This morning, I was scrolling the FaceBook feed, looking for some mental breakfast – some savory mental morsel to jump-start the neurons.
Of course, I was greeted by the usual parade of violence, outrage, shock, conspiracy, partisanship, and paranoia.
There was even a fantasy about being the devil – which seemed an odd posting for one of those uber-Christian types. You’d think they’d be pretending themselves a saint, or angel, or even God – rather than the devil.
What do political rants, conspiracy theories, and end-times prophecy have in common – besides not creating good emotions to accompany an actual breakfast?
Then, I came across a posting from a Yoga teacher friend, talking about finding one’s balance through (her) Hot Yoga class – which, on the surface, could look like self-promotion. But, an invitation to someone’s hot yoga class is far more than some hipster version of Amway.
There’s LOTS more going on here. And, it’s the stuff that makes the difference in lives, in fulfillment, even physical health. It reminds me of a story my Aikido instructor used to tell:
An old man lived on top of a mountain, greeting travelers as they passed. One asked: "What are the people like in that next valley?" The old man thought a moment and then inquired: "What are the people like where you are from?" The traveler replied: "They are greedy, deceitful, mean-spirited, and not to be trusted." The old man said: "I think the people you meet will be just like the ones you're used to." The next day, another traveler asked the same question: "Old man, what are the people like in that next valley?" Again, the old man inquired: "What are the people like where you are from?" The traveler replied: "They are friendly, helpful, and mostly trustworthy." And, the old man again said: "I think the people you meet will be just like the ones you're used to."
That’s a fun fable about finding what we expect – what we are already looking for.
But, how is it useful?
In Motivational Literacy, we study the relationship between what we notice (pay attention to) and what we feel, emotionally. We say: “Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to.”
All emotional states are “performance states”, because whatever our state, it’s the performance state for whatever we’re doing. And, the brain is a predicting machine to prepare us for our activity.
The three step process:
- Collect information to interpret;
- Interpret the information (assign meaning);
- Set the body’s automatic systems and brain chemistry (performance state).
Once in a state, we tend to select information that helps maintain a continuity of experience – a seamless flow of emotion. We don’t notice it doing that because it’s automatic.
The only time we notice an abrupt shift of emotion is if we’re surprised – or in the case of humor. The structure of humor is to set up one state and then abruptly shift it to:
A rubber chicken is always funny – because it’s always a wild change of context.
So, Canadians have an ability to notice the things nobody else is thinking of. They’re good at being constantly just a bit out-of-context – especially from unhappy things. (Yes, I changed “comedians” for “Canadians” on purpose – it’s out of context – see how that changed your focus?)
Which brings us back to the FaceBook feed.
What do political rants, conspiracy theories, and end-times prophecy have in common?
- They offer information that helps produce emotions like shock, outrage, anger – and especially fear.
- They focus attention on things that are scary – and about which we have no real control. That fear is useful for getting us to hand-over money – to politicians, or churches – or for the purchase of upset stomach medicine.
Once in a state of outrage or fear, there’s a natural, survival-based tendency to seek more similar information from our environment. In nature, that would be fine – the fear one gets at hearing a rattlesnake sound is useful for generating a sharp visual search for the snake itself.
Connected to the Internet, this natural tendency quickly runs amok – and the search engine filters even help – by providing “related links” to whatever we searched for.
Like the first traveler above, we will find lots more of whatever we already found.
An invitation to a hot yoga class, on the other hand, is like that other traveler:
- We begin by finding something that promotes emotions like calmness, relaxation, and self-acceptance.
- It is also about something ACTIONABLE – something within our power to do and create a change immediately.
Two things: class of emotions, and actionability.
Our biology-based handicap is – following one fearful bit of information to another was once a survival-enhancing strategy. We found that poisonous snake – and then went on about our day. And, it wasn’t a big deal, once relaxed, to find more things to be relaxed about.
That was then, this is now – when more people are killed by stress-related illness than by all the rattlesnakes, robbers, and plane-crashes combined.
So, next time you have the entire planet just a mouse-click away, don’t mindlessly consume “interesting”: A strange insect is “interesting” – that doesn’t mean it would be good to consume it: Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to.
Remember whatever you consume creates your state – and will bias your attention to “similar links”.
If you really want to maximize your personal fulfillment, follow links that meet just two rules:
- The KIND of information they offer will lead to USEFUL emotional performance states.
- The KIND of information they offer will lead to ACTIONS you can do to immediately improve yourself or your corner of the universe.
Studies have demonstrated biology will do the rest. The more you notice – and act – on what’s possible to do now, the more new possibilities you will notice.
Which part of this post was most useful or interesting or unexpected?
How are you going to use it?
What are you struggling with right now that Motivational Literacy could help with?
When you share below I’ll reply..