Many unknowns stressors quietly weaken us without our notice. The stress adds up. “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us,” as the Pogo cartoon goes. Here’s why we all suffer from the enemy within:
According to Dr. Bruce Lipton and David Brooks, the author of The Social Animal, around 90% of our choices depend on subconscious patterns and habits—our brain on autopilot, in a sense. The subconscious mind scans our whole life’s perceptions for the best options, then presents a few to the conscious mind for creative, executive control.
Most of the time the system works well. However, there are serious problems we need to consider if we want to live free of our own interference. Our personal static can sabotage our best intentions. For example, doctors recognize the role of our thoughts in how a placebo works to heal us without pills or tonics or surgery. Few people consider how a nocebo—our negative expectations—can make us ill.
Perceptions inform our judgment, but perceptions are influenced by attitudes and opinions formed before age six, among other data. Before age six, we all operate like DVD recorders, uncritically accepting attitudes, events, errors and processes around us. Dr. Lipton states that we are not even aware of our subconscious thought when it is in action: we are merely on auto-pilot.
Those ghostly thoughts may be running a life script that we reject, consciously, but are not aware of having. That is a problem: Are we really imprisoned by invisible chains?
Here’s another problem: our subconscious thought can be notoriously undependable. Take memory, for example: between 1989 and 2007, according to David Brooks in The Social Animal, 201 prisoners were released when DNA evidence proved they were wrongfully convicted on a witness’s faulty memory. Many experiments prove memories to be grossly unreliable.
Thus we do well to ask others, “Did that make sense to you?” “Is there a better way?” “How do you see it?” Often the quiet people, introverts, are very good thinkers, but they say little unless we ask.
Groups with divergent thinkers—people who do not think the same as we do—tend to think better than individuals, according to sociologist David Brooks. He says every choice is a work in progress. We need constant rethinking to correct the 2/3 likelihood that we just made the wrong choice. Every move is a partial move which needs to be corrected with the next move. We can only succeed by teaming up with others more informed or educated than we are, who are without our “my side” bias. Are we able to resist feeding our pride enough to value other ideas?
A third disadvantage of subconscious input is that stereotypes rule the subconscious. These false generalities can be very misleading. The subconscious also thinks with literal interpretations of every joke or offhand comment about learning essentials and living life well. Do we take time to question our quick choices? Do we look for friends who can bring another viewpoint to our bias, and honor their ideas enough to question our own?
That subconscious is also in a big hurry. We make snap judgments depending on perceptions recorded as fact when we were young and uneducated. Thus, we have inherited attitudes toward youth and aging, learning and living, which are not only incorrect, but can be destructive. I dub this trap the “Graveyard Spiral.”
The term, “Graveyard Spiral” comes from airline jargon we do well to consider. According to journalist Malcolm Gladwell, John F. Kennedy, Jr. died while piloting his Piper Cub on a dark, foggy evening trip to Martha’s Vineyard. Bad weather prevented him from seeing coastal lights which—as an outside reference point–could have helped him level his wings to obtain crucial even balance. Tipped wings send planes into a curve which, if not corrected, results in a Graveyard Spiral to death.
Why did Kennedy fail to keep the plane wings level? First, he could not see any outside reference point. Second, an airplane in the midst of a Graveyard Spiral still feels level to people inside of it. Even in a 45-degree angle banking curve, people do not feel the usual cues to imbalance, such as a book sliding off the seat, or popping ears in an unpressurized cabin, or gravity pressing us against the back of our seats.
I suggest that people of all ages experience a Graveyard Spiral when they “coast” through life without essential balance in physical, social, mental and spiritual activity. Too many hours are spent in front of video games or romantic media, which bypass our critical thinking with sound bytes that are fantastic, biased or unrealistic. People are unaware of their downward spiral in the midst of entertainment and comfort. There is no outside reference to straighten or balance out their life goals.
End of part 1