Counterfactual Reflection: A Powerful Influence Technique

Counterfactual Reflection

Jason Stapleton
Scottsdale, AZ
Monday, 5:03 a.m.

Hello again my friend,

On August 18th, 2016 I was driving north on Interstate I-35, headed back from…I don’t remember where.

I was driving my 2009 Mercedes E350. The car was special to me because it was the first “luxury” car I’d ever owned.

The car was more than a car to me. It was a symbol of what I had accomplished. For me it represented who I was. Not to other people, but to me.

As I headed north on I-35 I zoned out.

You know, that thing we all do on an empty highway when your mind starts to wander.

I was shocked back to reality when my subconscious recognized the sign for my exit. The lanes were starting to split and I knew I would have to act quickly if I wanted to make the off-ramp.

I turned on my blinker and steered the car into the empty space created as the lanes split while simultaneously looking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t about to run someone off the road.

Coming up fast behind me was a pickup truck. I realized I was going to have trouble getting into the exit lane.

I felt like I’d glanced over my shoulder for only a few seconds, but when I turned to face the road again, I flew into a panic.

I had misjudged my position on the road. Now I was staring at a concrete barrier coming at me at 60 mph.

I’m a highly skilled driver having been through several professional driving schools, and I thought I might be able to drift my way around the barrier…

…I was almost right.

The rear quarter panel on the driver’s side clipped the barrier sending me into a spin.

About that time my car made it parallel to the road, that truck I had been worried about slammed into me sending my car spinning back into the barrier wall I had tried to avoid.

Here’s a picture of my car when it was all over.

Counterfactual Reflection

The other driver was unharmed, but his truck was totaled as well.

He was a day laborer and what bothered me most is that I knew whatever my insurance company gave him for his truck would not be enough to replace the very old (but likely reliable) truck I had ruined.

As the days went by and I dealt with the insurance company and the search for a new car, I kept going back to that moment just before the accident.

“What if I had just driven to the next exit?”

“What if I had pulled left instead of right?”

“What if I had turned around 3 seconds earlier?”

What if… what if… what if…

Unfortunately, I don’t get to know the answer to those questions. And I don’t get to live it out again and make a different choice.

We don’t get a second try at life.
We only get one.

As we look back and ask the “what-ifs” our mind is performing an action called Counterfactual Reflection.

Counterfactual Reflection can be both positive and negative.

For example, had I made the exit and escaped without destroying my car I might have reflected on what could have happened if I hadn’t made it.

I would likely have chastised myself for being so foolish and reminded myself of how lucky I was.

We all do this, all the time.

But did you know you can use this natural predisposition in your marketing and communication to influence?

Let me explain.

Let’s say one of the big objections to buying your product or service is that it is risky, expensive, or both.

You know the objection is going to come up. You want to “pre-frame” your prospect so he feels more confident spending the money and taking the risks.

You can accomplish this by injecting a story into your sales presentation.

Reference a time in your life when you took a big risk or spent your last penny on something, and it ended up being the best thing you’ve ever done.

I am fond of telling a story about buying my first info product from Ryan Deiss. That $2,000 investment easily made me $2 million.

I can’t imagine where I would be now if I’d said,


I might never have started my first YouTube channel or built my first website. I wouldn’t have known how to build a sales funnel or promote my products.

That one decision might very well have changed the entire arc of my life. When you think about it that way, it’s shocking how much a single decision influenced my success.

When I tell that story, people naturally draw the conclusion I want them to draw. I don’t have to tell them,

“This is why you should always spend money on education even when it’s risky or uncomfortable.”

The lesson is implied, and my followers don’t feel like they are being sold.

Don’t TELL your prospects what they should think.
LEAD them to the conclusion you want them to draw.

Here’s another way you might use Counterfactual Reflection.

Ask your prospects to think of a time when they took a big risk and it paid off in a huge way. Then ask them how their life would be different if they hadn’t taken the risk.

It works every time.

You can also use the inverse by asking your prospects to imagine a time when they didn’t take a risk and it ended up hurting them.

I have a unique way of doing this.

One of the things I’m terrible about is taking advantage of a deal.

Let’s say there is a sweater or some camera equipment that I’ve been looking for.

When I happen to stumble across exactly what I want, without fail, I always struggle to pull the trigger.

Instead, I decide to think it over and come back later if I still feel compelled to buy.

Now in many ways, this is a good thing. It protects me from impulse buying.

But here’s the rub: I can list half a dozen times when I walked away from the perfect jacket or camera accessory only to find it sold out or selling at a premium when I returned.

Yet I can’t remember the last time I bought something on the spot and regretted it six months later.

Even if it was a financial stretch, I always ended up fine.

What is the implied message here?

“You will regret not buying now!”

I use a negative Counterfactual Reflection to stir up the pain and create both fear and perceived scarcity, which are two huge motivators for action.

When you ask your prospects to draw from their own experience, they are forced to revisit their pain. Or, at the very least, to imagine a pain that might have existed.

In either case, your prospect will be more inclined to align with you, simply because he wants to avoid the pain.

Action Items

What stories do you have that use both positive & negative Counterfactual Reflection?

How can you use those stories to “pre-frame” your prospects so you can overcome potential objections and align them with your message?

Write down as many stories as you can and then find a way to tell them in both a positive & negative context.

Talk soon,



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