A Creature Of Habit
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The human brain is a fascinating organ.
It essentially functions as a three tier system with most of the basic functions of day to day living handled by the “primitive” hindbrain (brainstem) component.
The hindbrain essentially allows the forebrain more bandwidth to perform its higher level functions with greater efficiency by taking the minutiae off the plate.
Can you imagine if you had to remind yourself to breathe every few seconds or instruct your heart it is time for the next beat?
You would barely have enough energy and brainpower to think of anything else.
Going Through The Motions.
It is interesting that certain things in my life have been tiered in a similar fashion with the most basic routines being put on autopilot and done almost subconsciously.
Unfortunately my real world tiering system is not as elegant, or as reliable, as the one mother nature designed, and the results can often be quite comical when I do deviate from my regimen.
My morning routine of getting ready to work is like a choreographed dance, with certain activities completed with clock-work precision.
I have specific places for various components of my outfit and have gotten into such a routine that if one component is out of place it can alter the desired result, often not recognized until it is too late.
A perfect example happened just the other day.
I arrived at work and immediately noticed my pants button had come undone.
Odd. Never happened before.
So I re-buttoned my pants and went on my business.
Shortly afterwards it happened again.
I was thinking to myself what is going on?
The pants were fairly new so it could not have been that.
I certainly had not let my “dad bod” get so far out of control that I was reenacting a popped can of biscuits at work.
I slowly came to the realization that I went to work without my belt on.
Apparently my hindbrain let me down and my forebrain was now finally sorting through the haze.
Tracing back my steps I deduced that I indeed forgot to put my belt back in its proper place after using it on my day off when I wore jeans to go out.
My brain on autopilot must have simply skipped over this important wardrobe step when it did not see the belt and just assumed it somehow was already around my waist.
Take Home Point: Although putting things on automatic and “setting it and forgetting it” is desirable, there are times when the system can, and does, go awry.
It is therefore important to periodically check in and see that each desired step is being carried out the way it was intended.
It means that you are checking in to make sure your portfolio maintains your desired asset allocation, your automatic bill payment systems are still valid, and/or your automatically deducted monthly membership fees are still applicable.
Another fascinating thing I have discovered about the human brain is that if you subject it to the same environmental cues over and over again, it begins to adapt and soon anticipates outcomes (which do not always come true).
Most of us are quite familiar with Pavlov’s behavioral experiments.
By associating a bell with food, Pavlov was able to condition dogs to salivate upon hearing the bell alone.
Apparently I have been conducting my own Pavlovian conditioning at work with myself as the unknowing test subject.
As a radiologist I am quite fortunate that I have a great office setup that includes a decent music system.
I have a playlist currently topping out at 67 songs which loops throughout the day.
If you asked me to list the songs in order off the top of my head, I could not do so.
Sure I will be able to tell you the majority of the titles in that playlist but certainly not in the correct order and it would be highly doubtful I could list all 67.
In order to do so I would need to take time and try to memorize the list, which I am sure I am capable of but truly have no desire to do so.
However a strange phenomenon has occurred.
When a particular song is ending, I automatically know what the next song is.
Two completely unrelated songs have become associated in my mind because subconsciously my brain has linked the ending of one to the beginning of the next after hearing it from so many loops.
It is purely an auditory cue because, if I was just shown the title of the song, I would most likely be wrong predicting the next song title.
It is also interesting that this stimulus response setup has carry over.
When I casually hear the song outside of work I automatically think the next song in my office playlist will play next (it does not).
Of course I could have avoided this by originally setting my playlist to random play but at this point it is too late.
Take home point: There are many subtle environmental cues that our brain picks up on and begins incorporating it into our reality.
This is the very premise of subliminal advertising.
It is especially important in the financial world that our reasons for pursuing a particular course of action are because of our own rational thought rather than being influenced by these behavioral manipulators.
[And yes the inspiration for this post truly came from me forgetting to wear a belt to work the week before I wrote it. 🙂 ]
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