The Sweet Spot for Manipulation

There’s a moment most savvy marketers ask for video testimonials – and that’s right near the end of an event, when everyone is full of the lovey feelings.

You might argue that’s the most appropriate time, when the event is still fresh in the mind and the impact is at its highest.

Yet we know the effect wears off. The forever-friends drift away. And things go back to a kinda-normal… unless we buy in. The Biggest Loser contestants who saw persistent change were the ones who created careers on the back of the show, where their income depended on maintaining the weight loss. In the same way, unless we invest ourselves into a role (student or staff), the testimonial is likely to mark nothing more than a temporary moment.

What’s that got to do with anything? Well, it came to mind because marketing people are asking me if I have testimonials, and I’m having to ask people what’s changed since last year, or even before. And then today I fell across a video that highlighted something – not the something they were presenting, but something much more profound.

But, to begin at the beginning…

We all have an emotional pattern. The set point might be higher or lower, the transitions gentle or dramatic, the extremes more or less, well, extreme. We might have more of a wave, more of a heartbeat, more of a roller coaster. And it might be influenced, or even dominated by the emotions of those around us (which is still a pattern, just a more volatile one).

If we recognise our emotional pattern, we find the easiest place to make healthy decisions from. Clue: it’s never in the extremes, and rarely in the moment.

Here’s an example. I have a heartbeat pattern that’s not heavily influenced by other people’s emotions. (Mental states, yes, emotions, no.) And my basic emotion is a kind of cosy contentment. Sort of hygge-ish. It’s pretty self-contained and doesn’t have any overtones of lack or need. Yeah, I get that might be weird. But it’s me. My basic emotion is dominant – unless something is triggered. Triggered in a generic sense of started. If a nerve is touched, my emotions are extreme. But it’s more than emotion at that point, it ties into the sense of self. And the things that can provoke reaction are if someone does something for or against a person I care about, or if someone I care about does something for/against me (and a few other boundaries, but they are more random). My emotions will kick up or down sharply and suddenly, then ricochet, bounce and settle. Until the next time.

Because of my pattern, it’s fairly obvious that making decisions based on strong emotion isn’t wise, And the evidence is there in my past! Of course, I’ve presented it in a way that makes it easy to see that. Instead, I could have said: Oh, sometimes I get very passionate about an event, a person, a topic. And our culture lauds passion and desire. Which could lead, has led, to making spur of the moment decisions informed by a passionate feeling. My heartbeat emotional pattern makes it easier to spot, especially from the outside. A regular wave is predictable. A roller coaster is a bit of a lifelong learning . And other people’s emotions have to be recognised as “not mine.”

We all have an emotional pattern. And whatever the pattern, we tend to make better informed decisions when we wait a bit to ensure that decision makes sense over time. Which is a vast over-simplification, but it’ll do.

On any kind of personal psycho-spiritual development path, there’s a pendulum effect. The pendulum swings across the distance from ‘normal’ to ‘flow’. Normal marks our dominant daily experience, and flow marks the full available richness or depth of experience.

The pendulum swing marks the changing experience, which is underpinned by our changing sense of self. Of course, it’s not likely to be a regular tick-tock, but every metaphor has its limits.

The important part is that there are two points, with a distance between them, and our experience moves back and forth.

I’s not a one way street, and not a one-and-done transition.

To begin with, it might feel there is a huge difference between ‘normal’ and ‘flow’. Like the swing of a grandfather clock pendulum. On the way from this distant normal into flow, there is a huge relief, on the way from flow to normal there is a grief of returning to distress. Which has two effects:

  1. Flow can be seen as something to chase, acquire, grasp at or hold onto
  2. The relief is mistaken for flow, rather than measure of distance.

In a healthy exploration, the relief diminishes. Because the gap is less, the swing is less. But if relief has been mistaken for flow, then it might wrongly look like a greater hit of flow is required.

The relief and distress diminish as normal experience resides closer and closer to flow. The pendulum stills, over at flow. There’s no grandfather clock any more.

The bigger the swing, the bigger the emotion of relief. AKA not a great time for making decisions or grand declarations.

What can make the relief bigger? Making the swing bigger. Creating MORE distress. Re-traumatising. Moving normal further into distress. Because we can’t make ‘flow’ more flow-y. It just is.

And huge relief from extreme distress feels abso-ducking-amazeballs.

That’s the sweet spot, that can be so easily manipulated. It’s a bit like being under the influence of a stage hypnotist. We’re vulnerable to charlatans in that moment. They can have us quack like a duck and think it’s the best thing ever.

It’s why, in certain arenas, a sales call is all wrapped up in ‘service’ – the mark, sorry potential client, is going to be more open to spending if they are in the sweet spot. It’s the impetus behind getting someone to sign up to a big expensive programme under pressure of a sever time-limit, because the seller knows they won’t be in the sweet spot for long. It’s the reason for legal cooling off periods.

The sweet spot is the perfect time for planting ideas that we’ll take as our own – but in the wrong hands we’re just quacking like a duck for someone else’s amusement.

We can all fall into the sweet spot for manipulation. And the thing to do is…


Nothing but enjoy the feeling. It’s nice. A bit like being mildly drunk. But it’s not a time for making big life decisions, or even statements of intent.

It helps to know our own emotional pattern. It helps to recognise relief and grief as measures of distance. And it definitely helps to be firmly in touch with our own stable sense of flow, and of moving out of flow. These all support a more centred, grounded decision making process – and help avoid buying into the manipulation.

Photo by Ross Sokolovski on Unsplash

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