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How We Create Our Realities Matters

An image of clouds in the sky. Over them are the words, "We tend to think we thing something first and then we act, but it's the other way around.

I was having a friendly chat with a fellow Urgent Optimist a few months ago. He was arguing against electric vehicles for a variety of reasons, none of which were wrong. We probably shouldn't be prioritizing EVs, but the reality is that they won. They won the contest for mainstream attention. This justifiably frustrates him.

Similarly, for a variety of reasons the narratives about our experience that have captivated popular attention are incorrect. Some at one point did reflect the science of the time, but most didn't reflect all of the science. Instead, they just won the game because famous people with a lot of influence supported them.

This is similar to what's happening now with AI hype. There is a dominant narrative taking over when the facts of the case reflect something different. But I digress.

"Reality" Doesn't Exist

Your brain is constantly creating your reality from the data your body sends it. This includes your interoception and your feeling tone. Your brain has no idea what's going on, but it simulates the world outside it from that data. It shuffles through your memories, which aren't actual, intact memories, but that's another story. It's looking for something similar so it can predict what's likely going on out in the world and what you might need to do next. So its prediction/your action comes first. You haven't "seen" or "felt" anything yet.

Ordinarily, your brain has predicted every one of your actions. Technically, this means free will doesn't exist according to its traditional definition, which upsets a lot of folks.

Our Individual Realities Exist

Let's look at something unpredictable.

A and B are walking down the street and when there is a loud sound. They don't know that yet, but we do. What happens with them is . . .

A's brain predicts it's a gunshot, HEARS IT AS A GUNSHOT, and simulates terror and running for cover. (So that's what A experiences.)

B's brain predicts it's a car backfiring or a construction sound, and in either case, it's not a big deal and B keeps moving as if nothing much has happened.

That's because in B's world, nothing much has happened, but in A's, something horrible might be happening.

We have different realities.

The sound from outside A and B came first. It could not have been predicted.

A and B both sensed the sound. But that's just meaningless sense data that the brain must attribute meaning to.

Their brains perceive the sense data differently due to similar circumstances from the past combined with their feeling tones.

If you walk around mildly vigilant, you will JUMP at the sound because your feeling tone is likely already unpleasant. What you heard is colored by how you feel and what you've experienced in the past. But you're not even thinking yet. Your brain has predicted you might be in danger, so it readies you to move and moves you, and creates terror inside you.

Meanwhile, if you're walking around in a neutral state and hear the sound and you have enough evidence from the past to be concerned about the sense data reaching your brain, you might also be terrified and run.


Sometimes, such as in the case of unresolved trauma, although your nervous system might be just fine most of the time, a sudden sound might "trigger" it. That's your memory of the trauma being touched on. Your brain goes with this perception and predicts you need to move, like now, and be terrified. This is a perfectly rational way for your brain to behave given its past experiences. You then have fearful thoughts. Again, perfectly rational given all the inputs.

Feelings Come First, Then Thoughts

The thoughts A and B end up having after the sound, then, are based on the sensations in their bodies (including feeling tone), filtered through their past experiences. The brain predicts what's likely happening and needs to happen and then makes it happen. THEN all kinds of thoughts enter the picture.

This can be cumbersome at first but it's worth going over, in real life. It gets intuitive later.

Learn more in Mindfulness for Financial Advisors: Practicing a New Way of Being, which is now available for Kindle and Nook.

May ease find you.



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