The Big Idea
As human beings we have brains that are basically pattern machines. We see, read, hear, smell and taste literally billions of bits of information every day. Our brain has to make sense of those things in milli-seconds and thus it makes perfect sense for us to think about what we already know to be true, and to fit these new experiences into our existing patterns. Imagine how exhausting life would be if every time you got a new pair of trousers, you had to relearn how to put on trousers?! Or if you went to a new restaurant and experienced each new mouthful as you did the first time you had a bit of banana puree as a toddler?!!
So far, so good. But as with most good things in life, there is a catch. Our brain is so keen on patterns that it will keep looking for ‘evidence’ that what we see and believe to be true is right, even when other facts stack up that should prove us to be wrong… This is because our brain wants to do the clever trick of filling in detail that conforms to (fits with) what it expects to be there in order to reduce energy and runtime and really doesn’t like to be challenged out of it.
On a daily basis, seeing things as we believe them to be, rather than seeing things as they are can impact our ability to solve problems or manage differences of opinion. But more importantly for us in this project, this brain pattern trick can literally become a kind of rut, that could be unintentionally keeping us in a negative mode of seeing the world. This means that our brains, if allowed to run unchecked, can unintentionally undermine our mental health, creativity and / or empathy with others. Unless we pause to notice we are doing it, we can find that we are going round in a brain hoop of negative thoughts, catastrophising predictions and dead-end ideas.
These negative loops bring with them hormones and chemicals that in big doses don’t do our bodies and our brains any good – such as as stress hormone cortisol. Not only can this lead to us feeling bad, but high and sustained levels of these stress hormones can put pressure on our bodies causing raised blood pressure and increased likelihood of strokes or heart attacks.
But what if we can learn to see the opposite by flipping our view on something and to explore the other side of the coin – we might also begin to think the opposite. But be warned, it’s a habit with massive benefits for both your mental and physical health – and your ability to think and plan – but the plain and simple truth is that it can be really, really hard to do…
Got it…What’s the Science
We have met one of the main protagonists in this story before – remember “cognitive dissonance”.
Put simply ‘cognitive’ means “to do with the brain” and ‘dissonance’ means “a lack of agreement or harmony”. As human beings we experience cognitive dissonance every day – when we hear, read or see something that doesn’t fit with what we already know to be true and we believe to be right, we experience this “brain disharmony”. It’s at this point our brain, often unconsciously, choses whether this is something to attend to or to ignore. This depends on context (what else is going on), prior experience (especially recently), mood, as well as what our intentions are in the moment (where our attention is and the purpose for our focus) – this involves relative balances between brain activity in areas and structures including the amygdala, hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the reticular activating system (RAS) as well as the task positive and default mode networks (TPN & DMN).
Something that scientist quite often explain about the brain is that it is a “cognitive miser” – this describes the fact that your brain is wired to conserve energy – it knows there is only so much to go around and therefore is quite stingy with it. This is particularly relevant because if you want your brain to start a new pattern or challenge an old way of thinking that requires energy – so your brain will literally resist doing it – normally by providing you with a brilliant sounding excuse like “I’ll think about that tomorrow!”. We have spoken about this to before as your brain lying to you to try get you to keep doing what you have already been doing.
Like any day to day subconscious activity, seeing the world the way we do – without consciously and deliberately challenging it time to time – gets our brains in a comfortable rut. It limits the connections that we have to do and see things (although these connections can be stronger). Now we know our brains are incredibly capable of adapting to change through the process of neuroplasticity. In other words our brains can make new connections in seconds and minutes IF it is challenged or needs to do so. This should make us more capable of seeing the world and problems from different perspectives – in fact perhaps in similar ways some neurodivergent people ‘see’ the world.
But how can we challenge our brains to make more connections and be prepared to see more of what’s in front of them?
Our idea here is to piggy back on a tip that our DigitalJen does because her condition does not allow her to bend her knees. We know that for hundreds of years artists have used mirrors to flip images and see their subjects from different perspectives so they can better ‘see’ differences and detail. The idea here then is to use a 21st century tool most of us carry with us most of the time – a smart phone – to take pictures upside down, from down low, sideways, through objects and off reflective surfaces such as puddles. The science here is to challenge and see what else we can see by changing our perspectives.
If you are unsure just how tricksy our brains can be in making assumptions take a look at this picture – how does it look to you?
Now compare it to the same image at the end of this blog (which is turned the other way around).
Also if you want to see how adaptive our brains can be to seeing things the other way around also see the video in the Links below.
Watch our #Tip22 on the Instagram Live Recording….
With new The52Project mugs and a freebie “think opposite activity” for everyone to download…
Noticing that you are going round in a negative spiral is really hard to do. Motivating yourself to flip it and think differently is even harder – because it requires brain fuel that your brain really doesn’t want to expend!
So this isn’t a quick or easy tip – but we promise you, the benefits are well worth your time and effort…otherwise we wouldn’t suggest you spend your precious time and energy in giving it a go!
Here’s that face the other way around. What do you notice? This is commonly referred to as the Thatcher Illusion as the face distorted in this way for a research project was of the former British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher.
Watch this space…
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