This past week I had the opportunity to help give a short lecture on a fascinating topic of psychology called automaticity, and I was teaching the concepts about it that were explained by a Yale University research review. (I’ve included the link below in case you want to read it). Automaticity, although somewhat of a foreign term, is one of those things that most of us sort of intrinsically know about, but have never really thought about or had explained to us.
The reason we need to know more about automaticity, is because it is influencing each of us in our everyday life (for better or for worse) to some degree. The more we know about automaticity, the more we will be able to harness its incredible powers.
Automaticity is simply the non-conscious brains process of picking up on features of our environment and using the perception of those features to feed our conscious brain data that is used to formulate thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings create beliefs and they subsequently influence behavior.
Take this example-
Let’s say you and your new neighbor meet each other for the first time outside your home and she decides to invite you into her house for coffee. She seems nice, and having little else to do, you accept the invitation and walk into her house. When you get inside you notice the faint smell of fresh bread baking in the oven, you see picture after picture of her family, you notice that everything is neat, clean and well organized and you notice that there is a picture on the wall of two people hugging each other and a caption that reads “love your neighbor as yourself.”
What feelings would you have about this home and this person after spending just a few minutes inside observing the environment? Would it make you feel more safe, comfortable, or at ease? Would you get the impression that maybe you could trust this person? Would the features of the environment encourage you to stay and/or come back again?
If you said yes, why did you say yes? It’s kind of hard to explain isn’t it? Even though your feelings and thoughts may lead you to those conclusions, it’s somewhat difficult to fully articulate a logical explanation for why you could draw those conclusions by observing things in her home.
This is an example of how our non-conscious brain works to help us create beliefs and attitudes and how it helps to guide our conscious decision making.
This may seem like a very obvious example of this concept but what about things that are more sneaky?
Take for instance the things we constantly hear on the news about what is happening in the world. Are we to believe that in a one hour news broadcast we can possibly find out about every single event that occurred in over 7 billion peoples lives over the previous 24 hours? Could we even find that out if we watched the news for 24 straight hours every single day? If not, than why would we conclude that what we are being told is an accurate reflection of society as a whole?
If this argument makes as much sense to you as it does to me, than why do we continue to allow what we are told to be THE primary source by which we generate a conclusion about how the world is?
The answer is because we are not feeding ourselves any news that is contrary to help us form a more accurate conclusion. We are not calling every charitable organization to ask them “how many people did you positively impact today?” Or calling every school to ask “how many kind gestures did your students do towards each other today?” Or calling every hospital to ask “how many lives were saved today?” and on and on.
If you did these things, would you be more likely to see that there is still some good in the world? What if you only paid attention to those good things and eliminated your exposure to “bad news?” What might your attitude be like then?
This may all sound like pie in the sky because it would almost seem as though I’m suggesting insulating yourself from any and all negative stimuli and surrounding yourself with only positive stimuli to preserve your own mental health. Well, I sort of am, in a way. At least to whatever degree is necessary to think and feel better on a daily basis and to help make better decisions that are in line with your goals and aspirations.
The good news here is that these same studies have actually shown that there are ways to affect your non-conscious brain strategically through something called priming.
Priming is essentially the process of orchestrating your environment so that what you take in through your senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch) allows you to feel and think the way you WANT to feel and think.
If you want to think and feel more positive, than program your non-conscious brain with things that evoke positivity. For instance, what about instead of getting up in the morning and turning on the news, you instead watched something funny, called a friend or looked at pictures of people you love? Even a few days of this could begin to change your perspective.
For those that are seeking to improve your health by adopting new and better habits, what if you were to prime yourself with sights or sounds that reminded you of why it’s important for you to do these things?
If you were to come into my home and observe the various priming tools I’ve set up you’ll see things like
– A dry erase marker board with every measurable goal I’d like to achieve in 2017 and a bar that displays the current level of progress I’ve made towards each one.
– Another dry erase board with various daily goals that I need to accomplish in order to reach my bigger, yearly goals.
– Pictures on the wall that evoke a thought or a feeling that I want. These include pictures of my son, his artwork and various notes he’s written to me telling me how much he loves me. These remind me of the huge blessing of being a dad. I also use abstract pictures like the one I have of a child sitting next to an elephant, as if they were just hanging out as friends. This reminds me that the “elephants” in my life (which I describe as the challenges, difficulties and problems I encounter) should actually be things to embrace because they are what make me grow as a person and become stronger. In other words, the “elephants” are my friends.
– Bible verses that remind me of how much God loves me and the promises He has for my life.
– A clean workstation to evoke feelings of being organized and on top of things.
– A baseball bat that was autographed by one of my pro players to remind me of the great opportunities I’ve had in my career.
– A shelf with the books I’ve written, a DVD of the TV interviews I’ve had, a CD of a radio interview I did and a copy of a DVD course I created for other fitness professionals. This reminds me of how much I can accomplish if I set my mind to it and work my butt off.
– A screen saver picture of my son Christian and I after we hiked the steepest mountain trail we could find at Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado. This reminds me not only of how far I’ve come from the cancer ridden, obese, severely deconditioned teenager that I used to be, but how amazing it is that after all the hard work to rebuild my body I could actually meet this challenge and create an unforgettable memory with my son of how we “conquered” the mountain together.
These are all strategically placed items that have the sole purpose of priming my non-conscious mind to think and feel about myself, my work, my life, my family, my health and my goals the way I would want to think and feel about them. It also helps to eliminate the likelihood of getting swayed into a mental direction that could lead me astray.
So what in your environment is priming you? What are you watching, listening to and observing on a regular basis? Are these things helping you think and feel like you can be safe, happy, healthy and successful? If not, why keep them around? They are taking up valuable mental real estate and they are affecting you on non-conscious level.
See if you can find 2-3 things to place in your environment to prime you to think and feel the way you want or remind you of things that are important to you. Also see if you can eliminate 2-3 things that are currently priming you for what you are trying to avoid. This may just change your outlook on life and increase your chances of succeeding in whatever you are trying to do.
Hopefully even just reading this email primed you to feel like better days are ahead. That’s some of the best news I could deliver to you today.
Carpe Diem (Seize the Day!),
Chris Vercelli MATm, CPT
Founder: Non-Fiction Fitness
P.S. For more info on automaticity and priming, check out the Yale research review by clicking here- research on automaticity