Wednesday, January 02, 2013

What strange and wonderful things reside in the theatre of our minds?

"Strange and wonderful things" morning pages with textures from FlyPaper

In the pursuit of "miraculous occasions" (see yesterday's post) I decided to examine the "strange and wonderful things" that reside in the "theatre of the mind".  Edith Kramer, my art therapy teacher and mentor, said it's important to look at and take charge of how we furnish our minds and our inner lives.  I've been giving this some thought.  A lot of material in there is not necessarily of our choosing.  In researching the eCourse I mentioned yesterday, I looked at several blog posts and research of Christine Carter.  One article called "Are We Wired to Want Stuff" was extremely eye-opening.  Did you know that the field of applied psychology is now getting into neuro-marketing, looking at how to make better use of our neuropsychology to sell us stuff?   Yikes!  So here's how that works.

Our happiness is our way of rewarding ourselves. We are wired to pursue this reward. Christine feels  the key  here is the word pursue; so that our brain’s built-in reward system motivates us toward all the carrots, large and small, that are dangling out there, things we think will bring us happiness. We’ll pursue anything that looks like a reward, and of course this is true for everyone, kids included.

She writes, "When our brain identifies a possible reward, it releases a powerful neurotransmitter called dopamine. That dopamine rush propels us toward the reward. Dopamine creates a very real desire for the carrot dangled in front of us."  I felt it this morning when I found an add from McDonald's in my mail box.  A big photo of lattes and espressos with the word SAVOUR written across the top.  It was extremely attractive until I flipped it over and there's a Big Mac offending my vegetarian eyes, with the word CRAVE written across the top.   My mind said "Oh, advertising.  How clever!"  But before the Big Mac got me to take a step back I was right in there with the dopamine rush the lattes evoked.

Of course this kind of neurology makes us susceptible to all sorts of temptations.  Escalated dopamine levels make the appeal of immediate gratification way more interesting than any long-term consequences.  And of course our brains don’t distinguish between rewards that actually will lead to a deeper happiness and the things that won’t. Dopamine just makes all the carrots look really awesome.  And of course we start to furnish our minds with the images provided so generously by all those dangling carrots out there.

Do you remember the big, crazy materialistic push in November and December leading up to Christmas?  Everyone filling out their wish-lists, and nagging each other and worrying about if they got enough stuff? 

If we seem greedy or materialistic at that time of year, it's not so much that our values suck, or that we are spoiled and bratty, but more that we are actually human and under siege from all the dopamine being triggered by smart neuro-marketers.

So what can we do to take back the contents of our own minds?  How can we furnish our inner lives with the contents of our choosing, with things that will bring us truer, deeper happiness?   We can teach ourselves to recognize what makes us want, want, want. We can teach ourselves to look for the neuro-marketing techniques of advertisers.   We can use our curiosity to unravel how all this stuff works, look beyond the carrot at who holds the stick.

We can also develop habits that encourage us to create our own inner furniture and rewards.

Try this:
Give some thought to your mental environment, what does it look like?
Are the contents your own, did you put them there, or are they the result of advertising (tunes, phrases, or images geared to help you pursue those dangling carrots)? 

For some real hair-raising research, do a google search of "neuro-marketing" and read just enough of what you find there to motivate you to  take back your mental ecology.  (For example:


Barbara Saint Jacques said...

I find that when I go through the Sunday ads, I mentally make note of the items I would like. I put the papers with the items aside that I had noted. I tell myself that I will go to the store to take a look and perhaps buy them, but after a week goes by, the ad is expired, and I don't miss anything that I had anticipated buying. That tells me that I did not need them at all, but the enticement of the ad and the sale is what grabs my attention. I find that I desire less and less as time passes other than art supplies.

Lani Gerity said...

Makes sense Barbara! Good idea. Delay gratification and pretty soon you realize you didn't really want it after all!

Lani Gerity said...
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NM_Creatrix said...

that is very scary. I have known about subliminal advertising for a long time, but science has really advanced. BTW I have completely removed myself from the "Xmas Madness" by purchasing Heifer International gifts for all my relatives except the very youngest ones, and I give them something made from the heart (read handmade!) Lots less stress. I will repost your blog on mine, as I think that it is very relavant.