Instant Influence

"If they say ‘I see what you’re doing. You’re trying to get me to talk myself into this,’ a possible response might be 'No, only if there’s some genuine benefit to you. But since we’ve never talked about it, how would you know?'"

-  Instant Influence, page 63

Instant Influence is a book about motivation. Don’t be deceived by the name — or the subtitle, “How to Get Anyone to Do Anything – Fast.”  It’s not about manipulating people to serve only your own ends. Michael V. Pantalon developed this practice over years of coaching practice, and in addition to being effective, it’s surprisingly simple. Essentially, Instant Influence consists of asking the person to be influenced (yourself or someone else) six questions:

1. Why might you change?
2. How ready are you to change, on a scale from 1-10 where 1 means “not ready at all” and 10 means “totally ready”?
3. Why didn’t you pick a lower number?
4. Imagine you’ve changed. What would the positive outcomes be?
5. Why are those outcomes important to you?
6. What’s the next step, if any?

These are not always easy questions to ask. The system is designed so that the individual questions are reworded to suit the situation, so “change” would be replaced by e.g. “pick up one piece of laundry” or “look up the number for the dry-cleaners.” Pantalon stresses that it’s important to keep the initial step extremely small, so that it’s easy to contemplate. This allows the “influencee” to think about the “why” without being burdened by the “what” and the “how”.

The other counter-intuitive aspect to this process is step 3. It seems odd to ask the person who just answered a “2” why they aren’t less motivated — rather than asking why they aren’t more motivated — but this paradigm shift is key: you’re now putting the person in a position to defend what (little) motivation they have, rather than defend their position of inactivity. This brings us to…

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

The Law of Psychological Reactance — Reinforcing Autonomy

"We tend to react very negatively when our freedom is verbally threatened... [it] can be restored by such autonomy-enhancing statements as ‘It’s up to you,’ and ‘This is really your decision.’ If we’re motivating ourselves, we should remember that we don’t absolutely have to do anything."
- Instant Influence, page 41

“Reinforcing Autonomy” is the second chapter, but I actually read it several months before the rest of the book; it stands so well on its own that a friend of mine lent me her copy to read that section. While this section is not directly part of the six step process, it is valuable on its own for the way it helps reframe questions of motivation.

The law of psychological reactance states that “if someone tells you to do something, you probably won’t feel like doing it, even if you might otherwise have wanted to.” Intuitively, we know this to be true of ourselves and others we interact with. Why then, do we continually barrage people with reasons why they should do something? This is related to reverse psychology.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Five Whys

"You start by asking, ‘Why are those outcomes important to you?’  For every answer you get, you repeat the question, until you’ve asked it five times. Invariably, the answers move almost magically from the practical and impersonal to the heartfelt."
- Instant Influence, page 93

For each of the six steps mentioned above, there are further details that help the steps work better, but this one is particularly powerful. It’s important to note that many people you’re talking to will get annoyed if you just keep saying “Why?” “Why?” so reword it to respond to what they’ve said, e.g. “And why is spending time with your family important to you?”

A key element here is reflective listening: rather than just probing, pause to understand what they’ve said at each level before delving deeper. Reflective listening isn’t taught as part of Instant Influence, but it’s definitely a complementary skill.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Dead Man's Rule

"Don’t try to motivate anyone to do anything that a dead man could do just as well."
- Instant Influence, page 87

This last point is simple: motivation works much better when it’s a motivation to do something, rather than to not do something else. For example, someone who is dead can very easily not yell at their spouse, whereas a dead man can’t use reflective listening. There are a few reasons for why this reframing is powerful:

1. Everyone is always doing something, so if you’re going to eliminate a behaviour it has to be replaced with a different one.
2. It is much easier to visualize — and therefore perform — a small specific action in a certain circumstance than it is to just avoid some behaviour altogether.
3. In general, positive framings of motives and aims have been shown to be several times more effective than negative ones in producing personal change.

Ironically, the wording used above doesn’t follow its own advice. If you want to reword it so it does, you could say “Only try to motivate people to do things, rather than to avoid things.”


I’d recommend Instant Influence to anyone interested in the science of motivation. The book walks through each of the steps here and provides many examples and exercises to help readers rethink their patterns of interaction.

I found it really profound to adopt an attitude of autonomy, both for myself and for others. In some of your future interactions with others (and with yourself!) try staying focused on the reality that everyone is autonomous and ultimately can and will do what they want. For others, this means letting go of the need to control them. For yourself, it means acknowledging that you have the power to make your own decisions.

If anything interesting happens, I’ll invite you to share in the comments below. It’s just an invitation — it’s up to you.

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Malcolm Ocean

ABOUT Malcolm Ocean

Malcolm Ocean is a jack-of-all-trades engineering student, singer-songwriter, and software developer/designer. He also has a huge passion for dance, and enjoys collaborating with people who make things...
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