How to Influence Someone’s Memory and Affect Their Decisions

The strongest skill any modern communicator can develop is the skill to influence other people’s memory — and therefore have an impact on their decisions. Here, we look at three ways to use this power for good — never evil! [Photo by Roman Boed]

The concept of being able to influence someone’s memory doesn’t really make sense, does it? How can you influence something that’s already happened? We only remember stuff that’s already happened, right?

Not quite.

Retrospective memory — that’s when we recollect the past. But prospective memory — that’s when we remember to act on a future intention. Prospective memory is where most of our memory-related problems come from. We rarely suffer if we forget the past, but we definitely suffer if we forget to follow through on a future intention.

Let’s take those of us who create content. We want to remembered by people, don’t we? But we don’t just want to be remembered for what we did last week or last month or last year — we want to be remembered next week or next month or next year, and we want to be remembered when people are going to make a decision, whatever that decision is.

Knowing this, the strongest skill any modern communicator (that’s you) can develop is the skill to influence other people’s memory — and therefore have an impact on their decisions.

For example, I think everybody in their life, at some point, has tried (and probably failed) to convince a loved one to go to the doctor. And it’s annoying. Why won’t they just go? Can’t they see that they clearly need to go?

Worry not about that. Instead, think about the three different ways we can influence this person’s memory and therefore their decision to go to the doctor:

  • This person’s reflexes
  • This person’s habits
  • This person’s goals

Reflexes are a set of behaviours or reactions that are already a given. For example, we react automatically to taste, smell, sound, beauty, and sex — and we do so because we want to control our immediate environment. So with the doctor example, alluding to any of these things will influence someone’s memory and therefore their decisions. Beauty might be a good one to allude to with the doctor example because when we’re sick, we don’t look our best, and we don’t like that and we’ll want to change it — to control it. Though maybe you’ll do this one at your own peril…

We can also use the person’s habits to influence them to go to the doctor. For example, if there’s something the person does habitually — running some errands, maybe — then we can link that to going to the doctor. Maybe the doctor’s office is close to where the person needs to run these errands, for example.

And then, finally, we can use this person’s goals to influence them to go to the doctor. We can remind this person of work they have to finish, or things they need to do tomorrow, or some important event they need to attend — all of which will influence their decision.

Repetition is the mother of memory. Yes, some off the charts wisdom there. But there is an art to repetition because there’s a difference between something that’s being repeated and something becoming just annoying — you hear something so many times that it actually turns you off, which is somewhat undesirable. Obviously, this is particularly important for content creators to remember, because the absolute last thing a content creator (that’s you) wants is to turn someone off their message even when that someone was initially interested, maybe even fascinated.

So how can you avoid this? Well, you can realise that the brain habituates to things very quickly and then do something about that.

Here’s an example that might help: imagine you’re walking down a street with all these amazing houses, and all these amazing cars in the driveways, and you’re in awe of them. But after a while, not so much. You become habituated to them. All of them are amazing and so none of them are. Imagine then, when you’ve habituated to them, you suddenly see a tiny, run-down shack with a unicycle in the driveway. What happens? Well, it gets your attention. It captivates you. It’s totally on your mind and the other amazing houses aren’t — even though this house is “worse” than those other enormous mansions. It’s on your mind because it’s distinct, it’s different, and it’s a break in the pattern.

Which house are you going to remember in a few days, weeks, months, years, and longer? You’re going to remember the one that was completely different.

So if you’re a content creator, or you have some presentation coming up, or you’d simply like to be a better communicator (that’s you), what is your audience expecting from you? How can you break the pattern of what they’re expecting from you? What can you do to them that will allow you to influence the hell out of them?

To learn more about how to influence someone’s memory and affect their decisions, check out The Art of Charm Podcast episode 533 with Carmen Simon, author of Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions.

Matt Hearnden - author of 7 posts on The Art of Charm

Matt Hearnden is a writer in the UK, and he publishes a new post every day over at He took voluntary redundancy from the corporate world a few months ago and is now pursuing his dream of writing full-time. More important, he has lots of tattoos and plays basketball.


in Art of Personal Development, Life Hacks