Many years ago, my friend David LaMotte and I did a tour together. During the tour, we invented a car game. I’ll call it “The World’s Most Annoying Game.” The object of The World’s Most Annoying Game is to get a song embedded into the mind of your opponent so that s/he can’t stop singing it the rest of the day.

Here’s how it went: We’d be driving along in his van, talking about nothing much. There’d be a lull in the conversation. We’d both look out the window. And then I’d sing, for instance, “Islands in the Stream,” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. (Note: You want to choose the most annoying song you can think of. Air Supply, Meatloaf, Whitney Houston)these are good places to start. And you want to sing it in an overkill imitation of the original tune.) That day, I won.

Ultimately, however, David got game, set, and match when he blurted (quite obnoxiously, I might add), “I love him! I love him! I love him! And where he goes I’ll follow! I’ll follow! I’ll follow!” I think I sang that stupid song for the next three weeks.

This is why songwriters talk in terms of “hooks.” The hook is what grabs the listener. The hook is the part you can’t stop singing. Sometimes the hook will annoy you to no end.

Advertisers, marketers, and copywriters all talk hooks. Hook the reader. Hook the viewer. Hook the consumer. Do it with a headline, a product, a jingle, a brand.

Sometimes I think about the implication behind this idea. This idea assumes that we are all walking around mindlessly, just sort of open to being victims of the culture, the ad agency, the drama, the song. We’re there to be gotten. We’re there to get hooked. We are, in essence, victims.

Of course, this is an extreme statement. When I’m writing a song, I certainly don’t think of listeners as victims. I doubt that copywriters think that way either. For instance, you might have a great article that has valuable information, so you learn how to write a hook-y headline to attract readers. Is that a bad thing? No.

Still, it seems there’s a set up in our consumer-based culture that almost encourages us to stay stuck in our emotional reactions to pretty much everything — from products to news to weather to the economy. Our emotional reactions are what hook us. And it is assumed that we let them hook us because we have no choice.

Hooks require an unconscious emotional reaction.

Ultimately this idea bleeds over into our everyday lives and interpersonal communications. In fact, almost all gossip, emotional drama, and collusion has a hook. Getting hooked is so socially accepted that you might be reading this and wondering what the hell I’m even talking about. In fact, you might even get a little pissed off, because for lots of people the “hook” is their story, their drama, their own little “Do-You-Know-What-That-Bitch-Did-to-Me?” two act play that keeps them spinning. Without it, what would there be? (I’ll write more on that later.)

What are your hooks?

This is a very good question to start asking yourself. It’s one of the beginning places for becoming more conscious in your work life, your health, and all of your relationships. It may appear that you’re getting hooked by something outside of you, and you may be tempted to say, “This thing hooks me.” Or, “This aggressive jerk gets me every time.” But that’s not an empowering place. That still sets you up as the victim. The best place to begin is to honestly assess how you allow yourself to get hooked.

Here are four examples that might help you to recognize your own hook-y places:

Getting Hooked by Fear (or The Headline News)

You wake up. You meditate. You set your intent for the day. You’re working on money issues, and you want to attract more money into your life, and you want to live in gratitude and peace. After your morning ritual, you head to the gym. At the gym, there are about seventeen TV sets on the walls. You mostly ignore them, but you happen to look up and see this headline: “Gas Prices Continue to Soar as Consumers Barely Get By” (Or something equally fraught with doom.) You get hooked. Your affirmation falls on the ground with a thud. (Not unlike the 125-pound weights dropped by the grunting guys with necks as big as your thigh.) You watch. Your heart starts to race. Your thoughts are no longer about peace and abundance. They’re scattering. They’re screaming, “It’s all over! All is lost! We’re doomed!”

And there goes the rest of your day. Maybe it’s just a low-grade panic. But you’ve been hooked. You’ve been taken out of your own power.

Getting Hooked by Low Self-Esteem (or The Gossip Mill)

You’ve decided to stop colluding in your school. You’re no longer eating in the teacher’s lounge because of the gossip that goes on there. One of the teachers stops you in the hall and tells you she misses seeing you at lunch. She tells you about one of the other teachers and how he’s been sleeping with the principal. And you keep your cool and say, “Okay, well, that’s not really my business.” BUT the teacher sees she’s not getting you. She unconsciously takes a different tactic. She says, “And you know, the principal said some stuff about you the other day that just got me very upset.”

There’s the hook. You fall in. It sounds like she’s being compassionate. It sounds like she’s just letting you know how concerned she is. But what really gets you is the part about how “the principal said some things.” What often hooks us is the opportunity to hear bad things about ourselves. (In one of my old Road Notes, I write about seeing a bad review of my CD and not being able to stop reading.) Before you know it, you’re listening, you’re defending yourself, and then you’re colluding. You lose your intent and power.

