I was recently contacted by two people from two different cults to have me join them.
I listened to their spiels attentively — because I had been there before.
In my early twenties I was involved with a cult with a health and wellness business as it’s storefront. While I witnessed many undesirable things, there were many positives and it did in fact usher me in to a more desirable way of seeing the world — what I would call a reality upgrade.
So I listened to two cult members who approached me.
One was from the Flat Earth Society. The other was from a popular personal development organization that descended from a cult in the 70’s. I wanted to understand their reality.
And I became irritated. Not because of their worldviews, and not because they were “selling” me. But because they were doing it sloppily…
We’re constantly getting invitations for potential reality upgrades: advertising, politicians’ spiel, self help books, blog articles…
They are all mild forms of brainwashing (brainrinsing?) and many can positively impact our lives.
You may never call your movement/company/ideology a ‘cult’. (No one does.) But if you offer people a new way of perceiving reality, I’m sorry to break it you… it is.
Or at least it functions as one. And that’s not a bad thing.
Anytime people agree on a perspective they co-create a reality — hopefully a better one. If you truly does have a better way of seeing the world, I want you to enroll people in your ways.
Here are 5 principles that will help you enroll people into your way of thinking. They worked on me to join a literal cult. I hope you use them for good, not evil.
1. Validate my current observations, then offer an alternate explanation that includes it.
I did this a lot with Pickup Artists on why to they should take a workshop on empathy. Instead of shitting on their misogynistic assumptions (i.e. “all women are shallow” etc.) I told them, “yeah, you’re right, they do seem to be shallow… in situations where their emotional needs aren’t being met. Now if you just could learn how to feel what’s under that Resting Bitch Face…”
Islam did this with absorbing Jesus as a prophet. Galileo did this with his earlier discoveries under church supervision. Trump kind of did this with underemployment of white males.
It allows the enrollee to save face in adopting a new belief system.
The Flat Earther straight up told me “you’re living a lie.” Bad move. Even if she was able to convince me the Earth was flat, I’d be embarrassed to 180 my stance.
No one with an ego “changes their mind.” We make NEW decisions based on new information.
2. Highlight my insecurity.
Even though I’m avoiding ethics, this is what makes me most uncomfortable about marketing. (Which is probably why I’m not great at marketing myself.) Mainly because my spiritual belief is that we’re all perfect and life is perfect and we’re incarnated to entertain our consciousness via the ups and downs of life.
But I do know I would have missed out on a lot of desired experiences if it wasn’t for my perception that I NEEDED to do them. A little fear has always helped me overcome complacency.
I WANTED to have a Marines adventure. But I would have never went to OCS (like bootcamp) if my recruiter didn’t expose my insecurity about my masculinity.
I WANTED to have an entrepreneurial adventure. But I would have never left corporate work if I wasn’t afraid of becoming Willy Loman.
I WANTED to have a cult adventure. But I wouldn’t have left my fairly comfortable life if I wasn’t having trouble expressing myself.
Few people take action for an incremental improvement. But everyone wants to fix what’s broken.
3. SHOW me what I’ll become if I follow you.
This should be obvious as this is basically the purpose of Instagram.
I asked the Flat Earther “how is your life different now that you know the Earth is flat?”
At this point she got “triggered”. (Her word, not mine.) Which made me sad because I really wanted to believe that at least she was happy in her fantasy. I would hope that if you’re going to dismiss physics you at least have something to show for it…
When I joined my cult, I was mainly attracted by the fact all the teachers were super vibrant, totally self-expressed, badass, and intense AF. Even though not everything they said made sense, I was willing to suspend disbelief because they represented what I wanted to be. (Similar to Cialdini’s “Halo Effect.”)
I later found that much of it was theatrics, but one could argue the ends justifies the means… Again, this isn’t a post about ethics, it’s a post about truth. If you’re going to win me over, you better show me a greener pasture and redder roses (even if your minions had to paint them.)
4. Be willing to drop me.
We only want to follower leaders who don’t need us. We’re only sexually attracted to people who have other options. We’re only willing to carry the flag for a general who can replace us if we go down.
In my cult we were taught to “only want for people as much as they want for themselves.” That’s a brainwash-y line, I know. But the practical meaning is that if someone isn’t interested, move on.
Trump: The Art of the Deal lists this as a major rule: Be willing to walk away.
If I get a sense that you NEED me to hit your sales quota (or much worse, to get validation) you’re not getting any of my time, money, or attention.
I want to know that if I don’t take your “red pill” now, you’ll give to the next One. (That analogy has totally ruined the Matrix for me btw.)
Group attachment works on scarcity.
A couple times when I felt “done” with my cult, I stuck around for another pscycle because I got the sense I’d get replaced in my role (kind of a reverse FOMO.)
5. Really care.
If you believe the absolute that “cult” = “evil” this might be confusing. But in my experience, most effective cult enrollers genuinely care and believe they are doing the best for their marks.
The people who enrolled me showed an active interest in my life. My cult mentor (I believe) was truly interested in my enlightenment… Only her understanding of enlightenment was distorted from her own brainwashing.
I helped people totally uproot their lives because I really really believed it was the best thing for them. (Usually it was, but I’m not perfect.) I knew what it was like to be tortured by mediocrity and wanted more than anything to give them a chance out.
The people who reached out to me didn’t seem to care about where I was at in life. They couldn’t possibly know if they could actually help me, so I didn’t believe them when they told me so.
You might not have a literal cult (hopefully), but these are major principles that allow people to follow you. Cults are simply extreme examples of how people naturally organize around ideas.
Your ‘cult’, be it an explicit group or way of thinking, will attract more people if it follows this principles. Just please, don’t serve Kool Aid.
(Originally published on Better Humans)