In a previous issue of this magazine I extolled the virtues of being a joyously and unapologetic delusional optimist. Now I’d like to share a little piece of research that recently came across my desk.
In 2010 three Princeton University Neuroscientists conducted a series of experiments to explore the relationship between the brain activity of a person telling a story and those listening. Using MRI machines they found that “Speaker and listener brain activity exhibits widespread coupling during communication.” In other words – the brains of speaker and listener sync up.
Even more interesting is the fact that the speaker and listener weren’t even in the same room – so you can rule out body language and non-verbal cues. Instead the speaker told her story and had her brain activity mapped. The listener then jumped into the MRI machine and had their brain activity mapped while listening to the recording.
But wait – there’s more – the experiments assumed that there would be a short lag between the brain activity of the speaker and the listener. That is, it would take the listener a moment to comprehend what was being said before they would react to the story. However, to their surprise they found the opposite – that listener’s brain activity at times actually preceded what was being said, that is, they were predicting what was going to happen.
So, what does this all mean?
Cast your mind back to the whole delusional optimism versus depressed realism and you’ll remember that I proposed that the stories that you tell about the events of your life actually create the reality you live by drawing your attention to either good or bad things. And now you can see that whatever you are listening to you are responding to in a neurological way. That means if you are listening to sad, depressing stories that paint the world as a bleak place – guess what your brain is syncing up with?
Consider now that according to Dr Bruce Lipton, author of ‘The Biology of Belief’, your conscious mind is able to process about 40 bits of information per second whereas your subconscious mind is able to process about 20,000,000 per second. How do you choose which 40 bits out of the 20,000,000 get passed through to the supposedly executive function of the conscious mind?
Add – that the field of neuroplasticity tells us that the brain is actually extremely malleable through our entire lives, such that neurons that fire together wire together.
Translation – whatever you pay attention to and give emotion to on a regular basis shapes your brain.
Ergo – listen to crappy stories about the world – feel crappy about the world. And more to the point – tell crappy stories about yourself – feel crappy about yourself, which is a neat link to the stuff I’ve written about drama syndrome recently [LivingNow, March, 2012, and also June, 2011 – go to livingnow.com.au and search for the author’s name, or the words ‘drama syndrome’].
So – why are we watching negative stories on the news?
Why would we even listen to someone else telling us a negative story?
Why would we tell a negative story about ourselves?
Why would we draw any attention to the negative at all?
Why would we try to ‘fix’ anything?
We create the world in our own image.
Embrace the freedom that comes from having absolute faith that what you are getting right now is perfect.
It pays to remember that we all have power. The power to choose. The power to act rather than react. The power to influence the world.
We are living in an amazing time of transformation. What we listen to and the stories that we tell affect us in many ways. What we listen to can make us feel afraid. After the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, George W. Bush, the then President of the USA said, “On September 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country… and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.”
Acting from a place of fear ties us into a feeling of lack and sends us scurrying to protect the things we have and the ones we hold most dear – but will it help us to create a better world? Does it empower us or disempower us?
Hope springs eternal but it must be nourished, encouraged and listened to.
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” [Mahatma Ghandi]
In this time of change I believe we are being challenged to step up and embrace our powers of creation. Fundamental to this is our ability to direct our attention to what we want rather than reacting to what others may foist upon us.
So, what stories are you listening to? What stories are you telling about yourself and the world?
Are these really aligned to what you truly want? Are you acting out of fear or from a place of courage and love?
Take time in your life to draw your attention to the wonder of the world and the beautiful creatures and people that share this world. We are all interlinked. We are all responsible. We are one.
Take the time to be perfectly clear about what you believe in – what values and principles are most important to you – then use your will wisely to tell, and live, an amazing story.
1. Stephens, G.J., Silbert, L.J. & Hasson, U. 2010, ‘Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 107, no. 32, pp. 14425-30.
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