by Ilka Emig
Whoever understands his
brain can do things different than the brain suggests immediately,
says psychiatrist professor Manfred Spitzer in an interview, and right away I have to think that whenever I start a diet my brain suggests immediately to eat all kinds of food.
Our brain, the little cheater! If there is something I don’t want to think about all I do is think about it. Maybe you have heard of the phrase “Don’t think of a pink elephant.” And yes, of course, now you have to constantly think of a pink elephant.
Information can be processed slower or faster. In our example the information ‘pink elephant’ is processed fast, and the negation limbs behind with its ‘not’. So, the advice to phrase things in a positive way instead of negating makes sense from a neurophysiological point of view. In education it is a known fact that it is better to not repeat the ‘wrong’ but to rather say it ‘right’.
On a more behavioral level there is a bigger concept behind it all, called ironic processing. It describes us reacting automatically versus reacting in a controlled manner. It’s a game between the unconscious and the conscious. While we have seen the concept work on the level of language, it also works on the level of habits.
Elevator or Stairs?
Imagine we are in a place with stairs and an elevator! Don’t we automatically and unconsciously find ourselves in front of the elevator, the easy way, the learned habit? Then we need to pause and take a conscious decision to take the stairs. Once we freely choose to take the stairs we feel great. We know we did a good thing, right for our body. We can even choose to use the stairs all the time, and after a while it can become a new habit.
But do you know what the funny part is? Once we have no choice, once we have only stairs to use, we are frustrated. We don’t feel great at all anymore. We are plain mad because we were forced to use the stairs. It is important for the motivation to have a choice. That’s also how our brain works. And you know what? We simply have to live with it.
Finally, enjoy this video on YouTube to see how fun can make people choose the stairs!