Getting Hooked by A Sense of Unworthiness (or The Angry Employee)

You have your own business. You’re still learning about having employees and being a good manager. One of your employees is consistently back-talking you and has started to show unpleasant attitudes to customers. Most of your friends tell you they would’ve “fired her ass in heartbeat.”

However, every time you call a meeting with her and tell her that this behavior is unacceptable, she cries. She says things like, “You don’t know how hard I work here!” She insinuates that she’s not making enough money. You get hooked. You’re the owner of the company. You can’t pay her any more than what she’s making. And oh my god, she works so hard for you! You’re lucky to even have her! You end up not communicating your expectations of her. In fact, you end up apologizing to her. And the problems continue and worsen.

Getting Hooked by the Need to Rescue (or Other Victims and their Drama)

An old boyfriend of yours has gone through drug rehab and is in recovery. You had gone through drama after drama with him, and you’re relieved to know he’s finally getting help. You haven’t heard from him in a while. One night he calls you up out of the blue and asks if he can stay with you just for tonight. He doesn’t sound sober. You get a twinge of anxiety.

You’re studying for an exam. It’s inconvenient, and there’s not much room in your house. You tell him it’s not a good idea and that you need to study tonight. He tells you that he got kicked out of his apartment because his landlord is a hard-ass, and that his mom is in the hospital and his dad hates him, and that none of his friends are being nice to him anymore and he’s trying the best he can but life has just been awful to him. (Note: there are always hospitals and bad landlords in these kinds of stories.)

There’s the hook. He needs you. He needs to be rescued. You will be the rescuer. After all, none of your other friends are helping him. You don’t ask him if he’s using drugs anymore. You tell him to come over. You spend the whole evening listening to his drama, and you don’t study at all. He steals money from your dresser before he leaves in the morning.

Un-hooking the Hook

In each example, there’s an instant response that could have been more pro-active. This kind of response takes a deep centered self-awareness and a willingness to step out of drama and know your own self and your own power. From that place, you can un-hook the hook, and then decide how to handle the situation. (At first, you typically have to step totally away from the situation.)

There are countless examples I could have used here. (And I’ve purposefully eliminated romantic relationships at this point because that’s an even deeper area.) But I believe you get the idea. All of these examples describe what Ken Keyes calls “emotion-backed” reactions. What hooks you are your emotions and your unconscious response to them. For many of us, our emotions have run amok. They’re driving the bus, they’re making the decisions, and we haven’t stopped once to say, “I have a choice here.”

But you do have a choice. The next post will be about that choice and how to start making it.

33 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • Kate

    You touch on so many of the issues that have been going on in my life lately. Again, I’m glad to have found your website. You said, “Before you know it, you’re listening, you’re defending yourself, and then you’re colluding. You lose your intent and power.” This is so true. I have always believed that when you give up your peace, you give up your power. By giving up your peace, I am referring to allowing negative things to affect you emotionally or mentally. Great article!

  • jenschka

    I’m gonna harden my heart, I’m gonna swallow my tears. I’m gonna turn and le-heave you-hoo here (sung country style hooks me all the time!)

    I love your blog posts and have referred many a friend to the “You Teach People How to Treat You” article. AND I used that article to give out as a party favor at a party I threw for not getting married 🙂

  • Monica

    I love this post… I’ve recently had a situation akin to a “bad review” that really left me deflated and “Before you know it, you’re listening, you’re defending yourself, and then you’re colluding. You lose your intent and power.” That’s exactly what did happened, though I stopped the collusion much earlier on than I would have int he past. But I was still hooked and found the need to publicly defend myself against an unfounded, unwarranted, and untrue criticism. I try to console myself that changing behaviors takes a long time and there are bound to be steps back to old behavior. Your website is very empowering in a world of so much negativity. Thank you.

  • christine

    Hi ZhaK, Thanks for your insights. You’re right on. And yes, it is very much a journey!

  • Tim

    Congratulations! Your submission to the Carnival of Business was chosen as one of the three best this week! 🙂

  • ZhaK

    In Vippassana meditation your ‘hooks’ are called craving. First their is craving and then there is clinging. When a feeling arises we often try to either think it away or think it more intense. The joke is you can’t think a feeling or feel a thought. Mind is very, very sneaky, like a coyote it plays games all the time; like a monkey it cavorts saying look at me! pay attention to me! In theory it if very easy to recognize this and release it–it is our choice. In practice-ha! Not so easy–but a fun journey.

