Monday, November 22, 2010

Help from the unconscious mind

I just finished "A Mind of Its Own: How Our Brain Distorts and Deceives" by Cordelia Fine.  It is the 2nd book on the subject I have read this year, the other being the excellent "The Hidden Brain" by S. Vedantam.   I wrote about it in this post and this one.  Fine's book is not available for Kindle but I keeping voting for it to be.

Fine is the mother of a young son and is an Australian psychologist.  Her thesis is that our brains are not impartial or all that accurate but distort things in what it considers our favor, such as emphasizing to us our achievements and excusing our failures while putting the opposite emphases on those of others.  Frequently, she likens the subconscious to a good butler: efficient, unerring in doing its job and working in our favor.  While reflecting on her statements, I remembered how long it took me to get myself to expect the trash can in a room to be where it is placed now instead of where it used to be.  The unconscious is not quick to change but does so over time with enough repetition.

She also explains that what we call our will is a part of the mind that can be fatigued.  If you purposely and successfully resist the temptation of a chocolate chip cookie, you may find it difficult not to violate some other resolve you have.  She explains that it is possible to work with the unconscious and have its efficiency assist your will.  Make several clear statements, maybe in writing, to yourself about not eating cookies or whatever you are working on.  Include what the resolve is, why it is important and worth doing, when you will invoke your resolution and any other detail you can think of.  Read the statement several times.  Before too long, you will automatically turn away from chocolate chip cookies, as though you assume they aren't for you.  Your unconscious will more or less automatically prejudice against them in favor of abstention.

Her writing makes me think there is a market for new aspects of the self.  Forms with appropriate blanks, email reminders, rubber bracelets ala Lance Armstrong could be sold in a little kit that assists us in exercising more, reading more, watching tv less, saving more and spending less or however we could improve ourselves.

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