BLOG#7 Can You See the Invisible Influences?

Saturday afternoon, lazing about the house enjoying having nothing to do, the Food Network channel mumbled in the background as Tori and I chatted about what to have for dinner that night.

(please don’t hang up this does have a point)

We found ourselves getting dragged into Man vs. Food, a show where the host visits the best diners and in a city (lots of grilled-cheese sandwiches, fried chicken, bbq cow cuts, ice-cream mountains…) which culminates in him taking on a ridiculous food challenge.

This week it was Atlanta and a 30 inch (yes thirty!) pizza weighing 11lbs called the Carnivore Challenge, taken on by Adam the host and a team member. Food won.

Our discussion turned to pizza options for dinner.

Before we’d made our decision, the show ended and one on Asian cooking began, Ching the host sampling some delicious-looking treats from street food to tantalising pancake combinations. By now our mouths were watering.

We ordered Chinese.

A week or so later, Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals was the background for the evening meal choice (I’m painting a greedy yet quite accurate picture of my home life). I don’t even remember the dish but what I do remember is Jamie’s focus on fresh healthy ingredients and you couldn’t ignore the simplicity of preparing a delicious meal at home.

We didn’t discuss one takeaway for dinner.

Instead I headed to the supermarket and did the big shop for the week. I made a hot and spicy potato and pea curry for tea and it was spot on (not to mention super healthy!) if I may say so.

Why do I bore you with my TV shows and dinner choices?

Because these two episodes are a perfect illustration of the invisible influences over our decisions each day.

The effect is known as Priming and the principle is that many of our decisions, in particular the fast ones that we don’t consider to be major life choices, are made by a system in our brain that uses our short term memory for reference.

That means if I watch 2 TV shows about junk food, my (non-life-critical) decision about what to eat for dinner will more than likely be some form of junk food, because my short term memory doesn’t have much else in there to choose from.

If I look in the mirror after reading a Mens Health magazine or watching athletics, I’ll more likely to have a negative view of my appearance and will be much more likely to decide to get in shape.

If a young girl regularly watches US / Australian soaps and reads celebrity magazines, she will be more likely to be unhappy with / become depressed about her appearance.

If you see on the news a terror attack in Paris blamed on the ISIS group, you will be more likely to treat Asian-looking men (regardless of their nationality and religion) with suspicion. That isn’t to say you are racist, your short term memory just don’t have any other recent reference to form an opinion around.

Priming effect has been used by marketers (long before the effect was proven by the academic and scientific community) to influence the likelihood that you will buy their products.

But the reason behind this article is not to warn you of deceptive marketing.

I’ve written this to make you aware that everything around you, all day long, is influencing your view of the world, the decisions you make and ultimately your day to day happiness.

So what’s the answer?

I have 2 suggestions.

Suggestion 1: choose what you (and more importantly your kids) spend your time watching, listening to and reading.

But a WARNING goes with this – It will require effort on your part!

The lowest-effort approach to life is to accept what the world’s media chooses to paint your picture of how the world really is.

The trouble with that is the media choose to paint a picture of the world’s extremes, because media is business and businesses survive by capturing your attention more than their competitors.

Popular media paints an unrealistic and much more negative (attention-grabbing) view of the world than you are likely to experience, which means it will prime you to look for the negative in others and in yourself when in reality you (and the majority of people) have a lot of things to love, be proud of and be grateful for.

Suggestion 2: there is a second system that your brain uses to make your decisions. This is the “real you” and it’s the way you make important decisions, weighing your options more carefully and taking your time over so you’re ultimately as comfortable as possible with choices that are important to you. Like buying a house for example.

There’s no magic at work when the real you, the one that’s influenced more by your values than your surroundings, is in charge. All you need to activate it is pause for a second and ask yourself “is this something I’ve really decided for myself?”.

It’s not as easy as you would think.