The human brain is a lot like Alice’s Wonderland. There are lots of things that are weird and wonderful about how it works.
Many experiments show how easily our brain can be tricked. This week on podcast Invisibilia, they featured a story about how putting on a doctor’s coat makes people perform significantly better on attention tests. They ran the test in a variety of manners to see if it was fabric or the weight of it on your shoulders by changing up what they told people it was or the color and they found – it was the IDEA of wearing a Doctor’s coat that made people feel more focused and attentive to detail. The same coat described as a painters coat ruined the effect.
That is kind of creepy. That we don’t decide to be attentive, but our brains are suddenly and without direction, acting in that way because of the ideas that are associated with a coat. Our brains are changed by things outside of our intentional thought. More than that – they are more changed by things outside of our thoughts than inside of our thoughts. Because the control group in the above experiment were intentionally trying to do well on the test and failing.
How many things are affecting our brains in ways we don’t know. How can we know about what is affecting our brain? It’s apparently invisible. And since there are lots of experiments that show that we do things and then make up the reason for it later, it’s possible we really don’t know.
This is also very liberating. It’s like being handed the key to maze. Just find ways to trick yourself into being a certain way. Wear the right clothes or create the right environment or whatever. The key is to find the things that will make your brain act in a way that benefits you. No matter the reason.
I live in a housing program that was designed to keep mentally ill people from being homeless. I got this housing because I was homeless 3.5 yrs ago due to nonfunctional depression. This housing is a safety net for me. Because for 3 years I’ve been terrified that I will fall backwards back into the hole of nonfunctional depression and I will lose my job. But I knew that even if that happened, they wouldn’t evict me, they would just adjust my small subsidy to something that would keep me inside instead of outside.
I recently got a large raise at work and this put me over the income threshold of the housing and so I must move. My initial reaction was a bit of panic. But then a friend on tumblr talked me down and reminded me of doing things in small steps. So I forced myself to open a spreadsheet and I put down all the steps and calculated how much it would cost and figured out a plan. And the anxiety, which was on the edge of panic attack subsided. I think it wasn’t the thoughts that changed. It was action. The idea of doing something in an organized and controlled manner made my brain change track into a new way of being. I wasn’t helpless and afraid now.
I’m still fully aware of all things that made my brain start toward panic on reading that notice. But I’m no longer afraid. I’m just on a plan toward a new home. Hopefully one I will love.
I’m going to try to trick my brain more. I know that my own thoughts don’t change my mental landscape that much. But it seems that certain actions and apparently environment and even clothes will. So. New Plan. Whatever Works.