A number of years ago my husband Thom came up with the phrase, “you get to make it up.” Something about that statement resonated with others, especially those of us who have studied New Thought philosophy . But at the same time the phrase raised questions, like: What the…? You mean I am making it up when bad things happen and I don’t feel good? I get to make up who is the next president? I am making it up when I’m broke and in debt? It sounds so bold, presumptive and sacrilegious to say we are individually making it all up. But after reading a new book this week entitled, “Subliminal—How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior” there is now nueroscientific proof that much of what happens in our lives is indeed the creation of our own minds.
Of course I should begin by agreeing that if you stand in the road in front of a speeding car you will be severely hurt. No matter how much you want to believe that you are invisible and a car can pass right through you, it isn’t going to happen. If you jump out of an airplane without a parachute, you will smash when you hit the ground. The laws of nature are stronger than your mind so let go of that argument right from the beginning. But what you do have control over is whether you jump out of that airplane without a parachute, or whether you mindlessly walk into the middle of a busy street. You also determine what happens to you once you are hurt—and you are equally the creator of the story you will tell about it should you survive.
So what do you make up? Dr. Leonard Mlodinow explains it in his book, “Subliminal—How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior.” He is also the author of several other books and a theoretical physicist that teaches at the CA Institute of Technology. The big idea behind the book is that latest scientific research proves that our unconscious mind largely shapes the experiences of our world. Mlodinow says, “Your preferences in politicians, the amount you tip your waiter—all judgments and perceptions reflect the workings of our mind on two levels: the conscious, of which we are aware, and the unconscious, which is hidden from us.” And while most of us want to believe that we are aware, awake and consciously making choices each minute, Mlodinow goes on to say, “The point is that we are not like computers that crunch data in a relatively straightforward manner and calculate results. Instead, our brains are made up of a collection of many modules that work in parallel, with complex interactions, most of which operate outside our consciousness. As a consequence, the real reasons behind our judgments, feelings and behaviors can surprise us.”
What are some of the surprises? First, there is plenty of research about food choices that prove our unconscious choices on a regular basis. According to research, people “decide” how much to eat based upon the box size as much as taste. In addition, when the size of a container of snack food is doubled, food consumption automatically increases 30 to 45% of the time. We routinely make purchases based upon the colors and shapes of the containers and there are also studies that show that when a food item is described in a fancy and elaborate way, people rate the food as literally tasting better.
Or what about how much you will pay for your food? Experiments show that people are willing to pay 40 to 61% more for an item of junk food if they see it sitting right in front of them versus behind Plexiglas or a picture of it in a magazine. There is also plenty of evidence that normal wine drinkers cannot tell much difference between cost and taste. But, if people drink a wine that is more expensive it actually tastes better to those being polled. In fact, when subjects had their brains scanned by an fMRI while drinking wine they judged as very expensive and flavorful, the area in the brain behind the eyes associated with pleasure was highly activated. Mlodinow claims, “…when you run cool wine over your tongue, you don’t just taste its chemical composition; you taste its price.” He continues with, “Our brains are not simply recording a taste or other experience, they are creating it.”
In other words, when we eat or enjoy something that we think has value, our unconscious mind is actually “making up” that value based upon what fits into our current beliefs. That’s why some people can get really excited about a certain handbag by a famous designer and another person, like me, could care less. What we routinely forget is that we are choosing, or else being fed, our belief systems on a regular basis—and then we “make up” and live out of our unconscious reactions to those beliefs most of the time.
Mlodinow goes on his book to explain even more experiments that prove that our unconscious minds help to create the world we are experiencing. Just about all of us routinely buy products and services that we are already familiar with without considering there might be something much better available. We purchase stocks when the names are easy to pronounce, tip waiters more when the sun is shining, and vote for political candidates purely on looks alone 69 to 72%. We mistakenly imprison people with inaccurate eyewitness identification up to 75% of the time and incorrectly remember life events anywhere from 26 to 80% of the time. According to Mlodinow, when we remember things that happened in the past, most of us “smooth out memories” so that they make sense to us. One of the studies quoted says, “Whenever anything appeared incomprehensible, it was either omitted or explained by adding content.” And all of that editing and adding is based upon what we already believe to be true. Again, what we see, hear, choose and remember is largely dependent upon what already fits inside our minds—we are “making it up!
I think most of us know that many of the activities of our bodies and our minds are unconscious. While I’m sitting here my heart is beating, my hormones are doing their thing and my breakfast is being digested along with thousands of other automatic responses. Unfortunately what most of us are less aware of is that some scientists estimate that we are fully conscious only 5% of the time—the remaining 95% of the time we are basically asleep (unconscious). Mlodinow says, “We believe that when we choose a laptop or a laundry detergent, plan a vacation, pick a stock, take a job, assess a sports star, make a friend, judge a stranger and even fall in love, we understand the principal factors that influenced us. Very often nothing could be further from the truth. As a result, many of our most basic assumptions about ourselves, and society, are false.”
So what does this information mean for you and me? Most importantly it is a reminder that the world we live in and experience is constantly being judged, motivated and influenced by our belief system. That belief system is a collection of the memories, input and stimulation we have absorbed in our past. Then when confronted with any experience or circumstance in the present, our unconscious will automatically search our belief system for easy and automatic responses and fill it in when necessary to round out the experience. If our belief system is primarily negative—the experience will automatically be filled in with negative responses. If our belief system sways to the positive—no matter what happens, then the circumstance will be created with a positive spin. We are making it up! Our responses, our judgments, our reactions, our choices, are largely dependent upon what is already programmed into our present belief system.
The good news is that if we don’t like our experience then it’s time to get to work on what lies at the core of our beliefs about how we view world. Who knows how those perceptions got there? Certainly our upbringing, our culture and the focus of our attention serves to fill up the reservoir. While it is important to stay awake and conscious in our lives as much as possible, this information suggests that we would also be SMART to work on filling our unconscious with automatic responses that create a world to our liking. Don’t like every aspect of your life? Then start today remembering that YOU get to make it up!
“Brains are in the business of gathering information and steering behavior appropriately. It doesn’t matter whether consciousness is involved in the decision making. And most of the time, it’s not. Whether we’re talking about dilated eyes, jealously, attraction, the love of fatty foods, or the great idea you had last week, consciousness is the smallest player in the operations of the brain. Our brains run mostly on autopilot, and the conscious mind has little access to the giant and mysterious factory that runs below it.” ~David Eagleman
“I was exhilarated by the new realization that I could change the character of my life by changing my beliefs. I was instantly energized because I realized that there was a science-based path that would take me from my job as a perennial “victim” to my new position as “co-creator” of my destiny.” ~ Dr. Bruce H. Lipton