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The Key to Compelling Writing: Hijacking Elephants (Part 1/2)

There is sooooooo much written about how to get people’s attention online — from hacks and buzzwords to algorithms and popups and lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

But what if you could somehow get somebody’s attention in a way that makes them feel good and even gets their brain to convince them that you’re a pretty cool person and they should listen to you … without them really realizing what’s going on?

For that, you’ll need to hijack an elephant.

Ready for me to lay some science on you?

So our brains can very generally be divided into two sections: the more emotional, gut instinct side, and the rational, logical side. While we tend to think of the logical side as being in charge (and it can direct the emotional side), the emotional side is actually much more powerful. 

Think about these two sides using Chip and Dan Heath’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider. The elephant is strong, but it can be guided by the rider. The rider is smaller, and ultimately at the mercy of the elephant, but it can give it purpose and direction.

What’s really interesting is that if you get the elephant part of your brain on board with something, then the rider will convince itself that actually, that’s what it wanted anyway.

This happens to all of us. Just think about the last time you were trying to form a habit. Maybe you were trying to start exercising every day. It all goes well for a while, but then that one day comes where you think, “You know what? It’s been a hard week. I don’t feel like doing this. Hell, I deserve a break! And if I take a break today, that means I’ll be even better tomorrow, so actually, I’m doing what’s best.”

When that feeling side of you decides on something, the rational one has no choice but to go along for the ride, so it will convince itself that actually, that’s what it wanted anyway.

Bottom line: if you can hijack the elephant, you’ve got the rider pretty much in the bag. And that means that if you grab someone emotionally right from the start with your writing, they will naturally, unconsciously convince themselves that they want to read you and pay attention to what you’re saying.

Which is all kinds of cool — just think about the implications that has for your blog posts, not to mention your sales copy! You’re no longer in the position of begging people to pay attention to you and convincing them that you’re saying cool stuff, they’re doing it for you without even really consciously realizing it.

So how do you actually hijack an elephant? There’s no secret buzzword or magical algorithm. Just some really simple, effective things you can do (based on some really cool neuroscience), which I’ll tell you all about next week!

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