes to writing copy.

But let’s make this practical.

Here are 2 unusual exercises you can do to learn more about yourself:

  • Regrets: Every day write down what you regret from the day before. At the end of the week look at your weekly regrets. What patterns or contrasts do you see?
  • Themes: Every day or every time you read something and a quote seems relevant, save it. At the end of the week look at all your quotes. What are the main themes underlying them? What are the differences from the previous weeks?

I’ve been doing both for 3 months now. The insights are incredible and super practical.

Let me know if you try them.

In a way, I often consider myself kind of like my clients’ psychotherapist (or private detective depending on my mood). I help them understand their business and themselves, so they can understand their customers and convert more of them.

Want help? Get in touch.

Quote and reflection of the day:

“By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.” – Epicurus, Principal Doctrines

Pleasure is something you have to constantly work for. It’s not abandoning yourself to your desires. You pursue pleasure, not by feasting or indulging in vices, but by using your mind to make good decisions. To constantly reflect on why you do anything so you can influence your frame on what makes life meaningful. Pleasure is the absence of suffering. And it’s a constant work in progress.

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