  • christine

    Thanks Brian! And you’re welcome, too!

  • Brian Clark

    >>When Im writing a song, I certainly dont think of listeners as victims. I doubt that copywriters think that way either.

    You’re absolutely right. Song and copy writers both know that no matter how great what you have to offer actually is, people will try to ignore you if they can.

    It’s simply an attention defense mechanism.

    Hooks get through, and hopefully people are all the happier when all is said in done.

    That’s the goal anyway.

    Awesome post Christine, and thanks for the linkage. 🙂

  • ChickiePam

    I don’t read your blog daily, just when I remember to search it out, but as I sit here reading older articles, it comes to me that this information would be a best seller if made into book form. Ever considered writing a book, Christine? You’ve already got most of it done!

    I was sent an email this past week by a friend and it has rocked my world. I will share the link here so if anyone is interested, they can read about this amazing way of healing. It’s called HO’OPONOPONO and is a Hawaiian method. http://www.hooponopono.org/ is the website and you can click on “articles” to learn more. Perspective is everything.

  • Susie

    Right now the gas/energy crisis has the biggest hook in me. But I do agree, that these issues will force change…a change that I’m looking forward to. Which reminds me, do you or any of your kind readers know much about the Carolina Mountain Land Conservation organization? I’m playing with the idea of joining their AmeriCorps program when I’m finished in Utah and any feedback on that group would be much appreciated. Feel free to email me at crazyolanda@hotmail.com instead of taking up room on your comments section.

    Speaking of hooks, I’ve got one for you: I started a Blog yesterday! This blog is just for work, but mine will be on its way shortly! (Look, I’ve got a hook and suspense 😉 Anyways, the link for that is: http://sploremagic.blogspot.com/

    As always, I look forward to the second post on this topic…

  • christine

    Susan…well, that’s a good game! And a whole lot nicer!

    Tammy, I’m sorry I ruined you. It really IS a terrible song to have in your head. Blame David!

    Starbucker! Congrats on waiting that extra thirty minutes. i’m anxious for the day you write in about how much it has changed the direction of your days! Yea, I have to work hard on the gas prices thing. Panic does nothing to help. Look at the bright side… this is gonna FORCE us to find better alternatives to our addiction to gas. Change doesn’t have to mean fear.

  • Starbucker

    “If I can’t have you, I don’t want nobody baby……..” I’m STILL humming that one a few times a day. Interesting connection to emotional “hooks” – I need to stop watching the dreaded TV when I’m on the treadmill in the morning; I got “hooked” by a similar gas price downer just today (I’m working on this -really). Look forward to your follow up. BTW, I’m on “Day 2” of my not looking at e-mail until 30 minutes after my business day starts. So far, so good, and I feel better already…..

  • Tammy Lenski

    Christine, you’ve ruined me for the entire evening. I read your post a while ago and suddeny realized I’m sitting here with a tune and “I’ll follow! I’ll follow! I’ll follow!” romping around in my brain. Oh no!

  • Susan

    My friend and I play the opposite of your game. She will call me and say, quick, give me another song, so I can get this one out of my head.

  • christine

    RL, yea… this works with email too. I was in a forum a few weeks ago, and Starbucker (who comments here on occasion) wrote down just the words of “If I can’t Have You”… that old disco hit by Yvonne Ellimon, and I couldn’t stop singing it for days.

    PTC… Thanks! It’s a great thing to pay attention to. Maybe you’ll never look at TV the same way.

    ChickiePam, It’s always a choice. That’s the big thing to get, huh? And yes, gentle is always the best way! Thanks!

  • ChickiePam

    I’ve never played the game, but I get the hooks all of the time. My current hook is “How can anyone ever tell me I am anything less than beautiful” by Karen Drucker. And frequently “There is only love” by the same author. Can you tell that I went to church yesterday? It helps keep me focused. And other times I can’t get that Christine Kane out of my head!!! Catchy stuff like “4 Legs good, 2 Legs bad” and “Right Outta Nowhere”.

    More and more I’m getting that it IS a choice thing. Sometimes I make better choices than others. And I get lots of opportunities provided for me to become clearer with my choices. (I prefer the gentle opportunties to the kicks in the ass.)

    Can’t wait to read the next post.

  • Palmtreechick

    Very interesting post. I know all about hooks or “teases” as we call it in tv land, having worked in television news. You’ve gotta draw the people in. I love your examples of how we get hooked.

  • Repressed Librarian

    I know that game! My co-workers at a former job and I used to call and leave the annoying songs on voice mail. One of the all-time winners is the ’60’s classic “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits.

    Darn, now it’s in my head, and it will be for days!