A story about this — 7 years ago
This is a really interesting book. I’m about half-way through it and I keep wanting to stop and digest a particular thought a little before moving on, but at the same time really want to see what he’s going to say next. A couple of things that stick out at the moment include:
Psychological immune system: This is the system that our brain uses to ignore or unravel thoughts that challenge our sense of well-being. The same way our body will attack foreign presences in our bodies, our mind will attack ideas that challenge ideas or beliefs that we “feel good” about. This immune system is lives mostly in our unconscious mind… as we would probably be less likely to purposefully deceive ourselves just in order to maintain the status quo in our belief system.
Who’s in charge? Most people think of the conscious mind as the CEO of our brain. It does the long-term planning and makes the important decisions while our subconscious is there mostly to do menial tasks like regulate the body, alert us to danger, filter out useless information, and come up with good dreams at night. However, there’s a lot of evidence that suggests it might not be that simple. Maybe the consciousness is more of a figurehead that is controlled by the subconscious and, like Ronald Reagan, serves more as a friendly face to manage PR with the world and come up with stories about its behavior that are easy to communicate and beneficial to the entity’s self-image, even if not entirely true. Another humorous analogy was that our conscious mind is like a kid playing a video game in an arcade without putting any money in. Things are moving on the screen but the controls aren’t actually connected. Still, he might think that he’s playing the game… especially if the controls are obscure enough and he is not sure what each of the buttons does.
The zone: Almost every area of expertise has a sense of the zone… where you know something so well that you don’t even have to think about it. You can react almost instinctively, as if on auto-pilot, more quickly and more accurately than a novice or even advanced person who isn’t in the zone can. This is the adaptive subconscious to the rescue.
Filters: The conscious mind relies on “activated” parts of the subconscious to help filter out 99% of the information that is coming in at all times. You might see an accident on the road which activates a part of your subconscious that will then be hyper-aware of danger in the road for the next couple hours. Someone might walk up behind you a few hours later and you’ll jump, startled, thinking that maybe a car was going to hit you. These filters are always being turned on an off… some stay on for years, or even forever… for example, if you went to war you may forever be activated to respond to airplanes flying overhead. Or, if you go through a bad relationship, certain personalities or physical traits might forever be activated as undesirable. This is a really interesting idea to me… it reminds me of things in Gladwell’s Blink. Our filters are so efficient that we can know in the first 5 seconds of a date whether or not there is a connection or not. Same with job interviews. Many times, even years of additional information won’t make us any better judges of a situation than we assessed in the first 5 seconds.
Confabulation: This is the ability for our brains to come up with convincing stories about ourselves. We can explain with high levels of confidence why we broke up with that person, or why we quit that job, or why we decided to go to this restaurant… but in many cases it has been shown that these stories are not necessarily true. We are almost as isolated from our own motivations as we are from the motivations of others. The concept of a “third variable” in the mind (the subconscious) could make something that seems like cause and effect (I want to be healthy, therefore I will order the salad) become more confused (perhaps hearing about a health-related illness in your family a couple days ago triggered a subconscious need to be more healthy… this is the third variable… and that then later on created the thought of wanting to be healthy AND ordering the salad). Conscious thoughts and deliberate actions could both spring forth from the same hidden subconscious motivation. Often times it’s possible that the action will even happen BEFORE the thought… with makes this third variable even more likely.
When’s the last time you asked yourself, “Why did I do that?” Isn’t it strange that we ask ourselves this question? An interesting exercise would be to catch yourself doing this and instead of asking yourself, as somebody else, even a stranger, why you did something. They would obviously have to confabulate a story with motivation that was entirely fictional (since they do not know your real motives)… and I bet most of the time their story would work just as well as your own story. We are expert story-tellers and are wonderful consumers of the confabulated narrative of our own lives. I want to learn more about his.
Accuracy:Steve Pavlina talks a lot about accuracy and how testing and improving our working model of ourselves and the world is the single most important task to take up if we desire to improve the quality of our lives over the long term. Of course, this makes sense… you can’t build a house if you don’t know who’s going to live there and what materials are available. Sometimes this involves admitting that you’re a jerk, that you’re unhealthy, that you lie, that you are mean to your friends behind their back, etc. And of course the psychological immune system wants to protect you from disturbing the well-being that not knowing who you really are affords. It seems an almost impossible and terribly unrewarding task in the short term. But perhaps beneficial in the long term. How do you bootstrap motivation in this case?